My dear White brothers and sisters who are expressing surprise at the expression of tiki-torch carrying White Supremacy, violence, and domestic terrorism in Virginia today, I would like a word.
Yes, I’m talking to you who just said, “I can’t believe this is 2017.”
If we are the type to be offended by racism, of course we are outraged by today’s news. Of course we want to distance ourselves from those uncanny, waxen-faced weirdos waving Confederate flags and making Heil salutes over the flames of their tiki torches.
Distancing ourselves is not enough. In fact, I argue that we take a minute and see where we do our own damage to equality, if in more socially acceptable ways.
Let me tell you what I did as a teacher. I consistently got the names of two of my beloved students mixed up. They were both Spanish names, and even though the young men are extremely distinguishable from one another in personality and appearance, I continued to make that error up until the last month of school. Even though I wanted to fall into a hole and distance myself from myself as much as I could every single time it happened, I did it again and again. Their families don’t even share the same national heritage. It was absurd.
I wish I could say my mix-up was an anomaly on my part, but if any former students are reading this, they know damn well it wasn’t.
What I mean is that as hard as I strive to be a part of the solution to inequality and not part of the problem, I still on some level of my consciousness saw not two individual students, but two boys with brown skin, black hair, and names unlike my own.
The students in question bent over backwards to assure me it was okay, but it was not okay. I was their teacher in a position of authority in their lives. I could only promise them that I was using my embarrassment to reflect on myself so that my future students might benefit from a teacher who is better than the one they had.
Perhaps our outrage today could be another opportunity for us to reflect on ourselves.
I am going to get personal, because until we are willing to be honest about the scourge of racism amongst ourselves we will never heal. And it is our job to heal ourselves.
I am talking to you, the teacher I once knew who thought he was doing a promising Black athlete a favor by writing his college essay for him, rather than working with him so he could write it himself. You said he couldn’t learn to write and you didn’t expect much of an argument to that statement.
And to you, the mother whose son who was rejected by just one of the several college programs he applied to and who has assured me that his spot was obviously taken by a kid who only got in by Affirmative Action.
This also goes out to the former colleague who read The Bell Curve and even though the so-called “research” in that piece of crap was debunked by actual brain scientists even before it was published, you used that book as proof of what you’ve suspected all along in your classroom: Students of African descent are genetically incapable of succeeding academically at the level of Asians and Whites.
Perhaps some of you didn’t have anything to say after Philando Castile was shot at a routine traffic stop, but had all kinds of All Lives Matter announcements after the murder of the innocent police officers in Dallas.
I am also talking straight to you, the many white friends who have asked me if I was scared while I was teaching in schools with majority Black students, or in neighborhoods with majority Black residents.
Scared of what? Don’t be scared of Black kids. Be scared for them.
Unarmed Black citizens of this country are over three times more likely to be killed or injured at the hands of the police than White people. This is a fact independent of actual local-level crime rates.
Fifty-three percent of White women in this country voted for a presidential candidate whose campaign events were marked by violent rhetoric, proudly racist supporters, and actual violence against people of color.
So no, we don’t get to be surprised today. We don’t even get to say Not All White People. Because damn, maybe not all, but enough of us to stop progress, equality, and justice in its tracks in this country.
We can be a part of the solution but only when we can be honest about when we have been part of the problem. This is an awful reality to be faced with. I hate it too. I am writing this right now but the jury is still out whether I’ll post it. I am deeply ashamed.
I believe we can get over our own limited thinking and heal. This is where my hope lies.
Let’s hold each other accountable to listening and being awake and not surprised.
Let’s hold each other accountable to helping and not hurting.
The racists on the news today are the worst of us. Let’s pinch those stupid tiki torches out with our awareness and collective right and loving actions.
If we do anything less, we might as well be holding the torches ourselves.