It’s a sacred time in any church service, whether it’s the Catholic doing confession with a priest or a Protestant doing confession in the two minutes of silence during a church service.
And right now, I want to confess this: incidents of racial prejudice in the news are making me confront my own prejudice.
I currently have a lot on my mind. With the whole country grieving over incidents of racial prejudice in the viral videos released of Amy Cooper threatening to call the police on Christian Cooper or the Minneapolis police officers that killed George Floyd, I feel like I need to confess that I wonder whether I have been complicit in the problem more than I have the solution.
It’s a lot to think about right now, but what if the cameras were around and recorded everything I did, how I taught in the classroom with all black kids or just how I navigate my way through life. The concept of justice becomes much different when a video and camera is involved, and justice is being served.
But how can I be a better citizen? I don’t believe that I’m a saint. I don’t believe myself to be so distant from the oh so despicable Amy Cooper and her action, as much as I abhorred watching it. When I saw the video, of her calling the police on Christian Cooper, referencing his race as an African-American and leveraging her status as a white woman and damsel-in-distress, I thought about whether I am as guilty as her.
Trial by media is swift and ruthless. It’s easy to judge on social media until you are the one being judged. I am a staunch liberal. I teach at an all-black school. My girlfriend is a black woman. I live in a predominantly black city — but none of these things are going to absolve me of not being racist.
I have had to sent kids to the principal’s office on far more than one occasion for discipline. I have had to do the unspeakable — call my kids’ moms and tell them about the kids’ misbehaviors.
And yet I confess that I am still racist and prejudiced. It’s in my bones. I am aware of it, working on it, and yes, I do want to say “I’m not racist” and move on with my life, casting judgment on people like Amy Cooper and the cops that killed George Floyd and not myself.
No, I have never called the police on a black man and threatened his life. No, I have never cited someone’s race as an African-American repeatedly and utilized the full brunt of white supremacy. I have not said the n-word since I didn’t know better as a child.
But I am still a racist. Racism is a continuum where we all have a part, and sure, as I grow more aware, sure, I might become less racist, like I have when I grew up, but I will always be racist.
Ruining Amy Cooper’s life is not going to cure racism. Seeking justice for the cops that killed George Floyd is not going to cure racism. It’s deep in our institutions and structures, deep within the fabric of society.
And here’s something else: pretending, as non-black people that we are “not a racist” like Amy Cooper has claimed means that we are not helping the conversation, but rather deflecting the problem. Racist structures do not exist without people turning a blind eye to problems of race.
Liberals currently exist with a racial dichotomy that the world is composed of two types of people: racists and nonracists. I’m sure Amy Cooper would have said, as a liberal and person in the class of nonracists, that she wasn’t like Donald Trump, a horrible racist, and the people that support him as also horrible racists.
Now the tables are turned and Amy Cooper has been publicly shamed, lost her job, and is close to public villain #1, a symbol for everything wrong with white people trying to leverage white supremacy. But the delusional liberal dichotomy of racists vs. non-racists still exists, and that black and white dichotomy completely neglects the fact that we all have a place on the spectrum of racism.
It’s hard to say it out loud that we do have a place, but liberal racism like that of Amy Cooper is, in my opinion, even more insidious than conservative racism. It is so deeply hidden and buried that it can rarely be spoken. Ask a liberal whether he or she thinks they’re racist, and you will more likely than not get “no, absolutely not” as your answer.
And I just find that mindset so dishonest and immature. Liberals need to replace the dogma of racists vs. nonracists into, well, the real, gray world where everyone is racist, where our everyday decisions perpetuate segregation and racist policies, where the problem of racism is much deeper than racist bad apples but a deep racist fabric where we all have a part.
Look, for example, at where a lot of liberals live: bougie and gentrified parts of cities or suburbs. A lot of liberals that I know, that are some of my best friends, and that is myself when I look in the mirror, don’t want to live in highly segregated communities that are heavily black or Hispanic — they just won’t say it. We live in the gentrified parts of Atlanta, of New York City, of Chicago, or the suburbs, insulated from the perils of perceived crime and urban blight. The place I live in Baltimore? Fells Point — a very gentrified part of the city. Isn’t that racist?
“Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection,” Martin Luther King wrote in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
Getting a liberal like Joe Biden to replace Donald Trump is not going to fix racism. Publicly shaming Amy Cooper and the cops that killed George Floyd and making sure they never get employed is not going to fix racism.
Think about where Amy Cooper called the police and mentioned Christian Cooper’s race repeatedly in a call to the cops: Central Park, in New York City, a city in a state that skews extremely liberal. Think about where George Floyd was killed: Minneapolis, a city in a state that skews extremely liberal.
Amy Cooper is not one of those people that is a disgusting villain we will never be. Pointing fingers at her, I believe, is lazy for non-black liberals, as a way of putting the spotlight off ourselves.
No — Amy Cooper is us, those of us who claim to be not racist, who say they would never vote for Trump and never do something like call the police on an unarmed, innocent black man and try to invoke white supremacy.
And so, say it with me: I am a racist. In doing so, I relinquish the moral high ground as a liberal. I acknowledge that I am part of the problem, and that, as Nylah Burton of The Independent notes, “Amy Cooper is not an anomaly. She is, unfortunately, the norm.”
Let it be a lesson for you, too, for Amy Cooper to allow you to confront your own prejudice in a system where you play a part. In a racist world where no one is innocent, let’s acknowledge that we are a part of that world, that we are not special.
Originally published on June 9, 2020 on Dialogue & Discourse.