“Wow! Mom, did you see? There are so many black people here!”
The words had barely left my lips before my father’s hand grabbed my face so quickly it nearly knocked the wind out of me.
It was my first time in Washington, D.C as a young, white 8-year-old from North Carolina – and it was my first time being out of pockets of the American South predominately occupied and controlled by white people.
It was my first time not being surrounded by people who looked exactly like me.
That moment was something that I will never forget – my father grabbing me around the mouth and telling me forcefully, “that is not okay to say.” The reinforcement by an authority figure that the words I just said were somehow taboo. I recall realizing racial difference in people around me – and that this difference seemed to signify something larger in the world. I became cognizant of an inequality – that something was off. Wrong.
As I grew older and slowly learned about the ways in which white supremacy is embedded into the fabric of this country – spurred mainly by the internet, friendships and the realization that I was gay – I would always remember this moment as an 8-year-old in Washington, D.C.
Nothing demonstrates the reality of American racism in 2017 clearer than the events of the past few days in Charlottesville, Virginia. After having the largest public demonstration of white supremacy in decades, resulting in both death and injuries, white supremacy in 2017 has been given a face.
In its wake, people, particularly people of color, are upset. Scared. Angry. Tired. And rightfully so.
They have been engaging in this conversation for as long as they can remember. Fighting this fight for centuries. Caught in a cycle of mourning for as long as they can remember. Ferguson. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Philando Castile. Charleston. Freddie Gray. Sandra Bland. Charlottesville. On and on.
We have reached a point... hell, we are way past the point, where white silence is complicit in black death ― and that’s been the case since the dawn of this country. White silence within a culture of white supremacy – a system that benefits all white people no matter their worldview – persists because of the complacency of white Americans.
If you are a white American remaining silent in the wake of Charlottesville, you are upholding the systems of power that have allowed the ideology of hate on display in Charlottesville – of Neo-Nazis, the KKK and the Alt-Right – to literally blossom within the borders of America.
It is the uncomfortable job of white people to actively break down white supremacy and resist policies that uphold it.
This seems like a daunting task and, indeed, it involves changing the very way that we live our lives, respond to tragedy and relate to one another on a human level.
The work begins locally – look around your own life and examining your own immediate areas of influence.
Who can I have a conversation with today? Where should I donate? Have I talked to my black neighbors recently? How can I ensure my child’s school is having conversations about hatred in America as school begins? Have I opened a dialogue with potentially racist relatives or family members who voted for Trump? How am I examining my own unconscious biases and casual racism?
It is no longer acceptable to expect other people to do the work – to not watch the news because it is “too depressing” or assume that things will get better with time. Because they won’t – and Charlottesville certainly proved that.
Having white privilege in this world also means having the power and responsibility to invest in destabilizing white supremacy. Things will not get better until we actively begin investing our own time, energy, resources and money into conversations, organizations and organizing invested in breaking down and destabilizing the deeply embedded whiteness of the American subconscious.
Together, we can rebuild this world into one where children grow up aware of difference, no matter where they live – where a child doesn’t have to spend eight years of their life before they even become aware of the concept of racial diversity. A world where children grow up celebrating difference and the richness it brings to their lives and experiences.
It is beyond time for this conversation. White silence equals complacency, and it’s time for all white people to decide which side of history they – and their families ― are going to be on.