Recently, I have noted two dreadful diseases which have attacked with devastating regularity a number of people who have said they want to work toward the elimination of racism from themselves, their institutions, and society. In every case these diseases result in an inability to act, and the victims enter into a kind of catatonic posture, unable to move. With a hope to alleviate the causes and release the victims from these dread diseases, I have conducted a completely scientific and highly verifiable study.
The two diseases are called DONTKNOW and CANTDO. I will describe them so that if you ever feel yourself succumbing to them, you can run for the antidote quickly!
DONTKNOW attacked some good friends of mine the other day. These are highly-educated people, who, for several months, have been gathered in a group which has a stated intention to mount a concerted attack on institutional racism in their city. They are mostly white males; among the group of twenty-five or so people, they hold at least forty degrees. They are highly trained people, who can marshal informed arguments on a wide variety of subjects and issues. Ask them about anything and you will hear knowledge spout forth. If your question is in a field where they have little direct knowledge, they do know how to go about gaining the information they need so that in a short time they will be prepared to respond to your question intelligently. These are well-educated people with a high degree of knowledge.
Given the composition of this group, you can imagine my dismay to hear them say that, when it comes to institutional racism, they just DONTKNOW what to do about it!!! DONTKNOW strikes; the group is in disarray and, in sadness, they disband. Fortunately, the DONTKNOW syndrome does not seem to affect their ability to perform in other areas of their professional lives. They DONTKNOW what to do only when it comes to institutional racism.
Then there is CANTDO. It is equally dangerous in its consequences, devastating to the work of racial justice. CANTDO went to work among some other people I know who are all members of the same institution. If I were to describe the institution and the positions these people hold in it, you would agree that they are in places of power and influence, that, in fact, they are prime decision-makers. They were wondering what they could do to implement a stated commitment to work against racism. It was exciting because these were people who really could move things within their sphere of influence! But then a terrible thing happened, and it was the CANTDO germ!
You have already guessed the result. These friends, all white males, decided that they really couldn’t do anything! They had no influence! They were devoid of power! Their institutional muscles were nothing but flabby fat! In desperation I poured out suggestions of a wide variety of things they might do, but, to my amazement, my friends were completely impotent. Job descriptions of their positions notwithstanding, they really had no power to act! CANTDO had taken over! Again, the disease does not seem to have affected their ability to continue to perform impressively in other areas of concern which have nothing to do with racism.
Now these two diseases bear watching, because they can immobilize people who have the best of intentions. DONTKNOW seems to attack most those who are highly educated; there is some indication that the more degrees one has received the more one must be on guard against DONTKNOW. CANTDO, as you might have surmised, seems to root and flourish most readily among people who are in high positions in the organizational chart.
When people who are highly educated are also in positions of great influence and combine both knowledge and power, there is a frightening susceptibility among them to a combination of DONTKNOW and CANTDO!!! When the two diseases strike the same people, the prognosis is seldom good for racism.
I noted in the two situations I described that most of the people who suffered the attack of DONTKNOW and CANTDO were white males. This does not mean that others need not worry about the diseases, but controlled observations do indicate a higher degree of susceptibility among white males. That susceptibility may not be generic in white males; there is some indication that the cause of the susceptibility of white males to DONTKNOW and CANTDO is simply environmental, due to the fact that white males generally have received more degrees and have found their way to positions of influence more frequently than other categories of human beings. There is evidence to indicate that white males who are highly educated and in positions of influence had better be on guard against DONTKNOW and CANTDO!
Fortunately there is an antidote which, if taken upon the appearance of the very first symptoms, may overcome the affects of DONTKNOW and CANTDO. The antidote is the same generally for both diseases, though in some cases dosage may vary. If you feel yourself being overtaken by an attack of either DONTKNOW or CANTDO, please rush immediately to make contact with some of the victims of institutional racism. Don’t be put off by the fact that some of the victims may not be highly educated; they will KNOW what you could do! As a matter of fact, you might go out on the street and just ask some of the victims, found most often among Black Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic, or Asian Americans. They have a remarkable ability to KNOW what others don’t know about racism, how it functions, and how to dismantle it! In most cases, careful listening will help overcome DONTKNOW.
The same antidote is often helpful in cases of CANTDO. Contact with victims of racism is what is needed. Again, don’t be put off by the fact that they may not carry cards which list their names and organizational positions. They will help you with the CANTDO’s, because often you will find them doing a lot of things you might either replicate or complement at your level of influence. Try it; it might work! It is better than giving in to the dreaded disease.
The key is to act at the very first symptoms of the diseases. If either progresses too long, it becomes predictably fatal to anti-racism intentions. These diseases are powerful, so beware! I know personally their treacherous nature, and must constantly be on guard. So the advice I offer is directed to myself also. The very first time you hear yourself say, “I don’t know what to do about racism,” check it out; you are susceptible to DONTKNOW! The very first time you hear yourself say, “I can’t do anything about racism,” check it out; you may be invaded by the dread disease of CANTDO! Move quickly or you may be “a-goner” to the cause of racial justice.