A friend of mine, who happens to be white, was giving me feedback on a blog post I recently wrote called “Don’t Get Distracted By Obvious Racism.” In his feedback he suggested I acknowledge and possibly discuss the idea of white fatigue. Immediately I understood what he was talking about and ironically I read something on social media earlier that day about it. Years ago I would have returned the favor and done what many white folks do when the topic of racism comes up from people of color, which would have been dismissing it. But I understand the fatigue. I get it. I understand this can be a discussion that has much unwanted weight and wait; guilt from the past, uncertainty of what to do next, exasperation because one may not actively participate or even have a racist attitude, feeling like wanting unity but this thing won’t go away.
Great boxers like Muhammad Ali and Roy Jones were so skilled, fast, and powerful with their punches that they could have ended many of their fights in the early rounds much like Mike Tyson did in his heyday. But they were like technicians. They would prefer to “tag” their opponents for many rounds with quick punches that seemed to come out of nowhere constantly landing on their faces knocking their opponents head back and forth round after round. This strategy would wear them out after a while. It would leave them with cuts and bruises on their faces rather than end the fight with a knockout punch. Before long, the other fighter couldn’t take it anymore and would either eventually hit the canvas, lose by technical knockout, or be defeated by points. So it is with racism. It’s daily effects on people of color seem to wear them out generation after generation with hits coming day after day, week after week, and year after year, seemingly out of nowhere. Racism was once in the form of the knockout punches: slavery, segregation, lynchings, redlining, Charleston 9, Trayvon Martin, police shootings caught on video, and now Charlottesville to name a few, but now it takes on a more Ali-esque “rope-a-dope” strategy. One that we don’t always see coming but we know we are getting hit over and over again. This is so because of the systemic nature of racism in America that perpetuates injustices.
If white folks are tired, how might people of color feel? But I would ask those experiencing “white fatigue” to imagine with me for a moment.
Imagine “black fatigue,” the fatigue of people of color who are exposed to racism personally and systemically and having to engage, navigate through (aka, pull self up by bootstraps), or fight off its oppressive nature on a daily basis. If not himself or herself, then their friend, family member, or another person of color has to experience the legacy of racialization too often. Imagine…
- Having to be reminded everyday that you are a person of color
- That you must be reminded of and possibly experience racial profiling no matter your status
- Feeling frustrated and helpless at racially-motivated hiring practices that make for an unfair playing field
- The images of how people of color are portrayed (mocked or stereotyped) on television
- The lack of representation in major movies and television shows, not to mention the disparity in recognition and awards for your craft in awards shows
- Seeing many athletes of color on the field, but limited representation of coaches and upper level executives in colleges and professional sports teams because not as many offers or opportunities will be on the table for people of color
- Micro-aggressions, insensitive jokes and comments, or spoken to in a certain tone that is very different than spoken to white counterparts
- Having to have “the talk” (See Proctor and Gamble PSA “The Talk”) with your children about the racism they have faced or may face involving racism or profiling and the anxiety of hoping they get home safely
- Hearing the code words that are used to belittle the issue of race and divert attention away from it (i.e. “We need to combat intolerance,” “Can’t we just move on? Slavery was years ago.”)
- Having to always try and convince unsympathetic, unconcerned, or uninformed white friends, co-workers, or strangers that race is even still an issue
- Having to recycle the same idea of having the “conversation on race” every time there is another uproar over blatantly racist behavior or rhetoric
Whew! That was tiring just writing the list…and that’s just to name a few....there has to be an intentional and consistent conversation that develops some sense of a shared ethic about… Click To Tweet
I understand the fatigue. We’re all tired! I believe there are many white people that want the same thing people of color do, unity. I believe the conversation can weigh on them just as it does people of color, only for different reasons. The burden is meant to be carried together. I’m convinced that while we all are tired, we all must share and carry the burden together. Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
But it will resurface round after round or rather year after year until we all see that in order to move forward and truly be united across racial lines there has to be an intentional and consistent conversation that develops some sense of a shared ethic about race(ism) across the dinner table, the coffee table, the pulpit, etc. until we build relationships, cry together, confess, repent, and forgive. That’s when the weight and the wait will be removed!