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I’m sorry to have to say that the vast majority of White Americans are racists, either consciously or unconsciously

January 20, 2020

The title to this post is a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 speech entitled, Which Way Its Soul Shall Go. The speech was given at the annual American Psychological Association convention in September of 1967, just 6 months before he was assassinated in Memphis.

Dr. King would go on to say:

If the Negro needs social sciences for direction and for self-understanding, the white society is in even more urgent need. White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism and the understanding needs to be carefully documented and consequently more difficult to reject. The present crisis arises because although it is historically imperative that our society take the next step to equality, we find ourselves psychologically and socially imprisoned. All too many white Americans are horrified not with conditions of Negro life but with the product of these conditions-the Negro himself.

White America is seeking to keep the walls of segregation substantially intact while the evolution of society and the Negro’s desperation is causing them to crumble. The white majority, unprepared and unwilling to accept radical structural change, is resisting and producing chaos while complaining that if there were no chaos orderly change would come.

These words are not what many of us white people are accustomed to hearing, since we too often prefer to hear kind and affirming words from black people. However, after King had moved his operations to Chicago in 1966, King began to see that the “liberal” north was in fact as deeply committed to White Supremacy as they were in the south.

What Dr. King is telling us in this 1967 speech, is that white people are racists. It’s true, we are racists, whether we are conscious of it or not. We can deny it and we can sit in shame of this fact, or we can accept it and then work towards ending our racism or at least our complicity in racist structures and systems that govern our society more than 50 years after King’s death.

How to Be An Anti-Racist?

First, we must accept the fact that for those of us who are white, we engage in racist behavior and are the beneficiaries of structural racism. Second, we need to come to terms with the fact that the problem with racism is not black people, it’s white people. Think about it this way. The problem with sexism isn’t women, it’s men. However, we often think that sexism is a woman’s problem, since men become the absent referent. Often a headline will say, “Woman is sexually assaulted on campus.” The problem with the way this is framed is that the male perpetrator is completely absent from the headline, thus sexual assault is a woman’s problem.

The same is true with racism. Too often, we think that racism is the black community’s problem, when in fact racism is really the white community’s problem. This doesn’t mean that black people shouldn’t do anything about racism, especially since the black community has taken on the primary responsibility of racism. What we need to do as white people is to acknowledge that racism is our problem and then work to dismantle it.

A third thing white people need to do is to not expect black people to hold our hands and show us how to be anti-racist. White people cannot put that burden on black people and make them responsible for showing us how to be anti-racist. We, white people, have to do the work ourselves, to invest emotionally and intellectually in doing the work to dismantle racism. This doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t learned from the lived experiences or the organic intellectualism of black people. We should read and study and expose ourselves to the rich tradition and history of lack liberation struggles and black resistance.

Fourth, once we have accepted that we, as white people, are racist, that we benefit from structural racism, that we must invest in doing the work of becoming an anti-racist, then we have to actually work to dismantle systemic racism. This doesn’t mean that attending another MLK Day event will get us off the hook. There is a big difference from being seen as an anti-racist and actually doing anti-racist work.

Practicing anti-racist work can look like this:

  • Confronting systemic racism in our neighborhoods by not participating in gentrification and by fighting against those seeking to gentrify.
  • Demanding that our faith community publicly acknowledge that they perpetuate and benefit from systemic racism.
  • By acknowledging that we are living on stolen land and are the beneficiaries of white settler colonialism…..and then doing the work to dismantle white settler colonialism.
  • White people need to give political power to black people……..period.
  • White people need to pay reparations and make the institutions in our society pay reparations for the past and present harm that has been done to the black community.

Notice, that I am not using the words diversity and inclusion when talking about how white people can practice being anti-racist. That is because diversity and inclusion are Neo-Liberal terms used by white people to get black people to think we give a shit about their condition. Remember, Dr. King said, “The white majority, unprepared and unwilling to accept radical structural change, is resisting and producing chaos while complaining that if there were no chaos orderly change would come.”  

To my fellow white people, what are we going to do to practice being anti-racist?



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