Once again, the internet thrums with indignation, a great deal of it spewing from the keyboards of white people who will never, ever, be in the same position as a poor black man, or a poor black woman, or child... or any black person for that matter.
Whether or not you think you are racist; whether or not, as you examine your conscience, you come up with anything you've personally done to hurt a black person, or advance the injustice that is endemic in American society and has been that way forever; whether or not you can wipe your own mental slate clean -- I simply want to say that we are all involved in systemic racism: if not by what we have done directly, then by what we have not done -- through our inattention, our turning away, and our refusal to use what we have been given, solely by virtue of our skin color, to create a society in which there is justice for all.
I grew up in a small town in the North where people were proud of not being racist. I went to a prestigious liberal university, and then lived in New England in a prestigious university town. Nobody would have ever said they were racist. But they were. They were racist about blacks, about Jewish people, about Muslims, about working class ethnic groups and the poor, about everyone who wasn't just exactly like them: privileged, educated, white. Racism lurked there, just beneath the surface, just as it does everywhere in America. It lives on in jokes, in social norms, in housing prices and club rules, in who we marry and who we associate with, who we vote for, who we let into our clubs and schools and workplaces, who gets beaten and arrested, who goes to prison, who is on death row.
This is indeed a time to examine our own consciences. A time to show up at a protest or prayer vigil. A time to say with sincerity, I am sorry, and I am deeply ashamed.
But it is also a time when less said might very well be more. Perhaps we white people could actually shut up for once and listen hard to the lived experience of the black people in our communities, and then use our considerable power to demand changes that address the inequalities, the injustice, the profiling, and the violence that are the reality every single day in the lives of so many of our fellow human beings.