In March of 2021, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry (Duchess and Duke of Sussex) were interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. They talked about racism within the Royal Family, which contributed to their decision to set out and blaze their own trail. In response, Prince William (Prince Harry’s brother) issued a statement that The Royals are “very much not a racist family.” A friend of Prince Charles’ leaped into the spotlight to announce that his pal (Prince Harry’s father) is not a racist.
Quick recap: Two extremely white British Princes declared themselves and their entire family free of racism.
Four months later, in July of 2021, Tarrant City (Alabama) Council member Tommy Bryant used the n-word in a council meeting, referring to a female council member, Veronica Freeman. In case further clarification is necessary, Tommy Bryant is white and Veronica Freeman is Black. In the aftermath, although Alabama GOP has suggested that Tommy Bryant resign, he has other plans. He has refused to apologize, and is talking about running for mayor.
Quick recap: An extremely white American man appears to view his own racism as free of racism.
When white people are accused of racism, their knee-jerk reactions are often instant, loud, resounding denials. Although England and the United States both overflow with racism, the massive majority of white folks in both countries seem to view themselves (like Prince William and Prince Charles and Tommy Bryant) as Very-Much-Not-Racists.
Royal Racism, at core indistinguishable from Commoner Racism, knows no boundaries. Like COVID-19, it crosses oceans, infiltrates continents, spreads through cities, poisons families. Also like COVID-19, it kills. Unlike COVID-19, however, there’s no vaccine.
So I’m offering an alternative approach. I’m extending an invitation to the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and Mr. Tommy Bryant. I’m the princess of nowhere, the duchess of nothing, and a member of no city council. Still, I hope all three of you will take a short walk with me through a different incident of racism.
In 2016, Yale University discovered that a dean of a residential college had posted multiple racist remarks. Yale took a strong stance against racism, the situation was handled and the dean no longer works at the university. Sound straightforward? It’s not. Racism is a complex issue, so let’s
In this moment, I wonder how many readers are assuming that Yale’s obnoxious, racist ex-dean is white. Actually, the racist remarks targeted the white population, and were posted by a woman who is Asian. I’m outraged, as I should be. But I’m also inviting Prince William, Prince Charles and Tommy Bryant to take a moment with me and
to think about racism. As a citizen of the United States, I don’t know one person of any heritage — except white — who has never been the target of multiple, even ongoing, actions and words rooted in bigotry. I’m white, and once when I was walking through San Francisco, a man spat on me. Another time, a different man purposefully slammed into me. (I was startled, but unhurt.) Both spoke words I didn’t understand, but later found out were derogatory slurs for “white”. There have been other incidents, but they’re rare enough that they’re not a part of my internal fabric, which makes me extremely privileged.
Privileged or not, this dean’s comments were wrong and harmful. Her mindset was rooted in the same dangerous mentality as all racism — Us vs. Them, Superior vs. Inferior, Hatred vs. Acceptance, Inclusion vs. Inequality. We all — everyone of every color — need to be aware of the assumptions we carry, and their potential for racism. Still, I want to go beyond my legitimately angry response and
because this issue is much larger than I am. My specific brand of outrage is, in itself, a privileged reaction, because this dean and her comments had no power to harm me. However, I don’t want to shrug it off because empathy is a key part of fighting racism. This incident gives me a small taste of what a Black man might feel when he walks down the sidewalk in broad daylight, thinking about his presentation to his company, and suddenly realizes that every white pedestrian is watching him, seemingly with fear. It’s a spoonful of what a Korean-American woman (born and raised in the USA) might feel when a stranger suddenly starts yelling that she’s responsible for the “Chinese Flu.” It’s what a Latino high school student might feel when they tell a friend they scored 800s on their SATs, and later find out a rumor is spreading that they must have cheated, because, well, y’know those Latinos — academic, not so much. It’s what a Middle Eastern college student, an American citizen, might feel when someone sees their backpack (heavy with poetry books) and freezes, as though listening for a ticking bomb.
Yes, this particular instance of anti-white racism was terrible, and I respect my own reaction. At the same time, I have to acknowledge the privilege of having experienced so few incidents in my lifetime as the target of racism. No, it does not make this person’s bigotry okay, and my being white doesn’t make my outrage any less valid. But in order to respect the full impact of racism, if someone ever points out that I’ve made a mistake, I need to listen carefully before I speak. I need to catch myself before I shout my knee-jerk denial, or enlist a friend to shout it for me. I need to remain open to the other person’s perspective, believe their experience, validate them as a full person. I need to own my assumptions, and be willing to recalibrate my mindset, even if it’s painful.
Before we (Prince Charles, Prince William, Tommy Bryant and I) declare ourselves “very much not a racist,” we need to take a deep breath and
Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows a group friends through a year in a public high school with over forty languages spoken among the students. This novel was written in gratitude Hollywood High School’s diversity and commitment to equality and inclusion. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a psych intern through her first year of training, treating a troubled client with a past filled with secrets. This book was written to validate the experience of emotional struggles, to fight the stigma of mental illness, and with deepest respect for the human capacity to heal.
Amy’s Author Page on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4