Race Talks with White People

One of the first poems I ever composed
was deeply racist.
It in, I insisted that my whiteness
lacked culture and vibrancy,
portraying black and brown folk
swaying and clapping and moving
in a way my people weren’t used to.
I lamented my lack of rhythm
and a connection to my history
but what I didn’t see was how my self-pity
and exotification of other races
further exacerbated racism.

I was in middle school
in a nearly all-white community
and it never occurred to me
that I had a unique culture.
So, like a vulture, I picked apart pieces
of other people’s traditions
in what I thought was admiration and awe
but was really stinking of raw bigotry.

I grew up thinking
that my pale skin was the default,
like the salt without the food
I viewed whiteness as the absence of race,
lacking taste,
so immersed in the drippings of privilege
I lived in a bubble that I found boring
but what I saw as boring
was actually the luxury that comes
from being in the dominant category,
race becomes something “out there”
and, once aware of it,
I pretended like I didn’t see it.

“I’m color blind, I don’t see race!”
It’s something some white people
are so fond of saying
but the reality of that statement
is that it reeks of igorance
because to say you don’t see color
means you don’t suffer
from oppression based on your skin
and to not see color
means you don’t see that other
people are suffering based on their skin
and to not see color
means you see whiteness as something other than
and to not see color
means you see us all as a dull gray,
and you white wash and wash away
the pain, the history, the beauty,
the vibrancy, the richness
of color.

And then comes the white guilt,
the shame of knowing the gains
your race has given you, the pains
your race has driven others to
but let me tell you what to do with that:
don’t take it to black and brown people
they already know the evils
that whiteness has created,
the atrocities whiteness has enabled.
Instead, take it to the table with other white people.

And don’t say, “How can we talk about race,
when there are only white people in this space?”
That is the perfect place to talk about race
because until you can face
the fact that you don’t need black people
to have this conversation,
until you can move from the station
of shame and guilt and apology
into vulnerability and solidarity
then this is right where you need to be.
Until you can grasp
that the task of dismantling racism
starts with you asking and tackling
the hard questions yourself
instead of putting them on someone else,
then this is right where you need to be.

And it’s hard work,
and you may never recover.
In fact, we’ll always be racists in recovery,
which means we’ll slip up sometimes
and find ourselves making mistakes
but we’ll walk in grace and humility
not worrying about saving face,
we’ll put defensiveness in its place,
and open space for other white people
to do the same.
Because once we can name
and root out racism from within,
begin to see whiteness
as part of the color wheel,
feel appreciation for other cultures
without exotification or appropriation,
have admiration for our own traditions
and realize the ways we’ve been conditioned
to think and believe and feel,
then we can finally begin
to heal.

2 Replies to “Race Talks with White People”

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