The events in Charlottesville, Va., a few weeks ago would seem to imply that when it comes to the problem of race in America, the main perpetrators remain overtly racist white supremacists, and they most certainly are a serious contributor. But a bigger problem is how groups like white nationals have been allowed to gain strength in an age where America is supposedly moving away from their kind of ideology.
In his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice.”
That’s as true today as it was then. The silence of white moderates who won’t speak up when faced with extreme racism exacerbates the problems we have today. White moderates have become comfortable with their lives and don’t want to “rock the boat” or make too much noise. To white moderates, I say that your silence is aiding and abetting their agenda and your moral leadership is needed now more than ever.
When I was a kid in school, I was good at math. Sometimes I used to lay in the bed all night and count numbers until I fell asleep. So, for most of my life, I’ve been somewhat preoccupied with numbers. And like Jay Z said, “men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.” The last time I looked at the population of the United States, by race, the number of white Americans, exceeded the number of African Americans living in this country by leaps and bounds. The 2010 U.S. Census found that whites make up 64 percent of the population, while African Americans only make up roughly 13 percent. Blacks really are the “minority” in this country, and you don’t have to be good at math to understand that.
Because white Americans are the overwhelming majority, they must lead the way in confronting white nationals, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and the closet racist whom you’ve befriended at your neighborhood church, office, gym and dinner table. The problem of race in America can’t be resolved without white Americans standing up, standing tall and taking the lead. The numbers are on your side, not on ours, and if it is truly in your hearts to bring the races together, you must take on this task. Your voices can play a significant role in weeding out and silencing the rhetoric and hate spewed out by, not only the white nationals, but your racist neighbor, doctor and accountant who hides in plain view of us all.
We have a lot of white moderates who have “black friends,” listen to black music, consume black media content, but won’t expose their racist friend, family member or neighbor. The problem is that the white moderate will fight to keep social programs intact but won’t speak too loudly about supporting the creation of black wealth, equality and inclusion. You must be committed to speaking out about an injustice, and it can’t be a hobby or something that you do on the weekends when it “feels good.” It also can’t be something you do after you’re riled up about an incident like the one in Charlottesville that left an innocent woman dead. There needs to be a full and unfettered commitment. It might be uncomfortable, and it might even raise your blood pressure. It’s also possible that you could lose a friend, and you may be labeled a troublemaker.
This has nothing to do with being a Republican or a Democrat, this has everything to do with righteousness and who you are deep down in your soul. If you don’t speak out about racism, ask yourself: Am I complicit?
Kevin Shird is author of the memoir "Lessons of Redemption" and a youth advocate. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.