By Brandy Jones-Thomas,
Marriage and Family Therapist
June 27, 2020
What if Racism is Like a Pandemic?
Radical Dharma pg. 121
“The great fraud of the construct of whiteness is that it has coerced and convinced most white folks to no longer see their own oppression: by men over women, by straights over the LGBT, by hetero fathers over their sons in arbitrating their masculinity, by capitalist values of personal acquisition over the personal freedoms of one’s soul. White folks have been duped to trade their humanity for their privilege. The most insidious lie is that racism is a Black problem or colored folks’ problem. White folks wake up: not only oppressed people are complicit in oppression.” (williams, Owens, & Syedullah, 2016)
– Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams, Sensei, December 2014 (Facebook Post).
I started with this quote, as I have grown to study and embrace my own liberation from internalized oppression. As a professor at a local Community College and a teacher of social work and counseling. In each class I ensure students learn some skills related to diversity, cultural competence, and self-awareness. In one class, I have students engage in a Racial Identity Development assignment. All the students struggle with this assignment, but especially Non-POC because, really what is white culture? Tim Wise created a documentary “White Like Me”, this is a documentary to start to understand what is “White Culture”? How is it defined? I think the key to understanding white supremacy in this country, which is synonymous with racism, is part of the solution to dismantling systemic racism.
Racial Identity Development
I encourage NON-POCs to start considering their own racial identity. There are several good models for racial identity development:
Hardiman’s White Racial Identity Development Model suggests five developmental stages; naivete, acceptance, resistance, redefinition, and internalization (Sue & Sue 2016).
There is also Helm’s White Racial Identity Development Model which is broken into two phases;
- Abandonment off racism:
- Defining a non-racist white identity:
I mention these models not to add further education on them but to encourage Non-POCs that identify with white culture to investigate these models to begin to understand their identity. Part of this process of identity development for Non-POCs is understanding how to manage one’s own feelings of anger and guilt associated with being white and to do one’s personal work to become a true co-conspirator with communities of color.
White Fragility Stops The Conversation
White fragility not only stops these conversations for racial equality from moving forward, but also doesn’t allow Blacks and other POCs to have a voice. A voice without fears of being verbally victimized by their colleagues and white people they thought were friends. Throughout our history in the U.S. people of color, specifically Black People, have been mistreated, abused, and dehumanized since our enslavement, and it continues. There have been movements towards equality, but we have not started the conversation within white communities. It is not until recently did people of color advocate for safe space, specifically Black Americans. A space that allows non-judgement expressions of their hurts and woes without proof of the harm or protecting white guilt or preparing for white anger.
Racism Is A Pandemic
When COVID-19 started I thought, wow I am living through my first pandemic. I was forced to change my way of living. I was afraid to engage with large groups. I was conscious of the racial targets Asian Americans became. Then as I really took time two weeks into the pandemic, I began to think, well, racism is a pandemic. I have been living through a pandemic my whole life, I know how to handle this. The pandemic I had been living in, that my Mother, Father, Grandmother, and Great Grandmother had all lived through and survived.
My ancestors were not allowed in stores, colleges, or restaurants for decades, and if they were allowed it may not have been safe. There are still places within Sacramento, that I enter with my long locs, tattooed body and dark skin, I could look suspicious, so I avoid these places sometimes. Racism has been killing people of color, specifically Black Americans since it first infected us near the shores of Ghana.
I remember wearing the mask for COVID and thinking this is terribly uncomfortable. Then I began to think of all those that have been wearing masks to manage the disease of racism. The KKK first wore a mask, and still does because they are sick with racism. During Jim Crow era Blacks and whites wore masks to deal with racism, to protect themselves from the Blacks, who they claimed had disease. We were not allowed to share space, drinking fountains, schools, and any other place due to segregation. As many people in the Black community say, we became the problem as soon as we were no longer enslaved and considered property and free labor.
We Can Do Better
When the pandemic hit, I saw things that I did not think were options. Whole cities shut down instantly to protect our children, our families, and each other. During an equity training at the college I work for I asked an administrator one question, “What if we responded as drastically and as radically to systemic racism as we did to this pandemic?” Prior to this pandemic, there were classes we needed to take, ways to ensure our online classes were accessible to those differently abled and appropriate for learning. That all went away with an email and boom just like that I was competent enough to teach online.
What if institutions without days/weeks of understanding their own role in racism, shut down that institution and immediately trained employees and assessed or created anti-racist practices? What if everyone created new non-racist ways to engage with communities of color? What if there was radical action to protect people from the disease of violence, discrimination, prejudice, microaggressions, macro aggressions, modern racism, institutional racisms, systemic racism, and white fragility.
What if this was achievable if we moved from “diversity and cultural competence” and spoke our truth? “Anti-racism” training is needed. I have read so many books, I mean the list is provided here but 6 years ago I started the journey to end my own internalized oppression and the heal my wounds from living 40 years in the racially unjust society.
What If We Treated Racism As A Disease?
So my question again to you is, “What if we treated racism as a disease, a deadly virus that is killing people?” People dying in jail cells because of this virus/disease, people dying while jogging because of this disease, people dying while being arrested for crimes they have not been found guilty of, but presumed guilty, but still dying from this disease. If racism is treated as a disease it would require us first to acknowledge we are sick. Trust me my American friends, we are sick and dying from this illness of racism and white supremacy.
“In this society where we all want racial justice to grow, we must get our hands dirty first, before we can wash them clean of the matter.”
-Brandy S. Jones-Thomas, LMFT
How We Can Stop The Disease
How do we stop the spread of racism and continued “sickness”? We get our hands dirty. That includes digging through the roots of racism in this country, feeling the hate and destruction of Black and brown bodies, and white people and Non-POCs digging, feverously deep into themselves and their privilege, understanding implicit biases, and understand the realities of social justice. We cannot get our country clean of racism until we know the dirt, the blood on our hands as a nation that has never valued Black lives. What we need are Non-POCs having more conversations with each other in small groups, with families, and friends that make insensitive, racially charged statements at family or social gatherings. Having big, courageous conversations, taking time to deal with white America’s fear of this conversation is what must happen for change to come. After small groups, move to larger groups, unapologetic in making sure everyone is safe and “not racists” before they encounter POC.
What if you are okay with wearing the mask of racism? What if it is comfortable and taking it off would be scary because you would then be exposed to the disease. Well, Black people have never had a mask and we never will. Nothing protects us from racism, but you. Yes, People of Color need enraged, passionate, and unapologetic allies. White people must stand up to racism in all parts of our country. Be our co-conspirators. Take off the mask. Feel the sickness that communities of color have been battling for decades and centuries. Be prepared to be uncomfortable when you notice a microaggression and must directly name it with your white colleagues, family members, friends and others in your life that keep us sick. Be our voice when we are not in the room, do not be afraid to acknowledge when you commit a microaggression, or learn what your implicit bias is. Gain self-awareness and the ability to say I offended you, I am sorry, I will do better. As Maya Angelou said, “once you know better, do better”.
So, for the white person that wants to be our co-conspirator and engage in allyship; it is imperative that you are the voice that supports communities of color. Marginalized persons of all communities strongly advocate for those that are oppressed and crying out for liberation and freedom in their own communities. I encourage you to attend peaceful protests, visit townhalls, listen to community forums to understand what communities of color are saying, so you can hear the voices, feel the emotions and experience the feelings of being with us. However, that is not enough. You need to go to police departments and ask questions about use of force policies and understand them. Ensure the leaders we vote for are already engaged in social justice work and ready to evaluate and change policies that do not support justice for Black communities. When you see or hear microaggressions, and you are not sure what to do, DO SOMETHING!!! “James Baldwin spoke of “moral apathy” and I often feel that doing NOTHING, the complacency, the defending of policies that allow murder of “suspects of criminal behavior” being killed in the streets with an onslaught of onlookers, is horrible, traumatic, and terrifying.
I implore you, do not get comfortable being a bystander to this uprising, this cry out to save and value Black Lives and the Black community. Everyone needs to ensure justice is not a hope for Black mothers, fathers, Daughters- but an achievable reality of justice and valuing of all our lives. People of Color, in particular Black people, are tired of fighting for human rights. It is exhausting. We need NON-POC to realize that achieving justice no longer requires “just us” engaging in these talks, we need you to step up and address this issues with White America for us to actually create a country pulled together by love, not love lessness and injustice.
“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” – Cornel West
“The opposite of love is not hate it is indifference.” – Elie Wiesel
Please do not be loveless with your words, behaviors, and social media post/comments. Be justice minded in all your interactions. Complacency, indifference, denial, and moral apathy are parts of systemic oppression. Stop engaging in this behavior. I have included a list of books I suggest you start reading to start your journey to be an activist and co-conspirator in fighting this disease. We are the cure. Are you ready to get your hands dirty?
williams, R. a., Owens, L. R., & Syedullah, J. (2016). Radical Dharma Talking Race. Love and Liberation. Berkley, Ca: North Atlantic Books.
About the Author
Brandy is a veteran of the golf war era, former military police officer, CEO of a local Non-Profit and professor of Human Services at a local Community College. If you need anything further please let me know.