White folks: Racism is our problem

June 16, 2020

The following opinion column written by Dale Ewart was published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel

DaleEwert.jpgWhite folks need to understand that racism is our problem.

With the senseless and brutal death of yet another African American man at the hands of police, we see the rage and frustration of communities of color. And from Central Park, to here in Florida and all across the country, we’ve watched cellphone videos of white people attempting to use law enforcement to intimidate their fellow citizens or to cover up for their own crimes. All white people? Certainly not. But for the rest of us, how often do we see these as “civil rights (i.e., black people’s) problems,” having little to do with our daily lives? The truth is, racism is a white problem, and until we face it and demand change, the injustices will continue. There can be no neutrality in this struggle.

Colin Kaepernick was greeted with howls of outrage and a banishment from his profession when he silently and respectfully protested the killing of young black men and women. Peaceful protests against police abuse are often met with tear gas and rubber bullets. Contrast the images of (white) armed anti-lockdown protesters, screaming in the faces of police and lawmakers, being handled with remarkable restraint by law enforcement. If this isn’t “white privilege,” what is?

As a white man, I don’t worry about someone calling the police over a dispute concerning an unleashed dog, or because I’m barbecuing, or because I’m jogging or just standing around in my neighborhood. And if for some reason the police are called, I don’t worry that the result could be my death. You don’t have to be black or Hispanic to have empathy and imagination — imagine what it would be like to be constantly on edge, knowing that because of your appearance, there will always be those who fear you, or believe you are not equal, or that they have the right to question your identity and whereabouts. Imagine being a parent and having to explain this to your teenage son or daughter, and imagine the fear you must have for them every time they leave the house.

Centuries of racism in America have inflicted untold suffering and trauma on people of color. Racism has been used to keep us all apart, dividing us and preventing us from seeing our common interests. We all want to live secure lives, take care of our families, have decent healthcare and housing, and be respected for the individuals that we are. Racism instead pits us against each other, and the only winners are those who gain from our division.

If “all lives matter,” then this is a responsibility for all of us, starting with those of us who think we can remain neutral. Until we see each murder of an African American such as George Floyd as a threat to each and every one of us, this will continue. Until we see each use of law enforcement to control and intimidate black and brown people as a threat to our own civil liberties, this won’t end. And until we recognize our common humanity, we will continue to be divided by those who profit from our division, making us all poorer, weaker and less secure.

Dale Ewart is executive vice president for 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the largest healthcare union in the country, representing more than 450,000 nurses and healthcare workers nationwide, including more than 24,000 in Florida.