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If you are a person of color in this country you have likely heard, “go back to where you came from”. As a Black person, you may understand the connection to linking your skin color to “crime infested” places. Recently, we have seen Trump engage in the age-old and unoriginal attack with four women of color who are citizens and congresswomen, telling them to go back where they came from. He has attacked a seasoned Black congressman alluding to Rep. Elijah Cummings being a crook and attacking the living conditions in Baltimore where predominantly Black constituents live.
As a Black woman, a mother, an activist, and an educator, the last few weeks have truly been a whirlwind. It is painful, scary, and all too familiar witnessing this dehumanization process. especially the seemingly elevated assaults on another Black woman, Rep. Ilhan Omar. Frustrated is one feeling, but a word that can’t completely grasp the entirety of my sentiments. This lies in the fact that so many of those responsible for reporting are doing so all wrong.
Frustration was similarly felt when Trayvon Martin was murdered, when Ferguson and Baltimore took place, when Sandra Bland died, when the Charleston Nine were gunned down, and even when this same president decided to lash out against NFL and NBA players. These and so many different events, lead to the same emotions. Inspired by a tweet from Bree Newsome, I began thinking: in a country where racism is woven within the fabric of its creation, how can it be that no one is a racist?
Let’s be clear his remarks are indeed racist. Why is there so much turmoil in labeling him a racist and a white supremacist? Why is it equally as difficult to call out white Republicans (& for that matter Democrats) who stay relatively silent on these issues?
Accepting that power is intoxicating, allows for an understanding to the addiction of complacency and the ease of confusion. As a country, we lack clarity on what exactly racism and white supremacy mean. This is not because the research is missing, but rather who controls the narrative. In the United States, we’ve separated them into two groups when actually, they are two fingers on the same hand. One has been deemed as bad words and one as violent actions. We lose sight of the fact that words lead to actions. With this, we sit in a flurry of confusion over who and what falls into these categories. This chaos means that any opportunity for real change is not within reach.
First, we must recognize that these issues stem from the notion that white is right and better. The ideology known as white supremacy centers white people and everything about them, above all others. Well except, of course, for racism. That is the one space most white Americans gladly accept not being centered in.
People of color can engage and participate within the systems created by this philosophy with an acceptance of it. However, they are not the beneficiaries. This is racism, the direct action that takes place due to the knowing or unknowing acceptance or indoctrination of this ideology. Racism is about power and privilege and the ability to dictate the socio-economic and political reality of entire groups. Therefore, people of color cannot be racist, but can be prejudice.
Nonetheless, their prejudice does not lead to a collective and complete control over other people. This is not a spell that cast all people of color as inherently good. It simply means in this society, there are privileges that are not shared collectively.
I can hear the arguments now, “But that’s not how the dictionary defines racism!” Fine. The problem with the dictionary definition is that something as complex as this requires a lot more context than what is offered. Couple that with the reality that like so many other things, white America has centered their voice in the creation of these books, and therefore, the definitions themselves.
When we look historically at groups that are considered extremists, such as the KKK, what often gets overlooked is that many of these men (and women) held regular day jobs. They were doctors, lawyers, police officers, teachers, and politicians. It is no coincidence then that those who were direct participants did so with little to no consequence. Their help came from that of content and passive white people.
For white Americans, one does not have to be physically violent to be a white supremacist. Racism is not simply tied to words. The confusion is why so many white individuals who have never even thought about or addressed these issues within themselves, are often shocked and defensive when told that they are racist. Consequently, the framing of these terms leaves white people responsible for the actions from which they benefit, but unwilling to make any real changes because they do not see themselves within the words as they are being discussed. Being deemed a participant isn’t an attack; it is an opportunity for growth. Choosing to do so is another story.
We all carry some amount of privilege and we should be viewing, reviewing, and seeking growth at all times. This is how we engage in change and the simple act of human decency. A far more responsible dialogue around racism and white supremacy needs to take place. Yes, one that is not led by white people. Each step is needed to start eradicating racist behavior rooted in the ideology of white supremacy, instead of simply questioning its existence.