It’s been a year since last year’s deadly Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., which took the life of Heather Heyer, a white anti-racist activist. It was an event that shredded any last hope that America was post-racial, especially when the president couldn’t bring himself to condemn the actions; instead, he equivocated and said there were many fine people on both sides.
For many, Charlottesville was the moment when the racial blinders came off and many were forced to see the real America right in the eye—perhaps for many, right in the mirror in their own eyes and faces. To see a nation where the virtues and dreams we have espoused are not who we are in reality. Instead, we are a nation that was founded on the stolen land of Indigenous people and built with the labor of enslaved Africans. A nation where white supremacy is as much a part of our daily rounds as the air we breathe. Charlottesville was when the door of that closet where tried to keep all the hate stashed away flew open and it, would no longer close, spilling out it contents.
In the year since the horrifying event at Charlottesville, despite the stated desire of many to unify and do better, in reality it’s been an almost daily assault on Black people, other people of color and other marginalized people. We now live in a country where babies are separated from their families for the crime of families wanting a piece of the American dream but lacking the white skin that historically has allowed those we deem white to emigrate to this country.
Donald Trump’s vitriol towards people of color has intensified, and in the past year we have seen far too many average white people emboldened to act as modern-day slave catchers. Giving rise to BBQ Becky, Permit Patty and a host of other white characters who are so offended by the audacity of Black and Brown people daring to exist in anything other than misery that they call the police to report non-white people for the crime of living. There are few daily acts of living which are immune from police involvement: a trip to Starbucks, a kid selling lemonade, a visit to your local pool. And the daily acts we haven’t seen criminalized by white people surely will be soon enough, until it is clear that police will be called on any Black person, any time, for any action.
At the same time, the national media has been forced to report on racial issues, but instead of using accurate language, too many times, blatant acts of racism are cowardly reported as “racially tinged” or couched as “racial anxiety” rather than named for what they truly are: “racist” and “racism.” Vile and racist white people who are steeped in the clutches of white supremacy are given equal air time because there is a “need” to hear both sides. Those who push back are told they are not being tolerant. The need to be fair overrides the need to be just or sometimes even accurate. Because ultimately those in charge of making these decisions are themselves steeped in white supremacy, albeit a weaker version. Hence their inability to understand that they are upholding the rules of white supremacy that reward a certain type of docility when it comes to uncomfortable topics or matters of race.
Let’s not even talk about the hundreds of pieces dedicated to examining the economic fears of a certain type of white person. White “economic fear” is simply another version of dog-whistle politics. Fear of losing the benefits of whiteness that gave the white people a headstart and that continue to give white people a head start. Fear of sharing space with any more non-white people than we already have. In fact, fear of sharing space with non-white people to the extent that they will support not only cruel acts to “protect” our borders but also condone the stripping of citizenship from naturalized citizens.
On the flip side, millions of white people are waking up to the reality of white supremacy and becoming aware, as evidenced by the flood of books on the market talking about racism. Awareness of white supremacy runs rampant in certain segments of the population and while my own work is predicated on creating awareness, we are quickly coming to the end of the awareness train. Because awareness isn’t enough to produce change and reverse the increasing racial damage being done lately.
We need more white people who are well-versed on white supremacy and who can think about the issue without centering themselves. We need white folks who are ready to move the needle. White people who will put themselves on the line or even in harm’s way to protect non-white ones from abuse. We need white people who have examined the ways in which they were socialized and indoctrinated into whiteness and who can do this work without a person of color as their tour guide. These same people must increase their own awareness of how to actively question everything and start to notice when they are operating under the rules of whiteness. We need white people who are thinking critically about racism and privilege and who understand that the societal change we need will require skin in the game and moving beyond the good and bad binary to the deeper work of dismantling whiteness within and in the larger world…while also understanding that the work is messy and deeply uncomfortable and that there is no list of best practices to follow with a list to check off. You aren’t going to read 75 books, amplify marginalized voices online, donate money, attend rallies and occasionally have an uncomfortable encounter and earn a good white person badge. That’s not how any of this works. Instead, your mission if you accept it is to strike at the heart of white fragility both internally and externally.
We are a nation with a white nationalist at the helm, an aggressive white nationalist whose key advisers hold racist and xenophobic views which are affecting national policies. Can you say Stephen Miller?
Looking back over the past year, I wish I could say things have changed for the better but I would be lying if I said so. To be honest, the rate at which horrific change is happening is downright scary. That said, the midterm elections are coming up, and the abolition movement is growing. Glimmers of hope in an otherwise dark space.
Many showed up today in Washington, D.C., to protest the white supremacists who were holding a rally. The white supremacists were outnumbered by those who condemn their hateful messages. While it is tempting to give into feel good messages that love trumps hate, that isn’t a good path. While love is amazing, it is not a useful tool enough tool alone in the work to dismantle white supremacy. It’s just one tool, and probably not the best one in the box. Let the good moments give us joy in the dark spaces, but understand that we are playing the long game.
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