Why Are We More Comfortable Listening To White People Talk About Race?

By Palina Yamkavaya, Staff Writer

Last month, BCC organized the “What Does It Mean To Be Anti-Racist?” workshop, and invited a guest speaker to talk to students during a time when colleges, companies and other institutions are working towards being more inclusive and educating people on the matter of race.

The choice of the speaker seemed rather peculiar to me. Dr. Warren Chalklen, who is white, was the guest speaker. The main topic of his presentation was how whiteness is normalized in society, while Blackness is marginalized. Chalklen brought up examples of microaggressions such as shampoo bottles for straight hair being labeled as “normal hair,” or referring to the white colonizers of the past as “founding fathers.” 

While I believe he has a point, I also believe that Black communities are flooded with more pressing matters. Black people do not only face police brutality, but also such issues as a lack of access to healthcare, housing and quality education; they are limited in job employment opportunities, which creates a racial wealth gap. Those are the issues that need to be addressed and solved before we can talk about microaggressions and learn how to be more inclusive.

In November, BCC also held a BLM salon for both students and faculty to participate in the conversation on race and discuss current issues people of color are facing. During a Zoom call, our Black professors Lou Ethel Roliston and Maureen Ellis-Davis spoke about police brutality, what it means to defund the police, and the historical roots of racism. Many of the things the professors would say were followed by awkward silence.

It may be that people are less willing to speak aloud in a Zoom call than to write anonymously, as was the case in the anti-racism workshop; but it’s also evident that our society finds it easier to talk about smaller issues with a white man than with Black people about uncomfortable urgent matters, like Black people being killed by the police. 

Growing up in an all-white country in Eastern Europe, I couldn’t possibly imagine what would happen in the streets after George Floyd was brutally killed by a police officer earlier this year. And I can’t help but think if it wasn’t caught on tape and if it wasn’t a white officer who killed Floyd, the movement wouldn’t get as much recognition and support as it did.

White people supporting the BLM movement is what makes it so widespread. The killing of Floyd has inspired an overflow of empathy from white people, while the shootings of Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott or Tamir Rice, and many other people that we lost to racial violence, did not. 

By no means am I saying this to give white people credit– on the contrary, I see an issue with that. Our society is deeply ingrained in white supremacy, whether we realize it or not. We still have a white majority in politics and they hold a lot of power in our public institutions. So if we are not willing to elect more people of color as our leaders, how can we expect ordinary non-white people’s voices to be heard when it comes to such pressing matters? 

This is exactly what’s happening in Portland, an overwhelmingly white city, and one of the most active with protests. Yes, it seems like white people are supporting the BLM movement there, but do they actually? 

White people of Portland might be protesting, but they are often not doing so with the Black community. In fact, white organizers are suppressing Black leaders and refusing to join in peaceful protest with Black leaders. And this sort of activism misses the whole point- listening to and helping the Black community in the ways in which they need to be helped, not in the way white people think.

I am glad that white people are finally publicly supporting the movement against racially-based violence and police brutality. But how actively they support this or that movement should not define the movement’s importance or urgency. So what I’m hoping for the most is that the Black Lives Matter movement will not lose its value if, for some reason, white people will stop showing as much support as they do now.

I want equality. I want to see change. And I hope we become more united and continue the conversation on race. It all starts within our institutions, so I hope that BCC will continue working towards becoming more inclusive by inviting people of color as speakers who will encourage our students to solve the urgent matters Black people face.

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