September 1, 2020 | WONDERINGS & CURIOSITIES

what is it to deny racism

Mark Konig

Our most recent RJSH practice applies the five stages of grief to navigating racism in our lives, and we begin with the first stage of denial. So White folks and non-Black People of Color, let’s talk about denial.

Denial about racism looks like:

“You’re making too much of a deal about xx”

Not taking action against racist behavior from friends and family

Numbing or minimizing feelings from microaggressions or racist incidents — self and others

Discounting the possibility that racism is happening

Isolating self

Whether we acknowledge this stage or not, this country has been in denial about anti-Black racism like a birthright, a kind of unseeing for what we’ve become, what we tolerate as inconveniences that go unnoticed. We lose the depth of what it means to be fully human when we look away.

And yet, what is denial when we bear witness to the web of anti-Black violence and economic oppression as the greatest history lesson learned for how not to be, and still, we be.

What is denial when Black pain and trauma go viral at our fingertips, braided with photos of lives untouched with the occasional #BlackLivesMatter quotes that remain simply that — quotes. A series of adornments and badges proving our innocence.

What is denial when black squares and hashtags decorate our screens as acts of allyship that are as quotidian as how time moves into a new day without fail, without thought.

What is denial when we invoke the names of Emmett Till as if he belongs to us, when we say that it was seeing the murder of Rodney King, Oscar Grant, or Trayvon Martin that “woke us up” to the hellfire we can’t look at long enough to hold it. What did we see and what did we refuse to see as we publicly buried them in our nostalgia. And let’s be clear, Black lives are not ours to invoke.

What is denial when a Black person, often a youth, has to expire on the national stage for some of us to change, temporarily. What lingers in our imaginations and who welcomed it?

What is denial when we discounted Black Lives Matter in 2013, only to discount it again in 2020 as if those seven years in between buried no lives worthy of lifting up, knowing that all of this will repeat again the next year, and the next.

What is it to bear witness and yet, still, be in denial.

Denial is a refusal, a contradiction, a rejection and dismissal of the truths we cannot live with. It is a life of ease, of not seeing, of refusing to regard how our indifference and inaction is a collective burial. Denial is a forgiveness of ourselves when that grace is not ours to give, but ours to repair, first and always. So that we may rest our heads easy night after night, denial has become an everyday habit of reshaping a reality that is not ours to alter into nonexistence.

So what is it to begin refusing denial as we grieve racism in our lives.

It is just that, a beginning. So let us begin.

and, now