Do Whites Not Want to Know About Racism?

That’s what one African-Amerian Seattle sportswriter suggested in the two tweets below, which comment on recent statements made by Pete Carroll. I’m less certain about that claim, and I’ll share my thoughts after the two tweets:

4 thoughts on “Do Whites Not Want to Know About Racism?

  1. Off the top of my head, I would make two closely related points:

    1. Generally, people avoid thinking about unpleasant social problems–literally creating physical distance to avoid encountering and even seeing them. Relatedly, I do think people want to live in communities with a majority of people that look and think like them. I would guess both are key drivers for suburbs.

    2. Whites living in communities with little or no African-Americans don’t know–don’t really know–about these injustices. And by “really know” I mean the type of understanding that comes from experience. That is, if you don’t really see or live something, you’ll lack deeper knowledge. Someone can be open to what African-Americans tell them, but unless they see and experience it for themselves–including seeing mistreatment of African-Americans friends or family–the knowledge won’t really be complete.

    This makes me think of a recent documentary about white families in Utah who adopted black children. All of them featured talked about they didn’t realize how bad racism was. It makes total sense to me, and I don’t think they were actively closing their eyes to racism before they adopted their children, although maybe they were.

    There are a few important additional points I want to tack on:

    2a. This doesn’t just apply to whites. I didn’t grow up in a community with a lot of African-Americans. I don’t think I really understand what the mistreatment and hassles they go through.

    2b. I feel like there is a strong class element to this–I think that’s a big part of what drives my first point. If you were raised in a middle or upper class community, and never really spent a lot of time in lower class communities, I don’t think you’d really understand the problems that exist there–and some (a lot?) of this has to do with middle and upper classes casting these people to the side and forgetting about them. And I’m not guilty of this myself.

    We could also expand this beyond our borders out to mistreatment and injustices that occur in others countries, including unethical and immoral practices that allow Americans to enjoy relatively cheap goods and services. I strongly suspect many Americans avoid thinking about that, and if when they do allow themselves to think about this, they don’t have a full understanding of it.

    Anyway, going back to the mistreatment and brutality of African-Americans. Yeah, whites may not want to see this–but how much of this is a function of what I’m talking about above–namely, that human beings will avoid these uncomfortable truths–in this example by feeling to suburbs that are socially and racially homogeneous. I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing. But I’m not sure the problem is simply “whites don’t want to understand racism.”

  2. I just watched Carroll’s announcement that the reporter above, Michael-Shawn Dugar, commented on. This is the most political speech I’ve heard from Carroll, one that was really heartfelt and passionate. I recommend watching it (You can start about the 4:20 mark):

    Some additional quick comments:

    • I wonder if this is going to alienate some Seahawk fans; I imagine it will. Whatever the case, I think his message, and his decision to deliver it, was a good one. One part of the message was asking other coaches, from all sports, to speak out and get involved. He’s trying to activate them, and that’s a good thing.
    • One point stood out: Carroll said that his players talk about being afraid when they go out–not just for themselves but for their families–like something simple as going to the grocery store. Given what we’ve seen in the news, I totally don’t blame them for that; and I continue to be disturbed and find this heartbreaking.
    • The one action he’s calling for is for people to vote. I love this, but when I think about it, the connection between voting and solving this problem isn’t entirely clear. What I think it means is that if more people vote–and care about ending racism–this will create the political groundswell that can lead to meaningful change–as it will make politicians more responsive to this.

    And now for a curve ball. I’m going to take what Carroll said–which I agree with–and make a turn that might be jarring and weird. As I listened to Carroll, the hypothesis I have for the crushing racism (and crushing the support for Trump, which is the same thing) ran through my head. Carroll talk didn’t touch on this, and I feel like without this component, we’ll struggle to defeat racism and may not succeed.

    The hypothesis has to do with something I’ve talked in these two threads, The Fate of Our Nation May Rest on Our Ability to Talk About White Grievance and The Three Problems America Needs to Overcome in Order to Survive as a Nation. Again, what I’m about to say is going to sound odd–to the point of being absurd and even ridiculously insensitive. It is definitely counter-intuitive. I don’t think I could say this to African American person I know or a progressive. They’d think I was crazy. And the message is not an appropriate one to give right now, but I do think that it should be considered, and if it’s correct (which it may not be), it has to be included in a plan to end racism.

    In nutshell, here’s my hypothesis

    1. There are a significant number of whites who are struggling with the imminent loss of their majority status. The struggle evokes fear, resentment, and even anger in these white Americans.

    2. To end racism, our society and leaders must help these Americans deal with these changes and then eventually accept them. Why is this the key to ending racism?

    3. Answer: Politicians are using these feelings to gain political power. They stoke these fears and resentment–giving permission to mistreatment of minorities–and offer harmful (racist/bigoted) policies as way to satisfy the fears and resentment of these white Americans. If these white Americans have no other way to deal with these feelings–if they’re demonized for these feelings–large numbers are going to respond favorably to these politicians.

    4. My second point is about finding an alternative–a therapeutic alternative–to the whites struggling with these feelings. As a first step, we need some leader to do two things: 1) affirm these feelings are natural, and don’t make someone a bad person; 2) they’re not racists for feeling this way. Whether this approach would work or not, the one thing I’m most confident about is that if people demonize these white Americans for these feelings, that will make the problem much worse.

    I also can’t see how ignoring these feelings is wise as well.

    5. If my theory is correct, I could see two things happening. First, the politicians who have been exploiting these feelings (and Trump is just a more blatant and extreme example) will lose power. That is, politicians won’t be able to accrue power by pushing for racist/discriminatory policies. Second, the politicians and these whites who struggled with losing their majority status will be more open to make changing that end systemic racism.

    To be clear, I don’t think this would completely end racism–stereotyping or prejudices based on race or ethnicity. I don’t think we’ll ever completely end that (in any society). But if what I’m saying is accurate, and we succeed at executing a plan based on it, we can dramatically reduce racism. For example, I think we can get to a place where African-Americans don’t fear for their lives when they drive to a store. That wouldn’t be a small feat.


    Quote from Carroll’s announcement:

    Elephant in the room: Trump and Republicans are suppressing the vote. Will Carroll directly call out Trump–or the GOP? Off the top of my head, this doesn’t seem like a good idea. Plus, he can just criticize specific actions. He could also mention specific ways to secure the vote and protect against fraud and interference.

    1. Nothing’s going to end racism, but your suggestions aren’t stupid. They’re one way of addressing a deep and important issue.

      In the past 12 years, we watched our first Black president get elected, and then we watched as during his tenure he switched positions from anti-gay-marriage to pro-gay-marriage to lighting up the White House in colors of the rainbow. The nation changed quickly after decades of people fighting for it.

      It wasn’t one thing that did it, although maybe the Supreme Court would have gotten to this point sooner if it had had the chance, because gay marriage didn’t just suddenly become right: the Constitution’s been there for 200 years, and the Supreme Court evaluated the issue against the words of this document. But I digress.

      Public opinion turned as America made it safer for gays to be who they are, and as Americans began to see how terrible things have been for gays, for a really long time. We might not have approved of their lifestyles, but dang: they didn’t deserve THAT.

      It turned as influential stakeholders started to see that gays were people they loved: their kids and their brothers and sister and their best friends. This actually burns me up STILL, because you shouldn’t have to learn your daughter is gay to realize she deserves to be wed if that’s what she wants.

      I mention all this because I think there are parallels. They’re not perfect parallels, because what gays have been through in this country doesn’t really approach what Blacks have been through. But there are a lot of ways we got to where we are, and when we eventually push through most of this racism, it’ll be a lot of things that get us there, too.

    2. It turned as influential stakeholders started to see that gays were people they loved: their kids and their brothers and sister and their best friends.

      Unless a lot of white families start adopting black children, having blacks marry into their families, or a huge increase in regular interaction between blacks and whites who haven’t really interacted with black people all that much, I’m afraid the change won’t happen like it did with LGBT folks. I wish there were a way to make what I describe above happen, though. I really think that could help white struggling with the change have a much easier time accepting it.

      This kind of reminds me of a film I saw about Daryl Davis, an African-American musician who spent time getting to know members of the KKK. I believe most, if not all, of the people he met became friends with him. I suspect that it will be really difficult for them to maintain their white supremacist views.

      In any event, I think these type of interactions will occur too slowly, and that’s what turns my thoughts to the recommendations I initially gave.

      On a related note, I saw a Trump tweet criticizing Biden for taking so long to respond to the violent aspects of the protests and an imaginary scene took place in mind–namely, I thought of Biden addressing Trump voters, and it goes something like this: (Note: The following is a rant/riff. I don’t expect you guys to read it. I just needed to get it off my chest.)

      “What Trump says may make you feel good–make you feel as if he cares about how you feel. He doesn’t. He’s a con man. If you met a guy trying to sell you something, and he talked like Trump, you wouldn’t trust him. He’s just whipping up your anger–getting you mad at Democrats and the media–because the more mad and scared you are, that’s how he can stay in power. He knows that if he fails to keep you angry and scared, he’ll lose. That’s why he says things that he does–it’s not because he cares about you.

      Getting angry at Democrats and the media may feel good–seeing them get angry may make you feel good–and I see that as failure on our fault–Democrats. We have not down a good job of reaching out and understanding your feelings. in some cases, some have put you down, made fun of you–for your faith for your lifestyle away from the coasts. I’m here to say that is wrong, and I reject that. I know what it’s like to be put down. I stuttered when I was a kid and people made fun of me, said I was stupid. That pain is still with me all these years. I do not like when people belittle others. It’s mean and wrong–whether it’s for something like stuttering, a person’s faith or where you live.

      I want to say something else. If you feel fear and resentment for the changes that have been going on, that doesn’t automatically make you a bad person or racist. But there is a good way and bad way to deal with these feelings. What Trump says and what he’s doing–that’s not a good way to deal with these feelings. You may feel good at first, but later he hasn’t really done anything to help these feelings–he’s not really doing things that’s going to help your lives overall–your job, healthcare, schools, housing. He just wants to keep making you afraid and angry–angry at other Americans. You can’t trust someone like that–that’s not the kind of person that cares about you. He’s just using you–using your anger–so he can stay in power.

      A better leader would make you less afraid, less angry. He’s been president for almost four years–why’s he trying to make you more angry and fearful? If he was doing a good job, shouldn’t you be feeling less angry and afraid by now? The truth is, he can’t make you feel less angry and afraid–he doesn’t know how to do this–He can’t convince you with his words, and he doesn’t know how to govern.

      Now, I do know how govern–and I don’t have to whip up your anger and fear. We have problems but if we come together as a country we can overcome those problems. In fact, if we don’t come together I don’t think we can. That’s why I’m trying to unite us. Trump supporters if I’m elected I will be your president, too. You are Americans–and you as well as Americans who oppose Trump–need to come together. We can beat down this pandemic, get back to schools, sports, and open up businesses. We can improve health care and work on ways to increase higher paying jobs. We can do this if we unite, so let’s do that. We need you–we need all Americans.”

      (End of rant/riff. This is not the best wording, and I’m sure made a lot of missteps. But I did this more as a form of a catharsis as well as brainstorming some themes that Biden could say to weaken Trump’s support. Maybe my tack wouldn’t work, but this is kinda where my thoughts are now. If you read this far, thanks.)

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