We need to talk. I’m sorry we didn’t talk about this sooner.
You need to radicalize.
Listen, I was once one of you, in many ways I still am, there’s not an end to progressing, there’s only achieving all that you can in your lifetime.
It is easy to think that you are not a part of this. You probably didn’t vote for the racist rapist cheeto, you might have even voted for Hillary, but that is not enough. Maybe you are a woman, so you feel this on some level, but if you are not committing right now to changing your behavior and the society around you, then you are part of the problem.
1. Racism is ingrained in the fabric of the United States.
I grew up in rural Indiana, and I used to believe that there were only Racists with a capital “R”. I believed that as long as I didn’t hate anyone actively, didn’t use the “n” word, didn’t threaten people, then I was fine. But there is so much more to it than that.
As a white person, by sitting silently, I continue the status quo.
In the original constitution, black people were worth only three-quarters of a person, in reality they were treated as even less. We cannot ignore the fact that slavery took place, that it was based on race, and that the reverberations of those atrocities are still being perpetuated today.
Segregation continued in states until the 1960s, that’s only fifty years ago, well below a full lifespan. Interracial marriage was illegal until 1967.
And let’s not forget that black people are arrested and imprisoned at rates almost seven times greater than white people. If they are arrested at all rather than being shot and murdered in the streets.
2. The narrative vs. the truth
It is difficult, if you are white and don’t often encounter people of color, to imagine that this can really be happening. You imagine that the world is somewhat fair. And for you, as a white person, it usually is (unless you are disabled, poor, neuro-atypical, queer, trans-gender, etc.).
Perhaps, though, one of your other identities once made you feel unsafe. As a woman, for example, I was once groped in public.
After being groped, I felt dissociated from the world around me. I felt weak, unloved, and scared. When I tried to talk to male friends about it, they often dismissed it as a one off event, they didn’t understand why I was taking it so hard.
For me, in my lived reality as a woman, I knew that this was not an isolated event, that this behavior was a part of a much larger narrative, that women are traditionally undervalued, under-represented, and disbelieved. That sexual assault and sexual violence occur at much higher rates for women (though I do not want to discount the seriousness and trauma that happens for male victims of sexual violence).
If you’re a white woman, maybe you can relate to this.
If so then you have a vague, skewed picture of being a person of color in the United States. Except that white women are traditionally valued higher than women of color.
So imagine on top of being a woman you are also never represented in media, or when you are represented you’re shown as “a thug”, “a criminal”, “a rapist”, “a welfare queen” or any number of other short-hand for being black or brown. Imagine that not only are you not understood by men, you are also not understood by women. You are not understood by the entire population.
You can’t go to the police when you come up against harassment or discrimination because you run a serious risk of becoming victimized all over again.
If you’re Asian American or Latinx American you are constantly threatened with deportation, even if you are a citizen. As a person of color, your language, your heritage, your appearance, your family, everything about you is mocked, criticized, and misconstrued on a daily basis.
Every day you are engaged in conversations with well-meaning people about how good your English is, asked where you’re “really” from, told that you must be particularly good at one subject or another.
Every day you are engaged with less well-meaning people who tell you to “go back home”, when you always thought that this was your home.
You are attacked by words and by actions. Every. Single Day.
This is what is happening. Every day. For a person of color in the United States. In 2016.
If you’re tired as a white woman, imagine being a woman of color.
If you’re tired as a moderate white man, imagine being a man of color.
Most importantly, you must empathize with your fellow citizens. I know it is difficult when the narratives you have been fed are full of criminalized, one-sided stories of people of color. And you have no way of counter-acting this narrative because you’re surrounded by white people. But people of color are first a foremost people. They are good people and they are bad people, they are silly and serious. They laugh and cry the same as any other people in this crazy little world.
I’m asking you to treat them as you would any other human being.
Historically and currently, people of color are not being treated as any other human being by the country as a whole. The economic depression in many populations of color is the direct result of discrimination by white people. To continue “business as usual” is to continue a system based on the subjugation of black and brown people. See point 1.
We must radicalize in order to overturn the system that continues to harm people of color through economic strictures, criminalizing petty misdeeds, use of unnecessary force and murder by police officers, attempting to dissuade voters, high incarceration, misrepresentation by media outlets, and the many other weapons that the nation has at its disposal.
This system was put in place to keep white people in power. If you are a moderate white person and you do not actively fight to over-turn the system, then you are a part of the problem.
White silence keeps the status quo.
5. So, my dear moderate white people
It is time to act. You will be uncomfortable, that is good. Change is often uncomfortable. You may feel guilty, that is okay, do not let it stop you from doing the hard and necessary work. You may come to a point where you feel self-loathing, do not let it immobilize you.
You are fighting for your sisters and your brothers. You are fighting for your children. You are fighting for your own morality, for your very own soul.
Most importantly you are fighting.
This is your battle, and this is your call to arms. Stand by the people of color in your country, when you see protests, do not dismiss them as “rioters”, understand that they are fighting for their very survival.
When you see your co-workers, your compatriots frightened or harassed, step in, use your whiteness as a shield. If you know people whose citizenship is in danger, offer your support to help them through the immigration process. If you see people of color looking worried, offer to listen and then actually listen.
And call out the white people around you. If your friend is spreading hate speech, you are culpable as well. If your co-worker is acting out of ignorance, then you are as well. Talk to your friends and co-workers and communities. Stop hate speech and violence, sign petitions, protest, write letters, act.
I would not be writing this if I didn’t believe you had the capacity for good. So go out and fight with all the goodness in your heart.