Last week, I found myself working an early morning shift at a local store where I work part time two days a week. During my shift while the store was still closed, I was at the front counter organizing order forms while talking with two of my co-workers. The one co-worker is a young African-American man whom I will call Jake. The other is an older white woman whom I will call Elinor.
While I sorted orders with Jake, Elinor was beginning to sort through her register drawer getting it prepared for the day. At the same time, we found ourselves talking about the events of Charlottesville and the display of racism and hate from white segregationists.
“It’s such a shame, what happened down there,” the older white woman said while sorting quarters. “Racism I thought was a thing of the past. I just hope we don’t get it up here,”
Looking up from the orders, I turned to Jake who was still sorting orders but also chuckling. Noticing that I was surprised by what Elinor said, he gave me a big grin and looked back down to his papers.
While I don’t think my co-worker Elinor had bad intentions, she illustrated in her comment what many white people fail to see because of their own privilege.
Many of us who are white found ourselves appalled and horrified by the scenes of white segregationists protesting and shouting hateful slogans about people of color, those from other countries, and those of other religions in Charlottesville. However, while what we witnessed seemed isolated or even unreal, for many others it’s an everyday illustration of racism, hatred, and evil which still exists in this country.
One of the most important calls coming out of Charlottesville is for people to take a stand against racism, hatred, and evil in their own communities. And while making this stand is something that many minorities and people of color do, it’s a call for the rest of us to do as well. Because while we may not experience racism and hate because of our skin color, religion, origin, or sexual orientation, many of our friends, co-workers, and family do. And we are called to stand with them against this injustice.
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
“God’s justice demands that we do more than just denounce the white supremacist who showed up in Charlottesville. We need to denounce the racism that infects the foundational story of the United States. Like Jesus had his eyes opened to his cultural prejudices, white Americans need our eyes opened to the racism that poisons our culture.”
For some of us, we will never know what it’s like to experience racism or be hatred because of our religion, origin, or sexual orientation. However, just because we haven’t had these experiences doesn’t mean we can remain silent or simply change the channel when we see it on television. For us, it’s important we be aware of our privileges that others do not share while also voicing up to denounce the injustices that many of those close to us experience. This is just not a call we can ignore because of our own unfamiliarity. Rather it’s a call to seek justice because of our own empathy despite our unfamiliarity and the desire to do what we know is right.