“Why are racists still a thing?”

This is the question I saw early this morning on Facebook. It startled me because I think about racism every day, read about racism every day, hear about racism every day. The existence of racism and racists is not a surprise to me nor should it be to anyone living in America. Was it a real question or an expression of exasperation, amazement, sadness? The timing of the question was particularly remarkable since I had just read the following comment on a post on the NIOT blog  about a Civil Rights timeline produced by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library covering the period 1939-1965:

“I must share how deeply disheartening seeing this makes me. I was born in 1960 and have witnessed the world stand still without deepening its empathy for this American condition that remains visible and invisible at the same time. What I realize is that this is not a collective effort, but an individual one that speaks for each person to look into the mirror.

Facing yourself to ask – How are my decisions having a negative impact on the lives of black people? Where do I shop? Who do I support politically? This reaches beyond identifying with a party and speaks to the men and women you elect. In what ways am I supporting watered down versions of slavery??? Who am I enslaving??? When and only when you can see you in this picture, then real action will prevail.” Simona Bricker

Whatever the intent of the question, “Why are racists still a thing?” the answer is “Because we ‘good white people’ aren’t doing our job.” Yes, we can feel sad every time an unarmed black person is killed, shake our heads at the continuing black-white gap in almost every measure—health, education, income, wealth, longevity, etc., express outrage at racist statements by public figures. But until we do as Simona says and look deep into ourselves, recognize the attitudes we’ve imbibed, been soaked in, inhaled since infancy as part of our upbringing and molding as white citizens of a society whose institutions are structured for our benefit, acknowledge how they operate in our daily lives, thoughts, perceptions, words, and begin to actively change ourselves, racists and racism will continue to exist.

We have been admonished and taught by several, well-known figures. Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” In 1963, at the March on Washington Rabbi Joachim Prinz: “Bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence. . . . America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent. Not merely black America, but all of America. It must speak up and act . . . not for the sake of the black community but for the sake of the image, the idea and the aspiration of America itself.” The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.: History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

When we witness racism, what will we do? When we speak, what will we hear? When we look into the mirror, as Simona instructs us to do, what will we see? Change begins with each of us individually every day.  The person asking the question, “Why are racists still a thing?” did the right thing by putting the question out in a public forum.  What will you do?