A reckoning with hate: How White silence continues to enable America’s racism
Racism is a prolific and creative killer. It is entrepreneurial in its malice and it will use whatever means necessary to eliminate those it is threatened by and fearful of.
The breadth of its arsenal and the scope of its tactics are staggering. It will execute young black men in the street and it will assassinate their character on social media.
It will shoot human beings with guns and with cell phones. It will enact its violence with knees into men’s necks until they cannot breathe, and with calls to the police feigning their own breathless terror. It will brutalize bodies and it will impugn reputations. It will wield white hoods and red hats and yoga pants and police badges as it does its expansive, hurtful, dehumanizing work.
As a white person here in America, I am grieving how loud and how prevalent the white hatred of people of color still is, but more than that I’m grieving how comfortable white Americans have all made it, the unimpeded path we’ve provided it, the way we’ve cooperated with it, participated in it.
We haven’t needed to actively participate in a shooting or call in an erroneous harassment report or drive our knees into a stranger’s neck to be culpable for it all: our silence has been as deadly, and that’s the story here. Racism doesn’t get this endemic and profitable and emboldened without our inaction, without our abstinence — without our averted glances and uneasy truces and sidestepped difficult conversations and tone police protest-shaming.
No act of present violence happens without past preparation.
Without fear of accountability that they’ve acquired over decades, three white men don’t chase Ahmaud Arbery down the street and shoot him like a wounded animal while filming it all and expecting no consequences. Without an environment of unfathomable privilege and a storehoused knowledge of law enforcement’s historic mistreatment of people of color, Amy Cooper doesn’t fabricate a story of her perceived danger in real time on Christian Cooper’s own phone video, to officers who she is certain will be sympathetic.
Without decades of largely unabated and unchecked violence, a white police officer doesn’t press the life out of George Floyd in the middle of the day knowing he is being recorded, because he believes his partners and his politicians will support him.
Without deeply embedded systemic racism in our government and police departments, we don’t have an armed white crowd storming our nation’s Capitol to virtually no law enforcement resistance — and yet, a massive military presence against those demanding justice for assassinated 20-year old Daunte Wright.
White Americans need to reckon with the realities: America is still set up for us.
It is still made for the Amy Coopers and not the Christian Coopers. It is still making innocent people of color into monsters, to fit the faded, brittle story of supremacy it has subsisted on.
It is still erring on the side of the words of white people over black people — even with video evidence. It is still engineered to protect the knees of white cops and not the necks of expiring black men. It is still manufacturing blame for people of color for their premature and violent deaths — and still searching for excuses to exonerate their caucasian executioners. It is still refusing to simply declare that black lives matter, without needing “all lives” caveats or qualifiers.
I am tired of living in this American renaissance of white hatred (and I simply can’t fathom the experience of those without the buffers of my pigmentation), but I’m as tired of white people who allow it to experience such a creative and productive revival.
White Americans who abhor racism need to confront the systems that we have benefitted from, ones that enable the widespread violence of this day. We need to engage the pervasive enmity wherever it shows itself: in our homes and our neighborhoods and in city parks and in crowded streets and in police stations and in our hearts.
We need to risk the shunning and expulsion of our friends and family members who have never been confronted with their prejudices and privilege, and who will not if we don’t force them to be. I’m praying that quietly sickened white people will not remain in silence; that we will not leave people of color to defend their humanity alone, that we will enter into the fray with them and push back against the bullies and the bigots.
Equity comes when the beneficiaries of inequity demand it the loudest. Racism is still a prolific and creative killer. It doesn’t have to be. We can stop giving it oxygen.
The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com
John Pavlovitz launched an online ministry to help connect people who want community, encouragement, and to grow spiritually. Individuals who want to support his work can sponsor his mission on Patreon, and help the very real pastoral missionary expand its impact in the world.