A few years ago one of my middle school classmate’s mother befriended me on Facebook. Her daughter and I cheered together, and her and my mom used to chat when we were at practice, games and camps. They were both doctor’s wives, so I guessed they talked about doctor’s wives stuff.
Not long after befriending her, I noticed her posts were filled with anti-black code words and Fox “News” propaganda. I wasn’t shocked. I’m from Gadsden, Alabama. My middle school was named after Confederate General Nathaniel Bedford Forrest. Rebels was written across her daughter and my cheerleading uniforms. Interacting with “but I’m not racist” bigots has been a part of my daily life since I was a kid. Despite not being shocked, there were at least two occasions where I interrupted her and her friends’ bigoted commentary, once regarding Trayvon Martin and once regarding Mike Brown. Both times she sent me private messages saying she would remove the posts. The second time I was less friendly.
Of course she continued sharing racist content in between her cat memes, scripture posts and pictures of her grandkids. Some time in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign, her posts became too much for me to stomach, so I unfriended her. But Saturday evening she crossed my mind. As I perused stories, pictures and videos of white supremacist terrorists violently wreaking havoc in Charlottesville, Virginia in Donald Trump’s name, I wondered if the lady who’d proudly posted pictures of herself attending Trump’s inauguration had any regrets. She didn’t.
I’m not sure if she and others like her are being willfully obtuse or if they are mentally incapable of seeing how their words, actions and beliefs are directly connected to the terroristic activity that took place in Charlottesville this weekend. Charlottesville didn’t happen in a bubble. The momentum has been steadily building for years and too many white people sat by quietly as the careening snowball grew larger and larger.
You see it’s simple. White supremacy terrorism is becoming more visible and more violent because racism and bigotry hasn’t bothered enough white people. It’s not enough that you are shocked and appalled by overt and violent racism. You have to be just as disgusted by the racial code words that are used to dehumanize people, the racist legislation designed to systematically oppress marginalized people and the daily covert tactics which embolden and empower the violent extremists. It no longer behooves any of us for you to wait until white supremacy turns physically violent to address it.
There’s a reason people of color, particularly black people, weren’t shocked by what occurred in Charlottesville, and it’s because we understand that the very essence of white supremacy is violent. Violence isn’t just physical. Words, ideals, beliefs and deeds can all be violent long before physical harm occurs…especially when the words, ideals, beliefs and deeds are designed to dehumanize, especially when the words, ideals, beliefs and deeds cause emotional, mental, spiritual, medical and financial harm.
So, yes, white people, we do need you to gather your problematic cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents and friends, but even more importantly, we need you to actively and aggressively fight the daily bigotry and systematic racism that later produces violence in our streets.