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I believe that the term ‘white ignorance’ doesn’t express the term ignorance accurately, at least not as most people seem to define ignorance. The term white ‘ignorance’ grants an extra measure of innocence which cannot possibly exist in this context. I think that when most people hear the word ‘ignorance,’ they assume a ‘not knowing;’ in other words, that person did not have the benefit of education, etc that would give them the knowledge. There is an implied innocence — as if the reason for the ignorance is extrinsic to the person experiencing it. Extrinsic sources eliminate the need for action, so any context which frames the ‘blame’ as extrinsic alleviates that person of some degree of responsibility. I believe the attitude of white ignorance is an ACTIVE attempt to shirk responsibility by making the source extrinsic, AND also that the term ‘ignorance,’ which we as BIPOC use, only supports this, allowing for this shifting of intrinsic behavior/choices to an extrinsic source.
These assumptions require that the person truly not know; that is, if the reason for one’s ‘ignorance’ is lack of education, then once that education/knowledge is given, the person has the opportunity not to be ignorant.
When we use the term white ‘ignorance,’ I feel that we grant white people, collectively (do I have to say ‘not all white people’?) the benefit of an extrinsic source for this lack of knowledge, as if it is out of their control. This stance can only honestly be taken if the educational materials, etc don’t exist.
Once the educational materials exist and the facts are disseminated in society — and in America they have been, for centuries and to this very minute — the word ‘ignorance’ as it applies to this situation is deceptive: it implies that white people have no control over what they (presumptively) can’t see. As routine human behavior may dictate, BIPOC give the benefit of the doubt and repeat factual material to white people so that it cannot be true that they are ‘ignorant.’ But these facts have been repeated repeatedly, and not much has changed. How can this accurately be called ‘ignorance’ (ie, ‘not knowing’)?
Education isn’t working, and it hasn’t worked for years. Decades. Even centuries; some of these facts were disseminated in the 1800’s. If knowledge and factual material haven’t worked to eliminate ‘ignorance,’ it is something else. Not true ignorance. Some active behaviors are taking place even as they are being obscured. This is fundamentally deceptive; that is, to the core. It is important for us to locate these attitudes as intrinsic so that we can move forward to responsibility.
It is a self-deceptive form of ACTIVE “not knowing” that supports a white supremacist system, and thus supports white supremacy and that individual’s continued, unearned advantage WHILE allowing that same person, receiving all these freebies, to convince him/her/themself that what they have was earned. As a result, any ‘bad’ behavior by white people — inevitable in a white supremacist context — is shifted outside themselves, and they are simply ‘ignorant.’ This ‘oops-a-daisy’ isn’t really viable if truth, justice, and equality actually matter.
I believe it is time for us to call this a choice, not ignorance. Once the population knows, ignorance can no longer be a viable excuse. Now, ‘ignorance’ is participation in white supremacy.
Tommy Curry calls white ‘ignorance’ a deceptive way in which white people frame themselves as innocent ‘cherubs.’ It has long been time to brush the clouds away and look at these constructed images with honesty.