Systemic Racism Causes Trauma; It’s Everyone’s Job to Change Society

I’ve had a difficult time finding words to write in the past week. George Floyd was murdered by police 5 days after I posted about the cop who abused and terrorized me. But I’m not writing this to draw parallels, I am white and have no idea what it’s like to live in a racist society every day. However, I saw the video of his death and it triggered me, and many parts of me. The pain for this man swelled up inside of me, a chaotic storm of anger and hopelessness. It left me feeling so angry I didn’t know what to do with it. Sometimes injustice causes me to feel hopeless and silenced. After thinking about it, I realize I must push through these emotions to write about racism, because it’s my job as a white person to face the uncomfortable truths that I am afforded a privilege that persons of colour are not, simply because of my skin.

Ending racism starts with white people looking inward at their privilege, biases, and judgments. It’s acknowledging that I was born into society with a head start. Although I can understand the struggle of being born into a painful existence, just random I suppose, I don’t know what it’s like to deal with hateful people every day. Even though I’m gay and have dealt with homophobic comments and judgments, it’s still not the same. I can choose to hide the fact that I’m gay, not that I do, but I could. If you are black, you have to walk around being judged, you have to hear racial slurs and somehow endure this pain, and you have to figure out a way to make it in a world that offers little opportunity and hope. Black children don’t see many heroes that look like them on tv. Hopefully this changes. I thought that having a black president for years would help the US, and although it brought pride and hope to the black community, it also showed the ugly side of racism in this country.

Systemic racism is understood as the systems in place that ignore, marginalize, oppress, and penalize you for being a person of colour. Our education system needs an overhaul, because it does very little to teach all children about the history of the black community. I didn’t read books about slavery until high school. Harriet Tubman was covered in elementary school, but briefly. Everyone agreed that slavery was obviously horrible, but it was presented to us in a way that conveyed that racism ended with desegregation and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It did not. It wasn’t until college that I was able to take classes like American Ethnic History, where I learned much more about what our European ancestors did to Native Americans, black people, Asians, etc. I also took a class called the Psychology of Racism in college. This is the first I ever heard about systemic and covert racism, something I should’ve learned about as a kid. My professor explained that overt (obvious) racism was not considered socially acceptable anymore, but that racism still existed covertly in the systems of government and people’s biases. As I’ve said, the educational system fails minorities and fails to teach white people the truth. It fails to hold white people accountable. And it fails to teach us to think about what it must like to be black in this country. Of course we can never truly know, because we don’t live it. But it would help if every child understood the struggles more clearly. Imagine being born into a world that doesn’t accept you fully for who you are. The systems in place make sure that black people are disadvantaged and have much higher rates of low incomes. You watch your family struggle for food, clothing, shelter, etc. Poverty leads to depression, hopelessness, and the inability to see a bright future and have dreams. This leads to drug use and crime to make money and survive. You start your life miles behind others, with little hope of being able to pay for college or start a business. You experience racial trauma. This accumulates a weight on your shoulders where you feel hopeless and marginalized. You walk through life being judged for your skin. You are more likely to get pulled over while driving, you live in fear of cops who are supposed to serve and protect you, and you begin to resent your world, and understandably so. And when you try to do the right thing, when you don’t engage in criminal activities to survive, you still get judged by people who assume you are a criminal or somehow dangerous. It’s awful, and I don’t truly know how awful it is because I don’t live it. I’m probably only scratching the surface of the pain, and I have a feeling I am probably not explaining it adequately.

Then there’s the “War on Drugs” started by President Reagan in the 1980s. It’s basically a war on black and traumatized people. Black people were getting arrested for small amounts of weed or crack, they were handed much lengthier prison sentences than white people with the same charges, and filled our prisons. This is still the case. Nothing has changed. Our prisons are filled with black people who are then forced to work for basically nothing as the private prison system profits off them. It’s basically modern day slavery. People could argue, well they shouldn’t have been selling or using drugs. But I just explained the level of hopelessness, desperation, and fear that they’re born into. They don’t have the same opportunities that white people have. This causes depression and PTSD. A large number of addicts have trauma in their past. They are self medicating. And instead if getting help for their medical conditions, they’re thrown in prisons so rich white people can make more money. Imagine living in a world with little hope and fear of the police killing you over a traffic violation or petty crime, or just for being black. And when they’re finally released from jail, they have a record that makes obtaining a decent job very difficult, and it makes it impossible to get financial aid for college.

And then there is the political system, which is rigged against minorities. How many people know about gerrymandering? This is when politicians in power, usually white people, redraw districts to disempower minority groups and make their votes less impactful. It’s also a way of trying to maintain a political party’s power in certain states, especially in the conservative south. I encourage every American to learn about gerrymandering and demand a change. It’s unconstitutional. I also urge people to learn about many states assaults on people’s voting rights. Many southern states require legal identification to vote, and this is done because they know people of low income have a harder time acquiring these documents. And they know that a large proportion of low income citizens are black and minorities. When I vote in my state that doesn’t require identification, all I have to do is give my name and address, and they hand me a ballot. That’s how it should be. Conservatives claim that this is to stop voter fraud, but statistically speaking, voting fraud is rare. This is why more liberal states like mine don’t worry about it. There are many ways the political system tries to stifle minority votes. Learning about this and understanding how the system is rigged should make all Americans outraged. We should all demand change.

Sometimes I try to call out racism, and people try to shame me by saying things like, that’s just your white guilt. Well, I suppose it is. But I’d rather face it and deal with it, I’d rather be uncomfortable for others to be treated better. I acknowledge my privilege. Even as immigrants, because my family was white, we were treated better and accepted into American society. It was easy for us to get green cards. It was easier for my parents to get jobs than if they were black or spoke another language. I know this is true, and I admit it.

It’s up to white people to admit how badly we as a society treat others who appear different. We are all humans. Every human deserves an equal playing field. Perhaps this is a lofty goal, but I don’t see it that way. I have hope. Police brutality against black people has existed for hundreds of years, but thanks to technology, everyone is able to see it. Our current president is a stain on our history, and his racism emboldened the racists all over this country. At first I was depressed and angry at this, but then I realized that this covert racism must be exposed. We must shine the light on people’s biases and hate. It’s the only way to truly evolve as a society. We must face the uncomfortable truth that this country is extremely racist, and not much has changed. The current civil rights movement must continue, we must keep our foot on the gas. It’s up to us to speak up and call out racism every day. A few years ago when I was still married, my ex father in law posted a nasty racist meme on Facebook. It disgusted me, and I commented on it and said it was racist. He replied by claiming it wasn’t racist. I stayed calm, but I tried to explain what it must feel like to be a black child in a southern city and see monuments still standing for leaders of the Confederacy. Honestly, it was extremely uncomfortable for me to call out my own father in law on social media, but I knew I had to. I’m not saying I’m perfect, I’m sure there are many missed opportunities where I should’ve said something. But this is an example of what white people must do. We can’t bury our heads in the sand because it doesn’t affect us personally. We can’t listen to rap, watch basketball and football, and generally steal from black culture without respecting black culture. It sickened me when Colin Kapernick, the quarterback for the 49ers, lost his job for simply kneeling in protest during the national anthem. A lot of white people lost their minds, saying how dare he disrespect this country, and said he needed to stand and just play football. But why should he respect a country that doesn’t respect him? And why can’t he use his fame and platform to bring awareness to the reality of racism? He chose a calm and silent way of protesting, and even that was not allowed by this racist society. Protesting is extremely patriotic. As other black players started kneeling to show solidarity and support, they were also threatened with losing their jobs. It disgusted me, and it still does. The current hypocrisy is also disgusting, as George Floyd died when a white cop kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds as he gasped and said that he couldn’t breathe. And what causes me further outrage is that Eric Garner died in almost the exact same way 6 years ago, but this is still happening. And what of Philando Castile, who was a black man legally carrying a firearm? He was shot and killed in front of his girlfriend by a cop when he was stopped for a simple traffic violation. Yet white people can bring assault rifles into a statehouse and remain untouched while protesting the government response to a pandemic, a response that was there to save millions of lives. The hypocrisy should have every American outraged. And they should stay outraged until we see major reform and change. There are so many stories like these ones, so many lives lost to racism. People say, well what can I do? You can speak up, no matter how uncomfortable, and you can vote in local elections, because this is where reform starts. You can protest, donate to causes that promote reform, and you can use your voice. You can teach your children the truth about this country. And it’s very important that we listen to the black community. It’s up to all of us to make the US live up to its motto. We are not the “land of the free,” and we never will be unless we do something to drastically change.

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