Commentary: "If Racism Benefits The White Population, Why Would They Want To Unlearn It?

Jun 19, 2020

One of many protests prompted by the death of George Floyd
Credit The New Yorker

I have to say, I went against my better judgement and I watched the video of the murder of George Floyd and it paralyzed me. I could do nothing for 2 days. Trying to understand how someone could take sadistic pleasure in seeing the life slip away from another human being while that person begged for his life to be spared.

And then another surprise came, a few days later, protests erupted all across the United States and it didn’t stop there. People were demonstrating in Australia, Germany, Syria, Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, Japan and South Africa. It brought tears to my eyes…. But when I began to see a number of large chain businesses put out statements about how they support Black Lives Matter. I became suspect.

When the Black Lives Matter movement began on July 13, 2013, it was often interrupted with outbursts of All Lives Matter as if black people don’t respect the lives of other human beings. And I suppose the final nail in the coffin came when I saw Mitt Romney get in step with the protestors and chant Black Lives Matter as he marched through the streets in Washington.

Now it seems that this tragic death has become a tool for political advancement. The hypocrisy and the belief that we’re that stupid. How many people does Mitt Romney and these businesses think they’re fooling? Do they think that we can’t see through the racism? The racism that happens on a spectrum? The worst cases are what happened to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks where the victim is killed. And here’s a shocking and unsettling fact, since 1980, more than 260,000 black men have been killed in America at the hands of police officers and private citizens. But when white male mass shooters go on their killing sprees unless they kill themselves first, they’re not killed by the police, instead they are led away in handcuffs. Are you going to tell me that we shouldn’t have a Black Lives Matter movement in this country? But there are other types of racism too: there’s the denial of racism, housing discrimination and prioritizing white voices as experts and a host of others. 

This week, I was having a conversation with Raquel Webb Geddes, a public health nurse with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. Raquel disclosed to me that last month approximately 11 of her home health aid attendants died from COVID-19. And a majority of the health care attendants are people of color. Many of them never received a stimulus check, some have to hold part-time jobs just to survive while we applaud them promptly at 7pm every night while they go off to fight a deadly virus. But we refuse to pay them a decent salary so that they can survive and provide for their families. There’s the hypocrisy and racism again. Raquel said to me, “We could have been like South Korea with only a few hundred deaths. She says there’s a lack of leadership and the ineptitude led to the deaths in NY and in the country.” 

Educator and anti-racism activist Jane Elliot says that racism is a learned affliction and anything that is learned can be unlearned. I agree with that but my dilemma is this-----If racism benefits the white population, why would they want to unlearn it? Therein lies the problem.

I'm Mildred Antenor

NOTE:  Mildred Antenor is a professor and the author of The Gladioli Are Invisble: A Memoir