Most of us have seen it by now ― if we’ve been following the recent events in Charlottesville, anyway. The hashtag #ThisIsNotUs has been trending, aiming to denounce the brazen and unapologetic displays of white supremacy during the Unite the Right rally that ended with one dead and many more injured.
However, though the hashtag was created to show solidarity with people whose rights and safety are directly threatened by white nationalists, neo-Nazis and the “alt-right,” it has drawn criticism for its well-intentioned but ultimately tone-deaf stance.
Do you understand why? Here are three reasons this trending hashtag is problematic.
1. It ignores America’s white supremacist roots.
To claim that this kind of behavior is unprecedented is to ignore this country’s history of slavery, racist oppression and indigenous genocide. Just because we’ve made positive strides on the civil rights spectrum doesn’t mean white supremacy hasn’t been running rampant this whole time. America was literally built upon it. It’s woven into the fabric of the nation we call home, right along with the 13 stripes and 50 stars, and failing to acknowledge this dismisses the very real suffering of the hundreds of thousands of human beings who were slaughtered, enslaved and tortured by white people.
Long before pilgrim boats first touched the shores at Plymouth Rock, white men were capturing, raping and murdering indigenous people on this soil. Over the years, we raided the vast majority of the land rightfully inhabited by Native Americans, destroyed their settlements, and hunted them like animals, eventually eradicating between 80 and 90 percent of their total population.
“Just because we’ve made positive strides on the civil rights spectrum doesn’t mean white supremacy hasn’t been running rampant this whole time. America was literally built upon it.”
We stole African people from their homes, shipped them overseas, and forced them into slavery. We brutalized them, tortured them and whipped their backs into bloody ribbons. We thought of them, and spoke of them, as objects.
Why? Because we are a nation founded on the principles of white supremacy ― and to deny that is to have a grave misunderstanding of history.
2. It dismisses the struggling of marginalized groups by implying that overt discrimination toward people of color in the U.S. is a rarity.
Most people in the U.S. are able to acknowledge the horrors of our racist and bloody beginnings. A more difficult subject is that of racism today. Sadly, many white Americans hold the belief that discrimination toward people of color is largely a thing of the past. The notion seems to be that, since slavery is over, so is racist oppression ― but this belief is wholly incorrect.
We’ve all heard the phrase “the slaves were freed,” but “freedom” is used loosely and objectively. After emancipation, there was segregation and Jim Crow. After that came the systems we still employ today ― systems that were literally designed to subvert the progress of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and keep Jim Crow alive even after it was outlawed.
I’ll say it again: These systems are still in place today. They take the form of discriminatory practices in housing, education, employment, health care and law enforcement, as well as for-profit prisons and the mass incarceration of people of color.
The United States accounts for 5 percent of the global population ― and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Moreover, black people make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population but nearly 40 percent of our prisoners. Our prison system has been manipulated by white supremacist values until it has become little more than slavery by a different name.
If you’re still not convinced, consider the fact that the United States government has also taken little corrective action to right the wrongs committed against Native Americans. As of 2007, the Native population owns just 2 percent of the land in the U.S. ― land they had inhabited for centuries before white men took it from them. Our government was sterilizing Native women against their will as recently as the 1970s ― meaning that there are Native women alive today who were victimized by this cruel practice. Government-run schools that serve Native children are grievously underfunded, with the worst achievement and graduation rates of any subgroup in the country. And need I mention the Dakota Access Pipeline?
Even the simple American act of voting is a right that is, sadly, not guaranteed for minorities. Redistricting practices and discriminatory voter ID laws ensure that black and Latino citizens face more obstacles getting to the polls than white people. And new laws keep surfacing, making it ever more difficult. As recently as 2014, some counties with high Native American populations have enforced a mail-in English-language ballot system only, disenfranchising those with language barriers and limited access to mail.
What it boils down to is that white people have established a system that sets minorities up for failure. We let them participate in the marathon, but we make them start miles behind, then blame them for not being able to keep up.
This is white supremacy. This ― us, here, now ― is what it looks like.
So while a group of angry white men wielding torches and shouting Nazi slogans admittedly isn’t something we see every day ― at least not yet ― it originates from the same place as every other racist micro- and macro-aggression taking place today.
White supremacy is the thread that holds all these behaviors and beliefs together. It’s the root of the problem, and if we don’t see it, we’re not paying attention.
“White people have established a system that sets minorities up for failure. We let them participate in the marathon, but we make them start miles behind, then blame them for not being able to keep up.”
3. It absolves us of responsibility or action by allowing us to avoid ownership.
Assuming we did believe that white supremacy is “not us” and is, therefore, uncommon, we may not feel very compelled to do anything about it. Why waste our time, energy and resources, after all, on something we don’t believe to be a pervasive problem?
But as I’ve mentioned previously, racism in America is a systemic issue ― and a hashtag, however well-intentioned, is not going to fix it. It’s like trying to cure cancer with a Band-Aid. It is not enough. We have to do more.
Another facet of this self-absolution is the issue of ownership and personal responsibility. Many white people take affront when this comes up. “I am not responsible for slavery and genocide,” they argue, as though the fact that they didn’t personally enslave and slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocent humans is reason enough to dismiss racism as a non-issue.
While it’s true that the horrors of the American past don’t rest squarely on our shoulders, the American future certainly does. We aren’t responsible for the events that took place on this soil before we were born ― but far too many of us are directly responsible for perpetuating harmful racist systems by neglecting to take a stand against them.
When we allow racism to exist, we become racism. As people with privilege, it is our responsibility to call out other white folks when they’re saying or doing racist shit. As white people who aren’t garbage humans, it is our duty to stand up to racism, to reject it loudly and wholeheartedly, and to affirm that it will no longer be tolerated.
And in order to do that, we must first acknowledge that this is us. This is happening, here and now, and we must take a stand against it. To remain silent, after all, is to be complicit.
Like it or not, America, this is us. And until we can make an honest assessment of the pervasive hatred that is slowly and continually poisoning this country like a perpetual cyanide drip… this is what we will always be.
It’s time to end white supremacy. It’s time to do what we can to make our country a better place for everyone, skin color notwithstanding.
It’s time to work toward a better future ― a future in which we will be able to stand together and declare, proudly and honestly:
“This is not us anymore.”