"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail
North Carolina and the wider United States has had a heart-wrenching several weeks. Our President basking in the chants of his followers in Greenville, shouting "send her back" in reference to four American congresswomen who are Black and Brown. Then a white woman verbally assaulted a group of Black women in a restaurant in Raleigh, calling one the "n word". There were multiple white supremacist terrorist attacks within three weeks of each other, two happening within 24 hours of each other. ICE stole parents away from their children and arrested over 600 people today while they were trying to make a living and their babies were in school. The times we are living in are bleak, scary, and enraging. But they certainly are not unprecedented.
After the two incidents of racism that occurred back to back in North Carolina, many well-meaning white citizens spoke out claiming that, "This isn't the Raleigh that I love" or "North Carolina is better than this!" As a Black woman and a hometown girl, the only thing worse than hearing of a racist act happening in Raleigh or North Carolina is hearing white people react with shock. I want to scream, "WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?" In the quote above, the Rev. Martin Luther King is sitting in prison (for breaking an unjust and unconstitutional law) and responding to an admonishment from his white brethren of the cloth that he is making too great a fuss about the systemic and violent racism Black people are facing in the South. He is in general making their lives uncomfortable and so they are asking MLK to tone it down. This may be the one interaction that every Black and Brown person can share with the Rev, and that's the "shallow understanding of people of good will".
When I was 7 years old at Underwood Elementary, I was playing fairies when the new girl in school walked up to us and said to my playmate, "You can't play with her because she's Black." My friend and I looked at each other with the same bewilderment as Adam and Eve after the fall. Then, my now white playmate frolicked off with her new white friend and my now Black self was left alone. This is the Raleigh I know. You will be hard pressed to find a Black person in Raleigh who does not have a story of facing overt racism at least once in their lives and racial mirco-aggressions at least once a day. The only reason you, my white neighbor, never knew it was happening in the Raleigh that you love is because you never cared to know. And maybe the reason why you never cared to know is because if you asked you would probably know the perpetrator by name, and then you would have to say "Oh, that isn't the ___________ I love! That's not the ___________ I know!" Then the fragile rose tint of your glasses will have a fatal scratch down the middle.
Ibram Kendi said "There's no such thing as not racist. You are either racist or anti-racist." Part of becoming an anti-racist is admitting that there is racism, systemic and omnipresent. If you are white, then it is also admitting that racism is in you because it is in your cultural DNA.* If, after the events of the last few weeks, you are claiming that this is not the North Carolina that you know and love, you are attempting to be not racist but in fact only achieving racism. If by some off chance you have never witnessed a racist act happen here in North Carolina, you may want to do some research. Look at what the NC chapter of the ACLU has on their plate right now. Find a local Black Lives Matter chapter and sit in the back and just listen. Read about Raleigh's history, especially after the turn of the century during the rise of segregation and Jim Crow (looking at Josephus Daniels' legacy is a good place to start).
One of the first thoughts I had after hearing of the violent white supremacist terrorist attacks was "Why isn't there a massive push within our schools to better educate our children about the United States' white supremacist heritage?" These terrorists have been conditioned to believe what they believe, and it didn't start with the internet. It started with misinformation they learned from their parents, their churches, and their schools. As a mother, I understand how much my own education and conditioning shapes my children's worldview. Whatever I don't explicitly teach my children, someone else will. So we must first educate ourselves about the truth of our country's origins. This will be painful, as it should be. The pain is a sign that you care, and you should embrace that pain. Then we must teach our children these lessons early! There are plenty of children's books and resources online that allow us to introduce these difficult concepts in age appropriate ways. But the subject of race is always age appropriate. The subject of justice is always age appropriate. If you, like me, were ignorant of North Carolina's racist history up into your adult years, choose to inform and equip your children now. That way they won't have to start from a place of shock when they witness racism, they can start from a place of action. This is what will finally bring us to the North Carolina that we can all know and love - one of freedom and integrity.
*Black and Indigenous People of Color also have racism embedded in our DNA - both cultural and physical through trauma. The work we must do to heal this is to reclaim our joy and identity. Find ways to celebrate yourself. Learn about your heritage. Use your voice and take up space. Rest, dream, love, and care for yourself. These are all radical and liberating acts while living in a white supremacist society.
Cover Photo Credit: https://runfootinfrontoftheother.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/carolina-on-my-mind/