White People Explain Racism to Me

Most days, I turn on my computer and ask the country if today is the day that white people will feel like holding a white man accountable for violence. Most days, the answer is “no.” We live in an age when the ubiquity of white violence is plain for all to see, thanks to the camera phone. When I’m not covering white domestic threats directed at people of color, I’m often covering state-sponsored terrorism against those same targets. When I’m not covering agents of the state behaving violently, I’m covering appellate and Supreme Court rulings, many of which will lead to more violence against people of color, women, or the LGBTQ community. And the whole time, I’m asking if anybody will be held accountable for the killings or beatings or the permissiveness that enables those killings and beatings.

Most days, the answer to my question is “not today.” Today will not be the day Kyle Rittenhouse is punished or Breonna Taylor’s killers are held accountable or George Zimmerman goes to hell. That’s tough to take. I ran out of patience in 2006 when the New York City Police Department shot Sean Bell 50 times the night before his wedding. It’s no fun chronicling the drumbeat of white courts and white juries being permissive of white violence while white media repeats the narrative of white cops. Remember, I’m not a war correspondent. I’m afraid of violence and don’t like to see human suffering up close. And I’m not a crime reporter. I’ve never been titillated by “true crime” whodunit mysteries or even been all that interested in wrongdoing. I don’t really care why Jimmy hit Billy with the baseball bat, in the abstract.

What I do care about is justice. I care about fairness. I ask for white people to be held accountable, because too often they are not. Nearly every statistic we have points to the manifest unfairness in our justice system. White people are less likely to be charged with crime, and more likely to receive lighter sentences when they are convicted. They receive more favorable media coverage. It is almost impossible to convict a cop for anything.

These are not controversial points. They are backed up with mountains of statistical evidence. And yet, when I try to explain why we see these statistical disparities, when I try to draw the line between the known white bias in the system and the applied bias in an individual case, when I point out that racism is the self-evident reason for these obvious and statistically provable racial disparities, that is when white people, the very beneficiaries of this systemic injustice, get all up in their feelings and into my mentions. It’s not enough that I have to write about these constant eruptions of white violence against people who look like me every day; I also have to contend with white people who loudly and proudly feign ignorance of the very cause of this violence.

And it’s always the same people, every day. Oh, they think they’re different: This white man thinks he’d be totally on your side, normally; that white woman thinks she’s tough and fair-minded but is just looking for more data; and that white guy totally loves The Lion King and agrees with you, usually. But not today. Today, this police killing or that legal ruling isn’t really “racist.” Today, I go too far. Today tough, fair, agreeable ally-person thinks that there is no shadowy force orchestrating evil from behind the scenes. Today, Mufasa just threw his own damn self off the cliff and should have been more careful. After all, if everything is “racist,” nothing is, amiright?

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