White Silence = Complicity (guest editorial by Ellie Kim)

It is 2019, and we live in a harmonious, post-racial society in which issues like racial discrimination and segregation are issues of the past. Or, so says the idea of colorblindness, which fails to acknowledge the very real, very current, and very unjust system of oppressions that still operates to maintain white folks at the top of the social hierarchy, while continuing to pit marginalized groups against each other and blame them for their positions. Colorblindness ignores intersectionality, by disregarding the compounding relationships between racial bias and gender, sex, class, income, education, and opportunity…

Colorblindness exists to protect the fragile white ego, to shield whites from the ugly face of discomfort, to ensure that racial stress does not cause too much harm to precious white minds and bodies. As if Black bodies are not the ones that need protection, as if discomfort is uglier and more harmful than the face of racism, as if Black and Brown and non-white people have not lived, and continue to live, through physically-, emotionally-, and mentally-ravaging racial stress every day. Even simple linguistics, like Kegler writes, serves to assign more value to the white race, while altogether brushing “race” under the rug.

Colorblindness is a scapegoat, an idea supported by all other softened, euphemistic terms including “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “white privilege,” is denial of the problem. The problem, of course, is our complicity in systemic, institutionalized racism. And yes, racial discrimination still very much exists. The good/bad, racist/non-racist binary implicates that because we don’t hold personal prejudice, that we are not part of this problem. Binary thinking gives us the easy out that colorblindness does while obscuring racial inequalities and oppressions, thus maintaining the cycle of racism and white supremacy. It is not only a detriment, but an act of upholding racist white supremacy when we shield our children from the reality of racism, when we tell them to “not see race.” Starting with our children and in our schools, we must begin to question the narratives of whiteness as dominant, or more often now, as colorblindness as a safe norm. And we must remind ourselves and our children that racism exists as a spectrum not only in the KKK or in Trump’s bigoted statements but also in our silence and in our everyday lives, within people we love and look up to and respect – even ourselves.

Finally, when we are fighting against racism and fighting for justice, we must be careful not to mistake “speaking up” with “speaking for.” But it makes me wonder – had White Fragility or even this article on HuffPost been published by a Black or Brown author, would it have received as much credence? Would people – white people – have listened? Would “white fragility,” like “white privilege,” have become a term that, while stings as it challenges worldview, is still comfortable enough for white folks to feel safe, protected, and valued? What would happen if we did call these terms – like “white undeserved advantages” – what they were? Why don’t we? I appreciate and recognize the work that our white allies and accomplices do with us, on a platform where they know they will be heard. My question is, when will the voices of Black and Brown people be enough for people to listen?

3 thoughts on “White Silence = Complicity (guest editorial by Ellie Kim)

  1. Great post Ellie. Your definition and description of colorblindness is so important. It is a way for white people to feel safe, as you said, a scapegoat so they don’t have to feel discomfort. A “shield”, is how you put it and it is so true. I agree we have to teach our kids about white privilege and the white narrative that got us here. But I also liked how you said, our kids must see how racism is at play in everyday lives. It all goes so overlooked when we should be zooming in. What you said about white allies really struck me, because I see it everyday where white voices are being recognized but Black and Brown voices are suppressed. Their voices need to be heard.

    • Hi Sierra, thanks for reading! Silence is totally complicity, and silence means more than simply not speaking up when someone says or does something problematic – it is also what we choose or choose not to teach, how we shape the narrative of our country. I really liked the “Talking About Race With Kids” article that was part of our reading this week. Conversations about race and racism, while uncomfortable, are not ever “age appropriate” – it’s a privilege to have the choice to think or talk about things like this. For kids of color, race is something they are aware of their entire lives, so it is saying that their lives and experiences are something not worth talking about it we deem race an “age appropriate” conversation. I’m just imagining how different and more open our worldviews as a society might be if we had had these courageous conversations starting in kindergarten.

  2. Hi Ellie, your post is simply amazing.You are very articulate throughout and do not sugar-coat any of the content. I like how you used the phrase “white fragile ego” to me it was a good play on words because white fragility seems to dress up the actual issues and feelings that whites have towards discourse that make them very uncomfortable. Colorblindness is indeed a scape goat and a way to be relieved of not owning up to any of the racial issues that persist today. Color-Awareness should be coined a term and used to bring awareness to cultural and racial difference that are seen throughout our country.
    An]mazing post!

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