By Billy Osogo

“Educate, Empathize and Empower all!”

That was the comment by my friend SnapDragon X on my previous piece. A brilliant choice of words, if I do so say myself! As I mentioned heretofore, the subject of racism is one that we must continue to have genuine conversations on. 

Educating yourself, allows you empathize which puts you in a prime position to empower. In my questing to educate myself on racism, one of the most resourceful books I have come across is So You Want To Talk About Race. It’s written by Ijeoma Oluo. 

Here are five lessons from this book. My contribution to educating, empathizing and empowering all. 

On racism

“Racism is any prejudice against someone because of their race, when those views are reinforced by systems of power.”

‘I don’t see color’= Bullshit

“We are, each and everyone of us, a collection of our lived experiences. Our lived experiences shape us, how we interact with the world, and how we live in the world. And our experiences are valid. Because we do not experience the world with only part of ourselves, we cannot leave our racial identity at the door.”

Racism is systemic

“So much of what we think and feel about people of other races is dictated by our system, and not our hearts. Who we see as successful, who has access to that success, who we see as scary, what traits we value in society, who we see as “smart” and “beautiful” – those perceptions are determined by our proximity to the cultural values of the majority in power, the economic system of those in power, the education system of those in power, the media outlets of those in power.”

Check Your Privilege

“Privilege in the social justice context, is an advantage or set of advantages that you have that others do not. These advantages can often be ascribed to social groups: privilege based on race, physical ability, gender, class etc. 

When someone asks you to “check your privilege”, they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas are keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing, and may in fact be contributing to those struggles. “

Why You Should Check Your Privilege

“When we are willing to check our privilege, we are not only identifying areas where we are perpetuating oppression in order to stop personally perpetuating that oppression, but we are also identifying areas where we have the power and access to change the system as a whole. When we identify where out privilege intersects with somebody else’s oppression, we’ll find our opportunities to make real change.”  

Lastly, I draw strength from the words of President Obama, himself, a victim of overt racism:

We have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem but we can get something meaningful done.”

Indulge me. 

What has life taught you about racism?

How can we build a less racist world?

What do you know now about racism that you didn’t before?

Remember General’s SnapDragon’s charge: Educate, empathize, empower!

37 thoughts on “OH SNAP!

  1. What has life taught me about racism?

    There are different kinds of racism. We hear a lot about privileged white racism. I don’t think that’s the biggest problem. There is the racism of unfamiliarity that develops when you never meet anyone but your own group.

    Then there is the racism that develops when people can’t get an even break, where their lives are just struggle and loss and there’s no end to it. They feel like crap themselves and look for someone to blame and to feel superior to. (Hitler and Trump were both masters at playing to this.) That describes an ever-increasing number of people. There are other kinds that I won’t get into here.

    I have relatives in that particular boat in Michigan. They worked for decades and nothing to show for it. Social Security isn’t going to be there for them because, well, Social Security most benefits those who made a decent middle-class income and they never got there. Same thing for unemployment. So one cousin spends summers plowing and planting other people’s fields and winters scavenging odd jobs; making up for sub-minimum wage work by the number of hours he’s willing to run that tractor.

    People like that look for someone to make them feel like they aren’t the worst of the worst. And that might be black folks or it might be gays or feminists but right now in his case, it is more likely to be the equally white Mennonite and Amish who are moving in, slowly displacing many of the current residents, and getting a greater share of agricultural revenue. And of course, as a nonbeliever, they have no use or empathy for him.

    You don’t have to be in grinding poverty to fall into that trap. You just have to feel threatened. Working and middle class all across the country feel threatened because the bottom third seems to be losing ground and the middle third is not making any headway. A lot of people feel threatened today and that makes them fertile grounds for racist ideas.

    The real question is what underlying socioeconomic forces are driving this increase in overt and violent racism. Trump is just a symptom of the disease. Why are we becoming more ill?

    Not to mention our unprecedented ability to wall ourselves off in social and political bubbles where we can go forever without hearing a conflicting idea. It is driving ideological wedges between us that make the “other-isms” in society impossible to work out.

    1. Hey Fred!

      You comment is as insightful as it is timely.

      You make a valid point. Racism cannot be understood outside the socioeconomic forces that encourage and inoculate its perpetrators.

      In South Africa for example, the colonial government made apartheid legal. Just like for 400 years, slavery was legal in the US.

      We have come a long way and we going even further. One insightful conversation at a time.

      Thank you for making time 😊

  2. These conversations should never stop until they instigate institutional change. Not in bad faith but the black community in Kenya still glorifies the mzungu. It’s hard for us to believe that they’re people like us.

    Whenever I remember that as a child I fancied to marrying a white, I cringe. Not that it’s in any way wrong. The system made me believe that I was less of a human being.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. Colonialism beat into our forefathers the lie that they were ‘less than’. You saw it in how they took the best of our lands and relegated us to less productive areas. You saw it in the contempt they showed our systems of governance and general way of life. That you weren’t worth mentioning if you didn’t take up a Western name.

      The residual effects are still seen and felt. They are so institutionalized that we find them normal.

      Conversations, as you rightly put it, go along way in helping us unshackle ourselves from the malaise of colonial residues and racism.

      Thank you for making time brother!

  3. I was racistly privilege as a child and as an adult. What I mean by that is I was brought up in an area of the US where color of skin and, to an extent, differences in cultures weren’t a high priority. In fact, things were gauged by how well you did in your everyday life. If your yard wasn’t mowed you were low life. If you took good care of your property, everyone wanted to know you. In some ways, this is a prejudice too. Why should how a yard looks make a difference in how you treat someone?

    1. Hey G. J. Jolly!

      That’s an interesting perspective there.

      I suspect that how your yard looks speaks to your social class. If it’s well kept, it could communicate affluence. Conversely, if it’s overgrown, shabby, it could communicate a lack of means.

      The latter, being the most lucid sign that you don’t ‘belong’. That you belong with the ‘others’ even though morphologically, you look like them.

      It all goes back to socioeconomic status.

  4. Billy! I absolutely LOVE this piece! And it goes without saying that these topics and questions are crucial.
    As I suggested from that initial comment, I truly believe that education is the key to eradicating racism. Or, at the very least, it’s a necessary first step. No matter where we are in this world—geographically, economically, or socially—as children we learn how to view other human beings. Some things we are overtly taught, and others we pick up through more subtle means. But we learn them, nonetheless.
    As a white person, I have never been in a situation where I had to think twice about my skin color. THAT is privilege. And I recognize how capitalist economies perpetuate racism, as well as religious texts.
    There is so much more to learn. So many conversations to be had. So much work to be done!
    I am against oppression in all of its forms. As a teacher, writer, artist, parent, and as a human being, I hope to do everything in my power to plant seeds of true equality.
    Thank you for this post, my friend. Wishing you all the very best.🕊

    1. Hey Snap 😃
      I am so happy you enjoyed this 😊

      I am even happier that we have an ally in you😊

      Thank you for inspiring this peace🙏🏿

      I hope you are well!

      Stay safe!

  5. Racism is a subcategory of stereotyping, which includes ethnic and religious bigotry. “Us v. them” has been around forever, and evil in all its forms. However you cannot resolve it unless you allow people to rise above it. Declaring all statements to the contrary as “bullshit” doesn’t help. Some people don’t make decisions about hiring someone or befriending someone based on appearance. In my case, since my business is multistate and by phone these days, I rarely see anyone and really don’t care what they look like. What matters is behavior — diligence, reliability and honesty. Give me those three and I don’t care about skin, nose rings, sexual preferences or beliefs. My family has been that way since at least the Civil War, in which we fought to kill off slavery. And that’s no BS.
    BTW, did you ever read Becker’s Nobel Prize piece on the economic foundations of racism?

    1. Hey Vic!

      You make some valid points. No, I haven’t read Becker’s piece. And yes, I am glad that you and your family are allies in the fight against racism, and I hope, oppression in all its forms.

      However, that your business is by phone and therefore you rarely see what people look like doesn’t sanitaze 400 years of slavery.

      That you don’t think about it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. And BTW, you don’t think about it because you don’t have to.

      While we are trading book titles, you should read Toni Morrison (another Nobel Prize Winner) ‘The Source of Self-Regard’.

      America itself was founded on racism. Its founding fathers themselves were racist. How do you explain for example, that while while they declared that:

      “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”, they still kept slaves, still barred women from voting and still legally required black men to be regarded as 3/5 of a man?

      1. The Constitution was a compromise between people of very different values in order to establish something that could survive militarily and economically in the 18th century context. Franklin was key in negotiating the document and he had become a profound abolitionist as he aged. But he felt it necessary to keep Virginia and the Carolinas on board to make the new country viable.

        The attempt to hold people from two centuries ago to current standards of ethic and morality just doesn’t work. To paraphrase Angelou, one does according to what one knows. When you know better, you do better. What about the tribal leaders who sold captives to the slavers?

        Finally, I’m not denying that racism exists. Not at all. I’m disputing the generalization that every person with a skin mutation of some kind is or is not racist.

      2. The fact that you think one race being systemically subjugated by another all in the name of compromise is acceptable, speaks a lot about you.

        The thing about leadership, my friend, is that it transcends you. You actions and consequences outlive you. The racist actions of those gentlemen, two centuries ago, have been institutionalized and are alive, two centuries later. It’s at that point, that it matters.

        As Toni Morrison said:

        “I have never lived, nor has any of us, in a world in which race did not matter. Such a world, one free of racial hierarchy, is usually imagined or described as dreamscape–Edenesque, utopian, so remote are the possibilities of its achievement. From Martin Luther King’s hopeful language, to Doris Lessing’s four-gated city, to Jean Toomer’s “American,” the race-free world has been posited as ideal, millennial, a condition possible only if accompanied by the Messiah or situated in a protected preserve–a wilderness park.”

        Becker, just like you, are waxing lyrical on a subject which at best, you only understand theoretically, and at worst, don’t understand at all.

        It’s the equivalent of describing period pains to a woman. You are attempting to describe something you’ve never nor can ever, experience.

        This is the subject where you sit down and learn.

        Here’s a list of books to begin with:

        1. So You Want To Talk About Race-Ijeoma Oluo
        2. Dreams From My Father-Barrack Obama
        3. No Future Without Forgiveness – Desmond Tutu
        4. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings-Maya Angelou

        Welcome to class!

      3. By the way, the first female governor was William Penn’s wife, who took office in colonial Pennsylvania on his death. Women didn’t fully lose the vote in the US until around 1810, well after the country was formed. Not much has been written about how that happened.

      4. We don’t need to read about why it happened. The fact remains, it should never happened. Voting rights is not something one section of society doles out to those they feel deserve it and withholds it from those they feel don’t.

        Again, that you imagine that an entire gender being subjugated and denied their rights and dignity, is something that can/should be explained, is exactly the thinking that fuels the oppression we witness today.

      5. I disagree. We have people now trying to restrict voting. We need to understand their path to success in order to stop them. Understanding how people lost their rights in the past is part of what we need to know now. The word “should” is meaningless. Nothing happens because it “should” happen.

  6. “We have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart.”
    This here does it for me. It couldn’t have been put much better.

    1. Your pieces never cease to amaze me Mr. President. For some unavoidable circumstances, my pen is failing me tonight.
      But on a general perspective on the timely subject, our societies, socioeconomic spheres, education and politics cannot thrive in a racist world. We’re here now. Treating one another with love and equality is the panacea to racism.

  7. On a side note, I have this app called Tick Tick and I just installed it the other day to help me stay organized and maximize my potential. One of my newest entries is to read at least an insightful article every week. I have to admit, I do have poor reading habits. I really appreciate you sharing these reads my friend. They do much more than you’ll ever know.
    Now, about the piece, it’s a good follow-up to the “BIG NOSE” one. Racism is taught, no one’s born with it.
    Keep up the good work my friend!
    Can’t wait for the next piece.

    1. I am happy to hear that Mr Cocktail!

      It warms my heart 😊

      I couldn’t agree more. Racism is taught. And because it is taught, it can be ‘un-taught’.

      Thank you for making time!

  8. What I have learned in books and also from the news in past days and years, if you look down deep in african history before the “white man” invented a ship which can travel for days and miles away , before the “white man” discovered a beautiful and rich continent “africa”, also before he discovered other continents. I believe the world was at peace more than the way it is right now. The africans where at peace with the ways of there cultures,yes there where tribal clashes for land but some tribes had made peace with each other but we where still at peace, we Don’t have many problems as like of today. As history tells us on arrival of the “white man” there is when african history turned sour to bitter. “White man” killed our friends, families just because the saw us not like human being due to our “color ”. We were called monkeys just because we didn’t have a white skin. The white man left africa, to inform his nation that they have discovered a continent and so the white man came with more white men , other came as preachers preaching about a God we did not know, but despite of the good sweet preaching the gave to us the still did opposite of what the preach, the would say,“love you neighbor as you love yourself”, but still sell us for slavery. Just because the saw we where hopeless people but also physically strong and so the took advantage of us. To cut the story short . The black man fought for his rights as the white man says but we can still see till to date that racism has not stopped, I believe this is due to the system we are in. In schools people are taught how the africans”black man” where hopeless and that africa poor, the system diminishes africans and for a white boy who lives in a white neighbor hood goes to school with only white folks. There is a certain negative thinking a child may have grouping up and once he grows older and is now left to roam around this world and meets other races for the first time the negativity in him about black man starts to show up. so believe the first place to stop racism is by changing school system children to be taught that africans are you know just normal people ..let the positive side of africa be taught more than the negative side

  9. What do I know about racism that I didn’t before? That’s a good question, and similar to something I was contemplating a day or two ago. I was pondering a conversation I had with the office staff I used to work with 10 years ago, the discussion was about 3-4 yrs ago, and I mentioned a comment my mother made in reference to the Muslim people living in her neighborhood. I was making fun of my mom for talking the way she did. It wasn’t overtly racist but it definitely had tones of racism in it. The people I used to work with agreed with my mom’s sentiment, and it astounded me. I wasn’t surprised with my mom, she is the way she is, but I thought the people I used to work with thought as I did, that as a Christian we’re supposed to love everyone, and then a couple days ago as I rehearsed that conversation, I thought of the changes I’d gone through, the things I used to believe and agree with, and maybe, it’s possible I had had some racist beliefs too when I lived in the same city and state. My mother’s neighbors have graciously reached out to her, more than her Christian neighbors. The husband drove my mom to the hospital while my dad was dying, and I know there’s a lesson in that for my mom if she’s open to learn.

    1. Hey KS!

      I could not agree more.

      I believe that learning should be a life-long process. Interestingly, I have found that the most impactul lessons are learned outside of a formal structure.

      Things like love, decency, humanity. We learn these things theoretically in school but the practical lessons are found in life after school!

      Here’s to life-long learning!

  10. You are missing the forest for the trees.

    Go back to the US Declaration of Independence. All men are created equal. That’s the starting point. All people should vote. Should be free to be pursue their dreams without fear.

    Should is a meaningful word. You should be able to get back to your house after being pulled over by a cop.

    Even the academic exercise you are mooting is informed by that basic understanding. That everyone whose eligible should be allowed to vote regardless of their understanding of history, religion, part affiliation or any other status.

    In fact, while we are at it, you SHOULD reread the post. Specifically, #4 and #5.

    Like I said before, you are waxing lyrical on a subject which at best, you only understand in theory. Check your privilege (#4) because men like you (white and male) created this racist system.

    Then, most importantly, understand where your privilege intersects with someone else’s oppression. Now, make real change!

  11. This is a great post Billy. It reminds me of the words of Ibram X. Kendi in his book how to be an anti racist. He said there is no such thing as “I am not racist. You are either being racist or anti racist.” That terminology helped me to think differently. Wishing you well buddy 🙏

    1. Thank you, AP😊

      That’s a powerful quote!

      On matters of social justice, Bishop Tutu’s words are my north star:

      “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

      It’s great to hear from you, my friend! Stay well!

  12. We have stake in one another and that is what binds us together…
    In the words of Maya Angelou” In a racist society, its not enough to be non racist. we must be anti-racist

  13. Often humour can disguise racism. We can be blind to its presence, or we think “it’s just a joke”, neither of which helps promote sustainable positive change.

    Every day I find something that I have done in the past, or still do, that I need to change. I have helped perpetuate racism on more occasions than I can count, and most of them I won’t even realise. We must not dwell on our mistakes, but use the knowledge we gain from them to improve.

    Just yesterday I had an enlightening conversation about sexist behaviours, many of which at one point or another I have been part of. Having these identified to me, in a healthy discussion with a good friend, where the goal was to encourage change, was powerful.

    Thank you for the encouragement to engage in these healthy discussions to improve our world. ❤

    1. Hey Hamish!

      What you are doing is amazing! We must continue to have a hunger for learning. It’s a life-long processes. The more we commit ourselves to learning new things, the less we contribute to oppression.

      It’s always great hearing from you, brother. Stay well!

  14. Hi there Hamish.
    I know I’m late to see this but this post, but what a great one!
    Change is very important for us, and until we experience change we cannot grow or become better versions of ourselves. Have a great day! – Conor

    1. Hi Conor!

      I will pass your greetings to Hamish.

      Thank you for making time!

      Indeed, we must always strive to become better versions of ourselves.

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