Black people cannot change the hearts and minds of White racists, and we have exhausted ourselves beyond measure trying. We have spent years praying, marching, fighting, running, hiding, crying, attempting to prove that we were good enough, Christian enough, human enough to exist in a country to which we were forced to come as chattel—really, to exist anywhere in this world that has been touched by the rule of Westerners and Arabs who often share little but the conviction that the children of Africa are inferior.
We cannot change Nikki Haley (a Sikh who somehow identifies with the Confederacy that probably wouldn’t have been so kind to her, but okaaaaay) to the point where she understands the infuriating racism that informs the proud Confederate flag waving Amurrricans of her state, and why having that banner flown officially in South Carolina is an insult to the souls of the enslaved Africans who built this country and their descendants who still suffer so.
We can’t defend our humanity to That News Network that spends countless hours per day spreading half-truths and willful lies that help their viewers believe that Black people are soulless superpredators hell-bent on destroying property, raping White women, killing Whites and ourselves for sport, and enjoying lobster and malt liquor on our EBT cards all the way. (Marc Lamont Hill did a damn good job trying, though.)
It would be unlikely that Black folks could cause a paradigm shift in someone like Dylann Roof that would have deaded his belief that the women of his race and the fate of his country were in danger, in danger, because we exist. It is equally unlikely that we can reach the dozens of White supremacists who come to this very website on a regular basis for no other reason but to call those of us who work and read here “monkeys,” “apes,” “coons” and “niggers,” or to suggest that we are the “real” racists because we have five Black magazines, BET and Black History Month. And frankly, I don’t have the energy to do it.
In times like this, White people are quick to throw their hands up and dissociate themselves from racism and the person accused of the racist act. But how many of them can say they have actively worked to challenge the racism in the people around them? How many folks have sat quietly as Uncle Jimbo tells the story of the time he put that one nigger in his place at work? How many so-called liberal Obama voters couldn’t be bothered to even google “Black Lives Matter” to see what folks were talking about in August of last year? How many of the women with more Black exes than Rachel Dolezal refuse to say a word when they see a Black child being manhandled by an aggressive White cop—but may later become the mother of Black children themselves?
White people, know this: your silence is consent. Your silence is complicity. Your silence is violence.
While some of you may believe that Black people are unwilling to do anything to stop intraracial violence (a.k.a. the same sort of violence that is most likely to claim your own lives), there are many organizations and individuals that work tirelessly to combat both the crimes we perpetuate against one another and the structures of racism and oppression that make them so frequent. We have been fighting to protect Black life from all sides for a very long time.
However, where is the mass movement of White folks organized under the banner of “I’m not a racist!,” where is exactly is the headquarters for the #AllLivesMatter movement of which you speak? Because from where I am sitting, minus a handful of allies (and “allies” who really ain’t, but they have convinced themselves and others of this somehow), you all aren’t doing anything but keeping the party going. Never has a White person been publicly accused of racism without defending themselves by saying, “I am NOT a racist, never!”
Prove it then.
The hypocrisy of America is, yet again, a punchline for the world to see: a place that touts liberty and peace, and shows up on foreign shores with guns to teach others how to properly realize those values, yet has steadfastly refused to acknowledge the legacy of slavery. A country that turns a blind eye to crimes against Black people committed in her name over and over again. Look at Jeb Bush’s refusal to even acknowledge why a man who allegedly said that he had to kill Black people because we rape White women and are taking his country committed such a crime—despite the fact that the shooter allegedly spared a life so that she could tell people why he did it.
Dylann Roof is not an outlier, he embodies so much of what makes America, America: belief that Black people are inherently criminal and that Whites have a natural-born right to rule and a willingness to dismiss the facts and the history that clearly demonstrate otherwise. His methods may be extreme by comparison, but his attitude is as American as apple pie.
If White Americans by and large wanted to end racism, they would. Period. Complacency may stymie some (I would imagine it’s hard to sum up the passion to do social justice work on behalf of Black liberation if the only Black people you ever encounter are on a television set); agreement is the culprit for others. But it’s time to acknowledge that White folks have to be the one to stop the future White-supremacist terrorists of the world, because the folks who hate us will never care about our tears.
That’s not to dismiss the importance of the work we, Black people, must do to protect ourselves, in the streets, in the courts, in city halls, in the chambers of Congress and beyond. It is, as Assata Shakur said, “our duty to fight” and “our duty to win.” And if the past year has taught us a thing, it is that we are fighting harder than ever. But as far as I am concerned, those folks who will argue you to death about how “not racist” they are because of who they voted for, who they slept with, or what music they listen to, but have done nothing to challenge a system that literally kills us? They are as guilty as Dylann Roof.
If you hate us, then hate us, and say it with your chest. Because know that you may not feel racist, but your silence tells a different story. Clean up your mess, or stand proudly behind it.
Jamilah Lemieux is EBONY.com’s Senior Editor. Views expressed here are her own.