Race in our nation is complicated with a violent past and present. It is complicated because it permeates all of our lives, but it is often unnamed and misunderstood.
Racism is not easily eradicated. But, there has been progress. Not the kind of progress we might think of when we talk about racial progress—pointing out the first black president of the United States, Oprah, or the number of CEOs who are now people of color. These are not the rule, but the exceptions.
After decades of teaching racial justice advocacy, I believe when white people ask me, “Haven’t we made progress?” it is a type of denial. It reduces racial justice advocacy to focusing on the good, making the bad seem less bad.
Racial justice advocacy is greater than any one experience. There have been successes, but not as much progress as many white people prefer to claim.
A white perspective
Second, that question reflects a white perspective. Keep in mind that white people are not the only ones who can share a white perspective.
What is often being reflected in this question is that because White people today are more frequently interacting with people of color in their day-to-day lives, this must be an indication of racial progress. It is not. It is only an indication of the changing racial demographic of our nation.
So, when I get asked “Haven’t we made progress?” I find it difficult to agree because I have read too much, lived too much, seen too much and am far too busy wrapping the wounds of those injured by racism to agree.
One impact on the status quo is police violence in communities of color being made public thanks to smart phones and social media. Some are so undeniably racist and so undeniably violent that white people are getting upset and, as a result, systems are being forced to respond.
Another impact are the cross-racial coalitions. Some have been around awhile like the NAACP and some are more recent like Race Forward, the White Privilege Conference, People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, and Women of the ELCA’s Racial Justice Advocacy Network.
If you are truly interested in progress, look for ways you can get involved and make a difference. Join our Zoom webinar this Saturday, June 6, “Racial Solidarity in Times of a Pandemic.”
Inez Torres Davis was former director for justice for Women of the ELCA. This slightly updated Throwback Thursday blog first ran on Feb. 1, 2016.
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