By Sholdon T. Daniels
Black History Month is a time for reflection and remembrance of the struggles and triumphs of the Black American Descendants Of Slavery, or ADOS community. It is also an opportunity to consider the ongoing battle against racism, a persistent stain on our society. In the spirit of productive discourse, I would like to address the following question,
"What Qualifies Someone as Racist Nowadays?"
Well, in the age of social media and online activism, people's "issue affinities" or "issue alignments" are often seen as the best indicator of their racist proclivities. Who and what they support, and when they choose to become vocal about supporting certain thing--all this matters when qualifying someone as a racist. While it is true that you can never really know someone's heart, you can objectively measure the norms they support and the injustices they ignore or excuse.
If a person tends to support or promote institutions that exist largely to exclude certain groups of people based on race or national origin, then that person is a racist, whether they are overt or subconscious about it. This can be seen in a person's political affiliations, their support for or opposition to policies that disproportionately affect communities of color, and the media and sources they consume. I have found that the defense of choice for the modern-day racist that finds themselves met with concrete evidence of the existence of institutional racism, is to deploy "reverse racism" accusations.
When Black people and other people of color call out and protest against systemic racism, they are often met with claims of "reverse racism." This weaponization of the term serves to discredit and dismiss ADOS experiences and demands for justice, and perpetuates the myth of a post-racial society in which racism no longer exists.
It's important to understand that the concept of "reverse racism" does not hold up under scrutiny and is simply a tool used by those in power to maintain the status quo and resist efforts to challenge and dismantle systemic racism. Reverse racism was the weapon used against me in Sherman, Texas by white establishment gatekeepers when I advocated for the local black community. I was called a racist and and pot-stirrer all for wanting to see black people given the same opportunities and access that have--in that town, at least--long been reserved for whites exclusively. I was all good when they thought I was an acceptable negro. But, when when I told them what my community was owed, they told me to hit the road. I'll write a book about my personal experiences growing up and living in Sherman, but I digress.
Imagine you have a friend named Sarah who you've known since childhood. She's always been kind and generous to you, and you consider her to be a good person. However, one day you notice that Sarah consistently shares social media posts that are anti-immigrant and that promote a "put America first" mentality. You also notice that Sarah never speaks out against these posts, even though they go against the values of inclusivity and equality that you both grew up with.
This is a clear example of someone who is not necessarily an overt racist, but who is promoting and supporting bigoted norms through their actions and beliefs. By objectively measuring the norms that Sarah supports and the injustices she ignores or excuses, we can determine that she is a racist.
Now, Imagine you have a friend named John who you've known since childhood. He's always been a good guy, and you consider him to be a decent person. However, one day you notice that John consistently shares social media posts that are anti-black empowerment and that promote a "reverse racism" mentality. Whenever you post about cases such Tyre Nichols or Trayvon Martin, John always chimes in under your post with some excuse for law enforcement use of deadly force. Or, maybe John posts more "Back The Blue" type content during times when the black community is reeling from the loss of innocent life to police brutality. You see posts go viral where students are victimized by their racist teammates, and other such posts and you notice that John never speaks out against these posts, even though they go against the values of Christianity and inclusion that you both grew up with.
Just like Sarah, we can determine that John is a racist, even though he might not be an active member of the Ku Klux Klan.
The issue of racism is complex and multi-faceted. It is not limited to individual acts of hate or discrimination, but is also manifest in systemic and institutional ways. Racism is not just about individual prejudices, but also about power and privilege. When a person supports or excuses the perpetuation of these systems, they are contributing to and perpetuating racism. Some people believe that if they aren't regularly committing violent acts of hate, then they aren't racist. This line of thinking is wrong.
Clearly, being a racist is not just about expressing hateful thoughts or opposing any pleas for equality from black people, but about actively promoting and supporting racist norms and institutions. It is about "actively" ignoring black history, actively ignoring black cries, and actively ignoring black businesses. Racism is not just a personal problem, but a societal one, and it requires all of us to examine our own beliefs and actions, and to challenge and resist the systems of oppression that enable it to exist.
This goes for black people as well. One of the biggest effects of institutional racism today manifests itself as gun violence and drug abuse among black youth. So, if you allow your black child to be bombarded with messages that glorify black on black crime, drug abuse, sexual assault, and violence all day everyday, then you too have become a part of the racism problem in America. Let's do better Black people!
So, in honor of Black History Month, let us all take a moment to reflect on the ways in which racism persists in our society, and the ways in which we can all challenge and resist it. Let us stand in solidarity with the ADOS community and all communities of color in the ongoing fight for justice, equality, and dignity.
Follow me on Twitter at @SholdonDaniels