The verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial is in — guilty on all counts — and the first instinct is to react. To give your opinion, to say what you think. Here’s a thought: If you’re white, don’t. Just listen. Listen to what Black Americans have to say, try to absorb it, the range of experience, of hurt, of emotion, of common feeling. Suppress the temptation to jump in with a “yeah, but ...” Don’t judge. Just ponder.
Black Americans have lived through so much — the legacy of nearly 250 years of slavery, of 20 generations of prejudice — that white people simply can’t comprehend. If you are white, don’t try to imagine how you’d feel if you inhabited a Black body. It’s not possible. White Americans have the luxury of going through the day not considering their whiteness. Black Americans, rich or poor, don’t have that option. Black Americans must have “the talk” with their sons about what to do when the police pull them over. Black Americans have to wonder if a slight was racially tinged or just someone acting rudely that day.
White Americans, rich and poor, benefit from a system that was designed for them. Yes, slavery is long over, but its legacy lives on, hurting Black Americans and boosting white Americans, even those whose ancestors immigrated long after the Civil War and never owned slaves. Its poisonous effects echo and reverberate to this day, in opportunity, in education, in assumptions and, yes, in prejudice. Of course, things aren’t as bad as they were, and progress has been substantial since the days of slavery. But white Americans created a system for themselves to prosper at the expense of others. So it’s not Black Americans’ job to solve this problem. It is the duty of those who have held the power. White Americans built the system over centuries. And it is their obligation — with the advice and consent of Black Americans — to fix it.
Race is an artificial construct, not a biological one. Isabel Wilkerson, in her magisterial book Caste, writes that a Nigerian-born playwright told her: “You know that there are no Black people in Africa. … Africans are not Black. They are Igbo and Yoruba, Ewe, Akan, Ndebele. They are not Black. They are just themselves.” The playwright added: “They don’t become Black until they go to America or come to the U.K.”
We will not become a colorblind society, nor should we. Because of our history, being Black is an important part of the identity of a Black American and to claim to be colorblind is to deny part of her very essence. But a fair and equitable society will acknowledge her Blackness as an asset, as a key ingredient in the varied gumbo that is America, where we bring different insights, values and judgments to make us one great nation — not as a reason to follow her in a store or pull her over on the road or deny her a mortgage. It’s up to white Americans to change the system they built, and they can start by listening, really listening, to what Black Americans are saying.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.