White America, It's Time to Be Uncomfortable and OK With It

To white Americans who are uncomfortable, I say: welcome to our world. You may be uncomfortable for a while until we make America a truly fair and racially just society.
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Rising activism among black people around unresolved issues of race in America seems to have left many of our lighter-hued brothers and sisters feeling uneasy. And that's a good thing.

Just days ago, rightwing talk show host Bill O'Reilly criticized the #BlacksLivesMatter movement for its "gestapo" tactics, saying the activists want to "tear down the country."

A couple of weeks ago, white progressives got upset when #BlackLivesMatter activists crashed their party at the Netroots Nation conference, demanding that democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley address systemic racism.

Even a good friend of mine, who lived among black people for much of his life, recently opined about an increased anger he senses among African Americans and how uncomfortable he now feels.

Well, white America: Welcome to our world.

And by welcome I don't mean welcome to the lives we live, because it's impossible to really walk in our shoes. But welcome to the feelings of discomfort we live with daily around issues of race, whether it means being followed around a store and treated like a suspect--I've been there many times--or, the fear of being pulled over by a cop and not knowing whether your skin color will lead to a demeaning, dehumanizing encounter or worse.

We are uncomfortable with the unequal system of justice that allows an officer to choke a man to death, who poses no threat, in full view of the world while officers do almost nothing to save his life. And, to make matters worse, the officers still have their jobs and were not even charged, showing the world that in America black lives don't matter very much.

We are uncomfortable with a Jim Crow system of justice that results in black people being far more likely to be stopped, arrested, jailed and imprisoned with longer sentences than white people in similar circumstances.

We are uncomfortable with the fact that no matter how qualified we are for a job we are more likely to face lengthier periods of unemployment than our white counterparts and that those of us with black-sounding names provide an excuse for our resumes to be ignored.

We are uncomfortable with the housing discrimination that leads to segregated communities, jobs and capital flight and under-resourced schools. And ridiculous policies like a "poor door" to separate us from them.

And we know that even decisions about where toxic waste sites, landfills and highways are placed, often involve race and ideas about whose lives matter most and whose lives matter least.

Even medical doctors who enter what we think of as the most noble of professions, who take an oath to do no harm, have been shown to undervalue black life, offering worse care to African Americans than they do whites.

We are "sick and tired of being sick and tired", as civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer once said.

That statement delivered in 1964 at the Democratic National Convention is as reflective of black feelings now as it was then. And that's because racism is still so real.

While the Civil Rights Movement was focused on ending a system of legally enforced apartheid and gaining political power, we are now focusing on ending bias--both conscious and unconscious-- in all its forms and ensuring that all laws, policies and practices are racially just.

We will no longer remain silent or be told by any candidates, elected officials or political parties that we should suffer oppression silently and avoid the uncomfortable subject of race for the political benefit of others.

We have been uncomfortable for far too long. We have been too quiet and mannerly. And the decades-long collective passivity on race has been, literally, killing us.

The silence of whites on race and refusal to address race props up an unjust system that promotes white privilege.

So, to white Americans who are uncomfortable, I say: welcome to our world. You may be uncomfortable for a while until we make America a truly fair and racially just society.

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