Though this sounds like the opening to a bad joke, or a top ten list you might scan through to get a quick laugh, I think it’s time people stopped laughing at racism. Even people who still admit racism exists won’t always stand up to stop it, or will laugh along with the crowd. I’m just as guilty of this myself, but my experience as a canvasser this summer is opening my eyes to see that racism isn’t always as simple as hateful words or scornful thoughts and glances. A lot of the time, racism is the system of oppression which perpetuates the verbal and non-verbal hate that is deemed worthy of media attention as true racism.
But I’m out canvassing in areas of Atlanta like Virginia Highlands or East Atlanta and I’m seeing first hand that hate speech is a by-product of economic injustice and social inequality. When I was in Virgian Highlands, the houses would alternate between three tiered miniature mansion houses where people could freely write out checks for $60, and broken down shacks of unmowed lawns, broken screens to cover their front doors, and people who are out of work.
This wasn’t every experience-I did run into a lot of white people who were also out of work, and some black families who were well off-but a majority of the time, the white people lived in the fancy houses and the people of color lived in the shacks. This was described to me as a mixed income neighborhood.
These are not people you can reasonably ask for money and a few weeks ago I was called out as being racist by a black man who asked why I skipped his house on my way down his street. He asked me flat out, “Do you just not go to the houses of colored folks?” His house was on my list and I did skip over it because I knew I would not be able to get a contribution. I was being racist and falling into this system of oppression because it was easy to do so. Though I was mortified and angry at being called out on my behavior I’m glad someone was willing to tell me my actions were complete bull shit. No one else was going to do it so I’m glad someone had the guts to.
I can’t pretend to speak from the experience of a person of color, but from my own experience, even just as a specatator, I know this is wrong. This is why racism exists: people see the poverty of black people and other people of color and think that because it is so prevalent in certain areas that therefore it is natural. White supremacy has to come from somewhere and I see it as stemming from the economic injustices that appear so mundane it’s sickening.
The past few days I’ve been in Ansley Park and this is an area of mansions. In the two days I’ve been there, I have spoken to one black family who told me that they didn’t own the house but were renting it. Every other person I spoke to or encountered on the street was white. Aside from the mansions this reminds me of my own home town and how ignorant I was of other cultures and the sytematic oppression which keeps white people at the top. If you grow up in an all-white neighborhood you don’t even think about racism and this is perhaps the most dangerous pit fall: ignorance that the problem exists at all.
And it is a problem! This is not just what I’ve seen demographically going from house to house, but that if the police get called on our organization for soliciting, there is a much higher chance the call will be in regards to a black male canvasser.
There is an irrational fear of people of color and fear is just another form of hatred. I know people who claim that because they don’t actively insult people of color they are not racist. But they are racist because they treat people of color differently and there is never any justification for it.
Any push for economic justice-living wage jobs, equal pay for equal work regardless of race, sex, or sexual orientation-will wake people up to the fact that poverty is no one’s natural state and never will be. When people of color are given the right to the same opportunities as white people that’s when white neighborhoods will expand to include other races and mixed income areas will no longer mean rich white neighborhood speckled with colored people in poverty. People need to see the injustice and recognize that there is nothing natural about racism or oppression.