We white people may feel that we are not culpable for the unprovoked murder of Walter Scott and other African Americans by police. That we’re not personally at fault that blacks receive more jail time for the same offenses as whites; or that a white man who has been to jail is more likely to get a job than a black man who hasn’t.
White people may not be to blame that although the federal government keeps statistics on everything from the number of pigs on U.S. farms to shark attacks, they do not keep records on police shootings. Rather they allow law enforcement agencies to self-report, and only 4 percent elect to do so. Not our fault.
But although we white people are not personally culpable, we are responsible. Responsibility isn’t the same as culpability. And we either accept responsibility for finding solutions to racism; or, we are colluding with its perpetuation through inaction. If we continue to believe that only victims of racism can talk about and affect it, we aren’t taking responsibility for our role in it.
So, as white people, where do we start? First, by speaking up. Speaking up each and every time we hear or see racism — but we can’t stop there. We also need to start conversations about racism — in schools, at work, at places of worship, book clubs, business lunches, neighborhood association meetings, on social media, talk radio, in every aspect of our lives.
Next, we need to educate ourselves and our children to the history and sociology of institutional and structural racism. Some say we need to just let go of the past — let go of the history. But the roots of current injustices are in the soil of an over 300-year-old history of racism. We need to understand the soil to understand the fruit of that soil.
In terms of educating ourselves on the sociology of racism, in the United States whites have the vast majority of power in schools, corporations, courts, government, media and more.
Whites may be prejudiced against people of color and people of color may be prejudiced against whites, but the key difference is that whites have institutional power to control resources and the rights of people of color, which impacts their possibilities. People of color don’t have similar power. Or, as Chris Rock said, “I love being famous. It’s almost like being white.”
Other things we white people can do are join the YWCA, NAACP, Black Lives Matter, Charleston Area Justice Ministry, the Urban League, donate to an African American candidate for office, give to the International African American Museum.
We can demonstrate. We can write letters to the editor and lobby government for body cameras, citizen review boards, excellence and equity in education, mandatory reporting of all police shootings. Above all, we need to act. White guilt is worthless but white action is not.
African Americans should not shoulder the burden of eliminating a system which often underestimates, thwarts, sometimes unfairly criminalizes and yes, even too often takes, black lives. Black lives do most certainly matter.