The silence of white moderates: passers-by must take a stand against racists if we are to end racism


I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First of all, I must admit that over the past few years I have been sorely disappointed with white moderates. I almost came to the unfortunate conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his march to freedom is not the White Citizen’s Advisor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the White Moderate, who is more attached to “Order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the end you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who believes paternalistic that he can fix the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives on a mythical conception of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more auspicious season”.‘”- Dr King’s Letter from a Birmingham prison

Over the years, many white people have told me that they are embarrassed by the openly racist behavior of friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors, etc. As much as I appreciate this honesty in sharing, it doesn’t change much. With people witnessing and refusing to do anything for fear of repercussions, this is why racism refuses to go away.

We live in a society where whites see racist acts up close and personally. They are in the room when a person of color who has just finished a job interview is labeled a racial epithet after they leave. They are in private meeting rooms when a racist remark is made by a company executive when no person of color is present. They attend meetings with school board members when racist remarks are made but are not recorded in the official meeting minutes. Whites see their co-workers following black customers into a store while a white steals from the other side of the store.

White doctors and nurses are in the operating room when their peers make racist remarks about an unconscious patient of color. White people are in the teacher’s room when their peers make racist remarks about the Hispanic students they teach when no teachers of color are present. These passers-by are on the scene when their white peers harass, beat and sometimes kill innocent people of color, but hide behind a blue wall of silence, refusing to report their fellow police officers.

Instead of doing the “right thing,” these passers-by bite their lip and later tell a person of color about the horrific behavior they witnessed. I understand that doing the right thing is fraught with possible negative consequences. Someone has to do it though.

Racism will never be alleviated by the simple fact that people wake up if they don’t do something that may be difficult. The issues Dr King mentioned in 1963 are still relevant in 2021.

As I sit and read countless stories of school board meetings where people make ludicrous arguments that teaching the history of racism somehow harms white children, I see the same pattern of spectators refusing to stand up and make their voices heard. They are afraid for obvious reasons. Fear shouldn’t be a deterrent if you’re really awake. When I hear people say “don’t argue with them,” I feel like throwing up. Someone needs to say something.

“First they came for the Communists And I didn’t speak because I wasn’t a Communist Then they came for the Socialists And I didn’t speak because I wasn’t a socialist Then they are came for the trade unionists And I did not speak Because I was not a trade unionist Then they came for the Jews And I did not speak Because I was not a Jew Then they came for me And he didn There was no one left to speak for me. – Martin Niemöller

In what other case are people in favor of something that tells them to just sit idly by while people oppose it?

Even calling yourself awake now as a white person has negative consequences. In the past they would have publicly called you a Negro lover, now they do it in private. They whisper in the corner of their yard above the fence to neighbors that such and such is a Negro lover because they have a Black Lives Matter sign in their yard or window.

America hid its racism under pressure from the former Soviet Union, which used it to make America look bad at the start of the Cold War. The desegregation of the armed forces in 1948 by President Truman occurred in part because of Cold War propaganda by the Soviet Union. Openly racist actions during the civil rights movement were used as fodder by the Soviet government to show the world America’s hypocrisy by shouting for democracy, liberty and liberty for all, while denying it to the people. colored.

America has reverted to overtly expressed racism and many often use what is called the language of dog whistles. The problem with dog whistle language, which is just using coded words and phrases to express racist opinions, is that dogs can’t just hear it. Do you honestly think people of color haven’t decoded this rhetoric?

In 1954, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that separate schools were unconstitutional and even further in 1948, when it ruled that racial restrictive covenants aimed at keeping neighborhoods entirely white were inapplicable, the nation had to start to hide from overtly expressed racism. America has been ashamed to change because people around the world have tapped into newly created televisions to watch American police brutality in Birmingham and Selma.

According to the US Census Bureau, there are just over 36 million non-Hispanic white men and nearly 41 million non-Hispanic white women who were of living age when the last great Jim Crow laws were still perfectly fine. legal in 1968. That means 77 million white people still roam this country with at least some knowledge of life back in the days when Jim Crow discrimination was made legally binding in several states in this country.

Before the civil rights movement, few of these whites openly challenged the status quo. Some joined the struggle for black civil rights, some actively participated in the struggle for the civil rights of Chicanos and Native Americans. The courage of this very slim minority of white Americans has led some of them to become martyrs of the movement.

William Lewis Monroe, a white postman from Baltimore, Maryland, was shot and killed in a one-man march against American segregation on April 23, 1963 and his story is not known to many.

Likewise, the Rev. Bruce Klunder, who was run over by a bulldozer while protesting the construction of a separate school in Cleveland, Ohio on April 7, 1964, is one whose bravery did not remain in the memories of most Americans.

Best known are Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner who were murdered with James Chaney in Philadelphia, Mississippi on June 21, 1964. The name of Unitarian Minister Reverend James Reeb is in many history books after being beaten to death by a crowd of white men in Selma, Alabama, March 11, 1965. The gunshot death of Detroit mother Viola Luizzo as she was driving with a black man in the aftermath of Selma’s campaign on March 25, 1965 is very well known.

In fact, these murders have received more attention than the countless number of blacks murdered during the civil rights movement. White Americans in some places were appalled at the murder of whites, but had little empathy for blacks who had lost their lives in much higher numbers. US presidents and the press paid special attention when white martyrs lost their lives.

These brave few are examples that can be followed today. No one should lose their life fighting racism, but we know that has happened time and time again in this country. This anti-racist work is difficult and dangerous. It is also necessary. America has never changed without pressure. Racism will not change without pressure.

Along with this pressure, there will always be back pressure from those who want to maintain the status quo. Their voices are often louder and more impactful simply because well-meaning whites are too often silent. It’s time to get a better understanding of Dr King’s words in this letter:

“The superficial understanding of people of good will is more frustrating than an absolute misunderstanding of people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

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