For 400 years in this country we have all allowed racism and whiteness to define our lives. For the last two decades, plus, I have sat in workshops designed to end racism.
The vast majority of them as one of the facilitators.
Hundreds of these workshops.
At every training I would experience white folks that aren’t seeing how racism affects us daily. Sometimes I would see defensiveness. Sometimes avoidance.
When you are in these settings it can feel like you are getting it from all sides. We get large doses of denial from white liberals who think being liberal and “progressive” is more than enough.
We get anger from white folks, many of whom were probably forced to be there by their jobs, who don’t feel that they have privilege because in this country we tend to associate privilege with status, position, and especially wealth.
Many of these folks feel like we are just spouting typical liberal/lefty rhetoric.
We also get white folks who come halfway with us but balk at seeing themselves fully in the picture. The common theme is white folks who are not seeing themselves clearly in a system where we have advantage/privilege.
And from every side and perspective the unifying theme is not seeing how racism affects us as white folks. At best, only seeing racism as something negatively affecting people of color but not seeing ourselves in the picture.
Because of all of these dynamics I had been searching for a way to talk about the specific socialization that white folks experience on a daily basis (actually a minute by minute basis) that makes it hard for us to really work to end racism.
I came up with the analogy of the meteor while doing an Undoing Racism training with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond in 2016 in Brooklyn, NY. The room instantly connected to it. I have been developing it since then and am excited to share it with you now.
The Allegory of the Meteor
There once was a group of humans. In truth, they were a whole lot like every other group of humans. In fact, they were way more alike than different. Biologically. Genetically. They were for all practical purposes almost exactly the same as every other group of humans on the earth.
This particular group of humans created a false story that separated them out from other groups of humans. A story that they were somehow better and more deserving then all the other humans on earth. Smarter and more civilized.
Some of these humans took great pride in their new separate identities. Some of the humans didn’t automatically buy into these ideas.
Some of these humans were now filled with hate for other groups of humans they saw as different and less then. Some saw themselves as do-gooders, liberal and progressive and feeling good about themselves. They fit every profile.
But the most important thing about these people is that they all had 1 thing in common, they were the people who were not hit.
I need you to understand just how much these people were NOT hit. Every damn day they weren’t hit. They were not hit in every way shape and form. They were not hit all the time.
They didn’t get hit when they sat in rooms. They would even sit in rooms discussing race and racism and it wouldn’t hit them.
They didn’t get hit when they stood or squatted or kneeled. They’d get in their cars and drive and not get hit. They drove all over America. Large cities, small towns and everything in between. Urban and rural, it didn’t matter, they still weren’t hit.
They flew on airplanes of every size and weren’t hit. They walked through every airport in this country from one gate airports to JFK and still did not get hit.
Every other thing might change in their lives. Accept for not getting hit.
It was the one and only constant in their lives... not being hit.
They were continuously not being hit. Are you listening to me?
It just didn’t hit them. It didn’t hit them. And then it didn’t hit them again. And, oh look, it didn’t hit them again. Again and again and again. NOT BEING HIT!
I bet you have a question for me? WHAT THE HECK IS NOT HITTING THEM Martin?!?!? WHAT ARE THEY NOT BEING HIT BY Martin?!?!?
Good question reader. They are not being hit by a Meteor. They are not being hit by a very large Meteor.
Before we proceed with their story I have a question for you. In the last 10 minutes, before you read this story, did you get hit by a very large Meteor?
Not the microscopic ones that science teachers tell me are apparently hitting us all the time. A great big fat meteor. Like the size of a house. So big you would be crushed. And everyone and everything close to you would be crushed.
No, of course you didn’t get hit by a very large meteor in the last 10 minutes! I know this because otherwise you wouldn’t still be reading.
So now I’ve got another question for you. Did you notice?
In the last 10 minutes before you read this story did you say to yourself, “I didn’t just get hit by a meteor”? “I’m so happy that I didn’t just get hit by a meteor” . “My life depends on not getting hit by a meteor”. “Oh look, it didn’t just happen again!”. “I’m so happy/thankful/blessed that I didn’t just get hit by a meteor!”.
No. Of course you didn’t say that to yourself because you didn’t notice that you weren’t hit.
Well, that’s what it’s like being white in America in 2020. The group of humans not being hit are white. If you are white you are constantly not being hit by the meteor of racism.
And you never have to notice.
And it doesn’t matter what else you are. If you are white you don’t get hit by that meteor of racism. Over and over again you are not hit by that meteor.
You may be white and being hit by the meteor of sexism. Or the meteor of classism or of poverty. Or the meteor of Heterosexism and homophobia. Or the disability meteor. Or the anti-Muslim or anti-Jewish meteor. But you are still not being hit by the meteor of racism.
You know the pain and toll THOSE meteors take on you. Now, imagine, also being hit by the meteor of racism at the same damn time. There is a whole group of humans on the other side of town being hit by those meteors daily.
Sometimes the giant kind that crush you. Crush you like a knee on the neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Sometimes the kind of meteors that hit you but don’t kill you.
These are meteors that hurt. That cause you pain and take a toll. And not just pain to the individual in the moment but generational pain. Memories of generations being hit over and over by the meteor of racism.
And then, when these humans come to our side of town we want to know why they are so angry? Why do they have such an attitude? These are humans of color getting hit by the meteors of Racism. Specifically black folks, hit by the most meteors.
And they keep getting hit. Over and over. They get hit by all the meteors that hit us AND the ones that don’t hit us, the meteors of racism.
How do you know when something didn’t just happen to you? It is a measurable advantage to not be hit by these meteors. A Privilege. But please let’s not get caught up in that word.
Reading this you might say, “I AM NOT PRIVILEGED!” Because I am poor or working class. Because I am queer. Because I am a woman. Because I have a disability. Because I am a Muslim or a Jew.
Before we try to convince white people that they have privilege let’s start using the terminology of advantage instead of privilege to fight through all of that socialization and defensiveness.
Let’s talk about relative advantage.
Take the exact white person you are and add race. Take that exact same white person you are and add being hit by the meteor of racism. Every day. Look, it is an immediate and measurable advantage to not be hit by that particular meteor.
You may be a poor white woman who never finished high school. You will have better birth outcomes than a black woman with advanced college degrees. Meaning your baby is more likely to be born alive, at healthy weight and to live to 1 year old.
You might be a working class white man who struggles to make ends meet but you are less likely to die from diabetes than an upper middle class black man.
You might be a white man struggling to work his way up the corporate ladder but you are less likely to die from stress related conditions than your boss who is a highly achieving black man.
Being white is about what doesn’t happen to us. About not being followed through stores suspected as thieves. About not being profiled as dangerous. About not being seen as suspicious.
Being white is to not know that you are the standard of the standardized test. The standard of standardized beauty.
Not having people ask to touch your hair. Not being told how well spoken and articulate you are and not told how you are a credit to your race.
Whiteness is about not being hit by the meteor of racism. How do you know when something didn’t just happen to you?
One more thing about these meteors: they are man made. To keep people on that side of town always dodging and moving and in chaos. To make everything more difficult.
It is just as intentional that whites folks are granted a general ease. A relative advantage on a day to day basis. It’s intentional that we don’t notice. It keeps this racist construct in place.
The white folks hit by all those other meteors but not the racism meteor will often fight to keep this arrangement in place. Because not being hit by that meteor of racism feels like a birth right.
The meteors were created to separate us when naturally we should and would be together.
This might surprise you but not being hit by the meteor of racism damages us as white folks too.
When we are not hit we feel like we did something to deserve it. That somehow we are better than those being hit. That we have been chosen to not be hit. That it is divine intervention we don’t get hit. That somehow not being hit is because of how damn hard we’ve worked.
Deep down we know we didn’t do anything. It was set up for us not to be hit. Whiteness is a set up for white people. It keeps us from our natural expression.
We are told these things about ourselves but deep down we know it isn’t true. And that puts us in conflict with ourselves. We get these constant messages that we aren’t hit by these meteors because somehow we are worth more, more valuable and more deserving.
We hear it so much we believe it. Just because we are white. White. It’s not even real. It, like all races, was made up only about 300 or 400 years ago.
This Story Doesn’t Have A Moral Yet
It’s a twisted tale fueled by fear. Fear of what happens when all the humans come together. Fear of the power of the humans of color (mostly Black folks).
There is the smallest group of humans making these meteors. Because they profit from the meteors of racism. And because they are afraid of what happens when humans come together with each other across races. And so afraid of what happens when Humans come together with ourselves.
Imagine…Imagine a world without these meteors. Where we don’t hold humans back because of how they look.
And imagine a world where those white humans realize that they have been dehumanized by the meteors too. That not being hit while others are, dehumanizes us.
Don’t imagine a world where we are all equally hit. Imagine a world where all the HUMANS are not being hit.