A Love Letter to My European American Brothers and Sisters
by Jeff Hitchcock
Race is a loaded issue in our society, and people have many feelings about it. It’s personal and impersonal, complex and simple. Race in our society denies us things we need in our lives, while at the same time cultural difference often affirms our experience. So what happens when white people and people of color come together “at the table” over matters of race?
Many white people feel a strong need for relationships with people of color. In broad strokes, we are looking for love and affirmation of our shared humanity. This is the very thing race denies us. White identity, historically and presently, depends on separation and contrast from people of color. Many white people feel this separation and want to heal that wound within ourselves.
Countless writings and spoken testimonies by people of color tell us that relationship with white people is not the most compelling reason bringing people of color to the table. Surely, people of color often want to share relationships across racial lines, but they receive affirmation of their humanity from the rich cultural experiences in which they already partake. People of color want justice. This may be equality; it may be a level playing field; it may be recognition and action on issues such as police brutality and economic discrimination. White people can be significant allies in the struggle to achieve racial justice. So what happens when we come to the table? White people find ourselves in relationship with people of color. We receive the acceptance and love that so deeply motivate us. We are affirmed. But coming to the table does not in itself bring justice to people of color. At best it is a promise of future action — a promise that often is not kept.
Over the years I have seen white people often confused on this matter. Relating to people of color becomes an end in itself, almost like a drug. We can’t envision any other goal or any other method. Sometimes white people will shape their lives around relating to people of color, but if you ask them to work with other white people (as people of color often do ask them) they reject that work. Those of us who honor that request to work with our fellow white people—and this request goes back at least to Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and Bayard Rustin—often find some of our white brothers and sisters cannot remove themselves from the immediacy of interracial relationship to help us work for racial justice where it counts most, in our own white community, in the present. Love without justice is superficial at best. People of color working for justice are often accused of being “divisive,” but a community bound by love that allows systemic injustice to go unchallenged is a community that will permit anything, including slavery and economic exploitation. In effect, it is not a true community at all.
This letter originally appeared in the book Occupying Privilege: Conversations on Love, Race & Liberation by JLove Calderon, published 2012.