An Open Letter to People Who Say They Are Not Racist
TL;DR warning (too long; didn't read) -- nevertheless, I hope that you will find this open letter to people who say they aren't racist to be worth the long read.
You see, I was going to stay in the background and watch others comment and debate the recent stories of racism seen in our community, but I cannot stay silent anymore. Something in my spirit is making me write this letter. I don't know if it will touch anyone's heart, but at least I will go on record as saying something -- something important that needs to be said by me.
After all, I am the board president of a local nonprofit whose mission statement begins with "eliminate racism." I feel that I, of all people, should be one of the first community leaders to speak up about it.
Today marks the anniversary of the Tulsa Riots of 1921 and there are people who still have never heard about them. They don't even teach that story to us in grade school. In fact, you won't get much African-American history taught until you choose to take it as an elective in college (if your college/university even teaches that class) or watch "Watchmen."
Briefly, here are some recent stories of racism that I have seen discussed in our local communities:
- There was a teacher in the East Valley school district who wrote the N-word on a classroom whiteboard. The teacher alleged that she was simply teaching a story about the evolution of the Spanish word for "black" as it relates to African-Americans, but my soul cried out from somewhere deep, "YOU SIT ON A THRONE OF LIES!"
- There was the board member of a local school district who was reprimanded for talking back to a student for using the N-word in his presence. I do not condone the way he handled the situation, but I thoroughly understand his anger and why he lashed out at the kid.
- There was a man who recently ran for Yakima City Council who used to drive around town with an extra-large Confederate flag hanging off the bed of his truck. Thankfully, he withdrew his name and chose not to run for office. I could not imagine having someone like this representing our community in local government!
- Recently, a friend sent me a photograph of someone in Yakima who hosted a beer pong party in his basement. There on display behind the pong table was a white Ku Klux Klan robe and hood. (Insert my "pretends to be shocked" face.) Some people keep their racism hidden. Others will put it proudly on display.
- Last year, I noticed that a neighbor had strung up a large yellow "Don't Tread On Me" flag on his flagpole, right next to a larger-than-life Confederate flag, also on a flagpole. Don't act like I don't know what message he was sending to people who look like me. It's a message of hate. Should I just say to myself, "Well, it's his property and if he wants to hoist racist flags at his house, so be it!" No! None of us should have to be subjected to such displays of hatred when we're driving down the street, stuck in traffic, sitting in our cars eating lunch at Gilbert Park, or walking around our neighborhood blocks.
- The most recent local incident of racism involved a parent in Moses Lake casting out the N-word to an African-American man whose son was participating in a high school basketball game. Students from the opposing team's high school even had to have a police escort to leave the game. After I read about this story last night, a fury rose within that I am finding hard to contain.
We just got into a new century less than 10 years ago and are about to head into a new decade. One would hope that members of our communities have finally rooted out any deep-seated racism. But no, we know the truth. Racism will never "die off" at this rate because generations of racist people are teaching their children and their grandchildren to continue the despicable tradition of shaming fellow human beings for the color of their skin and the texture of their hair.
What I do feel comfortable saying is that you are no better than me, nor will you ever be better than me (or anybody else) merely because of the color of your skin.
Now run and tell that.
If you dare to fix your mouth (or your fingers on the keyboard) to tell me that I should not be angry at an entire community because of a few racist incidents, then you, too, should be ashamed of yourself -- how are you even helping the situation if you are NOT SPEAKING UP?
Your silence makes you complicit. Change my mind.
If you say that you are upset about grown-ups and kids using the N-word or threatening violence at Blacks, Asians, Native Americans, Indigenous Peoples, Latinos, up to and including faith groups of color including those who are Jewish, Muslim, Shik, Hindu and others, THEN SPEAK THE H*LL UP. Tell your fellow townsfolk to STOP BEING RACIST. Tell them to take down their Confederate flags because the heritage is based upon hate. Tell them to take that racist mess someplace else! Tell them that if they can't get that ugliness out of their human spirit then move out of our communities!
I can't eliminate racism all by myself -- it takes a village. Literally, a village of people taking a stand and speaking up about it! A few "good" people writing about how angry they are about racist events on Facebook but not doing a THING about it is not going to solve anything!
YOU have to speak up and then DO SOMETHING about it when it happens. That is the only way we can rid ourselves of the ugly stain of racism and prejudice.
That is the only way.