I am angry. I’ve been fighting for equality, fairness, and justice for my entire adult life, and these last six years have been some of the most difficult. Millions of others must share my anger, frustration, and disappointment.
But there are millions of others who think racism or sexism or gender rights don’t have anything to do with them. And there are others who wage a war of hatred and violence and terrorism, often based on their religious or white supremacist beliefs, which they claim others are violating or trying to hamper.
It is the intersection of all of those perspectives that is causing us fits. Worse than that, it is endangering certain people in our society, impacting their social and economic standing in our country, and killing them.
The Charleston massacre, executed by a cowardly racist, is just the latest in a long list of violence perpetrated in our country. Lots of pundits want to call the terrorist a lone wolf who suffers some sort if mental illness. Others went straight to calling it an attack on religious freedom – really, the irony is killing me and only makes me angrier.
The truth is we caused this. We caused it through our complacency, our denial, and our refusal as a nation to recognize that inequality exists because it is engineered into our societal, institutional, and systemic structures. We live in a racist country. The majority of Americans, white people, are racist because they directly benefit socially and economically. If we don’t have this conversation, in an honest and open way, this will go on and on.
Worse are the states that live in hypocrisy. Of course, many have started to remove the stars and bars from their capitols and from their license plates. It is a first step, but a shallow one if we do not acknowledge that much more must be done.
Even the GOP is changing. At first Lindsey Graham said in defense of the Confederate flag, “It is a part of who we are.” A day later, he stood next to Nikki Haley as she announced there would be discussion to have it removed.
But these states still believe in segregation and a system of haves and have-nots. We know brown citizens are considered less than white citizens. LGBT citizens are less than heterosexual citizens. Women are less than men. Other voting records, laws, and the denial of safety nets like Medicaid expansion and unemployment insurance are indicators of inequality.
The Confederate flag gives rise to people like the racist terrorist Roof because the state supports and embraces a racist, violent history that includes attacks on historic black churches. Read about the history of the Mother Emanuel AMEChurch, where Roof gunned down nine worshipers during a prayer fellowship. They welcomed him when he wandered into the church.
But there are other systemic beliefs that also feed the extremists. Politicians and the media like Fox News use racial bias to promote their agenda.
We are a hypocritical country. Our greatest ideal is that we are all created equal. Yet what goes on in this country is not even close to the ideal. We live in a divided country, but not divided the way the conservatives would have us believe. The system divides us. It was created and sustained purposely to keep white men in power. The powerful prey on the ignorance of the uneducated to keep racism going. There is nothing like dividing the country and then having one group, members of the ruling majority, claim the others cause all the ills.
And what do people do when they are angry and feel justified in their anger when they watch Fox News and listen to their clergy who buy into inequality? They strike back. No Dylann Roof was not a lone wolf. He is the monster South Carolina created and there are more like him.
Is racism still a problem in America? Yes, but it was never a problem for white people who choose to ignore it, downplay it, deny it, or blame the victims. It’s easier that way.
As racism is being talked about, once again, many white people show what Robin DiAngelo termed “white fragility.” She describes it this way:
For white people, their identities rest on the idea of racism as about good or bad people, about moral or immoral singular acts, and if we’re good, moral people we can’t be racist – we don’t engage in those acts. This is one of the most effective adaptations of racism over time—that we can think of racism as only something that individuals either are or are not “doing.”
In large part, white fragility—the defensiveness, the fear of conflict—is rooted in this good/bad binary. If you call someone out, they think to themselves, “What you just said was that I am a bad person, and that is intolerable to me.” It’s a deep challenge to the core of our identity as good, moral people.
Many white people cannot have a conversation about race without getting defensive or shutting down. They will claim, “I’m a good person. I’m a Christian. I am not racist, but…” and they let loose with a tirade about how black people have it so nice and it is all their fault that they are in the situation they find themselves in, whether that is in poverty or in prison or being stopped by police or in low paying jobs with no benefits or in inadequate housing with old paint that contains lead or in schools that are not at the standard of many predominately white, suburban schools.
There are white people in the same situations, but they are invisible, mostly in rural areas. The face of poverty, prison, inner cities, and low paid jobs is a black face. That face becomes the only face of black people, despite a large and thriving black middle class. This disconnect causes many white people who are in the same situations of poverty or low paid jobs to change their personal narrative and to believe that while they are in their circumstances for valid reasons, blacks are not.
And they vote conservatively because of racial bias, hurting themselves while being punitive to people who they believe are not deserving of help.
Other white people believe they are not racist, but they don’t want to have any kind of conversation where they have to spend most of the time listening instead of stating what they believe. They refuse to see there is another experience out there that does not fit in their narrative of self-defined success and heightened status. Such narratives make them uncomfortable and feeling vulnerable to losing what they feel they have single-handedly achieved without the assistance of white privilege.
For new readers, I am white and my husband is black. We are repeatedly told such things as, “why does everything always happen to you” or “what did you do to cause that?” Or we’ve been told that our experiences are not true, can’t be true, that they could never happen.
The answer to all those offensive accusations, because that is what they truly are, is that millions of other people of color have similar or worse experiences. In many ways, we have been more fortunate than the majority of interracial couples and people of color, but that doesn’t diminish or erase the incredible opposition we’ve experienced in our lifetime together and for Ronald as an individual.
Until we can have an honest conversation and make substantial systemic changes to our infrastructure, nothing will change. Taking down the stars and bars won’t make the changes we need to happen.
It will make people feel good, and, unfortunately, lead many to believe their work is done.
I am encouraged that SCOTUS ruled in favor of the subsidies for the Affordable Care Act, the Fair Housing Act, and same sex marriage. Those decisions will continue the journey to a level playing field for all races and genders in our country.