Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Cancer in Typical White America

Not sure what to say.

Lots of people are commenting today about what has happened in Charlottesville, VA.  I'm not sure I can add anything new to the conversation - no, actually, I'm sure I can't.  But I have also been feeling convicted by my silence, so...  no more.

I don't personally know of anyone who would say to my face that the white protesters in Virginia are the victims here, but I also don't know if there are people in my life who might hold that belief in silence.  I pray that I don't - but despite the common cry that "this is not typical!" or "those people do not represent the vast majority of white Americans!," all I have to do is scroll down to the comments section of any news outlet - mainstream or otherwise - to find cowards hiding behind their screen names, making vile excuses for racists.  Hundreds of them.  Thousands of them.  Pointing fingers, proclaiming the innocence of expressing pride in your heritage.

And they are all Typical White Americans.

So it's not enough anymore to say "those racists are not representative of Typical White America."  Those words are empty.  Completely meaningless.  It is easy to condemn overt, outward hate.  It is easy to cry racism in the face of a swastika or a Nazi salute.  (Unless, of course, you are the current president of the United States.)  There is no valor in calling an unabashed racist "a racist."  It's like cursing cancer or Alzheimer's disease.  Who would defend these things?  Who would call it brave to label a killer anything other than what it is?

I am terrified by the fact that these hate-filled bigots no longer feel the need to hide under white sheets anymore.  They are free to bask in the sunlight with the rest of us, speaking easily, proudly, unabashedly about their so-called White Pride.  They've taken their hate from a cloaked meeting in a far-off, secluded chamber and brought it to the streets.  They've lit up the dark corners with torches to throw light on their venom and proudly show the world the loathing in their hearts and minds.  They have no fear.  They are thriving in an American culture - a Typical White American culture - that has allowed even the smallest sliver of room for their putrescence.  But just like a mold that takes hold in damp, disgusting shadows, if left unchecked this too will spread aggressively, threatening the viability of everything good that surrounds it.

These bigots - these hateful, despised racists - are coming for all of us.  Count on that.

At work I occasionally have the honor of helping a family who has a child with a brain tumor called a glioma. Glios are particularly nasty, usually growing with a strong blood supply, spreading like tentacles throughout the brain and leaving dead tissue in their wake.  Because of this they are hard to treat: wide spread, well fed, and easily recurring because they are so difficult to completely remove.  Whenever I see that my patient has been diagnosed with a glioma I sigh, and pray, and give thanks for the good health that my children have, so far, enjoyed.

I view racism in American much like an aggressive and devastating glio, that's been well fed for centuries and allowed to grow because we have never been able to eradicate it.  But we can no longer simply ignore the malignancy that has been growing in the shadows, hoping that our meaningless words will wipe away the diseased thinking that is increasingly entering the mainstream.  It's time to burn it away - burn it all away, even the parts that may singe ourselves.  It's time to stop saying "that's not me," feeling offended by the notion that we, as white people, are being lumped in with Those People.  Friends - we are lumped in with those people.  They are a reflection of Typical White America.  We can resent this fact.  But it is not the targets of the racists - those with brown skin, or different faiths, or sexual identities you may not understand, those who have been pleading with us for generations to right the wrongs - who we should resent.  It is the racist.  It is the vile bigot shouting Heil Hitler! or Heil Trump! who we should resent.  They should be the target of our anger, our indignation and our action: the Typical White American who has taken off his white robes and walked freely down the street, shouting pride in his circumstance and declaring war on those who may threaten it.

But even this is not enough.

Because if you stop at denouncing the racist and refuse to look more closely at The Rest Of Us - those of us who truly loathe the proud bigot - then you are complicit.  You can't shout at the disease and make it disappear; you have to understand why it arose in the first place.  You have to look at the environment, at the factors that fed it.  You have to understand what allowed it to take hold and thrive.  Until The Rest Of Us can do that then we will forever fail.  Until we acknowledge that there is a mindset of privilege amongst not just Them but also Us, we cannot kill this diseased thinking.  Racism is a core belief that we are more than, better than, and solely deserving of power and authority, simply based upon our race.  "Black Lives Matter," the Anti-Defamation League and the LGBTQ movement do not assert this - they only beg us to acknowledge the lie of racism.  They shout into a void of deaf white ears who stubbornly refuse to believe that systems in America skew to serve White America.  You can believe that you are opposed to the mindset of racism, but until you examine your life and acknowledge that you benefit from it - and that others suffer from it - then the disease wins.

The racists are counting on us to avoid the painful work of self-examination.  They are using the discomfort we feel from hearing "Black Lives Matter" to keep us from rooting out the blight of privilege and hoping that it incites just enough resentment that we won't make room at the table for All Americans, not just Typical White America.  They are banking on us - and they have been proven right time and time again - turning the desperately angry voices of marginalized people into personal assaults; they know that we will continue to think of the black community's demands to strip away privilege and level the playing field as some sort of bizarre "reverse racism" (a laughable and twisted psychology if ever there was); they incite us to believe that marriage equality will forever destroy the fabric of American life; they scare us into believing that the Jew or the Muslim is engaged on an unrelenting crusade to destroy us.

The cowards marching down the streets of Charlottesville are the true threat to the fabric of America.  We can't avoid the hard work of self-examination simply because our white skin protects us - for now - from their hate.  I promise you, we cannot hide behind this skin forever.  Typical White America is vulnerable to this disease and our meaningless denouncements will not eradicate it.  We must also examine our own complicity in allowing it to spread.  "This cancer is bad" isn't enough.  We must take a long, hard, clinical look at how it has invaded our Typical White American body - and then we have to painfully and mercilessly cut it out, removing every trace of it so it can no longer take root and spread.

And so I find myself sighing, and praying again - but I cannot give thanks for escaping this disease because it is slowly, and ever more aggressively, attacking us.  All of us.  Hatred, like a devastating glio, only leaves death and loss in it's wake.

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