A letter to the editor this week asked that we take “race “ out of the debate over the killing of Trayvon Martin. Can we take race out of the debate when we know that if the shooter were black and the dead body white, there would have been an arrest? A black man with the gun would be required to prove his self-defense claim in a court of law. Who then would have asked us to take race out of the debate? Would there even have been a debate?
Two months ago in Cheyenne a Hispanic mother killed herself and her daughter because of an unjust, racist immigration policy. A local business employed the mother and others who were targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). When the decision was made to enforce the law, as always, if anyone was going to be in trouble with the law-enforcers, it was going to be the workers, not those who employed them.
Those we pay to enforce the unjust law raided her home and threatened to have her deported even though federal law precluded her deportation because she was a victim of domestic violence. She surrendered her own life and that of her child rather than be sent back to a community where they would likely be killed anyway by a violent, psychotic spouse.
The deaths of a mother and daughter become easier to tolerate if we just take race out of the discussion. Take race out of that conversation and she’s nothing more than an illegal immigrant. We can put her and her daughter in the same compartment some would like to put Trayvon. “It is not about race,” we can shout. “It’s about the law and lawbreakers.”
We white people have a uniquely white ability to compartmentalize these things. That ability is itself racist in nature. When white people say it’s not about “race” you can bet it is. Take race out of these questions and we get to ignore the fact that all the institutions we created for lawmaking, law-enforcing and law-imposing were established to protect white privilege. Sometimes consciously, often subconsciously, we like the benefits of being white and are not about to give them up by allowing an issue like this to implicate race.
If it’s not about race, why do the results fall most heavily on people of color? The ICE raid targeted employees of a local business, one that employed undocumented workers. Where is the outrage about that? There have been no calls for enforcement of that law. The homes of the employees, not the place of business of the employer, were raided. Their lives and futures were threatened but not the employer who hired them…that’s white privilege.
That’s also racism. Racism is the use of political, legal, economic and social power to limit the rights and opportunities of people who are different.
Racism in overt form as it once existed is rare. Slavery and Jim Crow are history. Gone are the “Whites Only” signs over the water fountains. The right to vote has been secured for people of color. Not near as many people of color are lynched these days. But racism remains, enshrined in immigration law, in federal sentencing guidelines, racial profiling and in laws allowing some to shoot others to death in order to “stand your ground.”
Look honestly at the racial disparity that exists in everything from employment and education to housing, law enforcement, incarceration, foster care, juvenile justice and more. If race is not the reason, why do the negative statistics always fall most heavily on people of color? Accident? Natural consequences of capitalism? No. It’s racism.
We can’t have an honest dialogue about how race if white people insist that race be removed from the debate. Instead we should consider finally facing the facts and ending the racism.