Star Wars, Racism, and Beyond White Fragility

It’s hard for me to wait for December 18! That’s the day that Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is released. For a Star Wars nerd like myself, the anticipation is nearly overwhelming. December 18 cannot come fast enough!

But this week I discovered that other Star Wars nerds are boycotting the movie. Why? Because they are racists! They have clearly gone to the dark side.

The main character of Star Wars is named Finn, who is played by John Boyega, who happens to be black! Has a black person ever played a main character in Star Wars? These racists shout “No!” and demand that Star Wars be white.

It’s so ridiculous; it’s almost like a story you could only find in the Onion. But I found the story in the Washington Post. Wait, it gets even crazier. Many white people are claiming that because Star Wars has a character who is black, the movie is promoting white genocide.

Seriously?!? This is so the Onion – except it’s not. Sure, some claim that the whole thing is a hoax by Internet trolls, as if we’ve entered a galaxy far, far away where trolling somehow makes racism okay.

Racism in America

Trolling or not, this is just more evidence of the racism that continues to infect our culture. Many liberals have taken to Twitter to denounce the racist trending hashtags #BoycottStarWarsVII and #WhiteGenocide. As absurd as these racist remarks and tweets are, I’m finding myself uncomfortable with the anti-racist response of many white liberals.

I’m uncomfortable because when we attack those racists, we gain a sense of self-righteous moral superiority against them. But here’s the problem, to be white in America is to be infected by racism.

Look, when it comes to white liberal progressives like myself, it is far too easy to blame those racists. What’s much more difficult, and what causes white fragility among us liberals, is the fact that we are infected with racism. Racism flows through us just as much as if flows through those we accuse of being racist.

That’s because the United States is structured upon racism that benefits white people and harms black people. The problem for white liberals is that we tend to be blind to the ways we benefit from and participate in racist structures.

I’ll give you a personal example. Like all parents, my wife and I want our children to attend good schools. That means we would never move to the inner city. Instead, we made sure that we moved to the suburbs. The suburbs where there are very few black people.

My children have a distinct advantage because of the color of their skin. They are white. They have the opportunity to attend better schools because they benefit from racist social structures. My children have access to experienced teachers, while most black children “are stuck in schools with the most new teachers.” Add to that the economic racial disparity reported by the U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Income and Program Participation and we see the severe disadvantage African Americans and Latinos face in this country. As Forbes states, “In absolute terms, the median white household had $111,146 in wealth holdings in 2011, compared to $7,113 for the median black household and $8348 for the median Latino household.”

Beyond White Fragility

But I’ve notices that when many white liberals are confronted with these numbers and the racism that undergirds our privilege, we start feeling guilty. I know that I can start getting defensive very quickly. And when I start getting defensive, I know someone has hit a truth about my participation in racist structures that I’d rather ignore.

White liberals generally have two choices in how we respond to our feelings of guilt. First, we can choose to become defensive. White fragility sets in and we insist that we aren’t racist. We start concealing our racism by projecting it onto the overt racists who start Twitter campaigns that boycott Star Wars. In other words, we’d much rather take the easy way out of scapegoating. We’d rather blame the racists out there than do the difficult work of examining the racism that infects in each one of us.

But the more vehemently white liberals deny that we are racists, the more evidence we provide that that’s exactly what we are.

The second choice is to move beyond white fragility by doing the difficult work of examining the racism within ourselves and our society. We can acknowledge that the racist structures that infect our country also infects us. We can choose to openly acknowledge the benefits we gain from racist societal structures. We can choose to work for political, economic, and educational reform that will lead toward greater racial justice. Most importantly, we can choose to seek friendships with our black sisters and brothers, to learn how they have to deal with racism every day of their lives, and work to create a more just nation.

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Image: John Boyega as a stormtrooper in the upcoming Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (Screenshot from YouTube)

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