whites and riots and open eyes

My heart races, my breathing faint and quick, when I read the naive, ignorant, vile, insensitive things I see on social media, posted by white people about black citizens' response to epidemic police violence against their unarmed brothers and sisters—the only reason I can think of which makes me thankful that my son Calvin can't, and will never be able to, read.

A friend and former Bowdoin College professor tweeted in response to white judgement of the riots in Baltimore, “We were property once too.” She got these tweets in return:

John Reiter @boopmeatsweats, “and you shouldve stayed that way you ugly ape whore”


David Kirk @SmokeyJihad777,  “Bitch you weren’t shit smh still crying about shit that happened 150 fucking years ago that doesn’t affect you at all”

I sit and wonder why such hate and ugliness festers in the hearts of people who, statistics show, more than likely don’t even know any African Americans, though perhaps that is the problem. I wonder if they think of themselves as followers of God. Most whites in this country do. But maybe their hate first took root because of certain conservative media's racial stereotyping, fear mongering and twisting of the truth. Or is it latent white guilt which blinds these bigots to the facts, that though slavery is over, racial subjugation still exists, permeating society beginning with the unjust punishment of black and brown-skinned kindergartners, haunting them through their childhood years into adulthood, if indeed they make it that far?

It disturbs me seeing so many white people simplifying or deriding this complex, tragic and centuries' old problem of racism, others trying to wish it away by citing their colorblindness, denying that racism exists at all or putting all the blame back on black people. It seems clear to me they don’t understand the source of anger that the black community harbors toward this most unjust society of ours. The problem, I believe, is that these people choose not to see reality. They view life only from the white side, which is opaque at best and privileged galore, and doesn’t take responsibility for the ills that continue to be imposed on our black citizens—high unemployment rates, high rates of poverty, grossly disproportionate rates of arrest and conviction, stiff fines and sentences leading to mass incarceration, broken families, torn neighborhoods and the resulting sanctioned discrimination in subsequent searches for housing, employment, health care and the right to vote—all of which we have the capacity to amend, and should.

I grew up in a Seattle suburb knowing only a few black children my age. Racism didn’t seem like a thing to me, until I began befriending non-white men, then dated an African American for five years. From behind a different lens I learned—second hand because I am white—of society's ingrained suspicion of black people, of cops rampantly frisking black youths for doing nothing more than loitering, something my white friends could do with utter impunity.

Then I began to sense the insidious bigotry. I remember when my mom once saw a tall, well-dressed black man emerging from a luxury car.

"He must play professional basketball," she said.
"Why not a doctor or a lawyer, Mom?" I asked. Her only response was to seethe at me.

Over the years I've witnessed blatant as well as subtle racism, like when white people marvel at how well a black person might express themselves on television, when really they are no more articulate than most folks I know, black or white. Or when someone says that President Obama isn't black because he had a white mother and has light skin, thereby denying the rife condemnation he faces because of his race. Or when the airline agent asks only one person in line to check luggage, and that person is black. Or when a pretty white teenage girl says, when reclaiming her cigar from her father's mouth, "Why'd you have to nigger-lip it?" Or when whites use the word thug to describe black children in hoodies wielding toy guns or handfuls of Skittles on their way to being shot to death. Or when white folks wonder what we owe them. Or when black folks are pulled over or chased by cops for no reason but that they are black. Or when an interracial family is heckled by a passerby or when a black woman is charged more in rent because of the color of her skin or turned down for a job interview because of her name, or when white folks think that the wrongful deaths of Michael Brown and Renisha McBride and Travon Martin and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and Akai Gurley and Oscar Grant and Freddy Gray are isolated incidents.

The root of racism is, and always will be, bitter, white and invasive. You don't have to dig down very deep dirtying your fingers to see for yourself. Our white ancestors slaughtered Native Americans by the droves, calling them savages, taking and raping their resources and forcing survivors onto reservations. White people are still taking their children. Our white ancestors led the slave trade and white plantation owners profited from the sweat and tears of men, women and children who were seized from their homeland, forced to give up their language, culture and religion, their freedom, their children, their lives. White men forced Japanese American families into internment camps. White politicians designed Jim Crow laws pitching poor whites against poor blacks at a time when the two groups had begun to galvanize a force against the rich. White men lynched black men for no other reason but the color of their skin. White shop owners barred black patrons. Black leaders were assassinated by white men. White heads of corporations shipped inner-city jobs overseas exacerbating poverty. White politicians devised the war on drugs, targeting black, inner-city boys and men while white cops enforced it, with skewed brutality and rigor. White men exploit Hispanic men and women to pick our fruit and sate our wasteful appetites. White witnesses, jurors and judges have condemned innocent black men and boys, putting many behind bars for years and sending others to their deaths. White politicians redistrict states to win the vote and champion voter ID laws which disenfranchise blacks, among others. I could go on. My eyes are open.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” If we want the rioting to stop, we, as whites, need to listen to our Black American brothers and sisters and validate their struggle against the heavy boot of white society. Then we need to right it, whatever it takes. We need to see the true injustices of our time. To do so we must humble ourselves, but most of all, and first, we need to open our eyes.


  1. Beautiful. Powerful. And so very very true. Thank you for your words and insight.