As the title may suggest, I feel unqualified and almost idiotic for posting about racism in the aftermath of Charlottesville. But I also feel weird not saying anything, because silence in these cases makes it seem like I’m apathetic at best, and a closet white supremacy sympathizer at worst. So here are a few rambles I have. If you see issues with any of this, I welcome respectful dialogue. My point is not to say “I’M RIGHT!” but “This is where I’m coming from.” But I’m a life-long learner, so .. fire away.
Human lives were lost
As soon as a tragedy happens, each political side eagerly points out how the ideology and policies that the “other side” promoted caused the problem. It’s so predictable I would think it was funny, except it’s also sickening. Look, I even give myself space to grieve for a while after I put down my little research rats. Can we not do that for a human life? Would we really rather downplay or ignore the loss of a human life than accidentally express support for a political view we don’t share? Eck.
Let me be clear – white supremacy is both terrifying and infuriating. I 100% condemn this strange neo-Nazi uprising. Now, is my experience with mainly upper-middle class and overly educated people of all races especially relevant to the racial discussion? Probabblyyyyy not. So when stuff like this happens, one of the most respectful things I can think of is to just shut up for a day or two (reduce the noise) and let other people’s voices be heard (increase the signal).
Trump is an orange herring
Did I vote for Trump? No.* Do I resent the blanket accusations toward Trump supporters? Um, yes. Many people I know and love voted for Trump – some hesitantly, some enthusiastically. And guess what? Many of them are vehemently NOT racist.** Demanding that Trump supporters bear the responsibility for each and every one of his buffooneries is asinine. Moreover, blaming Trump generally for racial conflict is asinine. Remember how everyone stopped being racist when Obama was the President? Oh yeah.. me neither. Look –Trump’s rhetoric seems to have emboldened some extremist groups to organize and “go public,” and that’s not okay. But he didn’t create racism, and he’s one orange man. Over-focusing on him and everything he tweets is a waste of your emotional energy. Even more so, funneling your frustration and hatred over racism toward Trump voters at large is counter-productive. Racial harmony is going to require the cooperation and heart-change of people of all races. Antagonizing, accusing, and insulting an entire group of people (a sizable proportion of which hated Hillary more than they loved Trump, I’d wager) is going to further alienate them when we need to bring them into the fold. As a final point – if Trump supporters, white males, or whoever are obligated to post something so that people don’t think terrible things about them, is it really meaningful?
Embracing the tension
I’m afraid that if I “scratch that itch,” by posting something about Charlottesville – it will give me a false sense of accomplishment. I will soak up the approval of my anti-racist friends, and we’ll pat each other on the back for not being “part of the problem.” And then what next? I will sip my tulsi tea and serenely read a theological book in the safe confines of my gated apartment complex. So I rather know that I’m not doing anything than feel self-satisfied at doing something that cost me nothing and actually gained me some social media cred.
What to do?
That being said, I would really rather do something. But what? This may shock you, but many people in PhD world – where I spend 90% of my time – are not racist,** or at least not openly so. I could be wrong, but I would guess academia is one of the friendliest environments for people of all types of racially diverse backgrounds. Academia is basically a meritocracy, sprinkled with affirmative-action type of policies. So it’s not like I have many chances to say, “Hey! That racist joke isn’t funny!” And University policies seem to be rather friendly toward people of diverse backgrounds, especially those who are traditionally underrepresented in certain fields (like STEM). So besides aggressively posting anti-racist status updates on social media – which only other anti-racists will read – what should I do? I’m not trying to absolve myself of responsibility – I’m genuinely curious.
— EDITORIAL NOTES —
*I didn’t vote for Hillary, either! But I did vote! Write in, baby!
**In this context, I mean racist as in “gee golly, wish we could go back to the good ol’ days of Jim Crow!” Everyone has nasty prejudices and snobberies and divisiveness in their own hearts, which I truly believe only Jesus can heal. But on a political level, I (maybe naively) think you can advocate for change that leads to equality and opportunity for people of all races to flourish — even before every single person’s heart is 100% pure.