Blog Project Day 88: Taking aim at the elephant in the room
It’s hard, if not impossible, to not think about race and racism these days. Between the Trayvon Martin murder and the story about the racist tweets from people (teens?!) who saw The Hunger Games film, you truly have to have not just your head but your entire body buried in the sand not to realize that the whole post-racial society thing is a nice dream but not yet a reality.
I read yet another story yesterday: a black woman went to the emergency room with what may have been a sprained ankle. For unknown reasons the staff refused to treat her even though she was in considerable pain. (I’m unclear if she actually received any type of examination at all beyond the triage desk.) The hospital staff called the cops on her and had her taken into custody for trespassing. She was in so much pain that she couldn’t walk, so the cops carried her to the squad car and then deposited her on the floor of the jail cell. She died approximately 10 minutes later from what turned out to be a series of embolisms in her legs.*
The writer of the story posited that the hospital staff and the police treated the woman the way they did because she was black. In the comments many people came to the same conclusion the writer did, but there were some who rather indignantly wanted to know, “Why does everything have to be about race?” And while I agree that the hospital and police responses were probably driven in part by the woman’s perceived socioeconomic status, it’s entirely disingenous to not read race as a factor as well.
I’ve been pondering those comments, and wondering how on earth anyone who was obviously capable of reading and comprehending a news story could possibly doubt the racism that was at play not just in this woman’s case, but in the Trayvon Martin case, in the Troy Davis case, in Arizona’s curriculum decisions, in thousands of situations involving people of color that take place all over the country every day.
One conclusion that I’ve come to is that white people are just scared to talk about racism. They’re scared to be open about any of their own prejudices. And until we can actually have a discussion, get through the defensiveness, the denials, the “Well, he may be racist, but I have black friends,” racism will continue to be alive and well. You can’t slay the dragon if you refuse to acknowledge it exists.
I also think that many white people simply don’t know what racism is. They’re not burning crosses, or wearing white hoods, or using racial epithets, so they’re not racist. Yes, racism is all of those things. But it’s also my colleague demanding to know what the editorial content of Essence is like without first asking me if I actually read Essence (which I don’t). It’s standing at the office Christmas party and being able to count all the people of color in your mid-sized corporation on one hand. It’s having no close friends of color at all in your life and not seeing that as problematic.
Talking about race is messy, it’s disruptive, it’s painful. And someone’s feelings are going to get hurt on all sides. But I’d rather go through that and persevere till we come out the other side than have to read one more news story about one more mother’s child being trampled to death by the weight of the elephant in the room.