When it comes to my passion for racial justice and equity for black and brown America, I often times place my focus on the institutional nature of white supremacy rather than individualized white privilege. Albeit both are directly connected, the latter interpretation of racism is often times tiring for me to think about. Why should I focus on the pathology of the white racist, or white moderate who “does not see color,” when I can instead put my energy in looking at the impact racial injustice has on Black America?
But more recently the blatancy of white bigotry and the white casual-colorblind racist has redirected my attention. Back in March 2015 I spent time leading an Alternative Spring Break trip to Selma, Alabama during the 50 year anniversary of Bloody Sunday, learning about race issues and volunteering in the community. Whilst in Selma, the air of white supremacy was made palpable by memorialization and the presence of privately operating anti-integration groups. The Ku Klux Klan had bought a plot of land in a public cemetery to create a memorial of a Grand Dragon leader. On the 50 year anniversary of Bloody Sunday you had hundreds of Ku Klux Klan recruiting flyers posted along the trail from Selma to Montgomery (pictured below). Apart from white extremism, white anti-integration groups have a stronghold in Selma; they operate by barring Blacks from entering their private country club and private all-white school in Selma. Such is reminiscent of the 1955 White Citizen’s Council and their motto: “We are not anti-negro, we are anti-integration.”
Being in such an environment when this level of white supremacy is tolerated is frustrating. With the argument of preserving past history comes into play we see the attempt to challenge the memorialization of white supremacy across the country. Student’s Unite in Selma created a petition to change the name of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, named after a KKK leader. More recently, a petition to change a UNC Chapel Hill building, named after KKK leader Saunders in 1922, was passed only after a twenty year battle between administration and students.
In addressing white supremacy also comes the necessity of addressing the white moderate.
Who is the white moderate you ask?
The white moderate is comfortable, coddled, and colorblind in their discussion of race. The white moderate believes black people bring up the word “racist” too much and spend their time pulling the race card rather than pulling their bootstraps up to get a job or other opportunities. The more outspoken white moderate will often times call Blacks out through the guise of mainstream media, directed at their mostly white friend group. FB rants commonly focus on individual responsibility politics, traffic caused by protests, and the Black issue of not having stable fathers. They are #BlueLivesMatter.
On the other end of the spectrum is the lowkey white moderate; although they do not spend their time blaming Black America, they are ultimately confused because their colorblind perspective includes this mythical thing called “reverse racism.” Why can’t it be All Lives Matter? Why isn’t there a White Entertainment Television Network? White History Month? Why can’t we focus on police brutality against all races? Why can’t I appreciate wearing cornrows, beads in my hair, and the music of JayZ in peace? Why do Black people hate Iggy?
Lots of whys. Lots of complaining. And above all, white moderates, both the outspoken and lowkey variation, will make sure that EVERYONE knows that they are NOT RACIST. They will go above and beyond to ensure this. They may at some points start statements with the phrase “Not to be racist but…….[insert racist comment].”
With this desire to not be racist comes the challenge of Black America attempting to address racism within this group. Once said racist act or comment is pointed out, white moderates often take a defensive stance. This can trigger racial stress for whites. Dr. Robin DiAngelo addresses this phenomenon known as white fragility in a great HuffPost piece. Other factors that can instigate racial stress for whites include the following.
- Having a white ally not agreeing with a racist perspective presented by a white moderate.
- Challenging individualism through claiming racism as a systematically oppressive construct.
- Challenging white centrality through having a POC in a film or a position of power.
- Challenging meritocracy through suggesting racial inequity
DiAngelo continues to break down these areas of white fragility in her writing and how they often get in the way of productive racial dialogue. Often times organizations and predominately white groups opt to neglect discussing race altogether as to distance themselves from the discomfort of addressing whiteness.
For some white comfort and preserving white feelings becomes more important than addressing race issues. As such I believe white silence and neglect of these issues to maintain racial comfort perpetuates racial injustice itself, causing conflict in a predominately white nation. Uncomfortable conversations are necessary. I believe discomfort is the only way true racial equity will come about in America. Discomfort is an impetus for change.
And as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie most recently stated at the 2015 PEN Voices Festival, “The fear of causing offense, the fear of ruffling the careful layers of comfort becomes a fetish.” As such the goal of many public conversations in the United States “is not truth but comfort.”
And with the new movement for Black Lives, it is evident that this conversation will shift from comfort to truth.