Our citizenship demands more of us: We have to actively be anti-racist
This moment in history is important for millennials. We will decide whether pernicious racism will live on, or be eradicated.
I really enjoyed Robin Brown’s column on June 4 (“Divisiveness creates the space for hate speech to thrive”). Her column began with Kathy Griffin’s over-the-top and unacceptable photo shoot involving the severed head of the sitting president, and discussed the “breakdown of civility” that has allowed outrageous behavior in recent years. I agree. While humans have always been awful to each other, it seems that we are brazenly waging more public, personal, and threatening attacks. Most concerning to me is the resurgence of attacks with bigoted intent.
Just like Robin Brown, I was horrified to read the story of Orchard Mesa’s Donna King, the retired schoolteacher who awoke on May 11 to find a broken, racist diatribe spray-painted on her home. For reference, the spray-painted message contained “n*****”, “white power,” and “KKK.” King, who is Jewish, was “shaken,” “fearful,” and “disgusted.”
Nationally, over the past month:
■ A vandal spray-painted “n*****” on the front gate of the L.A. home of NBA megastar LeBron James.
■ Left-sided political comedian Bill Maher responded that he was a “house n*****”, in the context of house versus field slaves, when his guest, Sen. Ben Sasse, jokingly suggested he come to Nebraska and “work the fields.”
■ Three Good Samaritans were stabbed, two to death, on a train in Portland, Oregon when they tried to stop a man from hurling anti-Muslim slurs at two teenage girls.
■ A hangman’s noose was found hanging in the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and Culture in an exhibition on segregation.
■ Bananas tied to nooses were discovered at American University in Washington, scrawled with the letters “AKA Free.” (AKA, or Alpha Kappa Alpha, is a predominately African-American sorority.)
Imagine you are a child, and are taught that labels can’t define you. You are told your own hard work and character will determine how other people see you, and not your race or religion. And then you see people that look like you targeted, or demeaned, merely because of the way they look.
Despite the pervasive belief that we have overcome our history of systemic racism, ugly racial incidents are once again front and center in society. And despite the continued insistence that it’s not a problem, or that it doesn’t happen here, disturbing headlines keep popping up in the Grand Valley: KKK flyering on Valentine’s Day, the viral Youtube video of a woman calling a Latino family “wetbacks” in a Grand Junction parking lot, and now Donna King’s story.
No matter what you, reader, might believe about the state of race relations, millions and millions of people — men, women, and children — are afraid right now. They are afraid of the rise of the alt-right white supremacy movement. They are afraid of having epithets spray painted on their homes. They are afraid of being harassed on a train. They are afraid of the not-so-hidden meaning behind hangman’s nooses, purposely placed to intimidate.
Are these incidents just the “price you pay” for being a minority in this country? As Americans — and Grand Valley residents — are we OK with that?
Generations before mine have been tasked with enormous problems to solve, and millennials have our own: climate change, economic inequality, the student loan crisis are just a few. But if we cannot even agree how to treat each other civilly, we will be unable to face these larger societal issues that necessitate listening to each other.
For millennials, it is no longer sufficient just to be passively “not racist.” The demands of citizenship now require us to be actively “anti-racist.” Anti-racism demands that we change our social lives to resist racist undertones (or overtones). Racist jokes and statements cannot go unchallenged. Our children need to know that these sentiments are unacceptable and un-American. And our representatives need to know that we will hold them accountable for furthering racial stereotypes, or failing to condemn racist violence.
(In anticipation of readers’ shouts that I am part of the “anti-fun” “PC police,” please know that when we millennials are (annoyingly) staring at our phones, there is a decent chance we are laughing at internet memes. We love jokes. We just dislike racist ones.)
“All men are created equal,” is a mission statement, not a “mission accomplished” badge. Americans have always had to work to make that mission a reality. It continues to be our civic duty. Read about what anti-racism is, and make it a part of your life. These times demand it.