The tragic events last weekend in Charlottesville remind me of the time I was apartment hunting in Harlem, New York.
I found a small studio within my budget on Craigslist. The landlord was obviously was enthusiastic to hear a well-spoken, gainfully employed, gentleman (me) on the phone inquiring about his studio for rent. He broke a social taboo telling me that he doesn’t meet many “decent people” like me very often. He even offered to be my friend.
I also remember the disappointed look on his face when he finally saw me. I didn’t get the apartment. Experiences like that one were showing me that racism doesn’t always march the streets with a tiki torch.
The overt racists--the Klans(wo)men, the neo-Nazis--are not our biggest problem when it comes to race relations in America. The protests we’ve seen from black people, especially in recent years, has not been about extremists. The biggest problem is the network of historic biases, cultural norms, and political structures that continue to inform the ways black Americans are treated in their neighborhoods, in the workplace, in the housing market, in the healthcare system, and in the criminal justice system. It is that network of obstacles that the extremist is trying to protect.
The overt kind of racism is the kind that plenty of white people have been willing to concede still exists. So the outrage from white America on this incident is kinda unremarkable. My concern is that more white people will continue to focus on the tiki-torch bearers, but not on the housing deniers, police officers, car salesmen, and other power holders that reinforce a culture and structures that oppress non-white people.
That network of obstacles may be difficult for some to see, but the fact that hundreds of men are so afraid of losing that structure--are willing to kill others to preserve it--is proof that it is there. They are the zealots of white supremacy, but they are not the vanguard.
The true guardians of the white power structure in America are the ones who benefit from it daily but refuse to know it or do anything about it.
Until we are willing to admit that white supremacy is the blueprint by which this society was built, and decide to stop building upon that design, we are not ready to actually lay hold of the true meaning of America’s great promises. We can become a “sweet land of liberty” where all are equal, but not by accident.