In my brief 33 years of living, I have come across many people of all walks and stripes – conservatives, liberals, Christians, agnostic, men, women, rich and poor – who sincerely believe that blacks and other people of color in America are afforded the same opportunities as whites. In their heart of hearts, they sincerely believe that the playing field has been leveled, that blacks can be aspire to whatever position in life that they choose, and that if racism exists at all, it actually affects whites who are supposedly disadvantaged because of affirmative action initiatives in education and employment.
People who believe as such choose not to look at the facts. They willfully ignore the data that reveals a different truth. They typically do not associate with those whose very lives tell a contrary narrative. Isolation, denial, and downright ignorance affords them the opportunity to trust the stories of those who validate their assumptions: “he probably did something wrong otherwise he wouldn’t have run,” “oh, well, she probably didn’t have enough education to get that job anyway,” “he didn’t have enough experience to land the internship,” “her natural hair is unkept, she shouldn’t be allowed to attend school until she fixes it,” “he probably would’ve felt uncomfortable in this workplace environment because of his culture,” “they are lazy, entitled, and disrespectful – if they would work hard enough, they would have all of the things that my family worked so hard for.”
Even though these narratives are popular, the reality is that people really do know that structural racism exists. No matter how much they try to run away from the facts and arrange their lives so that they do not have to be confronted with contrary perspectives to their own, they know. Oh, they know.
The thing is once people are confronted with the truth, they are held responsible to it. It is one thing to not know about something and quite another to know, and to still choose not to act accordingly. This is why people would rather feign ignorance about racism – admitting that they know it exists, would require too much. At the very least, coming to grips about racism demands that one take a look at their life, opportunities, and privileges and how they were acquired. Were they really wrought about through hard work, initiative, and ingenuity, or did they come at someone else’s expense? The latter contradicts America’s narrative of European immigrants coming to this country and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps – instead it underscores the reality that they propped themselves up by someone else’s labor, life, and land. Most people are not ready and willing to even begin to have that conversation and choose ignorance out of convenience. The unfortunate truth is that God still holds us accountable for that which we willfully choose to ignore.