Victory Is Just Step One

Flags line the National Mall in between the Capitol Building and the Washington Memorial during the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. (DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II)

Hey! It’s a new year! In the United States, we have a new President, new leadership in the Senate, and new prospects for actually improving the lives of Americans.

And since its a new year, its time for me to keep up a personal tradition, and lecture my fellow white folks once more. Alas, its sometimes necessary. I’ll try to keep this brief and to the point.

This is directed more toward center-to-left leaning individuals who are glad to be rid of Trump, than toward those of whom I will be unlikely to ever persuade.

Ahem, here goes.

People of color, particularly Black voters (even moreso Black women) saved this country from itself.

To my fellow white people, it’s important we understand and appreciate this fact. From organizing in the Democratic primaries, to turnout in the general election, to flipping the Senate in Georgia just a few weeks ago, Black voters, organizers, and activists carried this election season on their backs.

This is important.

But what is also important, my fellow white folks, is that we don’t take this monumental effort for granted. We need to avoid tokenism and lazy tropes. And we also need to do more than wipe our hands, proclaim the work done, and move on. Quite a few well-meaning white folks did that after Obama was elected, and we ended up letting a vicious white backlash fester and grow. And look what happened.

It’s not just about Biden, his administration, or Congress. They’re gonna get some good stuff done – maybe more than some of us realize. They’ll also frustrate us. And they’ll certainly be thwarted at times by Republicans in Congress and in the courts.

But getting people elected is only one step. Politically active white people need to show our appreciation and respect by actually helping to build the world that Black and Brown folks have been working for. Tearing down systemic white supremacy will take more than legislation. It will require actual effort by those who benefit from it.

It’s a sad truth that white people are far more likely to listen to other white people when talking racism. So, here I am, trying to address other white folks. We need to hold each other accountable.

We need to speak up when we see injustice, regardless of the scale.

We need to fight for equal opportunity with hiring.

We must be fair as lenders and landlords.

We should frequent businesses owned by people of color.

We need to check ourselves and consider our own biases and assumptions.

We have to push back against the growing threat of white nationalism.

We need to think twice about contacting law enforcement, and be willing to confront those who do without cause.

We have to be willing to acknowledge our own advantages, and use them to help others.

We need to be willing to be allies, but avoid centering ourselves. We can offer assistance without trying to be a savior.

And most importantly, as white people, we need to listen, and resist the urge to be defensive. If someone is offended, or scared, or angered by something we do, its important to not immediately fight against it. It’s important to listen.

Us white folks (even moreso – straight white cis men) have long considered ourselves the default American. When you see yourself as the primary representative of a whole, its easier to ignore the trials of those who don’t look or sound or act like you do. In order for people of color to actually receive the justice and equity they deserve as people, my fellow white citizens need to be willing to stop thinking of ourselves and our experiences as the default. Maybe there is no default. This nation is too big and diverse and interesting for that.

Yeah, Black voters, activists, and politicians opened the door for progressive reforms in 2021. And we should be grateful. But let’s make sure to not prop up this achievement without doing our part to ensure their efforts were not in vain. The elections of Joe Biden and the Democratic Congress will certainly help improve the lives of a lot of Americans, including Black and Brown Americans. But I worry that the resentment and denial internalized by so many white folks will come back with a vengeance. In some places, it already has. We need to push against this vigorously.

It’s not enough to thank those who got us past the Trump era.

We have to help them rebuild a new era that looks less like the last one, and more like one where we all have the same chance to prosper.

By all means, tell Stacey Abrams what a badass she is. But then look into the work she actually does, and see what you can do to help.

About hbreck

Writer, debater, contrarian, storyteller, occasional troublemaker. I'm mostly just making things up as I go.
This entry was posted in Civil Rights, Governance, Politics, Social Justice and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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