“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” -MLK
Let me premise this blog posting with I know. I understand. A topic calling out one group is considered racist, dismissive, divisive, attacking, not helping the divide, and on and on and on. I get it. To see “white people” immediately makes your hair stand on edge. It makes you IMMEDIATELY say not all white people. It immediately makes you want to turn away because it must be evident that what I am about to say means nothing if I am only speaking to one racial group. If you have made it this far, congratulations and you must keep going. Even if you are “angry” reading this blog to find where I made a mistake, made an assumption, did something wrong, or just didn’t write well I am completely fine with that and accept your anger. But you have made it this far- so just keep reading.
We are now at a time within our country when Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. But damn, that bend is taking its sweet time towards justice. I imagine the arc of the moral universe as that one car in the fast lane going below the speed limit. I imagine it as the woman in front of you who is writing a check for her groceries but can’t find the checkbook when you have the one item and the correct amount of money in hand. We are at a time when it is time for white people to sh*t or get off the pot because people with marginalized identities are tired of hearing “not all white people” but not seeing it put into action. We are tired of hearing “not all white people” when you laugh off the jokes by your friends or racist grandpa. But mostly, we are tired of every time we protest oppression that to you it isn’t the right time, that we need to find better methods. We are tired that your argument is not about the oppression occurring, but about our methods of fighting it. We are tired of hearing “I am against x, but you need to protest in a less visible and quieter way.
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do you, every time a protest occurs only see the protest as angry protestors and not ask what are the reasons for the protests are?
2. Do you tell people who are protesting that there is a better time, a better method, or a better anything really.
3. Do you immediately go to “whataboutism”. Well, what about when x and y happened to negate what the person is attempting to talk about.
4. Do you ignore the many voices who are talking about the issues, and instead find a person from that marginalized group that has the opposite to prove that all people from that group do not think a certain way, even though we know they don’t, and also use this as a method to disregard what is being said.
5. Do you get mad when you see articles talking about a dominate or majority group needing to work harder and you immediately state that more people would help if the title of the article or content was said nicer… Which I want you to take a deeper look into. People who are constantly fighting oppression need to not only keep fighting that oppression but make sure they are really nice, polite, and civil when explaining their frustration to people who in SOME ways keep that oppression wheel turning. If being nice is what makes you fight for equality then are you REALLY fighting for it?
6. Lastly, do you attempt to say that what they are going through or feeling is incorrect because you haven’t witnessed it or felt it. Do not be that white person that has to SEE the racism in order to believe it and ignore all the experiences people of color bring up.
The history of America is bloody and it is white. It is a history of imperialism, colonization, segregation, discrimination, and ostracism done throughout time by white people.
It is a history of the Trail of Tears, the theft of native land and natural resources, the rape of native women, the pushing of native people to areas deemed worthless. It is slavery, the lynch mob death of Joe Coe, the white on black race riots of East St. Louis, Atlanta, and Chicago. It is Jim Crow, the burning of Tulsa and Rosewood, segregation, redlining, discrimination, separate water fountains, not being able to look a white woman in the eye, not being able to shake hands with a white man or get a job that wasn’t menial labor. It was the fighting for freedom in other countries but in the US, “as Stevenson said, just the sight of a black soldier, just the suggestion that he might take on that empowered, adult, mature identity—that could get him killed. It is the story of Bhagat Singh Thind who immigrated to American, fought in World War I, gained citizenship and then lost it on appeal because he was deemed not “Caucasian” enough, and then subsequently lost his property due to Alien Land Laws. It is the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Internment Camps, and the Brutal History of Anti-Latino Discrimination in America. It is about treating black and brown immigrants as subhuman and not deserving of respect because of an arbitrary border. It is about having kids who you would do everything for, but not being able to understand why undocumented immigrants decided to try to get into the US illegally. It is about saying that those people got what they deserved, but the white male who shot up the school was really a “nice kid”, “bullied”, or “misunderstood”. It is about being afraid when you hear Arabic being spoken or see a turban, but not saying that we have a problem in America with white males shooting up schools.
All that was mentioned above was at the hands of white people, and all at times, there were some “good” white people around who helped fight the good fight- in no way are we saying there weren’t. In Michael Harriott’s article “White People Are Cowards” he writes, “And maybe I should go back and add the word “some” before every mention of “white people” in this article because I’d bet every penny I have that at least one white person with good intentions is reading this while murmuring, “Not all white people … ” Which is exactly my point. “Some” is not enough. Some white people will speak out sometimes, just like some fish can fly and some bears can ride bicycles. But if a biologist were lecturing on the mobility of aquatic animals or grizzlies, it would be idiotic to interrupt with the rare cases of flying fish or bears that ride Huffys. Fish swim. Bears walk. And white people are cowards.”
Now at this point, there will be an aura of defensiveness about your family member who did x, y, and z. Who fought against this person and that person for people from marginalized backgrounds. There will be a dismissiveness of this and the article mentioned above because YOU know someone who fought in the WWI, WWII, against the Nazis, in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and potentially today and this article is a “sweeping generalization, stereotyping, and unfair depiction” of white people. This article is, in no way degrading them, but we have to have more than one person who did it 50 years or so ago. What this article speaks to is the idea of the dominant identity group using their voice to help those they say have been saying they want to help. This speaks about using the privilege you have to help others gain equal footing. We are telling them that what they or their family has done isn’t enough. Instead of thinking about the one or even two family members who did the heroic things, we need to think about that uncle or grandfather who speaks in racially derogatory terms on a consistent basis- you know exactly who I am talking about. The ones who talk about wanting the country to go back to how it was when racism was overt and accepted, the one who always says people are being politically correct because they can’t say all those racist things they said thought. Or those who the family disregards what he says because “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, yet watched him play on his smartphone which he just learned within the last few years to use. Think about the times your friends made really racist jokes that everyone knew were wrong, but instead of saying something awkwardly laughed. Think about the videos, stories, or comments your social media friends share that you knew were over the line but “didn’t want to get into it or get political” so you decided to not say anything. Think about the white woman yelling racist things, racial insults from a white man, racial insults from a white woman, and white lawyer yelling racist comments. What you see in these videos is a tiny fraction of what people of color go through. Think about all those things before you get offended that white people were called cowards.
Harriott says it best when he states, “At least once a week, I will receive an email from a well-meaning white person who wants to know what they can do to fight injustice and inequality. The answer to that is simple. Whenever and wherever you spot racism or inequality, say something. Do something. Every. Single. Time. If a white person spoke up every time a fellow Caucasian used the word “nigger” in the safe space of whiteness, they would stop doing it. If a white person advocated for diversity and equality behind the closed doors of power, where black faces are seldom present, people in power wouldn’t dismiss the reality of the tilted playing field.”
This is the perfect time to prove us all wrong. Prove that not all white people are cowards. Prove that you want equality as bad as we want it. Prove that people aren’t just standing up in the past, they are also standing up in the present. Prove to us that as much as you are telling people of color that what that white person said was wrong you are also telling them. We know what is being said is wrong, but the question is are willing to put it on the line by saying something.
Saying you are for equality and openly fighting for it are two separate things. I can say I want to lose weight, but actively working out and working out shows intent behind the words. MLK said it best, “First, I must confess that over the past 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 his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler 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 cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”
As MLK stated, “true peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” You cannot expect equality to occur given the history of the country if you keep your voice silent because you are afraid of saying something to that might make for an uncomfortable situation. Plato explains it by saying your silence is consent, Desmond Tutu stated that if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor, and lastly, Ginette Sagan said silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor. You cannot expect change from those causing the most damage if you do not speak up and are not willing to create some tension. The time has come to prove to Harriott, myself, and all other people of color that white people are not cowards, that they are indeed fighters. They are willing to fight for what is right because I will tell you the fight is going to get a lot more difficult. As many people have posted, “If you’ve ever wondered what you would have done during the Civil Rights Movement, this is your opportunity to find out.” This is truly your time to find out. It is your time to be brave.
So you have made it through this blog, hopefully with a little less angry reading, but now will say that a person can catch more honey with bees. Don’t have a title so angry or divisive. You will also say that if we are not so divisive with our titles and language that more white people would join in the cause. More white people would be willing to say something if they didn’t feel as if they were the bad people. They weren’t alive then or their family members were immigrants also. To those comments, I ask if you read, really read what I posted above, because if you did you would read and acknowledged what white people and silent white people have done and allowed. You would acknowledge that “good” people who decided to stay silent watched listless black bodies hanging from trees or watched the Japenese be marched into camps. You would acknowledge that you do have friends, family members, or co-workers who say derogatory statements because they “were just joking”. And lastly, you would acknowledge that as long as that language is allowed we cannot as a country move on.
My last MLK quote I swear (well for at least this blog). “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
If white people aren’t cowards then prove us wrong, because if you stay silent in protest all you are doing it proving us right.
So you want to know what to do, how to start making this right. Here are some pointers to help you.
1. SAY SOMETHING ANYTIME, ANYWHERE, to ANYONE. When you allow people to make those jokes the assumption is you agree with what is being said.
3. Understand that it will be nerve-racking and scary the first few times you do it, especially with those close to you or you work with. But practice makes perfect and you will get better at it the more you practice and do it.
4. Know you aren’t going at this alone. There are other white people who are feeling the same way as you are, find them. Find your village to help you out and take emotional weight off people of color.
5. Be ready for some push back and some people to be angry with you saying something. Many aren’t used to be questioned about what they are saying so instead of fear, awkwardness, or uncomfortableness they will get defensive. Be prepared.
6. Be ready for how awesome you feel when you realize standing up for justice and equality feel great!
Now we understand that this might not be for everyone. We get it up. However, the sh*t or get off the equality pot means do not be offended when we call you out. Just admit there is work you aren’t willing to do. Admit you accept the status quo because it is easier, because this is uncomfortable and awkward work that can benefit us all. We want you to be side by side with us in this fight but we know that some might need baby steps to get going. Well consider this your baby step. (butt slap) Now go help us do what you said you would. The country needs you.
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