By Laura Willard
A Letter to My White Friends:
To my white friends who are always so kind to me, who like or have nice things to say about the photos I post of my kids and my family, who like my kids — either IRL or from the relationship we’ve formed over Facebook — who think our family is nice or funny or even minimally decent.
I’m especially hoping you’ll read this if events like the Boston Marathon bombing or the terrorist attacks in London or awful crimes that have been perpetrated at the hands of “others” bothered you enough that you at least said something about it … but now maybe you’re not feeling enough concern or sadness or empathy or outrage about the violence in Charlottesville to voice your thoughts.
I’m also especially hoping you’ll read this if you are, in fact, outraged by Nazis, but don’t take that outrage a step further to recognize systemic racism and the system of white supremacy that makes your lives and mine much simpler and safer than those of my own children and my friends of color.
The same system that allows a bunch of white Nazis to get a permit to march or have a rally or whatever you want to call it without a heavy and serious armed police presence, but has officers show up preemptively in riot gear to Black Lives Matter protests.
I hope you’ll look at the image below and understand what it means to so many people.
This image obviously doesn’t represent what *I* see for myself. But it sure resonated with many people of color and if you’re white, I suggest you take a good, hard look at it, try to understand why, and ask yourself how you can be a part of undoing it.
See, we can joke about the many images of white dudes whose asses it appears I could personally kick, just seven weeks after I had surgery no less, in their khaki pants and collared golf shirts and Pier One poolside tiki torches because, let’s be real, it’s hilarious.
But they’re not the only ones who showed up at the “White Nationalist” rally in Charlottesville and they’re ALL dangerous. Nazis are dangerous.
Nazis are easy to see and for the love of all that’s holy, I hope easy to denounce. I hope we can all agree that they are horrible, horrible people who we do not want living in this country.
The rest, though … that’s sneaky and insidious.
Let’s start with the out-and-proud Nazis. By now, you surely know what happened this weekend in Charlottesville and I hope you were immediately outraged and horrified. I also hope you were not surprised because nothing about this was surprising. More on that in a minute.
You may have seen the photos of the sh*tbag nazis who participated in this hatefest and you may have specifically heard about one sh*tbag nazi, Peter Cvjetanovic, who was surprised his photo went so viral.
Here is what he said about what I can only hope is the beginning of the end of a normal life for him, because Nazis do not deserve normal lives:
“I did not expect the photo to be shared as much as it was. I understand the photo has a very negative connotation. But I hope that the people sharing the photo are willing to listen that I’m not the angry racist they see in that photo.”
I mean… I’m not sure what he expected to happen in 2017 — what with this amazing thing we use called social media — when you participate in a Nazi rally, but hey… We can’t all be geniuses, amirite?!
Peter Cvjetanovic, a white nationalist, is upset that this photo of him has gone viral. So be nice: dont retweet this tweet 1000s of times. pic.twitter.com/mpeyXH86jm
— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) August 13, 2017
We’re all used to giving white folks the benefit of the doubt, and I can guarantee you more than a few people read that and started to feel a little pity for him. After all, he said he’s not racist! Of course, if you kept on reading, you’d get to the part where he acknowledges he’s a “white nationalist” (cute euphemism for “Nazi”):
“As a white nationalist, I care for all people. We all deserve a future for our children and for our culture. White nationalists aren’t all hateful; we just want to preserve what we have,” he said.
I mean, first of all, “preserve what we have” is another euphemism, this time for “preserve white supremacy” because God forbid we dismantle this system to ensure it works equally for everyone.
But second, and my main point about his story, is that Peter Cvjetanovic isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, given that he’s surprised his photo went viral and he was identified, outed, and, we can only hope, ruined by this.
(Side note: Who in the eff thinks that wouldn’t happen today? I mean, Jeezuz, someone from my neighborhood recently posted a photo of their missing dog on the NextDoor app and a stranger-to-them neighbor found their dog for them at a local shelter, one of dozens in town, based on a single photo. Of a dog. This dude is 20. He should how social media works. He has literally grown up with it.)
Anyway. Stick with me. I’m getting to my point.
I think Peter Cvjetanovic is what many, many white people believe racists in this country are: Stupid sh*tbags who are so dumb they’re going around spewing their racist beliefs freely, who are so dumb they don’t think a photo of them marching in an actual f*cking Nazi rally will be spread far and wide.
We think of stereotypes: Of white people who are a little (or a lot) backwoods, who have a certain appearance (a la “Deliverance”), and who, at the end of the day, can be easily spotted and avoided.
But see, that’s not totally how this racism thing works.
Sure, some of them are those things. And they obviously need to go. But a whole lot aren’t. They are smart. They look “normal.” They live among us, they work among us, they go to school with our kids, they teach our kids, they police our communities, they live next door to us.
They have the ability and power to ruin people’s lives. And they do. Not your lives, my white friends. Nazis and racists aren’t denying your home loan that you’d otherwise qualify for because you’re Black or pulling you over for absolutely no reason because you look Mexican.
Even if you don’t agree with racists and Nazis, you benefit from the very system that they are scared to death might be fixed so that they no longer have the upper hand.
Maybe the stuff on the surface gets to you. Like the Nazi rally. And overt, unkind, impossible-to-deny acts of racism.
You might really feel bad when I tell you that several weeks ago, a boy at camp — who attends my kids’ school, whose daughter is my daughter’s age and has been in class with her, and whose family we casually know — told my son he “doesn’t belong here” and “to go back where [he] came from.”
But what do you do beyond feeling bad for my 10-year-old who was so embarrassed he didn’t tell us until the next morning and who admitted he cried at the time it happened? What do you do about the system that encourages those things to happen?
What HAVE you done? Did you vote for the guy for president who David Duke, the former Imperial Wizard of the KKK, loves, but justify it by focusing instead on his “economic policies” because all of that hates he encourages doesn’t personally affect you?
Do you sit your kids down and talk to them about racism, about how people in this country who look different from them are at a disadvantage in life because of the color of their skin? Or do you teach them that “we’re all the same and we love everyone equally” (because that is terrible and please do not do that, and you can read this to find out why)?
Do you call out racists at work? If you’re in a position of power at work, do you make sure people of color know you have a zero-tolerance policy for racism, especially the covert kind?
Do you constantly confront your internal biases and work on unpacking them? ‘Cause you have them. We alllll have them. Can you even acknowledge the many privileges you have simply because of the color of your skin without getting angry or defensive or telling me how you worked for everything you have?
Nazis are awful. I’m a little disappointed that some people in my feed who have been comfortable calling other terrorists awful haven’t had anything to say about them, but I have enough confidence in everyone here to believe that we’re all in agreement about this fact: Nazis are awful.
What happened this weekend was horrifying. Someone was murdered for standing up to Nazis. Many people were hurt for standing up to Nazis. Nazis are terrorizing a town.
But these Nazis are not the problem.
They are a *symptom* of the problem, a problem that has been allowed to exist and thrive because it benefits the majority of us. It makes our lives better and easier and safer and more comfortable. It is easy to ignore the problem and really, it’s in our own best personal interest to deny it and certainly refuse to fix it. A problem that has become more visible because the leader of our country encourages this kind of hate, both directly and indirectly.
However, I want to believe that most people are decent enough to at least have some empathy for people who are “different” than us and who are being hurt — in every way possible. I want to believe that most people are smart enough to know that equality for others does not mean oppression for them. I want you to make an effort.
You can SEE what is happening here. Go a step further. Use your critical thinking skills and think about what you can’t see.
It’s great to look at my little family and think it’s neat that we’re “diverse” and that we represent “progress” and tell me I’m a good mom because I quite literally live for my kids these days (really, I’d have given up a while ago because this disease is awful, but I have these two people who I am insistent I will see to adulthood).
But if you will listen to me, I can tell you want it’s like to live as a white person who, until 12 years ago, would have denied the existence of white privilege with great vehemence and vigor, but who has all of the privileges of being white while seeing many parts of life through the lenses of people of color.
I see two worlds. They are two drastically, wildly, disturbingly different worlds. One world benefits me. The other harms my kids.
I shouldn’t have to tell you because you should listen to the people of color who have been saying this forever, but for some reason, some people are more receptive to the hard truth when it comes from someone who is “like them.”
If I’m honest, that was me 12 years ago. It took me some time hearing it from people like me before I could listen to the people whose opinions and experiences actually matter. So I will tell you. And I will ask you to do more and do better.
Stand up to overt Nazis.
But also, please, stand up to the insidious, covert systemic racism that led to this situation — the one where Nazis are comfortable openly roaming the streets.
This article originally appeared on YourTango. For more like this from YourTango, try:
- Why Being “Color-Blind” To Race Is Willfully Ignorant (And Racist)
- How 3 Different Types Of Racism Influence The Way We Date Love & Have Sex
- 18 Quotes From Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel We All DESPERATELY Need Right Now
Photos courtesy of the author.