Recently, on Facebook, I was asked "Who are you to call anyone a racist?". To be clear, I did not call anyone a racist. But, really, let's say I did call someone a racist? Who am I to call anyone a racist? After all, I am a 47 year old, white, middle class man. I am, quite possibly, in the absolute sweet spot of my life for white privilege.
As a child, I heard older family members say racist things. Luckily, my parents made it clear to me that they were wrong and I should ignore them. So I have for 40+ years. Some of those racist things were said about my childhood best friend, who is black. Were they nasty, ugly, hateful remarks? No. They didn't use the "N" word. It was subtle things that made me question if I should have a best friend that is black. They found it confusing. They found it odd. It was clear they did not approve.
I was fortunate to have lived in a very diverse neighborhood in Huntsville, AL as a child. My next door neighbor was two years older than me. He was my best friend. I don't know if I was his best friend but he was definitely mine. And like I said, he is black. His father pulled the first tooth I lost. I spent so much time at his house as a child and he spent time at mine. We liked his house better because his parents had converted their two car garage into an awesome den/music hall. I was young and innocent as they say. I didn't know any different. I am so glad that was the case. I have not seen him in years as I moved away from Huntsville when I was eleven years old. A year or so ago, I did find his mother and sisters on Facebook and was able to reconnect with them online. He has a career in the Air Force. I am very proud to have called, and still consider, him my friend.
After living in Tuscumbia, AL for four years where racial topics were basically not discussed despite there being a neighborhood named Richman Hills where the road leading into it was named White City Drive, I moved to a suburb of Birmingham, AL. I have lived in the Birmingham area, including some years in the city proper, for all but two years of my life since I was 15 years old. This is the city where police turned fire hoses and dogs on protesters during the Civil Rights movement.
I found things in Birmingham different than they were in Huntsville. The Birmingham area was and still is highly segregated. It's not by law or force. It's mostly white flight which is itself a form of socioeconomic racism. It was a strange thing for me to realize as I grew older. I found the history of racial injustice to be just below the surface in Birmingham. I did not witness any overtly racist behavior in public. But, it was there, kind of like that subtle language my elders used when I was young. There was a lot of use of the words like "those people" or "they" when referring to black people. Again, I ignored the people saying these things and was silent.
Shortly after President Obama was elected, I was in a barber shop. It was not a local place. I travel for work between Birmingham and Huntsville very regularly. A small town between here and there had a barber shop. It was very convenient for me to stop in there on my way to Huntsville. I had been in there four or five times with little to no issues. Then one day, I am getting my haircut and a customer comes in. He and the barber seemed to know each other socially. They did not seem to be great friends, but they knew each other's names. At some point, the customer says, "You know what Lincoln, Kennedy, and Obama have in common?" I could think of nothing. The barber said "I don't know." The customer says "Nothing yet." I took a minute or so for it to sink in. He was saying that Obama would be assassinated. I was stunned. That was the most overt racism I had faced in years. The barber didn't seem too happy about it, but he didn't say anything about it either. I never went back to that barbershop. Now though, I regret that I ignored it and was silent.
During President Obama’s tenure, I saw posts on Facebook from friends and family, people I shared a meal with, that blamed him for all their problems. I unfollowed some of them. I ignored others. And, I was silent.
In the last three and a half years, I have seen many of those same people post things supporting President Trump and his agenda to divide this country. I unfollowed some of them. I ignored others. And, I was silent.
I have done my best to be a good example to my children the same way my parents were to me. The other day, I told my youngest child “I don’t think I need to say this, but I am going to. Racism is wrong.” His response was “Of course Dad, I know that.” I wanted to be sure I said it out loud though.
I am done being silent. My silence has not helped the world. Who am I to call anyone a racist? I am a 47 year old, white, middle class man. I will not ignore them and I will not be silent any longer.