Didn’t Martin Luther King make this same point many years ago?
White people do not think in terms of we. White people have the privilege to interact with the social and political structures of our society as individuals. You are “you,” I am “one of them.” Whites are often not directly affected by racial oppression even in their own community, so what does not affect them locally has little chance of affecting them regionally or nationally. They have no need, nor often any real desire, to think in terms of a group. They are supported by the system, and so are mostly unaffected by it.
What they are affected by are attacks on their own character. To my aunt, the suggestion that “people in The North are racist” is an attack on her as a racist. She is unable to differentiate her participation within a racist system (upwardly mobile, not racially profiled, able to move to White suburbs, etc.) from an accusation that she, individually, is a racist. Without being able to make that differentiation, White people in general decide to vigorously defend their own personal non-racism, or point out that it doesn’t exist because they don’t see it.
You want to know who are some of the worst white people about this? Atheists. Really. We’re so rational. We’ve got the deep understanding of evolution, we see all people as the product of common descent, we’re not racists, we’re all Africans! So no, you can criticize ignorant crackers about it, but you can’t possibly complain about us atheists.
I’ve seen this behavior directly. I was at a meeting where Sikivu Hutchinson spoke fiercely and plainly about the black condition, and an atheist in the audience actually raised his hand and rose up to declare that he was “completely color-blind” and thought she was complaining to the wrong people. Not only did he not have a question (don’t you hate that?), but he was completely oblivious to the actual issues he raised and was instead entirely focused on defending his status as a good, non-racist person.
I cringed so hard I might have crushed one of my thoracic vertebrae.
Here’s what I want to say to you: Racism is so deeply embedded in this country not because of the racist right-wing radicals who practice it openly, it exists because of the silence and hurt feelings of liberal America.
My fellow white people: seek out and listen to the black members of our communities. Really listen. Think about what you can do to reduce the injustice being done, rather than squirming to avoid the taint of racism. We’re swimming in racism everywhere, we are and have been profiting off of it for centuries, and we don’t get to claim that we’re pure and exempt.