(Originally published on Medium)
If you’re not calling out racism in your community, it’s time to start.
Americans across the country were shocked after watching the extrajudicial murder of Ahmaud Arbery as it was broadcast all over social media. Equally shocking was the determination that the video was released in an attempt to vindicate the murderers. Thus representing a problem with a larger portion of American society than most would care to admit.
It displayed a level of thinking, of reasoning, that is derived from prejudicial thinking that has existed for centuries.
I’m a product of the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. In the 1980s I was a skate punk with a mohawk traversing the streets in New York City and hanging out in various boroughs with various crowds. At 13 years old, already a result of gang activity, I discovered a group known as SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice). The group was similar to the Guardian Angels with a focus on stopping neo-nazi attacks in clubs and dark alleys that were prevalent all over the city at the time.
In that environment, all you had to do was wait. You could go to any club to watch your favorite bands and neo-nazis would eventually show up to start trouble. All you would have to do was wait for provocation. it was then that we would intervene in defense of whomever they would attack or harass — often women or young girls.
These guys were easy to spot and even easier to run off.
I eventually moved to Texas by way of Miami in the 1990s. In Texas, I was exposed to a suburban type of racism I thought no longer existed. Over time, I would come to learn that much of the language in the rural and suburban South reflected a more open type of bigotry. This was especially true being around people who think I’m white — which happens with regularity.
In high-school, the actions of our “fellow classmates” were appalling. My brother was attacked in our first week of school for being a “spic” simply because of our last name. Needless to say, we spent much of our last year of high school either suspended or in in-school suspension for delivering too many free knuckle-sandwiches. Something I’m still not ashamed of.
Normal social interactions meant that we had to be subjected to the learned subtle racism that is so prevalent among young adults in much of rural and suburban America. At the time one could argue that some of these so-called friends weren’t aware of their racism. Since then, however, many of them are much more blatant about their bigotry — after the election of Barack Obama and especially after the rise of Donald Trump.
It’s impossible to discount the notion that Trump is empowering racists when so many of us are watching it happen from the front row. I would wager most Americans have experienced this over the last decade.
As coded language becomes more prevalent, so does the much more open and glaring racism. Americans see police officers being caught using racist language on social media and are shocked — but do nothing. Americans see people acting on the hateful words of their dear leader attacking minorities and are shocked — but do nothing. Alarming rises in hate group recruitment numbers resulting in an increase in hate crimes all over the country?
For every video you see or article you read, there are thousands of cases that occur every day that go unreported, underreported, or ignored. From subtle racism to blatant “go back to where you came from” hate-speak, these acts are happening to us constantly. Nearly all of them are the direct result of failing to call out the behavior in our respective communities. People of color keep sounding the alarm and no one listens.
Ignoring us, and “it”, won’t make “it” go away.
If I can call out bigotry in the Latino community, and even more directly in the Cuban community, so can white folks in theirs. Let’s face it, white folks have been behind nearly every hate-based attack throughout America’s history and it’s a horrifying pastime that continues today.
Being Non-Racist is Not Enough
Being anti-racist means taking action to oppose racism. In the modern-era, declaring your non-racism on social media isn’t enough. Intellectual discussions are nearly impossible to have unless you are face-to-face with the offending person.
Anti-racism means calling out your uncle at Thanksgiving dinner and explaining why their beliefs are wrong. To do that, one must educate themselves in order to properly rebut a racist’s argument with logic and reason. This doesn’t always work, but it works more times than not.
While I regularly write about racism and the inequities of our unjust society, I also take the time to call out family members, friends, and colleagues both online and in face-to-face discussions. I can tell you from first-hand experience that in-person discussions have a better chance of producing a lasting impact.
Attempting to address these issues online typically puts the offender on the defensive (often declaring they have Black friends or have dated people of color) not realizing that they’re making themselves look worse.
Most people declare they don’t harbor prejudice towards people of color and ethnic minorities but may unknowingly harbor prejudice through implicit bias. For example, white folks locking their car doors when a person of color comes close to them shows their belief in discriminatory stereotypes despite otherwise being nice to Black people.
How people react to and interact with people of color they don’t know exposes the deeply ingrained prejudicial fears of American society. These implicit biases are perpetuated generationally and by society as a whole.
As a child of immigrants, student of history, and victim of the manifestation of these prejudicial fears, what I see are propaganda that comes from hate groups such as neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klanners with a history that goes all the way back to the Founding Fathers. All of which are based on racist and ethnic stereotypes being preserved to create a fear of the other.
Today’s modern hate-speech can be traced back hundreds of years — in all their historical fallacies. The language we hear today has simply progressed over time to adapt to the modern era with the same goal: dehumanize minorities using alarmist, fear-mongering, rhetoric.
We know that these fears, which manifest into hate, are taught. Most folks immediately jump to blaming parents for continuing America’s legacy of hate through their children. While that is not entirely wrong, we can’t overlook how people of color have been and still are depicted in news media and movies thus immortalizing those beliefs.
The tenets of white supremacy are foundational and so deeply inherent in American society that some people aren’t even aware they are perpetuating it.
It’s on each and every one of us to ensure we are aware of our own implicit biases so that we may address them individually. It’s up to us to search out the information to bolster our arguments should the need to call out racism arise. It is our responsibility to address our peers, colleagues, friends, and family to ensure we’re making progress towards a more equitable future.
Speaking up and calling out racism or any type of bigotry can be intimidating. Many people fear being judged by family or disowned by long-time friends they know will react negatively to what they may be about to say. It happens to all of us. I’ve called out those friends who have become blatantly racist and xenophobic since Trump’s election and I no longer call them friends.
Similarly, when we call out local businesses for displaying racist behavior or events, there will most certainly be backlash from the regulars of that business and in many cases, the community. All of that is fine.
At some point, we must begin to ask ourselves: what value do people bring into our lives who would be triggered by a Black Lives Matter social media post? In fact, it could be argued that their toxicity brings nothing but misery and is likely adversely affecting your mental health as well. One thing is certain, being in close proximity to subtle bigotry is exhausting.
I’ve been on the receiving end of both subtle and blatant racism all of my life. So have my family members, my neighbors of color, my friends of color, and colleagues of color. Everywhere I’ve lived, we’ve all dealt with it in more ways than we’re willing to count. It comes at us from every angle and most white people don’t even realize it.
Rather than us being forced into becoming accustomed (assimilate) to this behavior, civil society needs to be focused on ending it.
The first step in becoming an anti-racist is simple: when we speak up, particularly in local actions where we take the biggest risks, listen, back us up, and don’t center yourself. In other words, don’t make it about you. Stop the indifference and get off the couch and take action with us. Declaring your solidarity on social media with Black and Latino folks was never enough. We need people to speak up. To show up. We need voices. We need numbers. We need unity among us.
Hate groups are growing. The days of the Klan are slowly dying and are being replaced with clean-cut looking guys who aren’t afraid to show their faces. Who will sometimes declare they belong to a social club to disguise that they are members of a hate group. Today’s hate groups are a modernized version of David Duke’s KKK. They dress in suits, run for office, and influence policy decisions. No longer in hiding, a new generation is on the rise.
We can’t discount the rural Klanner though. Like those hicks in Georgia who were clearly part of a good ol’ boy network that involved not just the police department, but the prosecutorial arm of the criminal justice system. If you think that’s a rarity, I have news for you: it’s not. Sandra Bland also fell prey to a department with a nearly identical history and quite the little network of white supremacists in power over the law-enforcement apparatus.
They are everywhere in America.
It could be argued, with relative ease, that this is the result of complacency built on years of believing that ignoring racists and depriving them of attention would just make them go away. In fact, it’s because of that arrogance that we have accepted the state-sponsored murder of Black and Brown lives as the status quo. As the cost of doing business, so to speak.
Being quiet has led this country to where it is today. Locking kids in cages didn’t happen overnight. Extrajudicial murders (lynchings) have also been happening. Police disproportionately killing Black people didn’t just happen either. The problem was, and still is, indifference. A lack of empathy or compassion. Mostly due to a failure to understand the problem because no one wants to listen. When we speak, everyone just shouts at us.
Never hearing us.
Time To Adapt
The complacency must stop. The days of inaction are over. If history has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that real change comes with action. Silence and indifference during times of great strife never accomplished anything. Those who failed to act have been quickly forgotten.
Regardless of what some alt-right internet tough-guy might argue, our lives matter. My friend’s lives matter. Their family’s lives matter. My neighbor’s lives, my colleague’s lives, their children’s lives, all of them matter.
We need non-racists to become anti-racists.
We need everyone to stand up and defend those subjected to racist language and racist expressionism every day of our lives. To protect those whose lives are at risk for nothing more than being blessed with melanin.
In other words: we need YOU to do more.
Arturo is an anti-racist political nerd. He is an upcoming author, journalist, advocate for social justice, and a married father of three. He is a top writer on Medium and a regular contributor to several news media outlets. He writes educational and informative material about systemic racism, white supremacy, and racial injustice. He collaborates with many in Academia in discussing the issues mentioned here. If you’d like to learn more, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can support his work here.