Some white people chose to show up this past year, more than ever before. They were adamant about their blackout squares on social media, attending Black Lives Matter protests, reading How to be an Antiracist (and encouraging others to do the same), and sharing articles about the importance of racial equity. Then they voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, even if they weren’t big fans, because they were done with the Trump administration’s white supremacy.
Our efforts were important. However, I’m nervous. Are those who were dedicated to justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor still going to be dedicated in January when we have a new administration? After all, despite what some believed, electing our nation’s first Black president didn’t eradicate racism. When President Obama left the White House and Trump moved in, things got really shitty, real fast. And they stayed shitty. Where is the post-racial society everyone said we would be living in? (Hint: it doesn’t exist).
Arguably, we shouldn’t want an “I don’t see color” society, but instead, a society that appreciates racial differences by acknowledging and celebrating them. The whole colorblind mentality is harmful, because it’s dismissive and naïve. The reality is, there’s a whole lot of discrimination going on every day because people absolutely do see color, make decisions based on the race of others, and their own race.
Yes, I’m with you in breathing a collective sigh of relief that the Racist-in-Chief is about to make like N’Sync. Cue “Bye, Bye, Bye.” His exit, alongside Pence, who said at the vice presidential debate that systemic racism isn’t real, is an incredible step. After all, if the leaders of our country coddle and protect their privilege while protecting and encouraging white supremacists, how can we expect their supporters to do differently?
Just because Kamala and Joe are about to swear in and start doing some serious work, doesn’t mean we get to lean back and chill out. The Biden-Harris team shouldn’t bear the sole or majority of responsibility for creating a racially equitable society. They can’t do it alone.
For those who were fired up and taking action before election week, we need to be just as committed now and moving into 2021. We need to keep reading anti-racism books and applying what we learn in our everyday lives. We need to keep listening to our friends of color, believe them, learn from them, center them, but not demand they pour forth the emotional labor of educating us out of our white fragility. We need to teach our kids how to be anti-racist now, so they grow up not having to unlearn whitewashed history lessons and stereotypes about their melanin-rich classmates.
Activism and education are absolutely exhausting, but imagine how much more difficult it is for people with brown skin to live and experience racism every day. They can’t step in and out of it based on their feelings or to-do list. My own four children, all of whom are Black, experience whiteness’ inflictions every day of their lives. Sometimes it’s in-person, but it’s also through media, school discipline and dress code policies, inaccurate history lessons, and much (much) more. Racism is pervasive and sneaky.
Many of us are trying to heal from an administration (one that’s still in office) who threw paper towels at Puerto Rican hurricane victims. When asked if he would clearly denounce white supremacy, Trump instead told white supremacists to “stand by,” and also told us he’s the “least racist person in the room.” (Um, what?) He has called African nations “shithole countries.” He repeatedly and adamantly claimed that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Let’s not forget that he separated Mexican children from their families, and lost over five hundred of those kids. The list of his racial transgressions is long and ongoing.
Fighting racism is so much more than unity candle services, a BLM t-shirt or yard sign, attending a single protest, or having a few conversations with friends of color. It’s not enough to read a book, either. You should most definitely tell your racist uncle to STFU, not allowing his age or generation to be an excuse for the joke he told at the Thanksgiving dinner table. But as you probably guessed, I’m going to tell you that’s also not enough.
Being nice to Black people isn’t anti-racism. Having “one Black friend” also isn’t anti-racism. Telling others that “we’re all one race, the human race” is hardly going to change the world or anyone’s harmful beliefs. I think it’s time, more than ever before, to double-down on our genuine and effective efforts. Anti-racism work is a marathon, not a sprint. There is no finish line in sight. You don’t get to quit, or talk about how tired you are, just because you’ve helped to elect a new president and vice-president.
So yes, celebrate the Biden-Harris win. But don’t put down your battle gear because of them. The weight of fixing racism isn’t on this power-team. Rather, society became racist because for over four hundred years, and the majority has allowed it. In fact, the 70 million Trump voters seem to still support it. If we’re going to swing the pendulum the other way, it’s going to take the hard, diligent work of white people who don’t jump ship.