In September, I had the privilege of participating in the last leg of the March To Confront White Supremacy, a 110-mile trek that began in Charlottesville, Virginia and ended in Washington, D.C.
The march was in direct response to the tragic events that took place at the Unite The Right Rally in Charlottesville in August 2017 that claimed the life of Heather Heyer.
Since then, we continue to read headlines that speak to the increasingly overt racism in our country.
In fact, this past weekend, the same white nationalists reappeared in Charlottesville in a torch-lit protest — just eight weeks after the violent rally there.
Because I am white, I’m not an obvious threat or concern to white supremacists. Every day, because I check the “Caucasian” box, I get a free pass from any type of racial harassment or bias. It also means I have the luxury of ignoring news headlines or tuning out stories that broach the topic of inequality among our fellow non-white Americans.
While I’ve always been aware that racism exists, Charlottesville was a wake up call.
Watching video clips of angry white nationalists chanting “blood and soil,” a Nazi rallying cry, in a town less than an hour from where I live, was as disturbing as it was frightening.
Emboldened and unafraid, white supremacists now somehow feel justified in their racist beliefs.
They took to the streets in Charlottesville and marched because they feel they’ve been wronged. They marched because they believe that “White America” is the only America that matters. They marched because they are filled with hate.
I am tired of the hate. But more than the hate, I am tired of the apathy.
By that, I mean the apathy of my fellow, well-intentioned white Americans. Not the tiki torch toting neo-Nazis who truly need to go back under the rock from which they came.
Here’s the thing: I don’t believe most white people mean to be apathetic.
It’s just that racial inequality doesn’t apply to them, so they automatically tune it out. They’re busy with their life — they’ve got a job to go to, bills to pay, a family to take care of. In short, they think they have more important things to worry about. Racism just isn’t something that crosses their mind because they aren’t directly affected by it.
On the other hand, there are also white people who roll their eyes and feel racism is a topic that comes up too often.
As if a centuries old problem had been solved in the last 50 years.
These people don’t understand why Colin Kaepernick decided to use the football field to make a political statement, or the intent of the Black Lives Matter slogan. Confused, irritated and fairly clueless, these white people ask, shouldn’t ALL lives matter?
Yes, of course. Black Lives Matter is not a repudiation of that ideal, but a quest and rightful demand for equal treatment.
Colin Kaepernick is not kneeling to be unpatriotic. He is using the most influential platform he can to make a statement on civil rights. You know what’s inherently unpatriotic? Forbidding people their right to free speech. The Confederate flag is also an inherently unpatriotic (and racist) symbol, but I digress…
White people, here’s the bottom line: There is a disproportionate number of African Americans who are wrongly shot, killed and incarcerated by police every day in this country.
Instead of asking, why don’t ALL lives matter?, we need to be asking ourselves, why do black lives seem to matter LESS?
Because of this long-standing prejudice, African Americans, along with other persons of color, inherently have fewer opportunities than white people. It’s not right and it must change. Just like the fact that women still get paid 80 cents for every dollar earned by men. But again, I digress…
That brings me to “white privilege,” a term that’s been known to make apathetic white people… well, less apathetic.
These two words provoke like no other. Mostly because the white people who take offense to it are not rich, or because they’ve work hard, they don’t feel necessarily “privileged” by definition.
Once again, white people, we’re missing the point.
White privilege isn’t about money or status or class. It’s about opportunities we are afforded every day that we don’t even think about. Opportunities that we simply take for granted. Whether we realize it or not, we benefit from — or at least aren’t negatively judged by — the color of our skin.
I’ll share an example of my own experience with white privilege.
One afternoon, while walking through my slowly gentrifying neighborhood, a police car sped by with its sirens flashing. As it rounded the corner, two African American men, previously having a casual chat, immediately threw their hands up in the air, with absolutely no hesitation. They kept them up, straight and visible, standing in silence, waiting intently, until the police cars were well out of sight.
As a white person, I can safely say that in all my years of walking around different cities, I have never once felt the need to raise my hands at the sight of police in order to show submission or ensure I don’t get shot.
This is white privilege.
Living in constant fear, judgment and racial bias is a reality for many African Americans, as well as other persons of color. In that sense, racism is not something we, as white people, have to think about. But rather, it’s something we must think about. And here’s the reason:
Racism is rooted in hate.
And hate has no place in our country. It has no place in our homes, our schools, our neighborhoods or our communities. It has no place among us as civilized, tolerant and compassionate human beings.
Since the election, a bold, unapologetic theme of hate has steadily permeated our daily lives. Tweets that tout of exclusion. Language that mocks and bullies. Actions that hurt and as we’ve all witnessed, even kill.
White people, we must stop being apathetic. This issue affects us all. Please be aware. Engage. Listen. Take action.
Racism is about more than just race. It’s about hate.
And when hate is normalized, we begin to lose our humanity. And a world without humanity is no place we want to live in.
So the next time the subject of racism comes up, try to approach it differently. Imagine if you weren’t white. And instead of apathy, try empathy.