The Myth About Racism White Progressives Shouldn't Fall For

It's not just a southern or midwestern problem.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - AUGUST 11: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists encircle and chant at counter protestors at th
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - AUGUST 11: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists encircle and chant at counter protestors at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. 

After the election, there was a lot of talk about “liberal bubbles,” this idea that those of us on the coasts of America were living lives far removed from “alt-right” loyalists in the country’s South and Midwest. But if there’s anything we should keep in mind in the wake of the hatred in Charlottesville on Friday, it’s that there are bubbles within the bubbles.

Many white people reacted to the “Unite the Right” rally with shock and confusion, with hashtags like #ThisIsNotUs. For people of color, what happened this weekend was disheartening ― but by no means surprising.

For many of us, it doesn’t take an overt performance of white supremacy to know that white supremacy is woven deeply into the tapestry of this country. A gathering of angry white men carrying tiki torches is a violent act no different, indeed very much the same, as the angry white man who hurled racist insults and then killed two men on a train in Portland in May. 

Right now, there are Confederate flags that are proudly and freely displayed on lawns and t-shirts and on the bumpers of cars by people who live in towns just hours away from Manhattan. Indeed, there are over 700 Confederate monuments across the United States, including in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Iowa.

Right now, black and white children in cities like New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles are living de facto segregated lives, going to segregated schools with strikingly different resources, support, and expectations for their futures. 

Right now, there are 917 hate groups currently operating in the U.S., including active white supremacy groups in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and California. 

The hatred that fueled the rally fuels all of these different realities of racism in America.  

The trap we (white people especially) must not fall into is one of our own design: the sense of complacency that says this problem of racism is only a symptom of the South, only a symptom of a certain “kind” of person. It’s convenient when you can think of racism as something close enough to look on with disgust, horror and smug moral superiority, but far enough to not feel responsible for it.

It’s harder when you must acknowledge that white supremacy is not on some far off distant planet called the South, that it indeed is all around you, and that while you may not be a white supremacist, you benefit from white supremacy.

This is not a personal attack. It's reality. 

You benefit from white supremacy in a historical, political and social context. You benefit by generally escaping the stereotyping and generalizations that people of color do, especially in interactions with the law, in the workplace, and in the media. You benefit from access to educational and economic resources that people of color rarely do. You benefit from rarely having to think about race, because "white" has long been positioned as the default in society. 

As Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca explained on Monday, "Getting a job because your name is Geoff is not the same thing as joining the KKK, but that privilege is precisely the thing white supremacists were working to reassert in Charlottesville."

These are things that you must reckon with, and that no person of color should have to walk you through at this point. For some people, in order to avoid grappling with the complexity of their complicity, they lash out -- they grab torches and march against being "replaced."  

But it’s in acknowledging this inconvenience that things may actually begin to change. White people who consider themselves allies must reckon with is the fact that what happened at UVA is just one, ugly side to the multi-faceted racism in this country.