Living and Learning

They Were Allowed to Simply Leave

Those white supremacists who fear that they are losing their place at the top of the social heap just proved to the world how their place is still safe. They can do things and say things in a public setting that no person of colour could ever imagine doing without going to jail. That is what white privilege looks like.

Members of White Supremacist Militia. Credit: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Members of a white supremacist militia at the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017. JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS via Haaretz.com

I was horrified, and you probably were, too, when we saw the racists come out of hiding and become terrorists. The photos of men in army gear carrying assault rifles through an otherwise peaceful American city terrified not only the people who witnessed the event, but also everyone who saw the images.

These awful people have always been tucked away in the dark recesses of our society, but over the last few months and years of fear-mongering by some politicians and media, they now have found their way into the spotlight. They no longer feel the need to suppress their anger and hostility to people of colour; they have tacit support from people in high places.

They are also, apparently, better armed than the police who are sworn to protect us and who are trained to do so.  Law enforcement’s role in these circumstances is now confined to keeping demonstrating factions apart. That is a noble and worthy goal, but it is totally unacceptable for roaming bands of heavily armed unofficial militia to be allowed to legally wander the streets. Come on, people!  Really? This is not what the writers of the constitution sought when they wrote about the right to bear arms.

White Nationalists. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/AFP

White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” with body armor and combat weapons evacuate comrades who were pepper sprayed, August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Credit: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/AFP via Haaretz.com

We all saw that this band of white hooligans was allowed to march through the peaceful city of Charlottesville brandishing high-powered weaponry and declaring their allegiance to fascist ideologies. Then we all saw that they were allowed to simply leave. Only one person was detained, and he was the one who drove a car into the crowd. All the rest of them just went home. Do you think that they would have been arrested if they were black? Would they even have been allowed to get out of their cars with their guns if they were brown? No. Of course not.

So, now what?  What can we do to try to redress the balance?

The last year has shown us in Canada, America, the UK, and many other countries that acting individually and locally can have a huge, positive, effect. Attending meetings at city halls, school boards, and political organizations are a part of the solution. So is engaging in dialogue with people whose views you disagree with. So is paying attention to the books you read to your children.  The article So you want to fight white supremacy by Ijeoma Oluo has several good suggestions for ways in which ordinary people doing ordinary things can make a big difference. But we have to stop staying silent. Being politely accommodating isn’t going to get us out of this mess.

It begins by acknowledging that those of us who are white have lived privileged lives.  Yes, we individually may have had struggles and we may have worked hard for every penny we have earned, but we are still much, much higher up the social ladder than people of colour.

No one has ever told me to go back where I came from. Not once, even though I am an immigrant, and have been since 1975. I am white, I speak English, and I have an English accent, and so I have never been subject to abuse, resentment, or racism.  My natural attributes give me unearned privilege. I have been accepted, welcomed, educated, and employed throughout my years here. Many people of colour cannot say the same.

Let us change that. We can start small, start at home, and start with people we know. But, let’s start to change that. Immigrants are not the problem. Racism is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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