“White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this … the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.”
James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
As a privileged white male in American culture, I have been mortified of our history that has inflicted brutal conditions on Native Americans, African Americans along with other cultures of color.
The noble experiment that our democracy was supposed to reflect has failed in so many ways from day one with the Constitution’s belittling of slaves being 3/5 human. The systemic racism that has become a way of life in this country for millions since white Europeans first set foot on America’s shores has mocked any ideal of equality and brotherly love.
Born and raised in North Texas, I experienced the dehumanizing behavior toward Black people and chicano people by white people. And though as a child at the time it seemed the norm, my Catholic training challenged this notion, always feeling uncomfortable when such abuses occurred, thinking surely Jesus would not condone such inhumane behavior.
By the mid-1960s, that consciousness eventually expanded beyond my parochial views to learn that I had been on the wrong side of history. I am not alone in this kind of transformation, yet our protestations to these discriminatory and life-devaluing acts of white culture pale in comparison to what people of color have testified to with the shedding of their blood, loss of property and even their very lives.
No white person can begin to imagine the suffering that Native Americans and generations of the early slave trade have had to endure. No white person can honestly believe that things are much better for non-white people today, and thus any responsibility to their fate lies beyond anything that white people do today.
But I and millions like me know better and continue to be outraged at and embarrassed for the white culture fate has placed us in, as it continues to rear its ugly head toward people of color who are killed, simply because their skin pigmentation targets them as inferiors by self-righteous white people. Poverty is often seen by many conservative whites as a condition of laziness rather than a lack of equal opportunity, failing to grasp that such inequities were a factor of white people in control of hiring and wage practices, housing choices and educational disparities.
The killing of George Floyd by former police officer Derek Chauvin brought to light once more the advantages some believe are inherent in their whiteness. A twisted notion that had been propped up by previous cases where overzealous cops maimed or killed Black people “in the line of duty.”
A reasonable person would believe there are humane limits to the police’s use of force and that when caught in the act of exceeding these limits that a just society would punish them for it. Yet white juries and the blue wall of silence have more often than not turned the other way when excessive or deadly force was used on Rodney King, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor, to name just a small few that preceded George Floyd’s unjustified killing.
The guilty verdict imposed on Derek Chauvin for Floyd’s death is an anomaly at this point. Research shows that “Black people are shot and killed by police at twice the rate that white people are.” Color-blindness is more an aspiration than it is a common feature with white culture in America. Until that reality changes, the ideal this country espoused in its nascent stage cannot come to fruition.