As a teenage white boy in the late 1990s, learning about the Civil Rights Era in my Holgate HS history class, I remember asking myself, “What would I have done if I had lived during that time?” Would I have marched with Dr. King or others like him? Would I have stood up against racism, bigotry, and oppression where I lived? Or would I have sat idle on the sidelines, unwilling or unable to challenge the status quo of a white-topped hierarchy?
The unfortunate events that took place in Charlottesville this past weekend are a tragic reminder that I need not wonder how I would have acted had I lived five decades ago; my opportunity for action is now.
Violent actions by white supremacists and calls by white citizens to “Take Back America” are a stark reminder that we do not, as many claim, live in a post-racial society. These events, along with recent government actions that seek to restrict people of color from voting and claim discrimination against white students applying to college, clearly show that race is still a defining construct of our country.
And as such, each of us has the opportunity to stand up and act out against the same vile beliefs and actions many hoped were relegated to history books.
So what can we do?
We—white people—need to learn the history of racism and begin to recognize systems and structures that are still in place that continue to oppress people of color. These include an unjust education system; unequal policing and jailing practices; and continued banking and mortgage discrimination, just to name a few.
We need to take the lead in addressing policies and practices in our government and the organizations we’re a part of that perpetuate racism. We need to recognize that white supremacy has been baked into our country and most of its institutions and work to eliminate it.
We need to openly and regularly discuss issues of race and racism at our workplaces, schools, places of worship, and dinner tables so we can become more comfortable when it’s time to have the tough conversations.
If you’re a white person sitting idly by, avoiding taking action against the systemic and interpersonal racism present in your life and community, you’re complicit in allowing it to continue.
The time of action is now. What are you going to do?