7 Lessons on Racism That White People Need To Learn

A young black woman with loose curl natural black hair down to her shoulders stands tall holding a protest sign. The protest sign has "I can't breathe" written in black tape above a picture of George Floyd.

As soon as the Black Lives Matter protests reached their peak in June of 2020, I knew that I needed to have some kind of response on my blog and I knew that the best possible response would be from a black writer. The first person I contacted was Dennis Upkins, whose scathing and witty critiques have been published several times on this blog before. I’m incredibly honored to publish these lessons on racism that he sent me.

CN: extensive discussion of systemic racism, racially motivated violence, and white supremacy; general discussion of other forms of oppression.

But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Oh, it’s you again. Let me guess. The civil unrest and uprising has you bewildered. The world that you thought you knew is evaporating and you need to make sense of all of this. You want answers. You almost seemed genuinely shocked by the state of affairs.

Let’s be clear, your goals are not my goals. You’re fighting to get things back to the status quo. The status quo is what me and mine were always fighting to change. You’re upset that you’re being forced out of your comfort zone of privilege. I’m enraged that it took countless murders, an act of God in the form of a worldwide pandemic, nationwide protests/riots and civil unrest for you to finally acknowledge the systemic oppression that you benefit from at the expense of Blacks and other minorities.

Did you honestly think the murders of Ahmad Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and those before them would continue to go unanswered? Did you honestly believe you could keep dehumanizing, abusing, and murdering us and there wouldn’t be a reckoning?

Don’t answer that.

It’s clear that we have a failure on your part to appreciate the gravity of this situation. A disconnect as it were; several in fact. You’re slowly realizing that the system of oppression that you’ve benefited from is far more addictive and destructive than fentanyl and the Fel combined. You’re also realizing said system comes with too steep a price. You want answers, insight, solutions, wisdom. Fine. That comes with a cost too. So be careful what you wish for. Here beginneth the lesson.

1. If It Doesn’t Apply Let It Fly

When it comes to discussions on marginalized issues, there’s an unspoken rule. When minorities are calling out a privileged group and speaking in general terms, if what’s being said doesn’t apply to you, then we aren’t talking to you. So do everyone a favor and don’t make it about you.

That which is understood doesn’t have to be explained. Of course, there are good white people. If we’re looking at a world population of 7 billion people, statistically speaking there has to be, 40 on the planet. Okay 4400 and that’s only because I loved the tv series. Defensiveness is often a reflection of guilt. Or as we say in the South, Hit Dogs Holler.

But that’s still not fair, someone might say. There’s a double standard. Absolutely. Making a generalized statement about a marginalized group reinforces the oppression. Making a generalized statement about a demographic that is the oppressor reinforces no oppression. White people are not oppressed by their race. Still not fair, you say? You know what else isn’t fair? Racism, white privilege, misogyny, transphobia, poverty, anti-blackness, homophobia. Thems be the breaks. Welcome to our world.

Black and white photo from Nashville, TN BLM protests. Looking at the backs of a large crowd of people walking in the middle of the street many with their hands raised in the air as if in surrender, or holding signs.

2. Never Mistake Malicious Intent for Ignorance

Just as we as a society victim-blame PoCs for any racism we suffer, we just as quickly defend white bigots and excuse their behavior.

The problem with conflating ignorance with malicious intent is that it ultimately implies that whites can do no wrong. Ignorance implies that once educated, white supremacists will be no more. That simply isn’t true. This is also a form of gaslighting.

Utilizing their white privilege, many racists will lie, derail discussions, or evade responsibility for problematic behavior by feigning to be naive of how their behavior caused harm to others. If it was truly a case of ignorance, then they would have gladly taken ownership of their mistakes upon being educated and take the initiative in making things right. However, because it’s malicious intent, many racists will claim to not know or understand something and still argue with the folks who are rightfully calling them out.

Never mind the blowback and harm the tactic causes to those legitimately suffering from mental illness, ignorance isn’t the only defense used to excuse racist whites. Unlike people of color who are never afforded such luxuries, whites are aware of the fact that they can claim ignorance (like a 5-year-old lying that they didn’t know about a parental rule), and are usually absolved of whatever sins they committed.

The other problem with assuming ignorance is that it feeds into the stereotype that bigots are only uneducated barefoot hillbillies who live in a trailer park or up in the mountains. Often that couldn’t be further from the truth. Some of the worst bigots on the planet are wealthy and college-educated. Case in point, the majority of the Republican Party. Many of them graduated from Ivy League schools and lead privileged lives. More than that, bigotry has also been well documented among white liberal fauxgressives.

Just as we are quick to come up with any excuse to demonize and victimize blacks, we are just as quick to do Olympic-level gymnastics to justify the racism of whites and “prove” they can do no wrong. After all, “racially insensitive” infractions made by those “lone wolves” are simply the result of their upbringing, “white mental illness”, lack of education, and of course affluenza. In any event, we’re obligated to see the bigot as a three-dimensional person and recognize their humanity. In essence, do the very thing they couldn’t be bothered to do for Black people in the first place.

Evil white people do exist in the world and pretending otherwise is a detriment to those they harm.

A black and white photo of Nashville, TN BLM protests with an overexposed filter on it. Many people walk through the center of the street holding signs, wearing masks. Closest to the camera is a person holding a white sign that just says "Black Lives Matter" in all caps.

3. The Revolution Starts From Within

I’ve said this for many years but only a handful of people have actually listened.

The Revolution Starts From Within.

Not doing the internal work today inevitably leads to one’s downfall tomorrow. Too many fauxgressives believe that the rules and the standards don’t apply to them. Voltaire said it best, “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”

Because we live in a world that reinforces bigotry, there is much for us to unpack and unlearn. You have to put in the work to deprogram yourself from the isms that have been embedded in each of us as the norm. Said deprogramming and discovering that you have (latent) prejudicial beliefs and realizing that you are not as good a person as you thought you are is painful, it’s horrifying and humbling. But that’s how you evolve. That’s how you become better.

To that point, we live in a society where labeling a white person as racist is considered more horrific than the actual racism. However, if you are guilty of harboring problematic views and engaging in prejudicial acts, your soul is not eternally forfeit. You have the option to change and evolve. How a person takes ownership of their mistakes says just as much about them as the mistake they made.

Black and white photo of BLM protest in Nashville, TN. Dozens of people wearing masks sit down peacefully in the center of the street, holding their protest signs up, large buildings towering behind them.

4. It’s All Connected

Conservatism always needs an enemy to organize around and divert their adherents attention from the failures of their political philosophy, and trans people have become their enemy du jour now since they lost big on gay marriage.

We are winning on trans human rights issues in the US and increasingly around the world, and the conservative moment is taking it seriously enough to devote time, money, and resources to attack us and roll that progress back.”

-Monica Roberts, Equal Rights Activist

The core of white supremacy is that in order for one to rise, it must be at the expense of someone else. Which is why whenever there’s one ism, others are often present.

Dr. King was right when he said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Allowing injustice to manifest sets a precedent. It allows societal cancer to take root.

Most predators harm and gaslight often just to test the waters. They want to see what they can get away with. This is why it often starts small. A racial slur here, the fridging of a woman of color there. A little vandalism, a hate crime, and then a murder. Mass murders. Before you know it, discriminatory and oppressive legislation is passed and they’re coming for you in the night. Or in the middle of the day.

At the core of white supremacy (be it racism, misogyny, ableism, homophobia, antisemitism, anti-blackness, Islamophobia, etc.) is the idea that some lives matter more than others. So when we as a society are silent and complicit when it comes to calling out police brutality against Blacks, it’s inevitable that Planned Parenthood or trans rights will be targeted next.

White supremacy is just as hazardous to whites as it is to people of color. It’s arguably even more toxic for reasons the late prolific Toni Morrison explained.

A banner ad for Kella's Etsy shop demonstrating social justice themed products: A brown apron covered in little baking illustrations and the words "Bake the world a better place," a sticker with five colorful intersecting circles and the words "The future is intersectional", a pink mug with a pair of ice cream cones making the shape of a heart and the text "you could never be ice cream you're too hot and a person."


Still struggling to keep up? Here’s another example.

Obama’s presidency and last year’s film Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice have more than a few parallels.

The arrival of both Superman and Obama changed the power landscape of America, of the entire planet. White humans were irate because in both cases, Obama/Superman threatened the existing power structures and now whites were getting a taste of the fear PoCs have had to endure daily for centuries. And even though both men fought tirelessly for truth, justice, and the American way, they were met with outright bigotry. The ones leading the hate-mongering were Lex Luthor and Donald Trump.

So, what happens? Obama and Superman sacrifice everything for a world they’re too good for. It is revealed that Luthor was responsible for masterminding Superman’s murder and endangering the planet. Trump, the very one who accused Obama of having a fake birth certificate, steals the Oval Office, and continues to this day to be exposed as a criminal. White America is slowly learning that racism has consequences.

And that is the twisted irony and beauty of bigotry. It is as irrational as it evil and it always comes back to haunt the privileged and the bigoted.

Black and white photo of a BLM protest in Nashville, TN. Looking from behind, a crowd casually walks down the center of the street holding signs. The closest protestor holds a sign that says "Karens Against Racial Injustice"

5. The Problems With “Diversity”

Everybody wants diversity…….until it happens.”

-Josh Inman

When people (mis)use the term diversity, what they often mean is tokenism. Because unless resources, finances, and positions of authority are being diversified along with labor, it’s fraudulent activity.

That employer can’t be racist against Black people. Their personal assistant is Latinx.

During conversations about diversity, the wrong questions are often posed. Can a trans woman make it in this industry? Are Black people smart enough to thrive in Silicon Valley? Can gay people be innovators in athletics? The questions that should be asked are, how many mediocre cis straight white bigots are about to be made irrelevant because the playing fields are becoming more level? See, bigots always talk about minorities taking their jobs. What they really mean is (despite disadvantages and systemic oppression) those minorities are outperforming them and that’s why they are pressed.

The exceptional caucasians welcome true diversity because they want to learn, they want to level up, they want to be challenged and they want to step up themselves, in skill, in character, etc. Vibranium sharpens Vibranium. Bigots fear true diversity because it makes them irrelevant. On a level playing field based solely on merit, said field will be drastically less male, less cis heterosexual, and certainly far less white.

Which begs the question, how many Whitney Houstons, James Baldwins, Simone Biles, Isis Kings, Alexandre Dumases, Vivian Libertos, and Esther Lees have we missed out on because of systemic racism?

Black and white photo of a BLM protest in Nashville, TN. A busy crowd walks through the street, leaving a painted crosswalk empty. A black person holding hands with their black child raises their fist in solidarity nearest the camera.

6. Always Bet On Black

[African Americans] never immigrated here. They were forcefully brought to this country, and they had to fight for themselves. The African American community is a huge example of inspiration for people of color, for immigrants, to stake your claim for this country, that your voice matters.”

-Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, N.C.

Anti-blackness is arguably the cornerstone of all institutional oppression. It is as widespread globally as it is malignant. It can be found in virtually every culture on the planet. One of the primary reasons why it is so pervasive is because it is allowed to run rampant and unchecked.

What is anti-blackness? It is essentially the racism, oppression, and violence aimed specifically at descendants of the African diaspora. Even many nonblack PoCs will engage in anti-blackness believing their stock will rise if they have us to step on. Of course, it never takes and many wonder why they haven’t made more progress. In short, the racism Blacks endure is often worse than other PoCs and we’re not on the same footing with other people of color. Blacks are treated as the mules of the world when we’re anything but.

People don’t look down on Blacks because we’re inferior. They do it out of fear and hatred of the fact that we’re exceptional beyond words. We’re the only race to have our culture adopted and emulated by the rest of the planet.

Black History is the Rosetta Stone to equality and progress. It is imperative to learn Black History if one is serious about dismantling institutional oppression.

The United States alone is a testament to this. Every freedom and liberty Americans are enjoying was made a reality by African Americans. Feminism, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, equality for disability, economic reform, there’s not one liberty that Blacks didn’t make happen. When we fight for progress, we do it for everyone. Because we understand that a rising tide lifts all ships.

History has taught us time and time again that when it comes to saving the world, always bet on Black.

Black and white photo of BLM protest in Nashville, TN. A large crowd walks through the street, mostly dressed in black. A nearby protestor holds a large sign that says "BLM" in all caps.

7. Don’t Let The Necessary Occur

I don’t favor violence. If we could bring about recognition and respect of our people by peaceful means, well and good. Everybody would like to reach his objectives peacefully. But I’m also a realist. The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent are black people.”

-The Original X-Man, First Class, Brother Malcolm

It’s real easy to tell someone to turn the other cheek when you aren’t the one being slapped. It’s real easy to say rise above, be the bigger person when you aren’t the one being dehumanized. Preaching is real easy when you don’t have to practice.

Whites lecturing Blacks about nonviolence and (mis)quoting Dr. King is peak hypocrisy. However, if Dr. King’s message about nonviolence is so important for colonizers to klansplain to Blacks, they should know that they are more than welcome to lead by example. Because for the life of me, I can’t think of any conflict in U.S. history where whites didn’t initiate and/or respond with violence. In fact, much of the conflict sparked in this country and around the globe is due to the actions of white America, such as murdering innocent Black people like Dr. King.

To be Black in America means living among a horde of Veruca Salts gone Lord of the Flies in this Animal Farm known as the Confederate States of America.

One of the most infuriating things I hear from people, and by people I mean white people, is that there needs to be more dialogue, more education, more understanding. If only there were more people out there teaching and educating then so many tragedies wouldn’t be a reality. Why is that infuriating? Because there are people who have dedicated their lives to doing that very work. In fact, you’re reading one of their pieces right now on a website created for that education. Myself and countless others have peacefully and respectfully spoke on these issues for years. For our troubles, we’re often vilified, mocked, dehumanized, victim-blamed, and met with violence.

It took a show of force by way of Blacks taking up arms and nationwide uprising before it finally registered with whites that racism has consequences and Black Lives Matter.

Sometimes you have to fight in order to have peace. Whites thinking they can paternalistically dictate how Blacks should fight back, is narcissism at its most putrid. The fact that Blacks haven’t torched this country and sent it back to Hell, is a mercy this country doesn’t deserve. But do know, the nuclear option is always on the table. Blacks and other minorities have the right to life, freedom, equality, and the pursuit of happiness and will fight for it by any means necessary. So it would behoove you to not let the necessary occur.

Black and white photo of BLM protest in Nashville, TN. A densely packed crowd walks through the street, a nearby protestor holding a black sign with white letters that says "Black Lives Matter" with three parallel white lines on either side.

A picture of Dennis R. Upkins, a lean black man with long limbs wearing a well fitted navy and white pinstripe button up shirt. He's wearing black framed glasses and a warm smile, and has a black katana leaning against his shoulder.

About the guest blogger: Dennis R. Upkins is a speculative fiction author, a journalist and an equal rights activist. His first two young adult novels, Hollowstone and West of Sunset, were released through Parker Publishing. Both Upkins and his previous work have been featured in Harvard Political Law, Bitch Media, MTV News, Mental Health Matters, The Nerds of Color, Black Girl Nerds, Geeks OUT, Black Power: The Superhero Anthology, Sniplits, The Connect Magazine and 30Up. You can learn more about him at his website dennisupkins.wordpress.com.

Related Posts

At Yopp we're dedicated to providing educational material for social justice that emphasizes the individual experience of lived oppression and helps you understand the whole picture instead of memorizing do's & don'ts.

Buy Our Merch Become a Patron
Never Miss an Article
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments