author – activist – faculty – mom
If there’s one silver lining to the current rise of white nationalism, it’s the fact that it’s been here all along and it’s finally being seen clearly by all. The myth that racism ended after slavery, after Jim Crow, after the 60s, has persisted. But the various victims of white nationalist violence in the last several decades know all too well that racism is alive and dangerous. Such instances are seen by mainstream America as some sort of freak accident aftershock of racism. Like with the climate change deniers, hurricane after hurricane can hits, and the clear pattern itself will be dismissed as a freak accident. But the Nazis are marching in plain sight, masks off, throughout the country, cracking the denial of many in our nation.
While the 45th presidency hasn’t invented racism, it certainly has coalesced and emboldened racism, making these particularly dangerous times.
Yet white supremacy has been hiding in plain sight for decades. Not only in the extremist wing of the Republican Party, but also in more liberal contexts. Even in my progressive Bay Area, many moments that ostensibly celebrate difference and inclusivity are laced with more subtle racism, if we only scratch the surface.
I did a double take with the above image. I won’t disclose the source, because I like the organization that created this campaign, and don’t want to put them on blast. They are no more racist than the average Bay Area institution that doesn’t have addressing racism explicitly and specifically in the center of its stated goals. Here we have a typical multicultural image. Two children of different colors holding hands. How nice. Or is it?
I immediately noticed the following: the white boy has naturally straight hair, and the black girl has…artificially straightened hair, emulating white hair. The white boy is smiling in a way that looks genuine. The black girl is smiling in a way that looks frozen and artificial. She seems uneasy or afraid, but is covering it up, doing what is expected of her. The white boy is leaning the center of his body away from the black girl. And this is a perfect image to exemplify the reality of everyday racism. Institutions are designed so that white people can come as they are. They feel comfortable in them, and they distance themselves from people of color, even as they make a show of welcoming us. Sure, this image may not be the truth of the moment. Maybe there were photos where the boy looked uncomfortable, or the girl was looking away from him. I’ve taken pictures of children. It’s hard to capture the exact look you want. Other than the straightened hair, everything else is in flux in a photo shoot. But this is the photo they chose. So the subtext of her frozen smile and his distancing body language are what they felt comfortable communicating to the viewer.
From Charlottesville to Boston to Berkeley, from the alt-right to liberal institutions: America, your racism is showing. I don’t want to imply that there’s no difference between the violent racism of white extremists and the symbolic racism of liberals. Rather, that they stem from the same root of white supremacy, and that white supremacy must be ended.