Letter to the Editor: Lack of Knowledge about Racism Contributes to It

Those who deny racism and its effects may believe that they “don’t see race” and are “not racist.” However, racism is not merely outrageous language and behavior. Racism also means indifference and lack of knowledge about what it means to live as a person of color. Racism means resentment. It means considering people of color to be outsiders. It means using coded language to refer to people of color. Racism means the refusal to learn about, recognize and understand one’s own privilege and advantages.

My own learning journey includes Peggy McIntosh’s paper “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Several examples from McIntosh’s 50-item list stand out: “I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.” “I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.” “I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, or not answer letters without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.” “I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.” “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.”

It’s easier to be comfortable, but I recognize my privileges as a white person, so I continue to educate myself about racism. I cannot ignore the suffering of my friends and colleagues. I know Black judges, lawyers and other professionals who have been stopped by officers simply for Driving Up North While Black. There is indeed a set of skills that Black parents must teach their children in order to help ensure that they come home alive every day – skills I never had to teach my children when they were growing up in a white world.

If I refuse to recognize racism, if I am indifferent to racism, if I am not educating myself about racism, and if I am not actively fighting racism, then I am contributing to racism. It’s never too late to learn and grow.

Nancy S. Morris

Milwaukee and Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin