It’s a familiar bleeding-heart refrain sung in support of liberal initiatives, or to push back on conservatives: “Millions will suffer/are suffering! We can’t let this happen!” Lately we’re singing it a lot in response to hot topics like police shootings, poverty, the GOP’s proposed healthcare bill, and DeVos’s education budget. I was particularly struck by Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s impassioned pushback on the latter in a hearing when she said “none of us in here are gonna be hurt [by this]. We’re gonna be fine. Our kids and grandkids are gonna be OK. But millions of kids around this country are gonna suffer…”
Wrong. If “they” aren’t fine, we won’t be either. We live in a world that, despite our technological sophistication and growing personal isolation, is inextricably interdependent. We rely on a vast network of strangers every day, just to keep us alive. These strangers grow our food, bring that food and clean water to us, build our dwellings, enable us to cool and heat those dwellings, and transport us from place to place. These strangers provide us with essential products and services, enable our access to healthcare and valuable information (AKA education), facilitate ways for us to earn and spend money and do almost anything in modern life. If millions of those strangers are illiterate, unhealthy, or yoked by poverty or racism, we won’t be fine. The notion that “we” won’t suffer even if “they” do is a dangerous illusion that not only jeopardizes everyone’s basic well-being, it dampers the brilliance, innovation, creativity and delight that makes life worth living beyond mere survival.
A “they’re suffering!” refrain is also ineffective when it comes to catalyzing true social change like ending racism. While noble, morally good and altruistic, this refrain is incomplete. Not only does it reinforce the false “we-them” dichotomy that belies our deep interconnectedness, it fails to inspire those who, understandably, are more concerned with their own suffering, and that of their perceived kin. We must shift all talk of progressive vision and values to be more inclusive and “both-and”, instead of “either-or.” We must communicate clearly not only of how social ills are more commonly the fault of systems, history and circumstance than individual character and choice, but also how eliminating those ills benefit everyone.
I’ve spent over four decades navigating and studying the ills of racism, classism and bigotry, and over 25 years being paid to help others do so. To be more effective in addressing these ills, White people must move beyond an “old school” approach to diversity, inclusion and antiracism work – beyond the charity feel of efforts aimed to help a “them” outside of ourselves. We must illuminate what White people’s personal stake is in ending racism, inequities and exclusion. We will likely never be free of bigotry – individual, interpersonal acts of meanness based on another’s perceived racial identity – but a world without racism – the systematic distribution of resources, power and opportunity to the benefit of White people and the exclusion of people of color – is entirely possible.
The following 12 reasons ending racism is good for White people are based on my own reflections, as well the responses of nearly 70 antiracism activists and diversity professionals who responded to an online poll. Read the 12 reasons on HuffPost!