When was the last time you talked about racism?
by Tamara Lucas Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers
Yes, WRAG is leading a learning journey called Putting Racism on the Table, but this post is not about that. This post is about why you – whoever you are – should be putting racism on whatever table, literal or metaphoric, at which you sit.
Think about it. If you are a white reader of this post, when was the last time that you talked about, or witnessed, racism? I don’t mean inclusion or equity or diversity, but racism? If you are African American, I suspect your answer to that question most likely is “today” or “yesterday.” It is not an exaggeration for me to say, African Americans live and breathe racism daily. I don’t mean overt acts of personal animus. Racism today is often in the form of structures and institutions that disadvantage or advantage one race relative to another. Sometimes it occurs in incidents of bias that may be unintentional, but are driven by societal and cultural stimuli that affect us all.
Consider these realities for Black America:
- In a past position, I used to follow the research on the prevalence of low birthweight births. I learned that when all factors are controlled – income, age of mother, support of father, frequency of prenatal care, everything – African American babies are typically smaller than white infants. Why? Some researchers suggest that it is because black women experience chronic stress caused by racism.
- African Americans represent 13.2% of the general population, but 39.4% of the prison population. Are we really that much more criminal? Or could this disparity be explained by racism?
- And finally, consider the recent outcry over the Oscars naming no black nominees in the major categories. Was no one talented enough for this recognition? Racism?
Those are big, complex issues. But what makes racism so insidious are the small occurrences that even those who are committed to racial justice rarely notice.
- Last week, I was looking for an image of an African American baby to accompany a Twitter post. I went to a free image website and found that there was not one image of an African American baby – not one. I suspect a white person may not have noticed that. I did.
- A friend was selling her house and was advised to remove all family photos from the walls. Potential buyers, she was told, shouldn’t know that the house was owned by a black family. Did this person harbor personal animus toward people of color? Maybe, but I doubt it. Perhaps they thought they were commenting honestly about the possible prejudice of potential home-buyers.
- Similarly, I was renting out a house that I own and was advised to remove an image on the website that showed a person of color relaxing beside the house. Why? I would potentially limit the renters if they thought it was a black neighborhood. Does it change your thinking when I tell you that the person who said this was a person of color?
Today, I ask you to put racism on YOUR table. Maybe media coverage of recent events will prompt your thinking. Maybe a comment made by a family member or neighbor will cause the topic to come to mind. I know that you can’t walk in my shoes, or me in yours, but I hope you will commit to spending time every week educating yourself about racial issues facing our country, learning about the genesis of those issues, and thinking about what you can do to change the situation. You can start your learning by watching our video series or simply talking honestly with a friend, neighbor or colleague. Please join me in #PuttingRacismOnTheTable. You can make a difference.