The complicity of silence is as violent as the racist brutality we witnessed in Charlottesville from the tiki-and-gun-wielding fascists who revealed their terror over "being replaced."
I know who the white supremacists were marching for on Friday and Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia. I know who they showed up to represent; I know who they showed up to convince of their power. They showed up for me.
They showed up in defense of my white privilege, of my white womanhood. They showed up to show me that I don’t have to be “afraid” of my (supposed) race or reject the prerogatives my skin color affords me. And, most importantly, they showed up because they think I secretly, or maybe even not so secretly, agree with them.
That’s the thing about racists: They don’t believe that any white person who espouses the idea that racial equality is better—morally, pragmatically—than white supremacy is either telling the truth or particularly well-informed. They dismiss any linguistic efforts to recognize equality as mere “political correctness” because they think that white people who don’t use racial slurs or say racially offensive shit are bowing to social pressure, not because we don’t want to use that language or because we believe it’s untrue. They truly think that their racism is persuasive, that there exists an unspoken solidarity between us, and that I, like they, would only benefit were they to be able to enact policies to achieve their political and social aims.
That is why white people’s silence in the face of racism is an act of complicity: It’s choosing momentary social comfort—not making a scene—over making clear that you don’t agree with a bunch of racist bullshit and thus putting the lie to the idea that all white people agree with white supremacists.
Objecting to racism doesn’t have to mean putting on black clothes and punching Nazis in the face (though this country does have a storied history of visiting violence upon Nazis who push policies of racial superiority) or getting into ugly fights on your Facebook page (though a simple “I’m disappointed to discover that you are a racist” followed by a judicious use of the de-Friending option isn’t a fight, per se). They Might Be Giants have a whole song about how to politely excuse yourself when you discover you’re in the company of racists and people who coddle them, and I can confirm from personal experience that you can actively smile and even sound friendly when you tell someone, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were a racist! I don’t really talk to racists, I’ll have to get going.” (It’s also fun, to be honest.)
You can also just ask your grandparents or your alcoholic uncle to refrain from using that language—You can! It’s true!—around you, and you can tell your high-school acquaintance who goes on weird anti-Semitic rants that people who practice Judaism or who have Jewish ancestry do not, in fact, control everything and then simply refuse to countenance their further statements, and you can even just glare pointedly at the racist stranger in the grocery store talking shit about “Mexicans” to someone on the phone with a bottle of salsa in her cart.
You can and should do it, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because those people clearly think it’s okay to air their bigotry in white company. And the very least you can do, as a white person, is to make it clear that it’s not okay with you. You’re not necessarily going to change minds doing it, but you will make a racist feel at least temporarily uncomfortable being openly racist and, look, after watching a bunch of white supremacists march around with torches screaming racist shit and mowing down anti-racist protestors with a car, and do all of it without hoods or masks, it’s clear that these people feel no shame and expect far too few social consequences for their despicableness. They should want to slither back under their rocks and crawl back in their closets. They should feel ostracized and dirty. They should feel that they’re more than a little stupid. They should want to hide behind Pepe avatars and spout their racism solely from wifi connections in their parents’ basements, condemned to having their social lives limited 4chan and Reddit, friendless and embarrassments to their families.
They may never see their error of their ways—though I’m quite sure they won’t — but they should feel obligated to hide their racism until they die embittered and, hopefully, alone. And the more ashamed and embarrassed they are made to feel when spouting off about their racist beliefs, the fewer people they can infect with them. Bring on the scarlet R’s, bring on the social stigma. If they already think they’re oppressed, let’s actually oppress them.
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