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White People, Your Silence Speaks Volumes

Charlottesville has brought with it even more divisions on the issue of confederate monuments than we had seen in recent months. Somehow, an act of domestic terrorism carried out by white supremacists has become a debate about preserving confederate monuments. Those opposed to their removal argue that these monuments are a part of history. They are a symbol of southern pride and state sovereignty. The president himself made this claim at a recent rally in Phoenix “They’re trying to take away our culture. They’re trying to take away our history.” He remarked to a crowd of supporters. Many of those opposed to the removal of these monuments argue that this isn’t about racism. But here is the thing that those people are missing … you, white folks who have benefited from the privilege of your whiteness in a white supremacist society, don’t get to decide what is and is not racist. You are not on the receiving end of the oppression, and, therefore, this is not something that you get to define.

I realize that for some this may be difficult to understand. As whites in a white supremacist society you may be used to having the autonomy and control to set the rules, to not have those rules questioned, to believe, for instance, that the history taught to our children in K- 12 education is in fact the History. Your white privilege allows you to believe that. In that way, we are very different.

Confederate monuments were resurrected with a clear purpose – to claim space, in resistance of the civil rights movement and in support of Jim Crow laws. You are welcome to reject this reality (I realize that this is not what you were taught in school), but even if you don’t believe that confederate monuments were erected under this premise, you should at least acknowledge that I believe this to be true. Not because I have been fixated on “fake news”, but because I have educated myself both passively as a student in K – 12 education and as an adult and scholar. Even if you believe that I am wrong, consider what your continued support of these monuments says to me…

When you deny my reality and oppose the dismantling of what I believe to be symbols of white supremacy, you make a clear statement that you don’t believe we are created equal at all. You couldn’t possibly believe that we are equal, because in denying my reality, you make clear that you don’t care that these symbols cause me pain, are artifacts of my oppression, and confirmation of the lack of progress in our society. You disregard my sentiments regarding these monuments because they do not align with what the monuments mean to you. It is your choice to make that decision. But, if you have made it, I ask that you own it. Don’t hide behind the illusion that confederate monuments are about southern pride. Finish that sentence… these monuments are about southern pride in support of slavery, and you are ok with that…

Let’s be clear white folks, now is not the time for your silence. This is not the time for you to play the “I am not political” card. This is not the time to be polite and make small talk about the weather with me or with your white peers. This is the time for you to choose a side. This is the time for you to decide if you support white supremacy and the many benefits it has afforded you, or if you support racial equality. Supporting racial equality means being willing to compromise your privilege and the rewards you have garnered from it in order to advance racial parity. This is the time when your allyship is needed most, when the resources afforded to you by white supremacy are most valuable. This is the time to speak, to educate your fellow whites, to do the hard race work that people like me do every. single. day.

I believe that I live in a world where most people do not condone the divisive sentiments that our disgrace of a president spews out. But I also believe that most of you are scared of losing your place. I imagine it must be scary to envision that your history could be erased. That everything your ancestors fought for is being diminished in the name of a newfound interest in racial justice. I imagine this is scary for you. But as a Dominican woman whose indigenous roots were eviscerated by white colonizers, I know a little something about having one’s history erased. I’ve not benefited from the white privilege that has and will continue to shield you from this reality.

The good news, white folks, is that ultimately, even if every confederate monument were removed in the United States, white supremacy would still prevail. Children will still be learning a very sanitized version of history: one that glosses over the genocides whites have inflected on racialized others, the experiments that white doctors performed on brown bodies in the name of medical advancement, and the prosperity of whites that is scaffolded on the backs of black folks. Rest assured, white people, confederate monuments or no monuments, your children will not learn about these realities, and thus your privilege will remain intact. So, I invite you to rise above your white fragility and walk with me in this fight. In the end, you have very little to lose.

Comments (1)

  • Ann Layne Smith

    25 August, 2017
    To reiterate the points on which I agree with you would be boring and detract from the passion of your expression.In my own family, I grew up with a kind of passive racism, nothing overt. I also realize that I may hold latent racist ideas despite the fact that I want to be rid of them. Students often ask me why we have to read about "bad" things (they really don't like confronting the potential for evil in the human heart and they really long for happy endings) ; I tell them that if we don't recognize the many ways we fall short or hurt others, we can never change them. Thank you .