The horrific events that came out of Charlottesville, VA, have forced many regular white folks to realize that America has a white supremacy problem. But it's not enough to state that we have a white supremacy problem; we must grapple with how we got to this moment.
We need to investigate why, in the wake of Charlottesville, it was when a white woman became white supremacy's latest victim — 32-year-old Heather Heyer — that suddenly the Trump Department of Justice is willing to consider a hate crime had occurred. Why was is suddenly easier for white people to see that white supremacists, Nazis and their ilk threaten more than just hateful speech only when there's a white victim lying dead?
As a nation, we've never grappled with this. Instead, much like an insolent child, we have attempted to stuff our racial baggage in the closet rather than to take time to truly clean the mess in our room. We have allowed our textbooks to be white-washed, and we have avoided the uncomfortable conversations that indict white supremacy. This is because we too often lack the maturity to realize that an indictment of whiteness as a social construct is not always (or even usually) an indictment of white people. We have created the perfect environment for white fragility to thrive regardless of what side of the political spectrum we fall.
We have taken the token successes of certain people of color and allowed an alternate version of reality to take hold. One in which a significant percentage of white people believe that that they are danger of becoming extinct. Many Americans believe this instead of the truth, which is that the vast majority of Black and Brown people are very much living with the vestiges of open racism and discrimination.
We lied to ourselves, saying that racism was the domain of grumpy, old white men who would soon die off rather than accepting that technology (and the anonymity it affords) and dreams lost have allowed a new generation of white supremacists to rise up.
And the problem isn’t just a closet door behind which we stuffed our past. Most of America also barricaded itself behind a door of whiteness to stay in a comfy silo of supremacy and privilege. A place where people would pacify themselves that if they were loving and not overtly racist, they had done their part. Never realizing that a younger generation was watching our every move and learning our bad habits; never realizing that what we often leave unsaid actually speaks volumes.
Even now, we are practicing radical dishonesty when we simply lay the blame for Charlottesville at the feet of President Trump and his avowed white supremacist pals, including recently departed White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. It is far easier to blame a man with loose lips and little self control for bringing the nation to this point than it is to search ourselves and uncover how we uphold white supremacy in our daily lives. It is easier to see white supremacy as the domain of just certain people — other people — than as a system we are all caught up in. To see that the America is a deeply imperfect country, the foundation of which required the dehumanization of bodies, and to understand that even in 2017, we still require those bodies to be dehumanized to make the system work.
To heal and move forward is to examine a system that few white people have the racial literacy to understand, and to sit with a level of discomfort for which too many people lack the fortitude. This lack of literacy and fortitude are two of the biggest threats to our nation right now.
In Charlottesville, we saw the direct results of what white complacency buys us. For many it was the first time truly realizing the threat. It propelled many into action, as the following weekend 40,000 people— including many Mainers — turned out in Boston to say no to the hatemongers. I fear, though, that many will think that turning up at protests and rallies, making donations and engaging in the occasional confrontation is all that is required to turn the tide.
It isn’t. The destruction of white supremacy requires a shift within ourselves that involves actively rejecting toxic whiteness in our own lives. It means lessening ourselves at times to create a more just world; it means sacrifices. In some cases, it might even mean the ultimate sacrifice of the very selves to which we have become too dangerously attached.
Read more Shay Stewart-Bouley at www.blackgirlinmaine.com
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