White people are so tired. They are tired of people of color and other white people pointing out racism everywhere, because clearly, racism is the equivalent of Tinkerbell: it’s only real if you believe in it very, very hard. And anyone who points out the racism inherent in the system is hurting white people’s feelings.
There are many white people who say they are not racists, and to the extent that their psyche permits this, they’re probably mostly right in that they don’t think they’re racists. But there is a leaky wall that makes white people blind to their own impact on the world, and it is their inability to empathize with anyone who doesn’t look like themselves. What leaks through is the unguarded racism and the microaggressions that every Ken and Karen put on display in the United States today.
Black people, and other minorities, have been so dehumanized and caricatured over the years that many white people are incapable of imagining themselves in their shoes. The white cultural narrative is quick to scapegoat black (or Native American, Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ) pain back onto the victims themselves, to whit:
- “They shouldn’t have resisted”
- “They shouldn’t have committed a crime”
- “I felt like they were threatening me”
- “They should just get a job!”
- “They shouldn’t have talked back”
In classic Protestant form, there are so many things a person of color should not do, that they are effectively enslaved by this white mental straitjacket. They are not free.
There are real narratives in our country that describe black people as the “sons of Ham” and “mudmen,” who are less than human. There are narratives that describe Jews as having horns — literal horns, growing out of their heads. And whether every white person subscribes to these tropes consciously or not, these kinds of “other” and “less than” narratives have molded white peoples’ inability to have compassion and empathy for these, our neighbors.
This is why it is so easy to give white cops the benefit of the doubt. All the cop has to say is, “My life was threatened,” or “I was just asking if they were ‘okay,’ not flashing the white power sign,” and other white men see themselves in that situation and automatically rubber-stamp their excuse. It is why the #metoo movement has been so difficult and long overdue, because all that Harvey Weinstein has to do is say, “It was consensual,” and the woman is automatically the bad guy for blaming him for anything. Which goes to show you how much women have been dehumanized in this culture.
What a white male perspective really means, in real life or in books or the cinema, is that everything is viewed from what white men value — not what women or minorities see or value. “Green Book” won Best Picture over “BlacKkKlansman” not because it’s a better film (it isn’t) but because it better fits how white men see themselves: as the chivalrous white knights who would save the damsel or black guy in distress. Because they’re so good. The same white people who claim that they would march with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 60s are too busy being disturbed by so-called “rioting” today to remember what the protests are about.
Perhaps white men, in particular, automatically believe other white men’s lies so quickly because they are, in fact, so good at lying to themselves. Lying about how they’re not racists, that they don’t contribute to a racist society, that they really would have marched with King, that they are not the problem — it’s the rest of us who keep pointing out that there is a problem. Cognitive dissonance accounts for so much.