Aspens look like individual trees that grow up together, but beneath the surface, they form a common root system, a single seedling.
Humans are like aspens. Race is a contrived concept meant to separate us and keep us from growing together like an aspen colony. We come from a common seedling. We thrive in groups. We depend on love from our community for survival.
Southern plantation owners pitted poor whites and recently emancipated slaves against each other so that together they would not overpower their plantation bosses.
They drove home the idea that poor whites would have to accept their low wages because at least they weren’t black and wouldn’t be beaten or jailed for “vagrancy.” If a black man was found without work, he was subject to imprisonment, where he was once again forced to work without wages.
Today, our so-called president is a demagogue who attempts to create a wedge between us by inflaming these old fears and hatreds.
His overt enemies are the immigrant population and Muslims, but through his racist agenda, he’s turning back the clock on civil rights and criminal justice reform, among many other dangerous policies.
The problem of racism/white supremacy is the most important issue of our times. For the past 20 years or so, there has been a “colorblind” movement that has absolutely not worked. People have come up with devious ways to subvert the laws.
When I was younger, I used to think the term “white supremacy” only referred to neo-Nazis and the KKK, just as I put the word “racist” in that same category of people who verbally and physically attacked others based on their race or religion.
But the words are broader. Whenever we make assumptions about the behavior of an entire group of people (or a subset of that group) based on race, we are being racist.
It’s scary to admit that we have held racist or stereotypical views. But if we don’t forgive ourselves and others for these old views that we’re now discarding, we won’t make any progress. We won’t heal. We need to stop being defensive.
If we are white and have harbored old stereotypes about a certain group, we have been racist.
If we have remained silent about systems of oppression such as voter suppression, mass incarceration, and police brutality against people of color, we have been part of the problem.
If we see that the DREAM Act (DACA) is going to be dismantled and we say nothing, we are being willfully ignorant, no different than the white preachers who did not support Martin Luther King.
These are difficult conversations that require patience and compassion. White folks (myself included) tend to either “virtue signal” by showing what great allies we are, or we shut down and get defensive.
A therapist once said to me, “We inherit our lives.” White people inherited white privilege, even if that only perceived benefit was that we were white.
Most of us wish we had not inherited this unfair world, but at least we are living in a time when we can actually wake up and actively work to end the “myth of superiority,” as Toni Morrison has defined racism.
It’s time to mindfully reject any kind of racial or gender-based stereotypes by challenging our pre-conceived, inherited notions of who we are as individuals and as a society.
We need to have these difficult conversations and not let our EGOS get in the way.
We are not only like aspens, we are aspens. We will only thrive by working together, by caring for each other, by realizing that, as Martin Luther King wisely claimed, Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.