Racism is a weed, and we are all responsible for tending the garden

Racism is a weed, and we are all responsible for tending the garden
Comment: It's not enough to not be racist. Our job is to speak out against bias and discrimination wherever we see it, writes Aabye-Gayle D. Francis-Favilla.
5 min read
'You can't just be innocent; you also have to be the victims' ally' [Getty]
My anger and sadness are so close to the surface now - flaring up at the slightest provocation. I feel them in my skin. There is so much to be upset about these days, and yet, I can't stay well-informed without also being overwhelmed.

I couldn't bring myself to watch the video of George Floyd's life being squeezed out of him by the weight of a police officer's knee. Some tragedies don't need to be seen to be believed. 

Some are confused by the protests in America and beyond, and the return of the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront of the news. Some Americans, I have been disappointed to see, have been taking it personally. They want to know why people are making such a big deal, when it's just one cop taking one life (as if one life isn't a priceless quantity).

You'll hear lots of anti-BLM protesters saying, "it's just one bad apple. There are good police officers." My answer is yes, good police officers exist. My grandfather was an excellent one. But in reality, one bad apple ruins the bunch, and each and every rotten one needs to be rooted out. 
Also, this clearly isn't "just one". It's one on top of a legacy of so many more.

For an understanding of what has brought the Black community to the point of protest and riot, just take a look at the history of how Black people have been treated in America from the days of slavery through Jim Crow. Look at the biases that have led to an over-representation of Black people in prisons, serving harsher sentences than their white counterparts to this day.

Racism nourished the roots of this country. It's in the foundation that facilitated American prosperity

It isn't just the one; it's the whole - it's the aggregate of oppression. It's the continued denial of access, opportunity, and equality coupled with abuse suffered at the hands of those who have sworn an oath to serve and protect.

Racism nourished the roots of this country. It's in the foundation that facilitated American prosperity. Because it was economically beneficial, white Americans found ways to justify it. Those qualifications are still in action today. And because racism is endemic, ridding our country of it will not be an easy fix.

Racism isn't a light switch. You can't turn it on or off. It's pervasive. And it's not all or none. It's a spectrum. You can have Black friends and coworkers and still contribute to it. Eradicating racism is not a one-off accomplishment. It's a lifelong effort.

Racism is a weed. You'll have to address it for as long as you want a colorful and well-tended garden - where all the flowers can thrive. I'm Black. I'm Christian. Even I have racist tendencies. So, if you're white and you think you're immune, you're in denial, and that denial is the frontier of racism many of us people of color find the most draining to navigate.

Read more: Enjoying Black art comes with a duty to reflect on racism in America

We see it. We feel it. It makes us bite our tongue, smile politely, and watch our tone. It's the diffuse racism that shackles our unspoken statements in our throats so we won't be perceived as the "angry Black woman". 

Have you ever been insulted, slighted, or abused and then been told that your emotional response to the hurt is wrong? People of color experience racial gas-lighting with excruciating regularity.

Finally, even if a person were to eradicate all the racism from their heart, actions, and words - both conscious and unintentional - it wouldn't be enough. You can't just be innocent of the crime; you also have to be the victims' ally.

Otherwise, you're actually on the wrong side. For, in the words of Angela Davis: "In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist."

Racism is a weed. First you must tend to your own garden. Learn all you can about the history and consequences of American slavery, The Trail of Tears, The Holocaust, Internment Camps, institutional racism, and implicit bias. Open up your social circle so that it's more diverse and inclusive. Ask yourself and others difficult questions. Don't be quick to defend or explain. Listen. Then listen some more.

That's a start. But there are weeds in your neighbour's garden too. You could smile politely and never address their biases. You could let their Confederate pride go unchallenged. You could say nothing when they talk about wanting to see everyone pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, never mind that the US government shredded and cut the bootstraps of Blacks from the moment their feet hit American soil.

The US government shredded and cut the bootstraps of Blacks from the moment their feet hit American soil

Racism is a weed; and we are all responsible for tending the garden that is our society. We must be vigilant. Wherever bias grows or prejudice sprouts, we must get to the root and pull the whole thing out. To those shouting "all lives matter" in response to "Black Lives Matter," point out that the word "all" has excluded Black people since the penning of the Declaration of Independence.

Prejudice is pervasive, and no one, whatever the colour of their skin has the freedom of being complacent. We must condemn it wherever it crops up. See something? Say something. Do something. And don't dismiss anyone's fears or concerns. Just because you don't see the harm or danger, doesn't mean it isn't there.

The stakes are too high for incredulity or ambivalence. What the world needs now is more love and active allies. Silence never helps the victim. Pretending America is great, when it has never been great for everyone, undermines the efforts of those trying to help our country achieve its purported legacy - to make it a place where "equality for all" exists without fine print or an asterisk. 

Aabye-Gayle D. Francis-Favilla is an editor and writer from New York who focuses on matters of gender, mental health, and race. She is a graduate of the Nightingale-Bamford School and Wellesley College, and was on the editorial staff of Nickelodeon Magazine.

ollow her on Twitter: @Aabsofsteel

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.