Yes, White People – This is You

BY: DEVONTAE TORRIENTE 

Photograph by Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency / Getty

Photograph by Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency / Getty

In light of the recent domestic terrorism caused by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, there has been pushback from white people on social media. The pushback is not necessarily against the white supremacy on display in the college town, but rather it is against the culpability of white people at large. If you search #ThisIsNotUs on social media or take a look at how some celebrities are responding, you will see an irresponsible and dangerous evasion of responsibility on behalf of white people.

Let me be crystal clear: White people, this is you. Charlottesville is you; Richard Spencer is you;  David Duke is you; Donald Trump is you, and America is you. It always has been and it will continue to be unless there is a collective reckoning with how your existence in society is predicated on white supremacy and anti-Blackness. I mean both the royal “you” that refers to how whiteness as a system operates on a structural level, as well as the personal, more individualized “you” that attributes accountability to each and every white person who refuses to take an active role in dismantling that system.

Take Lady Gaga’s tweet (below), for example:

Or her follow-up tweet:

There is an argument to be made that the “us” refers to us as Americans and not necessarily white people. Even if that were the case, there is an intrinsic connection between what it means for something to be associated with whiteness and what it means for something to be “American,” both of which apply to the violence in Charlottesville. Contrary to Gaga’s point, this country has been built on insidious, deadly whiteness, the same whiteness those rallying in the name of the Confederacy are capitalizing on; the same whiteness that has driven the decisions made at the highest levels and in every branch of our government. The desire to distance America and white people from such violence is ahistorical at best and fatal at worst.

Statements like Gaga’s imply that this type of terrorism is solely because of fringe extremists who attend white pride marches and have swastikas tattooed on their chests. It fails to implicate the other white people who refuse to explain to their relatives the problem with their family’s “Southern pride.” It does not include the white people who are able but choose to not actively engage in destroying the very system their livelihood is built on. It is remiss in acknowledging that white supremacy does not exist on the margins because it is a key aspect of the mainstream.

At a time when South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Catherine Templeton declared her pride in the Confederacy and she still has a chance to win; former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard and prominent Trump supporter David Duke said those at the Charlottesville rally are going to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump;” and top White House advisers are white supremacists, it’s safe to say that this deadly culture falls squarely within the American zeitgeist.

So forgive me if I am not moved by the many empty statements of elected officials, both current and former, that do little to hold whiteness accountable. I urge those politicians, especially the ones who support Donald Trump, to fill your pointed words with deliberate action to eradicate white supremacy. Don’t merely “reject hate” from your pulpit with a tweet; attack it at its core if you really mean what you say.

While Trump “condemned” the actions in Charlottesville “on many sides,” I only see two: Good and evil, and white people must pick one. His failure to condemn neo-Nazism and the inaction of white people on both the left and right of the political spectrum costs lives. Show up to rallies, oust racist politicians and elect anti-racist ones, and donate resources to organizations that are fighting for our lives.

There is the side of justice and the side of white supremacy. I will not tacitly support the violence that is destroying Black lives by invoking the First Amendment, nor will I hear both sides out while white people wait to make up your mind, and neither should you. Simply put, you are either with us or you are against us.

The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but only if we bend it ourselves. The side of justice is calling your name, white people. But the question is: Will you answer?