I know who you are.
I’ve heard the things you say when you think you’re in safe company – meaning, where everyone’s skin is white. I have heard you refer to people as n****** and sand n****** and towel heads and beaners and terrorists. I’ve told you I was offended and suffered through your idiotic rationalizations about how “being Black and a n***** are different,” or “that’s what they call themselves!” or “reverse racism!” (What is that even supposed to be???)
I listened to you spread propaganda about how no Jews died in 9/11 because they were all “in on it.” All of them. Imagine that… EVERY ONE. Before smartphones, even! I mean, fucking hell.
I sat across from you when you called an Indian man “Osama” repeatedly. I was the person your 7 year old daughter confessed to that she didn’t know what to do because her best friend at school is brown and her dad doesn’t like brown people.
I know that you threatened to disown your son when he came home from college with cornrows, since that made him a “race traitor.” I’ve heard your racist jokes. I sat near you in a restaurant while you boasted that Trump would build the wall and keep the filthy wetbacks and roaches out.
I was the person ahead of you in the drive-thru when you were so incensed by an Obama bumper sticker that you exited your vehicle and leaned into my window to harass me about the man’s middle name being “Hussein.”
I listened to you talk about fake news that was SO OBVIOUSLY FAKE (honestly, just embarrassed for you) and watched you pass around articles from Breitbart and InfoWars like they’re legitimate and not the journalistic equivalent of cutout-letter ransom notes dusted in PCP for your orgiastic consumption. I patiently inquired about another news source to back up your claim that Obama is a secret gay Kenyan Muslim and you swore it wasn’t just on ConservativeDailyBullshitMadeUpNews.com, that you’d seen it in The New York Times, too. I said, “Email me the link; I’d like to read it.” You would, you said. It really was there, you said. You wouldn’t make it up, you said.
Funny – I never did get that link. Let me know if you find it.
I’ve seen the things you share on social media and – even more telling, so much so I wonder if you know Facebook shows me such things – I see the things you “like.” Oh, yes, I do. I hope your balls just sucked up through your belly and into your goddamn throat with that realization because OH, YES, I DO.
I know who you are. I see you. And everyone else does, too.
You exposed yourself, time and again, in the “safe” spaces of your life. You did it in front of people you knew agreed with you… and in front of people like me, who you knew did not.
Some of you are people I know on an ongoing basis. Some of you are strangers I met only one time – the time you saw my White face and assumed that meant we were on the same page, that I would provide shelter for your bigotry.
Time to bring some truth to this situation: The lives of White people are rife with bigotry. Anyone who denies it – who tries to avoid making a moral decision by pretending it’s not there – is lying. Even those of us who actively and overtly push back, argue, make our positions and boundaries known, are awash in it. It flows through our communities like water, small trickles of genuine ignorance, streams of “benign” assumptions and backhanded commentary (“articulate!”)… and then the occasional burst in the dam when one asshole decides to let loose and a handful of others say in relief, “Oh, thank goodness I’m not the only one who thinks that!”
Well, guess what, folks. The biggest dam in a generation just cracked. Your guy – the “outsider” who ran on an openly racist, misogynistic, ableist, xenophobic platform, the one endorsed by the KKK – won.
Across the country, millions of you are relieved. Happy. Validated.
Except for the fact that people like me keep calling you racist, right?
Man, you do not like that.
And after years of listening to the hateful things you say and seeing the horrible values you nurture, I’m now watching as you pretend that racism is not a thing. Or, at least, not a thing for you. I’ve read your op-eds denying that racism had anything to do with why you voted for the racist. I’ve watched your social media posts talking about how we liberals are the real racists, since we think everything is about race and you don’t even see color. Because you’re totally not racist. You have a Black friend!
So now, simply because you say so, because you employ the words, “I am not racist,” because you are offended by the notion, you have the full expectation that I will fold. Go along. Make nice. That I will forget all the things I’ve heard you say, that I will indulge the personal brand you want to construct even if it bears zero resemblance to the behind-closed-doors reality. It’s my job to be your real-life Instagram filter, your Photoshop, your handy concealer stick, always at the ready to hide your warts and give you the benefit of the doubt you never afford to anyone outside this club we were born into.
I am supposed to entertain your delusion that being called racist is more offensive than the actual act of being a racist, that aiming those two syllables at your ears is somehow more violent and degrading than real, physical assaults perpetrated against people of color as a result of the venom you cultivate.
This is what you expect me to do, because this is the game we play. It’s a dirty secret we share, we White people… this conspiratorial mantle passed from father to son, mother to daughter, generation over generation: the promise that even if there are those among us who are sickened by your ignorance and hatred, we won’t blow you in. We won’t call you out in public. We won’t let those “other people” know what’s said in the privacy of the White spaces we inhabit.
It’s our unspoken agreement that we will give you space to maneuver out of the discomfort you create with your brazen bigotry; “I understood what you meant,” we’re meant to respond, or maybe, “Don’t worry about it.” It’s against the rules to raise an eyebrow when you say, “I’m not racist, but…” even though there aren’t any words in the entirety of the English language that could logically finish that sentence and not be racist.
This understanding is so pervasive, so deeply ingrained, that we, as a society, have actually perverted the definition of racism to suit the inclinations of racists who don’t want to be called racists. The bar for “racism” has been raised so high that you practically have to be wearing a white hood and throwing a pipe bomb to pole-vault over it. If it doesn’t wear a swastika and include the “n” word, it’s excusable, especially if you’re old, or southern, or blue-collar, or deeply rooted in your own ethnicity, in which case we’re supposed to understand that this way of thinking is simply a part of your time or culture, and therefore beyond your ability to control (even though you are miraculously able to moderate yourself when in mixed company – go, you!) and not appropriate to be called out.
Above all else, it is incumbent that we – meaning those of us who are unaccepting of racism – not be one of “those people.” One of the difficult people. One of the prickly people. One of the people who takes things “too seriously.”
Because racism isn’t something we’re supposed to take seriously.
Not when we’re White and we’re in our White spaces. Because to take racism seriously within the privacy of White spaces is to raise questions about why we care so much, right?
About why we are siding with them, and not with us.
“I’m not racist,” you say, “but… why do you care so much?”
And I am supposed to answer as though that’s a reasonable question, as though you have not just, in the space of ten words, laid bare before me the entirety of your shallow, ethnocentric, bankrupt morality. I’m supposed to answer it because that’s the understanding we have, and that our parents had, and their parents: that no matter how vociferously we disagree, we will still stick together. We won’t air our dirty laundry. We will ponder big questions like, “Are we a post-racial society?” without ever attaching your name to the examples we give of everyday racism.
This is why it makes you mad when I say “Black Lives Matter.” Because in those words, I am siding with them.
This is why you’re shocked if I challenge you when you say, “They’re just not making their point in the right way,” like there is some sort of handbook that’s supposed to be followed, like the form the protest takes is the most important thing when real human beings are literally dying for you to pay attention. As though you would ever, in a million years, say, “Why yes, that life-saving medicine sure does sound dandy, but I’m displeased with the marketing so I’m going to pass.”
I am not supposed to tell you what a fucking idiot you are for standing on the bodies of dead Black men to pontificate about the merits of marching vs. kneeling vs. writing vs. speaking, when the truth you know and I know is that none of those things will ever meet your standards, because you have none.
So here is my notice:
This social contract? Is broken.
I’m tired of playing your game.
You don’t want to be called racist? Then don’t be a fucking racist.
You don’t want the conversation to be uncomfortable? Then stop making it uncomfortable.
You want your politics to be respected as legitimate? Then have actual political positions and dedicate some time to erasing the racist superhighway you’ve been choosing to navigate your words down for the last five or ten or fifty years.
We – meaning, the world – do not have time for your bullshit. We have to clean up your mess and the shortest path from start to finish is to plow right through the center of your racist, xenophobic garbage pile, and to do that we all need to be willing to say the garbage pile is there and it is your garbage pile and that someone needs to supervise you so you don’t do it again.
And that means you’re in the spotlight.
We all see you.