Star Wars: Racism—and White Fragility—Awakens | Sojourners

Star Wars: Racism—and White Fragility—Awakens

Screenshot via 'Star Wars'/YouTube

It’s hard for me to wait for December 17. That’s the day that Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens is released. For a Star Wars nerd like myself, the anticipation is overwhelming. December cannot come fast enough!

But this week I discovered that a few Star Wars nerds are boycotting the movie. Why? Because they are racist. (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 people shout “No!” and demand that Star Wars be white.

Wait, it gets even crazier — some of these white people are claiming that because Star Wars has a character who is black, the movie is promoting white genocide.

Seriously? This has got to be the Onion. Except it’s not.

Liberals have of course taken to Twitter to denounce the racist trending hashtags (#BoycottStarWarsVII and #WhiteGenocide). But absurd as these racist remarks and tweets are, I’m also 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. It is so easy to blame them. What’s much more difficult to deal with, and what causes white fragility among us liberals, is the fact that we are infected with racism.

It’s true. Here’s the real problem: to be white in America is to be infected by racism, regardless of politics.

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 fact that the median white household makes roughly $111,146, but the median black household makes $7,113. That huge disparity in racial wealth puts black people at a severe disadvantage when it comes to political, economic, and educational opportunities.

But I’ve noticed that when many white liberals are confronted with these numbers, and the racism that undergirds our privilege, we start feeling guilty. We generally have two choices in how we respond to our feelings of guilt: First, we can choose to become defensive. We start concealing our own 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.