What Charlottesville Means To Me

Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds. I have always kept an open mind, a flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of the intelligent search for truth. –Malcolm X

The daily reminders and the crushing weight of knowing what this country so eagerly denies are disheartening: We live in a racist country. This is not a big secret and should shock no one. The nation, for whatever it’s worth, elected a racist president in some ways to make up for electing its first Black one.

We must stop hiding from the truth that we live in a racist country because this denial is both dangerous and implosive. If we can’t admit to the racism that plagues us, we will never position ourselves to press past it.

The events today in #Charlottesville and the president’s dismissive response to them are both upsetting and sobering. There are too many of us who close our eyes to stories like these, as to wish racism away even as it feasts on our souls.

There are those who will argue that I am racist for writing about/condemning racism, as if their dismissal of me will absolve them of their own racist denial. There are also people who will argue that this president is not a white supremacist even though there is no evidence that he is not. But to the contrary …

Our response to racism cannot be passive or polite. I don’t want to read or hear another Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela quotation that tells us that we are something that we are not. I don’t want another whitewashed conversation about how much progress we have made to trick people into “feeling better,” which is more about lulling us into complacency so that we will be less likely to resist this miserable condition we find ourselves in.

I live with the pain of racism everyday along with millions, if not billions, of other people. I am reminded of this as soon as I walk out my apartment and enter my place of work: Racism exists. I notice the trends: the disparities in pay; the questionings of Black intelligence; the infantilization, criminalization, and vilification of the Black body. I bear witness to the scene of racial transgression against Black people, the violence and illogical hatred that spews at us for no particular reason (other than the fascination that God made some of our skins Black). My soul withers within me under this scorching heat–under the flames of bigotry and the suffocating smoke of indifference.

I want the truth, so I will write the truth here: Trump is a bigot, and there is a faction of bigots that makes up a significant part of his base. We would be naive to believe that they are alone.

I direct a research center that focuses on issues of equity. We wage peace against the violence of racism and discrimination in education. And to be sure, some of the people I work with are racists who, ironically and sadly, “engage” in anti-racist work.

I have colleagues, some of whom can quote every racial justice theory popular in the academy, who also do “antiracist” work, who themselves won’t even speak to but loathe some Black people—especially those of us who refuse to be “respectable.”

I know so-called white liberals who in the company of other liberals (in the squalid liberal public) will laugh and “love” on Black people, but when they are outside the coziness and poshness of liberal gatherings, these people quite literally run from Black folk, especially “non-respectable” Black folk, because to them Black folk are like white walkers from Game of Thrones. (This has happened to me at least five times. Each time, I crack up. Note to these people: I’m not gonna rob you. I don’t rob people.)

What Charlottesville means to me is this: that we have a lot of work to do. And we must be honest about this if our intentions are actually to improve the racial situation in the U.S. If we can’t admit this, then I can’t buy the idea that people are as committed as they say they are to getting past our dark and sickening racist past and present.

Racism persists in the shadow of our lies. I am, nonetheless, persuaded that we can end racism when we begin to embrace our darkest truths …