There’s been a lot of talk about race since Election Day 2016 and a lot of outrage on the part of white America at the sight of Nazis marching down Main Street as they spew hatred and hold their tiki torches high. These alarmed folks exclaim that since the election, racists are suddenly coming out of the woodwork, emboldened by Trump’s divisive rhetoric. But this just isn’t the case. The current administration is merely the symptom of a much more insidious disease, not the disease itself. It’s an ailment that has existed since before the birth of this nation and continues to fester to this day, interwoven into every facet of American life.
As a person of color, the in your face hatred of a proud KKK member is actually less problematic than the systemic, institutional racism that has festered and grown mostly unchecked over the last four hundred years. Why is that, you ask? Because so many people refuse to believe that this kind of all-encompassing racism even exists. If someone calls me a racial slur, or proudly waves a confederate or Nazi flag, I see that person. I know what that person stands for. The issue is where these people fit into society. Are they teaching my daughter at school? Are they conducting my job interview or processing my loan paperwork while simultaneously injecting conscious or subconscious racism? And it’s not just them. It’s the society that birthed and nurtured them.
When this country was born, people of color were property, and it stayed that way for hundreds of years. After slavery was abolished, Jim Crow laws were instituted to make sure blacks couldn’t rise above the status of even the poorest white person. Most people will acknowledge that ugly part of American history, but will also swear up and down that when the Civil Rights Movement took place, we were all finally equal, holding hands, and judging each other by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin. But that’s not true at all. The color of a person’s skin continues to make all the difference.
When I talk about racism, I don’t really mean the person calling me the N word. Not that it’s an uplifting experience to confront someone who hates you simply because of your skin color, but what I’m talking about runs much deeper. It’s the cop who stops me for something he’d never stop a white person for doing. It’s the inequity in the criminal justice system that gets me three times the sentence of a white offender who committed an identical crime. It’s the teacher, potential boss, or stranger on the street who looks at me and thinks ‘criminal’, ‘uneducated’, ‘single mother of four kids from four different fathers’, or ‘lazy welfare recipient’ solely based on the color of my skin, and then treats me accordingly, not giving me that job, that scholarship, or the time of day. It’s what makes a black or brown shooter a terrorist but a white shooter mentally ill and in need of society’s help. These things aren’t always in your face. They are the foundation upon which our society was given room to flourish and develop into the place it is today. As such, they are everywhere among us, guiding our actions and influencing the way we treat each other.
So, what do we do about it? I wish I had all the answers on how to tear down four hundred years of racial inequity and prejudice in our institutions and attitudes towards one another. But the first step is recognizing the problem for what it is and not allowing the narrative to be one that allows you to do nothing. Racism isn’t a problem that was taken care of in the 1960’s. It isn’t anything that can be blamed on the current administration. It existed well before all of us were born and, unless we do something drastic to start changing the situation, it will exist long after we are all dead. Condemning some blatant racists marching with tiki torches and then going back to the relative comfort of one’s normal life does nothing. We have to shine a light on the dark, ugly underbelly of our society, and we have to face some hard truths about ourselves and this country that we claim to love. We have to be courageous enough to be uncomfortable. Have those hard conversations, hold yourself accountable, and then do the same for those around you. Because if we don’t commit to doing better, absolutely nothing will change. I love this country enough to want to see it do better. Do you?