The arrest of 17 year old Kyle Rittenhouse for shooting BLM protesters prompts the question in the headline. Watching someone who is basically still a kid walk towards the police with his long gun strapped over his shoulder, completely confident that he is walking towards allies (sadly, he was right), I was thinking how pitiful it looked. I doubt Black people looked at it that way, and I must apologize for my own reaction, I guess, that I would feel any pity for such a soul, but I do. His parents ruined this 17 year old’s life by the things they said to him growing up on a daily basis.
How do I know this? I can’t for certain, but sometimes common sense is all we need to complete a narrative. Does anybody really think when they watch the videos of this kid marching towards the police with his long gun that he wasn’t just a little crazy, and that he had been subjected to the daily infection of racism?
We live in an era where there is no excuse for racism. Some whites may say, “well, I grew up with racist parents and it’s just what I learned.”
I grew up surrounded by the N-word and I reject that excuse. I remember a bitter argument with my mother at dinner when I was in middle school. I couldn’t comprehend her racism and after we both calmed down she tried to explain it to me. I won’t give her explanations room to breathe by sharing them here. I’ll only say that I didn’t buy them.
But I was one of the lucky ones. I don’t know if I rejected it because I was fortunate enough to have some Black friends at that age, or if it was something within my constitution that rejected her excuses.
For whatever reason, Kyle Rittenhouse wasn’t given the blessings I was given to avoid absorbing whatever toxic dogma spewed out of his parent's mouth every day. And trust me, no matter what his parents may say to the press as this story develops, you can be sure he was subjected to a never-ending stream of vile words. I know from experience how that works. It is a constant. These people are this way (fill in the blanks). These people. These people. These people. Every day, several times a day, for the entirety of your formative years. It is, truly, an assault.
The results are obviously different, depending on the kid growing up around such a daily assault, but in Kyley Rittenhouse’s case, the result was a pathetic and lost soul being chased down for his bigotry by a crowd of his peers and landing on the seat of his pants, firing away at his tormenters with a long gun, and killing innocent people.
One of them was Anthony Huber. By all accounts, a good soul, a young man who was NOT in the wrong place at the wrong time, but was in the right place, protesting for racial justice, peacefully, and trying to help others when he was shot.
There has never been a viable excuse for racism. But in my mom’s days, we didn’t have the Internet providing daily reminders of its wrongheadedness. We didn’t have George Floyd. We didn’t have daily stories of Blacks getting kicked around by the police.
Today, there is a strong presence about the evils of racism, and social media has played a big part in that.
Unfortunately, social media has also helped fuel white nationalism through ugly groups like 4Chan, 8Chan, Q, and others.
So when modern parents teach racism to their children, those kids have immediate access to like-minded individuals telling them that what their racist parents are telling them is acceptable. When they spew vile words every day, use the N-word constantly like my parents did to describe other people, they send their children to these groups. These children then discover like-minded individuals and start to find camaraderie in the false narrative that melatonin can affect behavior.
Focus also needs to take place in the home. If a parent is spewing out the N-word around the house, they are fostering a) the kind of behavior that could easily get their children beat up, and b) a form of domestic terrorism. If you are encouraging your kids to be domestic terrorists, that’s not just immoral, it should be considered a form of child abuse.
What would happen if a Muslim father in the U.S. was accused of teaching his young son or daughter how to become a suicide bomber? Or even simply coaching them on the kind of civics that might lead them there? You can be sure that a Republican district attorney would be all over that father.
But when a white nationalist preaches racism to his children, there are no consequences. This may seem like a freedom of speech issue, but it really isn’t any more than yelling “fire” in a movie theater. I don’t know what the solution is, since we live in a society that is obviously already too hell-bent on incarceration and punishment, and the last thing we need is finding a way to imprison more people. But we should call it out for what it is, at least.
When I see a young person today spewing racial hatred, I see their parents. I see what I saw and experienced growing up around racial intolerance. Are parents who teach racism to their children child abusers? I believe that they are.
It may be difficult to have pity on these kids. But as someone who heard the verbal battering away at humanity like this on a constant basis, I can tell you first hand that it actually hurts. It hurts the soul to hear this stuff.
Long after I moved away from my parents my father was in an auto accident so I came to his house to care for him. He was in a wheelchair and I moved him around the supermarket. He instructed me to not get in line with the N***s because they’d take forever with their food stamps and WIC coupons. I remember wanting to just leave him in the store sitting in his wheelchair. Instead, I purposefully found the line with the most Black people. The line moved swiftly because nobody likes standing in line.
All whites need to stand in line with our Black brethren. There are little things we can do during these dark days. Hold the door open for them. Step aside in the grocery aisle when they’re wanting to examine a food item. Show extreme courtesy, even at the possible expense of pandering. As someone who grew up with racism, to me, it looks like the problem is still growing, despite the positive news that most young people are revolted by racism and other forms of prejudice.
We underestimate the potential growth of racism at great risk, especially in light of the social networks that fuel it. Racism fosters a form of child abuse and domestic terrorism that has now aimed a political gun to the head of the American experiment. The fight against it can’t only be reflected in the obvious arena of police brutality. It requires a persistent attitude in our daily lives. It begins at home. In our living rooms and around our dinner tables. It requires a daily show of love and support for our fellow humans because, in the end, love does trump hate.