While people of color have little choice but to learn white culture in order to navigate in society, white folk can go their entire lives without ever having to understand other perspectives. We learn white history in school, we live in mostly white neighborhoods, we read white books, and watch white movies. We 'don't see race' and we definitely don't talk about it.
So it's not surprising that white people unwittingly say and do some pretty hurtful things. They make ignorant comment about hair, wear people's identities as halloween costumes, and use human beings as mascots. Then, because of their own ignorance, they become indignant when someone takes offence: "I'm not racist. I'm just appreciating your culture."
ignorance is, in itself, hurtful. It emphasizes the disparate nature of a social hierarchy in which white folk can get by knowing very little about the cultures around them. Their racism feels like an accident, because they didn't intend to hurt anybody (see post: Does Intent Matter?).
But it's not an accident that there is so much racial ignorance in white culture today. One of the problems with 'letting bygones be bygones' is that our modern racial issues aren't just about slavery, and it's not 'all in the past'. It is an ongoing, calculated marginalization that continuously evolves to evade eradication. It's pervasive nature allows it to adapt to new social norms and 'political correctness' so that it can thrive. Let's not ever forget about slavery, but let's also remember the continued persecution that occurs on a daily basis in today's world.
Modern racism is systemic. It's endemic to our education system, our legal structure, and everyday life. Decades of oppression have established an unbalanced system that is no accident. Ignorant complacency simply allows one to benefit from that racialized system without having to own up to the responsibility of its existence. It is no accident that white folk are unaware of painful truths of continuing racism. We don't want to be.
Without intentionally forming relationships and engaging with others in their daily experiences, we avoid coming face to face with our racial sinfulness. Without an understanding of others' history and culture, we are indeed in danger of being 'accidentally racist.' But if we disengage and ignore reality, isn't that more intentional than accidental?
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