Racism is a problematic ideology but not all problematic ideologies are racism.

You know the one cousin you don’t hang out with because he starts some mess every time you go out? Or the one who can come to the BBQ but can’t go in the house alone because she steals? How about that one distant relative who you drive by on the way to work, hanging out on the corner, because that’s where he lives? We all have them. They are the bane of the family, the stain on the family name, the embarrassment to the family name.

Imagine, for a second, that this person’s flaw wasn’t a drug problem, or kleptomania, or even laziness. Imagine that this person’s flaw was racism…

I was raised around all cultures and we all cracked on each other’s cultures because we all knew we loved each other and were friends. I went to quinces, I went to bar mitzvahs, I went to African weddings, I went line dancing. So when my Facebook timeline started erupting with racially charged statuses and opinions from those same people, I was totally confused. Moreover, I was hurt. Did they not realize I was black, and the same “kind of” black, as the people they were calling “fools?” Were their parents, who I considered my parents, actually teaching them there was a difference between people like “Hope and her family” and “niggers?” Of course, the answer was yes.

It took some time for me to get this (and a couple blocks and unfriends from people who were just not willing to even listen), but here’s what I noticed:

Some of my white friends considered white supremacists and racists their “idiot cousins” who should be ignored and they would go away, and some of my white friends were going so deep into their ideologies of equality that they thought they regard all of this unrest as foolish because we’re all the same.

Let me explain the two kinds of accidentally problematic white friends I have:

  1. “Stop giving these people press.”

I have a friend who swears up and down that racists will go away and racism won’t be as big of a problem if we ignore them, or if we show them all the good things about other races. The issue with that is that no disease goes away by ignoring it, and it is not our jobs to convince people not to hate us. As a white male, though, with family members who are racist even though he is not, this is how he’s handled those family members his whole life. He’s used to dealing with their annoying rants or comments and is almost 30 years in to rolling his eyes and walking away, knowing the truth and disregarding what that family member says. He doesn’t even argue anymore; he just doesn’t associate with those family members, and he knows that Uncle So-and-so is really a good person because of all he has done for his own family, but he just has this one issue. That issue just so happens to be racism. It sounds silly to say it that flippantly, but I had to come to that understanding in order to not lose someone who has been a family friend my entire life. But as someone who has that kind of friendship with him, I can explain to him that my family member’s drug problem is not something a mass amount of people accept, and even praise, that threatens the well-being and safety of millions. His drug problem doesn’t cause him to look at other people and consider them less than human. His drug problem can’t get anyone deported. Most importantly, his drug problem will not cause an entire nation to implode if it goes unchecked.

2. “We’re all equal, so I don’t see what anyone’s problem is.”

This kind of thinking is problematic in a sneaky way, because the deal is, my friend was raised correctly and is right…on paper. My friend’s family taught him that everyone is loved and valued by God and has something amazing to contribute to society, and up until now, my friend has never realized an entire group of people has always been treated differently by society. I take the blame for those friends who didn’t realize this, because I never shared with them the things that I witnessed and experienced. Those things are so embarrassing and hurtful that I would rush to do something to get them out of my head instead of telling my friends they happened. So now, when I’m saying I’m “fed up” with something, they have no idea what I’m talking about because they saw Hope, their friend, who was doing the same things they did and going to the same places and enjoying the same freedoms. Explaining to them why they should speak out and say things were wrong makes no sense to them, because they honestly think what has happened in Charlottesville and around the country are isolated events by a couple hundred crazy, backwards mountain people, and they don’t realize these are the same people who wear suits and ties and have the power to hire, or not hire, people who look like me, and they are the same people who are in charge of protecting and serving the general public, but sometimes don’t because of their prejudices.

What’s the point?

While there is no excuse for not speaking out against racism and oppression, it’s hard to look over the fence, pull a Jesus, and say, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” It’s even harder to imagine that they actually don’t know what they’re doing. But they don’t, and they won’t unless you tell them. If at all possible, tell them in person, or at very least over the phone so they can hear you. We have FaceTime and Skype now so it’s even easier. I just keep thinking that we have so many allies we count out because they “refuse” to understand, when really, they just aren’t responding how we would like them to.

There is a difference, and we cannot turn our justified passion into something that further alienates us from each other. That is exactly what those who want us to segregate ourselves would love.

Resist.

Resist the urge to be so passionate and angry that you give in to this division that hate groups are trying to inflict upon us. Try your very best to understand each other, and to have grace on those who will never understand. Your hurt that they cannot (or will not) see it from their side reflects their hurt that the friend they once had now imposes this hateful title upon them. It’s a hard thing to come to terms with your problematic thinking, and it’s not going always to happen with a Facebook comment or a Twitter debate. There’s a way to salvage your friendships in the midst of all the confusion.

United we stand, divided we fall.

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