Part Two: It takes all of us to make America great

Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash

In Part One of this series, I spoke with women of color that addressed race relations, politics, social media and celebrity. In this piece, their white counterparts give their thoughts on the same issues.

Hopefully, through this series we can create a meaningful dialogue that will unite us. As I’ve said before, minorities can’t unite the country alone, we need our white allies to seek and demand change.

Today’s participants are: Julie DiCaro, Jen Hawkins, Melynda Whitwell, Lyndsey Darcangelo, Blair Parker, Catherine Bogart, and Karen Mathis.

(This piece is long; however it has raw emotional responses that are worth reading.)

1) As a white female, what can you do through your work (and your existence) to teach your community and family members to combat racism and xenophobia?

Julie DiCaro: One of the most important things I did was make the decision to follow more people (and especially women) of color on Twitter. It seems like such a trite thing, like “Duh, Julie, you should have been doing that all along!” and that’s right. It’s completely changed the way I see the world — I understand things that now seemed inexplicable to me before, I NOTICE now when a media outlet or TV show or podcast lacks diversity. Most of all, I learned to check my privilege and try to be self-aware enough to do so. So for me, using my platform to amplify the voices of people of color is important. Hopefully, I bring other white people around to seeing the world through different sets of eyes.

Jen Hawkins: Sometimes, not much. Because even though you would think a white person would be more willing to listen to race related issues from someone who is also white, that often is discredited when you’re also a woman. I’m very vocal, as those who know me are aware, but I don’t think people actually listen. “Oh, Jen’s on a rant again…” because that’s how we’re seen as women. So, I do what I can to help bring awareness on social media.

I explain over and over again that yes, white privilege does exist and what it actually is. A lot of times white people see the word privilege and shut down. “I’m not rich. I grew up poor. I struggle too. I was picked on…” You have to first explain that’s not what it even means and then give examples of what it does mean. And then they still get mad.

No one wants to accept that they benefit simply by being born white. The place that I work is hopeless. It’s like walking into a Sons of the Confederate gatherings every day. I speak up when something is said to or around me. They all know I’m not having it, but I don’t know if that’s progress or just them hiding it around me as they do around our employees of color. It’s disheartening.

One thing I’ve learned over the years and try to remind myself to do to be a better ally is sometimes the best thing is just STFU and listen to the people of color around you and follow their lead. And stop being offended when someone is trying to make a point and they just use the term, “white people.” Franchesca Ramsey, I think, put it best, “if it don’t apply, let it fly…”

Melynda Whitwell: My motto is “Silence IS complicity”. So for me, I feel an obligation to speak out whenever someone I am close to steps over a line. I do feel that a lot of times in many instances of what I see as racism are simply a person speaking without truly thinking. Perhaps they’ve never stopped to think that a certain race is disadvantaged greatly in many respects and truly don’t have the same opportunities as others. In confronting things like this, I’ve found that this is typically the case. Things are simply not considered or even thought of. Once you get someone thinking, it can truly change perspectives.

Lyndsey Darcangelo: The best thing I can do as a white female in regards to racism and xenophobia is be vocal. Staying silent helps no one, and it won’t help change hearts and minds. I write openly about struggles I face as a lesbian and same-sex parent. I write with the goal of influencing hearts and minds, and I share these articles with my family and community. People who are racist and xenophobic are often ignorant and haven’t experienced life outside of their own little bubble. It’s my responsibility as a strong and vocal woman to help pop that bubble, and help open their eyes to things they may not have thought about or seen before

Blair Parker: As a white female, I think it’s very important for me to help others, [especially white people], realize the importance of issues that affect those around them; but not necessarily them directly. Just because no one in your family has ever lacked access to healthcare, or not been able to afford college, or can’t support their family on their current wages/salary, doesn’t mean these issues aren’t of utmost importance. I think it’s easy for a white person, or anyone really, to not care about issues that don’t directly affect them. But especially white people, because so many don’t fully comprehend the concept of white privilege. I am an attorney. People come to me at the worst times in their lives.

I think it’s important for someone in my position, with my specific set of skills and specialized knowledge, to assist those in need as much as I can. I think it’s important for people to know that they have allies, and particularly white allies, in the struggle against racial injustices. Yes, it’s OUR fight.

But I also think it’s a balancing act, because I’m not here to overshadow or steal the spotlight from those I’m fighting for; just because I think I can use my privilege to help them. I think it’s critical to make sure I take a back seat when necessary to the people of color that I’m allied with so that they take center stage and lead the charge in the fight for equality.

Catherine Bogart: I think the biggest way I can help is by using my voice and educating those around me. Whenever I hear anyone using offensive, derogatory or racist language, I not only tell them that what they are doing is wrong and they need to stop, but I educate them on why. It is so important for me as a white woman to not only stand up for others but to call out someone when they’re being racist or xenophobic.

It is important for me to have conversations with those who don’t understand the harm their beliefs and actions can have on fellow Americans in addition to those who do know how harmful their actions are. If these people already hold discriminatory views against a certain race/religion/culture, they won’t listen that they things they are doing are impacting that someone who belongs to a different race/religion/culture.

It is so important for me to use my white privilege to help not only change the conversation, but to help with the cultural shift to make racism and xenophobia unacceptable. It is on everyone to speak up against racism and xenophobia, not just those who are being discriminated against.

Karen Mathis: There are two main things that we, as white people, can do to help combat racism.

The first is to call it out whenever we see it, especially when it’s from somebody we know and care about, because that’s where our words hold the most weight. It can be easy to dismiss the words of a stranger, but it’s much harder to ignore somebody who knows you. I’m very lucky to have friends and family who are, for the most part, willing to have these conversations, and that makes it easier.

The second is to listen. Listen to people of color when they talk about their experiences, and take them to heart. Read and share the important work of non-white journalists and activists. Listen when they call us out, as individuals or as a community, and acknowledge and apologize for our mistakes. None of us are perfect, and none of us get better without learning and trying.

2) What are your thoughts on Trump’s comments in wake of what happened in Charlottesville and his stance regarding the confederate monuments and statues?

JD: Obviously, I’m disgusted. It feels like a dystopian novel where you aren’t sure if the POTUS is a Nazi sympathizer. And yet I keep seeing people saying “I don’t think he’s a white supremacist . . . . “ because why? I think it’s pretty clear that neo-Nazis is a base he covets and doesn’t want to lose. Isn’t that the definition of a sympathizer? And the “many sides” thing is something I’ve gotten into huge arguments with my family members over, lately. It’s so intellectually dishonest to equate Trump marchers and protesters with Nazis, and it’s just mind-blowing to me that people are willing to agree with this. But I think it goes right back to MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, in that an enormous part of the problem in this country are white people who prefer a negative peace, which is the absence of tension, to a positive one, which is the presence of justice. For too many white Americans, out of sight is out of mind when it comes to racial inequality.

JH: Outrage. Horror. Shame. Broken. I was home from work sick that day and I saw the entire speech as it was happening. My heart shattered for our country again. I said it then, and I’ll reiterate it again here, it was as painful as election night. I couldn’t hold back the tears and I finally had to make myself turn the TV off and do something else. It was also my line in the sand moment. If you voted for Trump and now regret it, that’s one thing. I don’t believe all Trump voters were racists. But if you voted for Trump and are still supporting him, you ARE a racist and I’m done with you. I don’t want you in my life and I don’t care what anyone thinks about it. No tolerance for intolerance. Go away.

MW: Personally I feel the comments were reprehensible. Any comment that doesn’t LOUDLY and 100 percent denounce overt oppression, racism, and xenophobia has no place in 2017, especially on such a grand governmental level. It is incredibly embarrassing to have a President who has his hands, happily, in the pockets of the KKK and likeminded groups. Any politician that cannot 100 percent outright denounce, unequivocally, racist messages such as theirs is a problem as he or she cannot possibly represent nor work for ALL citizens as required and expected of the office.

LD: My thoughts on Trump are the same as they have always been — he is a miserable, disgusting, narcissistic human being. I am appalled that he is our President. Every time I think he can sink any lower, he does. After Charlottesville, we needed him to step up and make a statement and instead he delivered what can only be described as a wimpy response meant to appease the very base he knows help put him in office. This man doesn’t care about our country. He cares about himself and that’s it. He will do nothing to help unify this country. However, what is most sad is that we need someone in a leadership role to help guide us through the social unrest we are experiencing at such heightened levels. Trump cannot possibly understand why confederate statues are a reminder of slavery to so many people because he never takes a moment to put himself in someone else’s shoes. He doesn’t know how. I feel that Charlottesville is only a precursor of what’s the come, and Trump is — not unsurprisingly — failing us all.

BP: Trump’s comments were grossly unacceptable. His refusal to explicitly condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists was outrageous. The fact that he did it two days later meant absolutely nothing to me. He was only attempting to combat harsh criticism from literally almost everyone on the planet at that point. What’s worse is he attempted to equate the anti-fascist protesters to the neo-Nazi protesters. I’m not telling you anything you haven’t already heard. There’s not really much else to say other then I was legitimately shocked at a man who I didn’t think could shock me anymore. His stance regarding the Confederate monuments were laughable. A clear pandering to the base that put him in the White House. I can’t tell you how tired I am of hearing about the “erasure of white culture,” because it’s just ridiculous. I challenge you to find another place on earth where you’ll find statues of traitors, or of people who lost wars. If you study the history of the Confederate statues, and you see exactly when most of them were erected, you understand that they were nothing more than a giant middle finger to the North after the war and after the civil rights movement in the 60s. White culture is in about as much danger of being erased as the oceans are of drying up. His excuse is nothing more than a ruse or mentality of denial to mask the truly racist motives of the statues’ defenders.

CB: It is truly disappointing to listen to what Trump said and to read what he tweeted about Charlottesville. As the President of the United States, you have the responsibility to stand up for what is right and to strongly oppose racism and xenophobia. His comments not only alienated a group of citizens who were attacked and even killed in Charlottesville, but gave legitimacy to those people who orchestrated the violence.

KM: Trump’s comments on Charlottesville were infuriating, heart-breaking, and unfortunately unsurprising. They are just further proof that he is not just ignorant and hateful, but willfully and proudly so. He wants to return the country to the time of his youth, when white men were the only ones in charge, and that makes him dangerous and unfit for office. He has no interest in being President of the United States. He just wants to be President of White America.

3) What role do you think social media has played in exposing division in the US?

JD: Social media serves as a gathering place for like-minded people, be they sports lovers, horse racing fanatics, gamers, or neo-Nazis. And through social media, they embolden each other. Anonymity has given them cover to use all the racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic slurs they would otherwise get smacked down for in polite society. But more than that, I worry that the rest of us seeing this stuff on a regular basis serves to normalize it. Seeing the “n” word on Twitter is shocking the first 50 or so times, but eventually, you become immune to the shock value. Same with rape threats. I worry that the constant presence of this garbage is slowly chipping away at our collective humanity.

JH: People feel safe behind the anonymity of a computer screen. I first noticed this after the murder of Michael Brown and the disgusting vitriol that was continuously thrown at the Ferguson protestors. The Black Lives Matter movement most definitely started showing me who people really were and who I no longer wanted in my life anymore. This is when I started unfollowing people on Twitter for racist remarks I’d never seen them make before.

MW: I think that Social Media has simply given many a platform they never had. It has allowed those intent on oppressing the ability to come together quickly with their like minded people. I think in turn it gives them a bit of power in that they can feel as though they are strong, united, and more vocal due to social media connectedness. In the past those groups were limited to those who were more brave (although I hate to use that word as it is NOT bravery) and would meet in public meetings and that kind of thing. I think on the other side as well, it has given those of us that wish to combat such negative societal values a way to connect to each other and learn to work together as a team to accomplish our goals with more precision and in a more hurried fashion.

LD: Social media can be a useful and positive tool for so many things. Unfortunately, it can be a dangerous one as well. With the ability to hide behind a keyboard, many unsavory individuals have the ability to attack and say vicious things they would never say in public. It has also emboldened people and has given them a platform to spew hateful rhetoric at such a fast and frequent pace.

BP: I think social media exacerbates the division people feel. Mostly because it’s so simple to be anonymous these days. It’s so simple to say terrible things about or to someone on the Internet without your identity being exposed. So people feel more free to express their deep, dark, closely held beliefs or to be outrageous just for attention, or worse, for no reason at all.

CB: I believe social media has a huge role with every aspect of our lives but especially with what is going on in the U.S. Social media has allowed us to hear, see, and watch what is going on all over the country in real time. I read a story on twitter about a woman’s grandmother who survived a work camp in the Holocaust. It was a truly eye-opening story and even caused me to have an emotional reaction. Without social media, I wouldn’t have been able to read this story or the many stories I have seen on social media. I also wouldn’t be able to voice my own beliefs to my followings on these sites. I love having the ability to use my voice, call out those who are harmful on these sites and educate. Although so much hate can be spread on these sites, it can also be a great place for education, organizing and supporting each other.

KM: The thing about social media is that it can let you make your worldview as big or as small as you want. You can use it to make contact with people in all corners of the world, living completely different lives, and take the opportunity to learn, or you can choose to isolate yourself in an echo chamber and refuse to step outside. I think social media has been instrumental in exposing how divided we are, and in so many ways, and that it can be a powerful tool in helping to build bridges.

4) Do you think America has taken a step back in racial unity or are wolves simply removing their sheep’s clothing?

JD: This is something I think about a lot. Like most of us, I’ve seen a lot of people of color saying “this was always America,” and I believe them, but at the same time it feels like something has changed. Certainly, there’s the willingness of white supremacists to show their faces to the world, there’s their presence in the White House (though that was probably the case down throughout history as well). And yet it feels like something is building — I’m not sure how to describe it other than, growing up white in the Midwest, it was never acceptable to make racist comments (at least in my family and social circle) and now people proudly share their racism in their Twitter bios. Perhaps white people are just seeing America for what it was all along, but I’m not sure if we have taken a step backward in some regards.

JH: I don’t think anyone has suddenly become racist because of Donald Trump. But I think his campaign rhetoric and eventual election, despite his hate speech, has given permission and normalized racism. People who secretly always felt that way, but were ashamed to say such things, now are more emboldened and feel the freedom to come right out and say exactly what they think. No masks, no hiding, no care in the world. Just in your face racism because they take their cues from our so called leader.

MW: I do not think that America is more racist or has taken a step back at all. I’ve felt and said for years: When President Obama was elected a sect of population consistently said he would “bring about the end” of America. In a very far off way, they were absolutely correct but for reasons they don’t see. I feel like when we proudly elected our first non-white President it angered many. That anger then boiled over and caused those vocal few to be even more vocal. Their loud voices then gave a sense of power to the closet long term racists we’ve always had in this country. They were told decades ago that they weren’t allowed to say things, think things, or feel things anymore because it wasn’t right. They didn’t simply stop…they just bottled it all up. It kept festering inside of them for years and years. Bring in a African American man as their leader and those feelings they’ve always had started to boil over. Those vocal few started to gain more power amongst themselves as they once again banded together as they did so long ago. Those in actual power began to see that they were somehow allowed to have that racist voice again and it was more acceptable due to the feelings festering amongst their groups and their media (Looking at you FOX NEWS).

So, in the long run they were absolutely right…. Our election of a wonderful black man could very well end up being the beginning of the end for America as we know it. THEY think it is because of him as a black man. Yet history books will show he was above reproach and incredibly worthy of the office. He did enormous things for all citizens and he WILL go down as the best President in many decades, I’m sure of it. But his election gave voice to those who were told to STOP THE NONSENSE. Those voices are binding together now in unprecedented fashion and I think THAT is what will bring about the end. NOT President Obama himself, but his election giving voice back to the racist few.

LD: I think racism never went away. It was just dormant. With social media, as I said above, it’s so much easier for racist people to find an outlet and express their hateful rhetoric. They find others of similar minds and connect, empowering each other along the way. What’s happening now is almost good in a way — the darkness coming to light — but we must learn and evolve from it, not move backwards. It’s silly to me that so many people talk about the Civil Rights Era as if it was eons ago. It wasn’t. It’s still fresh. And the wounds from the Civil War to the Twenties to the Sixties have festered, not healed.

BP: I think it’s a little bit of both. Honestly, a lot of these people probably were salivating at the chance to come out and share their true feelings with the world. However, I think that the words and actions of Trump have added fuel to that fire. He’s emboldened those people, which may have subsequently been the final push for the people who were on the fence about how they felt which is what I think has led to the backwards steps. I believe this level of racism has always been laying dormant, perhaps not so dormant for some, and unfortunately this administration has just opened the floodgates and instigated another race war.

CB: I think it’s a mix of both but mostly people coming out of the woodwork with their beliefs on a public stage. Hatred is taught, it is not intuitive or something we are born with. As a result, when we see more and more hateful language, actions and demonstrations. I believe it’s mainly because these people feel empowered and protected to voice this publicly now. They didn’t feel they could come forward in the past. These people have been holding these beliefs for a long time and the hate isn’t born overnight.

Since more people are coming out publicly with their hatred, it is starting to influence and teach the next generation hate. But America has had problems with racial unity for hundreds of years and just because we see more violence, targeting and conflict all over the news every day doesn’t mean these people haven’t been holding these beliefs for a long time.

KM: I honestly don’t know if we are more or less united racially than we used to be, but there is definitely a new sense of boldness to it all. It started during the Obama years, with the idea of a “post-racial” society, and people resisting the idea of a black president, but it’s gotten a huge boost from Trump. White supremacists heard what he’s been saying all along, know he’s on their side, and they’re not afraid anymore. That’s why they’re not hiding behind masks and anonymous accounts anymore.

5) How do you feel about celebrities (athletes, actors, etc) speaking out about race relations and politics?

JD: Frankly, I agree with VP Biden that we’re in a battle for the soul of America right now, and tired as we are, EVERYONE should be speaking out. This is no time to be sitting on the sidelines or putting your endorsement deals ahead of our shared humanity. More than ever, white people need to be the ones speaking out. It’s criminal to watch black men and women take a stand while white people sit on the sidelines and stay above the fray. SPEAK UP, White America!!!

JH: Celebrities are people too. They have opinions and beliefs just as we do. If I were famous right now, there is no way I’d be able to stay quiet with what is going on in this country. And at the moment we have a celebrity sitting in the oval office. So anyone who wants to say that someone should stick to acting or basketball or singing should probably realize that this country just elected a reality TV game show host. If he can be President, they can certainly speak out and they have a very large platform to amplify their voices. If they are willing to risk their fanbase by speaking up, that’s up to them.

MW: Silence is Complicity. I am 100 percent happy and often excited to see what a sports star or an actress speaks out. They are citizens like all others. They have voices and they should feel a sense of obligation to speak on those voices. I think it is silly when people tell a basketball player to “go back to sports” as if that is all they were born to do. Their God gave them a brain, feelings, goals, and a VOICE to use when appropriate.

Now, I do understand when an organization says for their contract employees (those same actors and sports stars) to keep somethings under wraps so as to not attract negative attention and I do not fault those who are famous for keeping quiet necessarily. Many businesses have rules in place like that, so I do understand it but am always proud to hear of someone speaking their mind despite regulations they’re told to uphold.

LD: I’m a believer that if you have a platform to use in a positive way, why not use it? I equate this with LGBT athletes who come out and use their platform to be a positive role model for LGBT youth. It matters. It makes a difference. I work with LGBT youth and I see it making a difference. Speaking out helps. Silence does nothing.

BP: It’s important for people who have hundreds of thousands, or millions of followers to use their platform to preach a message of equality and inclusion. We worship celebrity in this country. It’s foolish to say otherwise. And while they most definitely speak from a position of privilege and few real world problems, celebrities have a lot of power in this country whether they are movie stars, or athletes, or even politicians. People listen to them. People are swayed by them. People pay attention when they take positions on certain issues whether to agree or criticize. So that’s why their messages matter, whether we like to admit it or not.

CB: I truly appreciate and respect those actors, athletes and public figures who use their voice and reach to talk about the issues this country faces. Just because they are in the public eye and a celebrity doesn’t take away the fact that they are an American and a citizen of this country. They are allowed to voice their beliefs just as much as the average Joe down the street.

When these public figures do express their views, experiences, etc., it reaches such a large audience and can have a huge impact. It is really important as we see the violence and hatred continue in this country, for more public figures to speak out especially those who aren’t experiencing the discrimination. I think even more white public figures need to step up and use their voices too. Using our white privilege to stand up for what is right is so necessary for there to be any change in this country.

KM: I love seeing high-profile people speak out on politics and social issues. In my opinion, a person’s politics reflect the most important parts of their personality and their life and to say that they should “Stick to (their job)” is dehumanizing. Celebrities are not less human because they make more money, and they have the right and responsibility to take part in the democratic process, too.