Recently, the president of the United States openly targeted four women of color in Congress, overtly lying about and mischaracterizing things they have said and suggesting they, “go back to where they came from.” Later, at a reelection rally in North Carolina, he continued to stoke these flames of racism and hate as he appeared to bask in the glow of his supporters chanting, “send her back!” in reference to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. This, along with his tirade against Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and the Baltimore-area district he represents, was just among the latest in a long track record of openly racist comments, actions, stances, and tactics the president has used since long before he was elected to the highest office in the nation, and make crystal clear what he and his supporters seek to uphold.
We are long past any question about whether the president and many of the people around him and supporting him are racist. His actions and his words by any objective standard make it so. What is more important is to understand how our systems of government and white culture actively enable racism to continue to play out in our election processes, our governance processes, in virtually every aspect of our day-to-day existence in this country.
A great example is what happened after the president’s remarks when members of the House of Representatives condemned those comments through a resolution. In the context of that debate, some House members attempted to derail the resolution by turning to a House precedent that would preclude the speaker of the house from characterizing the president’s comments as racist; essentially, using precedent and procedure designed to inhibit the ability to call out racism in order to avoid confronting the very issue that is at the core of how we function as a country. If you can’t name it, you can’t address it. This is a prime example of how those in power (historically, white men) have created systems, processes, procedures, cultures, and norms, that allow them to maintain the status quo. We should all be scratching our heads.
If you can’t name it, you can’t address it.
We need to call out those in power who are silent or who use a so-called desire for civility — from the White House to the state house to our own houses — as a shield to maintain the structures of white supremacy that have gotten them to where they are and continue to oppress people of color in the United States on a daily basis.
White people who believe themselves to be socially aware need to understand how we are using our dominant cultural norms — that show up in ways including a general avoidance or reimagining of historical facts, an over-reliance on precedent, and outrage at the very idea of being thought of as racist — to shield ourselves, our systems, and those in power from accountability for equitable outcomes. Many of us are constantly deflecting and, thereby protecting, the way things are.
I challenge white people to become not just non-racist, but anti-racist — and to call out racists and racism when we see it. We need to hold those who are perpetuating systems, institutions, and practices rooted in racism accountable. And we need to recognize what we are seeing for what it is; not something from our ancient past that we can absolve ourselves from, but something that is deep in the DNA of this country. We must actively name and refuse to accept racism any longer if we want to move forward and reflect the standards of freedom and democracy we believe we stand for.
In the words of author, historian, and professor Ibram Kendi: “The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it — and then dismantle it.”
Let’s keep going.