I am white, a recent college graduate, and, by-in-large, privileged.
While I have encountered many times in just the last few days where people would deny the existence of racism or (frustratingly) label Black Lives Matter as racist, I have at times also noticed frustrating levels of silence on the issue. And I think to myself the following—what drives people to be so silent on an issue so important? I offer an answer that is controversial, yet at least partially true—a lot of us, either consciously or subconsciously, don’t talk about racism because that is the most convenient thing to do.
It is convenient to avoid hurting feelings.
I mean, we all know this. And as many people have told me over the years, if you want to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, just don’t talk about politics, race, or religion. Rest assured—I have ignored all three pieces of advice as someone who openly talks about both my relationship with God, my distaste of both major candidates in this presidential election, and my belief that there is institutional racism. But what this means is that I am unlikely to win any popularity contest. That is fine by me, but for those who care about being popular, or have a job where popularity is important (such as being a politician), it is not very convenient to talk about racial issues (issues which sadly also become political) because that is likely to result in the loss of popularity.
But speaking of feelings, woe be onto someone who hurts feelings by saying that someone benefits from a racist system. Pointing out such basic facts would automatically create the impression that we’re accusing someone of being racist. Never mind the fact that such a person would not be directly accused of racism, but instead told that he/she benefits from a racist system. But since even pointing out this fact would hurt feelings, we just would sometimes rather avoid talking about race at all.
Not that feelings should be important in the grand scheme of things. After all, power is more important…right? Actually, now that I mention power, it would be convenient for me and fellow whites to ignore racism because confronting it means that some of us would probably lose power and influence. Whether people like to admit this or not, we live in a society dominated by whites, and mostly white males like me, to be brutally honest. If we (white males) want to hold power as long as we can, then the one convenient thing to do is to not talk about racism. And, quite frankly, ignore sexism as well, while we’re talking about males.
And since I’m saying that not talking about racism is convenient in helping whites keep power, how about we talk about how such inaction allows us to keep wealth as well? I mean, if the current structure of wealth in this country allows whites to benefit much more than blacks, then our silence or inaction on the issue allow us to maintain that wealth. Very convenient indeed.
Silence on racism, especially for a white male like me, is quite convenient. Especially since our own convenience seems to be more important than the human lives of the Trayvon Martins, Michael Browns, Alton Sterlings, and Philando Castiles of the world.
I must emphasize that this piece is not at all intended as a justification of people who remain silent on racism.
In fact, “convenience” is a poor excuse.
So poor that few would admit that they are being silent on racism because it is the convenient thing to do. Instead, I am talking about the convenience of ignoring racism because I want to show what Black Lives Matter and its allies are up against. They are up against people who choose to ignore or even deny racism because, with all due respect to Al Gore and climate change, it is an inconvenient truth.