The US presidential election of 2016 seems to have inflamed race issues in the US and around the world. Wittingly or unwittingly, the leader of the free world has bolstered the case of the cognitive racists, and some of them have lifted their ugly heads out of their hidden lairs to spew their racist hatred. This conflict ignited over segregationist statues in the south.
A number of my white friends have expressed concern about the issues of cognitive racism and about how they can help with these issues. Some are concerned that there were more white people than any other group marching against the KKK in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. The fight against the KKK is real and needs to be fought by all of Americans, especially when the moral leadership of the US appears to be ambiguous at best, and complicit with the racists, at worst. When the presidential bully pulpit goes silent, then the American moral authority needs to step in. When the presidential voice is used correctly it can be eloquent. President Johnson used the bully pulpit to support voting rights in the south when he made one of the most powerful speeches in history. This is how the president should respond to racism.
On March 15, 1965 President Johnson said, “Their cause must be our cause too,” “Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice — and we shall overcome.”
The fight against cognitive racism is important but there is a danger in only concentrating on cognitive racism. The danger in concentrating on racists like the KKK and the Nazis, and issues like taking down the statues of racists and traitors to the US, is that it lets the implicit and the most dangerous forms of racism off the hook. The need to take down the statues of those who caused the death of more Americans than any person or event in US history is obvious, and is a ridiculous discussion. Even Robert WE Lee, IV said that the statues should come down.
The cognitive need to fight blatant racists provides the soul of the white community with a catharsis. This releases guilt and allows the progressive white people to not only feel better, but to ignore their own racist behaviors and biases. These every day micro biased experiences are far more devastating than a racist march. The odds are that most of us have never met a Nazi, and the KKK does not have an impact on our everyday lives, but micro biases impact most black people.
In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Dr. King takes on moderate white people for their complicity with cognitive racists.
I must make two honest confessions to you… First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail
Dr. King received a letter from six ministers who asked him to slow down and stop moving too fast. He had to explain to them how they were wrong. Dr. King was fighting the KKK and the implicit biases of his fellow ministers; today progressives need to look closely at their own personal relationships and how they act. Like Dr. King, I write this with tremendous love and compassion, but the greater concern is the issues of moderate to progressive white peoples’ implicit bias.
The greater danger is from our everyday, run of the mill progressive who is well intentioned and good hearted, and who truly believe they know how to help. Implicit bias is one of the most devastating forms of racism that lingers in the world today. When it comes from so called White Allies, it causes more grief than a random KKK member. White people who believe that they know something about another community can do more harm than good. Just because you marched with Dr. King, or you have a black or biracial relative, does not make you an expert on race.
Grappling with change and long-lasting racism is a minefield, a war zone waiting to explode. Implicit bias can cause post-traumatic stress syndrome – physical, spiritual and emotional disorders. The damage caused by implicit bias is hard to recognize as it is difficult to admit when an individual has caused such devastating pain and suffering and sorrow. Implicit bias is also difficult to recognize in one’s self, because it is hard to admit the pain you might cause another person, especially a child.
Research tells us that underlying comments and unwitting words can harm individuals. What we know now, and for certain, is that words are important and that your very words can crush an individual. Because of MRI machines, we now know that parts of the brain can be impacted by the very words that people say to others.
And our actions are just as devastating as our words. It is important that you understand your own implicit bias, particularly if you are in-charge of others. It is important that those in authority understand that their very words can be a minefield, filled with pain and suffering and sorrow. Paying attention to one group of students more than another, because of their race or gender, causes pain and suffering. A teacher commenting on an African American’s hairstyle, or the words she uses, can cause pain. Progressive’s need to ask themselves a few questions.
Is your experience homogeneous in a particular culture, but you have taken a job in a multi-cultural community, without any cultural training, and you don’t understand that the words you say have an impact? Then, odds are that you are a menace and dangerous to that community. If, as a white person, you are concerned, then do not cause your students or people who work for you pain, intentionally or unintentionally; do not cause them pain with your implicit and/or explicit bias. Do the research. Find out if you are an implicit racist – if your attitudes tend towards one group or another. Do you say rude things; do you not understand how someone might feel from the words you use? You do not want to be the reason a student has become disabled or harmed because of something you said, or cause grief to someone under your charge. You must understand your words, your actions, your deeds and how your words are so important. They can heal or they can kill. Implicit bias creates an opportunity to harm and even kill. Have you ever wondered why some people are so angry with the things you say? Then you might be an implicit racist.
Employers can cause awful pain by simply making ignorant and stupid remarks, particularly when it comes to race and racial issues. Commenting on an employee’s African hairstyle, the color of their skin, or their particular dialect, or not responding to the employee in the same manner as you do other employees, is harmful. Teachers can cause lifelong damage to students by the very words that they say or actions that they take.
The only way to deal with the opportunity to harm is to be honest with yourself. Get educated, do not be afraid to seek out the proper information and ask someone how you can change. For the sake of your students or your employees, get help.