For a lot of reasons, this past month has been heavy. In a conversation in an online thread about football, of all things, I had a person tell me that for them to solidly identify someone as a white supremacist, they would need to "see a white hood."
Whether they were speaking from a place of dark, twisted humor (why does this run so rampant among white people when it comes to race?) or if they were serious, this statement left me shook.
Worse, the silence from my friends (and deletion of the thread after things got sticky) left me quietly irate, despite a deep effort to make myself believe it didn’t. Some days stuff like this hits me hard. After that conversation, my week just sort of … stopped. My body shut down and my nervous system began some serious recalculations.
Over the past year, my body has been recalibrating to a new normal. With the shifts in government, the country is feeling a resurgence of white supremacy, misogyny, trans- and homophobia which we have and will continue to see interpersonally, socially and politically. People are becoming more comfortable allowing their inner thoughts to be outer thoughts, which forces those of us who are harmed by those thoughts to re-evaluate the society we find ourselves in. With the casual refusal to acknowledge systematic white supremacy by the poster in the online thread, I was uncertain what made me more angry — the comment or the silence surrounding it.
We need to talk about silence. We need to talk about what it means to be complicit. We need to talk about what it means to learn from our mistakes, both online and in the real world. I am so tempted to blame the general racial ambivalence around me to revisionist history books and a white-washed society. However, I cannot securely say that is the case.
Here's another example of how silence is complicity. On February 8, a Sudanese asylum-seeker was arrested in San Francisco. The arrest occurred following their scheduled interview with ICE officials, where they spent two hours reliving the traumatizing details of the events which brought them to this country to seek safety and refuge (this is routine for asylum seekers in the United States). After the interview, they were asked to wait, and it was at this point which several ICE agents came in and arrested them. Their attorney was not informed as to why they were arrested. Only that they were arrested because they were seeking asylum. Writing in a social media post, their attorney Caleb Arring said:
“We got up to leave the office, with the asylum officer leading the way. She stopped at the door, as someone was outside and had said something to her. She said we need to wait a minute someone has a couple more questions for you. This was alarming. I’ve never in the 5 plus years I’ve been attending asylum interviews had this happen. But I tried to shrug it off, though I didn’t have much time to. Less than a minute later the door opened, someone who I assume is a supervisor at the asylum office came in with 3-4 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Officers. The ICE Officers put handcuffs on my client and said they were taking him into custody. I asked why. At first they wouldn’t even answer me. I demanded that they tell me why he was being taken into custody and they told me it is because he is in the country illegally because he overstayed his visa. I stated that he was an applicant for asylum with a pending application at the asylum office. The officer said, not anymore, we just arrested him so the asylum office doesn’t have jurisdiction anymore.”
The current wait time for a scheduled asylum interview is two-and-a-half to three years. The belief is that the arrest occurred because the attorney’s client is from Sudan — a country on 45’s original travel ban. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-3 decision to deny some immigrants access to bond hearings. This means that it is now legal to hold some immigrants indefinitely. This ruling directly affects asylum seekers.
This is terrifying. What’s more terrifying, I am seeing the same blindness to the issue from the general public that, as we know, happened at the beginning of the Holocaust. You know, the genocide that school systems actually taught us about — the one perpetuated on white people by white people.
Maybe folks can’t see the parallels. Maybe because the genocide is happening to Black and brown people, that tricky thing called color blindness clicks on in white people, which magically erases color from their eyes while simultaneously using that blindness of color to oppress and erase. Those eyes just can’t see us.
I’m trying to say that people need to wake up. People need to understand the world we are living in.
The situation reminds me of the story of Pandora and her box. Pandora was a human woman created by the gods who Zeus sent to earth to curse mankind, knowing she would open the box and release the evils of man. 45 is not Zeus — but he thinks he is. His election and leadership (for lack of a better word) have unleashed things inside people which have been festering for decades, waiting for release. We are living in a new world. It is dark and gritty and demands we stand at attention, that we fight for its survival with our words and actions.
At the bottom of the box, Zeus placed hope, the one thing Pandora was able to keep safe for humanity. This hope is not shiny nor easy, it is as wide and expansive as the dark places are deep. Accessing hope requires courage, and courage requires us to break silences which are actively harming our friends and neighbors. Courage requires us to break the cycles of our past and create new patterns for the future. People are being rounded up and put into cages — we cannot afford to keep our lips pressed closed and cling to old definitions of what bigotry looks like. We are seeing it in action.
Will you speak up? Will you break the cycle? Or will you remain silent at the expense of humanity and the wholeness of your heart? These are questions we need to ask ourselves. Our future depends on it.