“I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
“…to everyone, know this: we are now at war. And we are not going to back down…We are going to go bigger than Charlottesville. We are going to go huge. We are going to take over the country…We learned a lot today. And we are going to remember what we learned. This has only just begun.”
—The Daily Stormer
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.”
Red Pill Black: I Don’t Care About Charlottesville, the KKK, or White Supremacy
Sometimes we get so caught up in our own stories that we forget about the larger narratives unfolding around us. Sometimes it takes an event of the cataclysmic variety to remind us to be present and engaged on a larger scale.
It’s been a little over a month since the Unite the Right rally that took place in Charlottesville. The media frenzy has subsided. The angry tweets and Instagram rants and demands that President Trump step up and condemn white supremacists have quieted to background noise. The feelings of panic and helplessness have faded.
The reality of the situation remains.
Racism exists in the United States, no matter how desperately we want to think we’ve left the days of segregation and bigotry behind. And it isn’t going away, no matter how hard we concentrate on ignoring the problem.
What’s more, by ignoring the problem we become the problem.
I’m white. I belong to the majority. When I was first introduced to the concept of white privilege, I could not even conceptualize an argument that might exclude me from that particular camp because I knew, have known since I was old enough to be aware of such things, that my life is an entitled one. I have never felt that my background or my skin color is a disadvantage.
White privilege exempts me from certain stereotypes. It also affords me opportunities that would better serve those to whom they are not offered. It gives me a voice where I may not have the right or the understanding to speak. After the rally took place, how many of your [white] Facebook friends wrote ranty posts about how that kind of behavior was unacceptable? I’m a guilty party. I was shocked and I didn’t know how else to respond.
Remember when this picture blew up the Internet? It’s a group of men, signing a bill that concerns women. As long as non-white people groups remain the minority in the United States, every decision that concerns them will be made in a similar fashion—at a table to which they have not been invited.
Did you watch the YouTube video I linked at the top of the post? The girl who made it talks about how she isn’t concerned about a small group of Neo-Nazis because people of color face much more pressing issues. Healthcare. Education. The prison system. I found the video because one of my [white] Facebook friends posted it after the rally. He didn’t do so to suggest that we channel our rage and our need to respond with affirmative action into something more worthwhile than angry statuses. He did so to absolve us of that compulsion to act.
And so the problem persists, because the wrong people have been invited to the conversation—the ones whose everyday lives are not beset by these kinds of concerns. The ones who can ignore the reality of the situation until it slaps us across the face.
It’s the common mistake of the privileged to think that status comes without strings attached. It is the obligation of the privileged to use that status well and responsibly so that the greatest benefit for the most people may be derived from it.
We may have been born with a voice, but we can choose to wield it carelessly or with grace. We can choose to defer, and we should. We should forsake comfort for the sake of understanding. We should depart from conventional to engage with perspective-changing. All humans are created equal, and endowed with certain unalienable rights, but when issues affect certain people more than others, it should not fall to the unaffected to decide the fate of others. Instead they should listen to the affected, to what they think, what they see, what they need. Then we can learn what we can do to support them, to make sure they know we stand with them.
So which is it? Is the white moderate the problem or not? Should we be concerned about the Neo-Nazis or shouldn’t we? These are the wrong questions to be asking, and I can’t answer them anyway. Go listen to the people who have no choice but to engage with issues of race, and proceed accordingly.