My mother died several years ago. The cause of death was complications from lung cancer. You will get no argument that cancer is a scourge on humanity. You know somebody, or you yourself, have been a victim of cancer. You, or somebody you know, has donated money to a charity that seeks to find a cure for cancer. You, or somebody you know, has participated in a 5K run, or a walk, or slept on the field behind your high-school overnight, circling the track in shifts, to raise money and awareness about treatments and finding a cure for cancer.
Here’s what you don’t hear when you admit that someone you love is suffering from cancer:
Cancer? There’s no cancer in this country anymore. There may have been cancer at one time, but that was a long time ago. And none of my ancestors were even in this country when there was cancer. It’s not my fault.
We had a president of the United States with cancer (Ronald Reagan) aren’t we past this?
Cancer? What about spinal injuries or heart disease? Why are you raising money for cancer? Why is everybody so focused on cancer? People are sick of other things too you know.
That’s the problem in this country, people are stuck on cancer. That’s all these people want to talk about. I don’t see cancer. I treat everybody the same, whether they have cancer or not. Why can’t we move on?
I don’t have cancer. I eat right, I don’t smoke. I don’t have cancer. No one in my family has cancer. Everybody should just eat right and not smoke. We don’t need to keep talking about cancer.
So why is it different when it comes to racism?
Why do we deny it exists? Or if we admit it exists, insist it’s less of a problem than it is?
Why do we assume racism is somebody else’s problem?
Why do we question the notion that we should be anti-racist? (You’re anti-cancer aren’t you?!)
Why do we feel that racism will go away if we are just kind to one another?
Why do we feel racism is not a problem provided it doesn’t affect us directly (that is, if you’re white, you may be fortunate enough that it doesn’t affect you directly).
(And for the record, the “we” used in the hypotheticals above, in case you haven’t figured it out, refers to white people, well, apparently, a lot of white people.)
When my mother was suffering from her disease, everyone who surrounded me was supportive, compassionate and generous. They asked me what they could do to help. They sent over meals for her and my Dad, they sent cards, they called often to check on her and on our family. Because she was sick, with cancer, that’s what you do.
Racism is a cancer.
People die as a consequence of racism.
It affects each and every one of us.
We ALL need to be anti-racist.