It's Urgent That We Stand Up

September 23, 2009 4 Comments

There have been constant questions in the press over the last few weeks about whether much of what’s happening in the US these days is about race.

  • Here’s a recent article from the New York Times in which Bob Herbert calls it.
  • And another from Newsweek by Raina Kelley.
  • And a great blog by Damali Ayo

And so I’ve been reflecting on some of the things I read in graduate school by people like Ervin Staub about the critical role that can be played in situations of impending violence (and even genocide) by those who see clearly what’s going, stand up, call it by name and loudly and persistently demand that it must stop – the critical role played by what Staub calls “active bystanders.”

Not that this hasn’t been needed for generations, but the situation is incredibly urgent these days. The rampant and violent racism in the US calls for all of us to stand up and insist that it stop. Many of us see it clearly – and we need to be calling our Congresspeople, contacting the media (old and new) and talking to everyone we know to call things as they are and say, “Stop!”

And to any who don’t see it, we all need to be talking (REALLY talking), opening ourselves to explore the possibility that race is at the bottom of a lot of what’s going on – and explore it with each other. It is high time for deep conversations about race in the US. It’s not surprising that we’re at this moment. It IS, though, time to take it up! We all (especially those of us who are white) have a role to play!  Every day we AREN’T actively engaged in the conversation, it’s getting worse. And we’re letting this moment of potential change slide away.

It is an extremely dangerous moment. Racism is being whipped up tremendously in the health care conversations, discussions of immigration, reactions to the President and the so-called czars and so much more. We need to step in and call it as it is – call for a stop to it. But is that enough? What else can we do? What ideas do you have?


  • well said, Linda.

    sadly, i’m afraid the evidence indicates that the twisted minds that sow racist propaganda and the weak minds that buy into that rhetoric will NOT be convinced of anything they don’t want to believe.

    and a good look at the general population reveals americans to be notoriously lazy and easily manipulated – as long as our population is plagued by the overwhelming numbers of uncurious people not much is likely to change.

  • Cynthia says:

    Thanks for lifting this up, Linda. I agree that it is incredibly important for white allies to wade into this conversation boldly and disturb the waters of ignorance and arrogance that fuel the current race baiting. As a black woman, I alternate between trying to stay vigilant (listening to as much cable and am radio talk as I can stomach, reading a bit of “what the other folks think,” speaking out if there is something right in front of me) and being grateful that my immediate world provides some protection from the worst of it all. I need to plug in more deliberately and fully to the community of activists who are taking these issues on directly. Solo activists are easily picked off or exhausted.

    I believe that Curtis is right about the ignorance and ease of manipulating public opinion. But it’s not just lack of curiosity. It’s coupled with the privilege of not having to be curious because so much of the system works for them the way it is.

    And, I think the liberal media outlets also do a disservice not asking simple questions that could change the terms of the discussion. For instance, in all the coverage of the town hall meetings or tea party protests, few asked whether the protesters themselves already had health insurance (and whether they felt any prick of conscience about trying to deny that to others), or whether they partook of government programs like Social Security or Medicare (NPR just started a series on this question–too late, though, in my estimation. No one is asking the folks who want government off their backs whether they are willing to trust their futures to the likes of the leadership at Enron, Lehman Brothers, Blackwater, or the like. Even when the question “does race have something to do with this” is asked, the journalists take “of course not!” too easily for an answer.

    I think that until significant numbers of white people become as outraged about racism as people of color and are ready to take action, we’re not likely to see the kinds of sea change in American public opinion or the institutions on which the society is built. In the meantime, I will continue to do my part to build community among activists and support pressuring and engaging a government system that is–at least in theory—supposed to be accountable to the people. That’s not the same thing as believing that the American system was set up or functions largely with the interests of people of color in mind. But, at least the founding rhetoric of the nation gives us something to push toward. I’d rather do that than try “get government off our backs” and trust my fortunes to a private sector or even community sentiment if it’s accountable to no one.

    It’s time for us all to get busy!

  • Curtis says:

    Just wanting to clarify, Cynthia, that the previous comment was from Charlie and not me. I tend to be a little more hopeful on this. I completely agree that when white people get as outraged it will be a significant moment. I do think that many of us who are relatively privileged rely on mediated experiences and messages to define what we think about the world, as we hide behind television screens, computer monitors, tabloids, and gated communities. I think that one big way of being of service would be for white folk to invite other white folk to get out there and shake hands with reality as a way of going beyond fear and ignorance and maybe bringing some more meaning (not to mention justice) to life.

  • Cynthia says:

    Oops! I was reading too quickly. I’m all for shaking hands with reality!

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