Friday, December 19, 2014

The Sound of the Clock

When I was a kid, we had an old-fashioned clock that "tick-tocked". We were so used to it that we could not even hear it. When friends would visit they would comment on the noise from the clock. Sometimes we would have friends sleep over and they could not sleep because it was so loud to their ears that were unfamiliar with the sound. But we who lived in the house became deaf to the constant rhythmic "tick-tock, tick-tock" until someone would point it out. And then, if we concentrated hard enough, we could finally hear the "tick-tock". Once we were tuned in to the sound we were unable to not hear it. The sound was almost deafening - until we were distracted and forgot to listen for it again. Then it would fade into the background. It was such a constant in our ears that we could not hear it unless we listened intently for it.

In the same way...
If we (White people) do not notice racism around us, that is because it is such a normalized part of our lives. It is so common and so accepted that it is not even noticed. It is a constant, running always in the background, blending in and unnoticeable to those of us who are not directly affected by it. It is occasionally accentuated by an event or series of events. And then we see it. But soon it fades into the background again and we are lulled into believing that it has disappeared.

It is hard to teach White people about systemic racism and implicit bias because it is so constant and so normal that it is difficult to recognize it. It is hard to grasp what it is because it just IS. The blatant KKK type racism is easy to spot, but the everyday variety is somewhat vague to those of us not attuned to it. But once we start to consciously recognize it, we can not believe that we did not see it before. Once we tune in, we can not not see it. Unless we allow ourselves to be distracted by other things.

But it is uncomfortable. And we have to fight the urge to distract ourselves and allow it to blend back into our environment. We must consciously tune in because the only way to end it is to be conscious of it and consciously remove it from our lives.

Racism is going on around us all the time, whether we notice it or not. Implicit bias is such a subtle part of our thinking that we do not recognize it. Just like that old-fashioned clock "tick-tocking" constantly, without stopping. Just because we could not hear it did not mean it was not making a sound. And the guests in our home who pointed out to us how loud it was were not causing the sound, they were only noticing it and pointing it out to us. Racism takes many forms --- systemic racism, implicit bias, microaggressions, etc. They are constant enough, rhythmic enough and subtle enough that we can easily miss them if we are not tuned in. But they chip away at the souls of the people to whom they are directed. Just because we, as White people, can not see it, does not mean that it is not damaging to people of color.

Compassion demands that we notice and that we put an end to it. Otherwise, we indicate that the only people that matter are people who look like ourselves.

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