When I was younger, my mom and I butted heads a lot over the state of my room. She wanted it clean; I didn’t want to clean it. Not exactly a unique situation — what kid actually wants to clean her room? When I did get around to cleaning, I’d tell her when I was done and wait, fingers crossed, for the inspection that would follow. Without fail, Mom would come in and point out what I’d missed (or tried to hide). I’d like to say that I’ve gotten better at keeping my room clean as I’ve gotten older, but you’d have to check with my roommates on that one.
So what does my room have to do with racial justice? Think of our society as my bedroom: even though we might think we’re done with the whole “racism thing,” we still have a lot of cleaning to do.
Every time I see something new going on or talk to someone about the latest occurrence in the world of -isms (racism, sexism, etc.), the phrase, “It’s 2013!” undoubtedly pops up:
“It’s 2013, why are people so up in arms about a mixed-race family on TV?”
I recently found myself repeating the phrase often, especially in this internship as I examined the issues I wasn’t aware of before. There are a lot of things going on in the world that I thought were problems of the past, and it never fails to shock me that these things happen today. For instance, constantly questioning a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body – why is that still on the agenda?
The more I thought about it and talked about it, the more I began to see a problem. Let’s think about our society as my bedroom again: We’ve cleaned it pretty well; we’ve taken out the garbage; we’ve picked our clothes up from the floor; made the bed; done the laundry; maybe even sprayed some Febreeze around for good measure. Now take a minute, put on your Mom goggles, and look again.
Uh oh, what’s that under the bed? Racial bias in the media. Racial profiling (think: Trayvon Martin). And in the closet? Are those some stereotypes we’re still holding onto? For example, housing discrimination. It still exists. People of color are shown fewer properties by landlords than their white counterparts.
Okay, you can take your Mom goggles off now. Yes, we’ve made a lot of progress, and that’s wonderful. But as far as the deep dark corners of our metaphorical room are concerned, we’ve still got some major issues. Thinking that we’ve already cleaned them up only allows them to sit in the corner and grow into a bigger problem.
We need to stop saying, “It’s 2013! We should be done with racism!” That phrase is easy; it’s a trap waiting to stop progress. It’s dangerous, and it lends us a false sense of security about the work we still need to do. Just because we cleaned our room once, doesn’t mean we get to stop. We need to start looking at our society with our Mom goggles and look at the things we missed before.
We can’t let the progress our parents and grandparents made in working toward equality go to waste. We have to carry that momentum forward and keep working toward change. I’m making a personal pledge not to use that phrase anymore whenever I hear about modern racism.
It’s 2013, and we’re not done. It’s 2013, and racism still exists. It might not look the same way as it did to our parents, but it’s there all the same.
So put your Mom goggles on and keep an eye out for that mess under the bed. Cleaning is never easy, but it must be done.
Posted by Juliana Rose, YWCA Missoula Racial Justice Intern
P.S. Thanks for the inspiration, Mom!
P.P.S. Check out these motivational pictures. Warning: may contain humor.