Racist mass shootings and anti-racist apathy

It wasn’t that long ago that news of a white man targeting Black people and killing them—because he hated “ni**ers”—would have been newsworthy beyond the carcass of Black Twitter and anti-racism Instagram. But, as we move further away from the great racial awakening of 2020, and people settle into our new dystopian norm of great pretense, well, there’s only so much sorrow and discomfort people can hold. After all, we are tired, and if we are tired, how can we be expected to do anything? 

The latest racist mass shooting occurred in Jacksonville, Fla., at a Dollar General store, blocks away from Edward Waters University, a historically Black college. The killer left behind a manifesto where he made it clear that he hated Black people. News reports are that he also used an assault rifle covered in swastikas. As of this writing, the gunman has not been publicly identified, though he has been described as a white man in his 20s. He killed three people before taking his own life.

This heinous act of racism occurred on the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington. 

You mean to say that racism is not dying out with the younger generation as many liberal leaning white people love to say? Yes, I do. A quick Google search will reveal that many of the racist acts of violence that have occurred in recent years have been carried out by young white men. In some instances, barely legal adults—veritable children. 

Remember the Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store shooting in 2022 that left 10 Black people dead? The killer was an 18-year-old white man. He’s now 19 and this past spring was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Sure, he won’t get out and he will die in jail, but that’s cold comfort to those whose family members’ lives were stolen while doing a mundane life task. Murdered by a teen because of the color of their skin. 

White supremacists actively organize and recruit young people and they often use the internet to do so. Young white men in particular are at an increased risk for being sucked into these communities as they look for a sense of community and belonging. But too many white people who consider themselves to “not be racist” struggle with understanding that while white supremacist culture and systemic racism are real, so too is the fact that the white men and boys are being actively courted by white supremacists. Often right under your nose.

Some of the most important work any so-called ally could and should be doing is knowing what the hell is going on internally with the white boys and men in their orbit. To know that the process of going out and killing Black and brown people or joining up with an organized white supremacist group is a subtle happening. And if you aren’t actively and loudly being anti -acist and discussing racism beyond the news cycle, there are other people who will be in their ears with poison to drip right into their brains. 

White supremacy culture is an easy, seductive addiction. It’s just there waiting and welcoming. If you’re white, you are enrolled by virtue of your skin color and if you aren’t actively fighting against it, you are upholding it in one form or another. 

Which brings me to another point. The other day, a self-identified white woman attempted to take me to task on the Black Girl in Maine Facebook page after I shared an article about the new country song, “Rich Men North of Richmond,” which the GOP has apparently taken a liking to. While the song does not explicitly name BIPOC people, it creates the imagery of welfare users that is eerily reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s fictitious welfare queen.

The poster said, Which lyrics are about people of color in this song??? It’s called Rich Men North of Richmond, meaning the government… in general. Are we simply trying to demonize anything that speaks out against the problem of the government, including the current administration, by labeling it racist??? That is a FABULOUS way to gaslight people into silence. Any opposition to the liberal status quo gets the label of racist, neo-Nazi, white supremacist, violent, or conspiracy theorist. Sorry but you seem to be very out of touch with the average American of any color or ethnic background.” 

The poster clarified that she was referencing the author of the article that I shared but the comment still struck me as the type of argument that shows a lack of deep understanding of how racism operates. One does not have to explicitly name people of color to be discussing them or to act in explicitly racist ways.

Too many well-meaning white people stumble into anti-racism spaces ready to discuss hate but unable to discuss race. I believe it is because it is easier to discuss hate than it is to name race. To name race and specifically name white supremacy and/or whiteness is to realize and reckon with how white people have been raised to be complicit in upholding racism, even without direct intention.

The easiest and most painless way to stay complicit is to shy away from talking about race and push it away. It’s how the GOP thrives at essentially being a party of racists who use dog-whistle tactics in their communications, even managing to attract a few self-deluded BIPOC folks to join their cause. 

Of course, the flip side is that the Democrats often dance around race but occasionally name aspects of race and racism, but they also tend to avoid hardcore conversations on race. As a result, our very own FBI and Department of Homeland Security have been vocal that the United States has a growing white nationalist problem, which policymakers larger ignore as these movements and groups keep popping up all over like weeds and roaches. 

Which is pretty wild, when you think of the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and how we restructured our very society because of a small group of terrorists. It’s over 20 years later and we are still doing performance security theater because of this perceived threat. But growing hordes of white people terrorizing their fellow citizens? Let’s write about it, warn you about it, but let’s definitely not dismantle broken societal structures and systems to get to the root cause. 

Blatant acts of racism and bigotry have been on the rise for the past several years and there is no state in the union that is immune to it. As I have recently written, Maine and Northern New England in general are battling for the souls of their states as white nationalists with insidious plans make themselves cozy. The relatively low numbers of BIPOC folks, combined with the Yankee sense of individuality and privacy, make this region very attractive.

The only way to make it less attractive is to expose these people and make their lives uncomfortable. But before it even gets to that point, it should be starting early and starting at home. Sure, some of these people may have been raised by actively racist parents. But I have also seen white people enter anti-racism spaces and leave with a bend towards white nationalism, though they don’t explicitly name it as such. 

We have to fight this at every level in our personal and public spaces and, frankly, you don’t need Black and brown people present for it. It starts with you. What are you doing to ensure that the young white people in your community in particular are not being seduced into active white nationalism? 

As for being tired, who isn’t tired? I am a middle-aged Black woman in America. I’m the epitome of tired. But not showing up isn’t an option. Just when I want to say “enough!” I realize that even if I shut this site down, unplugged, and quit my day job, there will still be no break from racism. If you cared in 2020 in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, you need to bring that same energy into this moment and beyond. Now more than ever, the movement needs people who are committed to change. Besides, your white body can have conversations with other white people in rooms that I will never have access to.

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