This is the fifth entry in an ongoing series exposing entrenched patterns in our societal culture that hinder our progress and what we can do to break free of them. Previous entries are still available. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.
It is time to take a stand. Neutrality is not an option.
Now, more than ever, if you are not part of the solution, you ARE the problem.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously wrote in his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail:
“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted 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 goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
The long term aggressive societal enforcement of that negative peace is why we are still having the exact same civil rights battles today.
It is why there are actual armed Confederate Nazis walking the streets of our nation waving the war banners and screaming the rhetoric of the two greatest enemies our nation has ever faced and holding rallies to advocate for the continuance of systemic injustice, oppression, and advocating for religious and racial genocide.
It is why the stance of such people has been allowed to be elevated to acceptable modern political discourse.
It is no longer enough for anyone to be “not a racist,” we must be actively anti-racist. It is no longer enough to be “not a fascist,” we must be actively anti-fascist.
Recently, a family member of mine, in response to a message on my own social media page, commented that:
The antifa who attacked peaceful white nationalists in Berkeley are exactly as morally corrupt as those white nationalists who perpetrated violence against peaceful demonstrators on the left. To make quips that somehow the media is being unfair is disingenuous and ultimately serves to perpetuate the myth that only one side can be right. In Berkeley, the Left has successfully quashed free speech for the Right. It’s wrong.
With this statement, and the lengthy debate that followed, he continued to equate a moral equivalency with those that stand against racism, oppression, and genocide as with those that advocate for them.
Let me be perfectly clear.
There is nothing peaceful about racial, religious, gender, sexuality or any other form of enforced systemic oppression.
There is nothing peaceful about open calls for genocide.
There are no “good people” who advocate for such things.
Let me say that again.
There are no “good people” who advocate for such things.
Anyone who attempts to tell you there is has already joined their ranks.
If you make the claim, “I’m not racist,” or “I don’t support fascism” but you don’t actively and aggressively stand against those things each and every time they occur in your presence, then you are the problem. Possibly even more of a problem than those that actually are actually advocating for or committing such atrocities
Silence is acceptance. Silence is permission to continue. Silence is permission to escalate.
If you aren’t willing to have these discussions with those friends and family you’re closest to because you don’t want to make things “uncomfortable,” you will never have them in situations with acquaintances, co-workers, or strangers which will be even more uncomfortable.
Your refusal to step in and step up, signals to all the victims of such things that you are okay with what is happening to them. And that makes you as much the cause of everything they must endure as the people doing it to them.
People don’t stop oppressing others because their victims complain about it.
Abusers don’t stop abusing because their victims complain about it.
They stop when someone with equal or more power/authority makes them stop.
For people of color victimized by systemic injustice that leaves two options.
Wait for enough anti-racist Whites who already have power to actively force change in the laws and the enforcement of them, or seize enough power to do it themselves.
Legalized voter suppression, gerrymandering, and the Electoral College have made seizing that power through any legal means nearly impossible, leaving only riot/rebellion as viable options.
If Whites don’t want to see those riots and rebellions continue to escalate then they need to start using whatever the power and privileges they have attained to force the changes necessary to prevent it.
Saying we must remain civil and entertain such things as legitimate political discourse is what allows it to continue today. If we had dealt with this after the Civil War instead of embracing the Lost Cause appeasement narrative to soothe the Southern Whites after their treasonous uprising was defeated, if we had dealt with it during the Jim Crow era, if we had dealt with our own nationalism and racism after World War II, if we had dealt with it during the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century, we would not still be having to fight to maintain the small progress we’ve made on these issues to prevent backslide, but instead advancing as a fully integrated society striving for mutual success and betterment.
The former Naval Intelligence Officer and current political and social commentator Jim Wright had this to say just this week:
At the very beginning, the United States threw off the mantle of a theocracy to declare its own freedom.
Then, the Union of States went to war to stop a treasonous uprising of the Confederates who wanted to retain the right to enslave People of Color.
We not only joined, but led the world, in two World Wars to put an end to fascist states and their leaders.
The vast majority of the world’s military powers went to war to fight Nazi fascism and White Supremacy and put an end to the genocide and oppression they were spreading.
We set up the United Nations in order to help police the world and stand up for all those whose rights have been oppressed.
After the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century, the United States government began work to end segregation and work towards legislating equality of rights.
Yes, along the way, we could have and should have done much better at enforcing those equal rights. And some corrupt/flawed leadership led us astray or convinced us to turn a blind eye to where we might be needed, more than once.
Despite the missteps, we’ve prided ourselves on continuing to push forward, always.
The United States has always defined patriotic pride as fighting against the oppression of fascists, and built the world’s greatest modern military to do so.
Today, Nazis have formed a resurgence and established a power base in the White House.
And the Republican President is equating those that would stand against them as being just as bad as them.
They, along with him, are treating being “anti-fascist” as unpatriotic and using it as a derogatory term.
To make matters worse, the press is helping them by adopting their terminology in reporting the resistance to fascism, hate speech, calls for violence against our own citizenry, and armed intimidation tactics.
These modern American Nazis aren’t clashing with “antifa.”
They’re clashing with real patriotic Americans doing exactly what we are supposed to do — what we’ve always done — standing up and defending the constitutional and human rights of others, as aggressively as necessary against the fascists that would deny them.
If you are going to instigate violence and hate crimes you cannot play the victim when good people are brave enough to step up and shut you down.
If you truly believe you are a patriot, especially one who has taken a military oath of office or has sworn to protect and serve the public, you should be standing right there in line against all those that would openly call for oppression and genocide. Against all those that would incite terrorist attacks within our own borders, against our own citizens.
“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
While that oath of allegiance sworn by every officer and enlisted in the U.S. military is a requirement to follow every lawful order they receive, it also enforces upon them a duty to disobey an unlawful one. And to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic, even when — especially when — that enemy turns out to be among their own ranks, even one of superior rank.
The same holds true of Police who swear to protect and serve. The oath doesn’t exempt them from protecting against criminals in uniforms abusing their power from behind the protection of the badge.
And yet, still, the conservative news outlets, and their faithful believers, are claiming that the Utah nurse, Alex Wubbles, should have abandoned her oath to protect her patients’ lives, health, and personal welfare while in her care and just complied with the unlawful and unwarranted attempt of police Detective Jeff Payne to draw blood from an unconscious victim (not a suspect). An action the officer was so desperate to take that he attempted to bribe hospital personnel with favorable treatment from his second job as an ambulance driver. He was in violation of the law, offering to put more patients at risk by bypassing other hospitals to get to them, violating the rules and conduct for both of his jobs, in order to obtain the blood of a victim of his own police chase unrelated to any aspect of the crime or suspect that led to that chase. And for her bravery, she was arrested, and detained illegally. By doing so, the officer prevented her from doing her job, prevented her from providing care to an unconscious, critically burned, car accident victim. In Utah, as it should be anywhere, interfering with a health care professional in the performance of their job is a felony assault. It should carry two counts, one for the health care worker and one for their patient.
People are telling us that instead of standing against such fascist abuse of power by criminals with badges, we should just comply, no matter the cost to ourselves or those around us for doing so.
It is the same thing they have been telling People of Color for similar incidents for years, decades, centuries. “If you don’t comply with unlawful demands of those with authority, you deserve what you get.”
To make matters far worse, the people who believe this — that maintaining peaceful order is more important than achieving a just and fair society have attained the highest offices in both our Federal and State legislatures and Executive offices. For them, there is no need for those enforcing the law to follow, or even know, the law in the process.
This nurse did absolutely everything within her power to defend her patient. We all should do no less. But those with the training and ability and authority to do more that stand by and watch instead of intervene are just as guilty.
In the case of Alex Wubbles, we can view her patient as the a representative of all victims of systemic oppression and abuse of authority. The nurse is a representative of all those “anti-fascists that would stand against them by whatever means necessary to defend themselves and others.
More importantly, the other officer accompanying Detective Jeff Payne, who stood there as an innocent bystander and allowed it all to happen instead of stepping in and using his own authority and power to defend both her and the victim from being attacked by the obviously incorrect, unacceptable. and illegal behavior of his fellow officer, is a perfect representative of the people this essay is about.
Those that choose to remain detached and allow it to happen while convincing themselves that it isn’t their fault or their responsibility to do anything about it are the people this essay is about.
Those Democratic, Liberal, and Progressive Whites who talk about systemic injustice without ever pushing, let along demanding, any legislation to correct those injustices are the people this essay is about.
Those that would prefer not to have the hard conversations with their family, friends, and coworkers, because they don’t want to make the racist oppressors that they know uncomfortable are the people this essay is about.
This is the negative peace we have allowed to become entrenched within our cultural inertia and from which we must break free.
In a brilliant excerpt, published in The Atlantic for his new book, “We Were Eight Years In Power,” Ta-Nehisi Coates writes of our new Republican President who rose to office on a campaign of fascist White Nationalism and racist rhetoric:
Replacing Obama is not enough—Trump has made the negation of Obama’s legacy the foundation of his own. And this too is whiteness. “Race is an idea, not a fact,” the historian Nell Irvin Painter has written, and essential to the construct of a “white race” is the idea of not being a nigger. Before Barack Obama, niggers could be manufactured out of Sister Souljahs, Willie Hortons, and Dusky Sallys. But Donald Trump arrived in the wake of something more potent—an entire nigger presidency with nigger health care, nigger climate accords, and nigger justice reform, all of which could be targeted for destruction or redemption, thus reifying the idea of being white. Trump truly is something new—the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say that Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his rightful honorific—America’s first white president.
The essay concludes with this:
[T]here really is no other way to read the presidency of Donald Trump. The first white president in American history is also the most dangerous president—and he is made more dangerous still by the fact that those charged with analyzing him cannot name his essential nature, because they too are implicated in it.
It was not a slip of the tongue when, speaking about White Nationalist Confederate Nazis in Charlottesville, Donald Trump said there were good people on both sides of the situation. He even went so far as to include himself amonth those so called “Alt-Right” rally attendees by stating how terrifying it was when the counter protestors to White Nationalist Racism “Came at us.”
People of Color have always had more to lose and the electoral college by design designates their vote value to the old 3/5 of a White vote.
I do not blame a single person of color for being so disenfranchised by our system that to them it really didn’t matter between the overt racist and the quiet moderate who helped establish the school to prison pipeline and move the Democratic party right on economic issues harmful to black communities while paying lip service on social issues.
An argument could be made that by allowing Trump into office instead of Hillary brought all that closeted racism into the open to finally be dealt with once and for all.
Now more than ever Whites are forced to deal with the fact that it is not enough to be “Not a Racist” and remain quiet while others are. We are forced to either be anti-racist or racist.
If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
Trump has eliminated the possibility of neutrality on the issue. And for those still suffering from over four centuries of systemic abuse that is a long overdue development.
His chosen party and Presidential Administration are actively taking steps to criminalize dissent and protest against them. If they succeed it is only a matter of time before their desire to expand their ability to victimize more and more groups of people to further entrench their power base.
What is the compromise between justice and oppression? What grey area between inequality and equality exists? There is none. You cannot have a little injustice and call it justice. You cannot have a little inequality and call it equality. And whenever you decide that you have the power to slow or stop justice and equality for others — you are immediately ensuring the continuation of injustice and inequality by placing yourself above those seeking justice and equality. There is a claim of superiority inherent in believing that you have the right to slow racial justice. It is a claim of superiority that white supremacy has granted you, and that you cannot accept without becoming a willing proponent of this white supremacist system.
Break free of the cultural inertia demands for the maintenance of negative peace and join the fight for justice and equality.
If you are not willing to do so, you can never again claim to be “not a racist,” or “not a fascist.”
Not taking aside against them is by default joining those advocating for the oppression and genocide of others. There is no neutrality.
Understand that your ability to choose to avoid having these confrontations while others suffer is in itself the ultimate pinnacle of unearned privilege.
Make yourself uncomfortable, make your friends and family uncomfortable. Have the hard discussions with the people you care about the most. If you don’t, who will?
Defend a stranger, if you don’t, who will?
Join the protests against fascism and the protection of systemic oppression without attempting to dictate the terms of the protest so you can be comfortable with it participating.
Choose to be part of the solution, from this day forward, or own your culpability.
Because we will make you own it.
Friend or not. Family or not.
We began with a quote from Dr. King. We’ll close with two more.
The first from an Interview with Mike Wallace in 1966:
“I contend that the cry of “Black Power” is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.”
The second from “The Other America” from 1968 just prior to his assassination.
“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?…It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”