I don't need to tell you that becoming less racist is a process. In the last two weeks alone, I've heard at least three times that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Just this morning, I heard precisely that cliche in a professional meeting. "This is a marathon, not a sprint. And we've been running for at least 400 years. We won't get better overnight."
Another person was quick to counter: "Yes, it's slow going. But that shouldn't be an excuse for moving too slowly, or for not taking the big steps."
Earlier in the same meeting, someone assured us that educating ourselves on anti-racism is important. In fact, if you jump straight into action, he said, you're missing the point.
Another person eagerly posited that educating yourself does not replace action. Don't pat yourself on the back just because you're reading the right books.
Privately, I rolled my eyes. The problem with both sprints and marathons alike is that they're competitions.
I don't learn much from these conversations. They are so careful and so plodding as to be quickly meaningless. But I've been learning a lot elsewhere - primarily from books, articles, and TV. Even as I write, I hear those meeting-goers tell me: That is not the same as action. I hear Instagram say, not the same as action. I hear people I respect say, Not the same as action.
Perhaps in their universe, educating myself is not the same as action.
Personally, I think, that's exactly what it means.
That is to say: I think that learning and listening enough to change my own mind is, incontrovertibly, action. Action is doing something different. And I have, undeniably, been doing something different. I'm about 3/4 of the way through the Robin D'Angelo's book White Guilt, which has spent seven weeks on Amazon's list of most-sold nonfiction books. I also read a scathing critique of White Guilt in the Atlantic. And I'm binging the all-black show Insecure on HBO.
If you're uncomfortable or irritated with me claiming that these things are action: Why?
Is it because it sounds too easy? Too meaningless? Is it because I have the privilege of learning about racism at my own pace, and from the comfort of my own home?
I agree: this is a privilege. And consider this: if all privileged people suddenly started consuming a lot more anti-racist media, the world would begin to look quite different. Don't you think?
And about "too easy": I've actually noticed it's hard. Simply staying focused on learning about racism is hard to do.
Case in point: this week, my girlfriend and I got a new kitten. The kitten and our existing cat did not get along. No sooner did I hear the growling and hissing than "what to do about the cats" sprang to the top of my priority list. After a few days, I realized I'd spent more time thinking about the cats than I had thinking about racism.
What about you? What are you fixating on in place of the things that actually break your heart? For my part, I now have two litter boxes, a really loud fan, and probiotics for my cats are on the way. I'm a little more serene, and racism didn't go anywhere.
In the process of "educating myself," I've found I don't agree with everything I've read. I have just as often felt critical of the book White Guilt as I have accepted its claims. When my friend sent me John McWhorter's article critiquing the book, I felt a touch of absolution. McWhorter is black himself, and calls the book "bizarrely disconnected from reality."
Oh, good. I thought. So White Guilt isn't the final word, after all.
The friend who shared the Atlantic article texted me her own thoughts on it. "I worry that white people looking for an excuse not to do any reading/work will read [the article] and say look, see, things are fine."
This, I know, is easy to do. There was a minute in 2018 where I listened more to right-wing than left-wing media. Particularly when the pundits were black, I felt vindicated. If a black person said so, perhaps the issues with big business and police brutality and even Trump himself really were overblown.
Two years later, I am more attuned to my own thinking. Just as the black, right-wing pundits weren't the authorities on anti-racism, so D'Angelo certainly isn't, and neither is McWhorter in his critique of White Guilt. Neither, for that matter, are the people at work or on social media debating marathon versus sprint, education versus action.
These are all just perspectives. We are all just hissing and growling at the thing that breaks our heart.