Too Late to Turn Back Now: Battling Complacency with Love in the Search for Racial Equality
The past week has presented me with several opportunities to examine the state of racial justice in America, as well as the opportunity to examine where I stand in that discussion. I have always considered myself to be an ally to people of color, but have not taken as much time to examine what that means. In a world of ineffective activism, such as change.org petitions or Facebook profile filters, how can one be an ally in more than name?
Over the weekend, I watched Spike Lee’s latest film BlacKkKlansman. The movie tells the true tale of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first black police officer and detective in Colorado Springs, who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan via telephone communications and undercover work. Stallworth is able to complete his subterfuge by using his partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) as a physical stand-in, playing the white body of Stallworth’s aural “supremacist.” Together, the pair are able to humiliate and foil the schemes of the Klan, forging a strong bond, while challenging the racist preconceptions of 1970’s America. The film follows the events as they happened, but draws parallels to America in 2018, as some lines of dialogue are lifted straight from current political discourse. Lee continues this creation of parallels by making an incredibly bold choice to end the film by showing graphic footage of the 2017 white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, Virginia. This footage, paired with footage of Donald Trump’s negligence to condemn KKK and Nazi sympathizers allows audiences to take away the simple fact: the fight for racial justice and equality is far from over. It is my privilege to not be forced to actively participate in this fight, but the fight continues with or without my presence.
Perhaps most prominently this week, Nike unveiled a new ad campaign to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” mantra. In the face of this anniversary, Nike has chosen to redefine the intent behind the phrase “Just Do It,” and boldly chose Colin Kaepernick to be the face of the campaign. The company aired a touching commercial during the first game of the NFL season, prompting both outrage and encouragement, as some seem hellbent on ignoring the purpose behind Kaepernick’s protest — the disproportionate amount of police brutality committed against people of color — and instead making the issue of taking a knee during the national anthem “disrespectful to the country.” I am not an NFL player, and will never be in the position, or have the platform of those athletes, but I am not forced to reckon with the very real possibility of police brutality affecting me on a daily basis. That is my privilege.
In a closer-to-home matter, today I had my own privilege checked by a very dear friend of mine. Sanjay Jenkins and I work in tandem at an e-commerce startup in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Sanjay is a salesman, and spends his days drafting cold emails and creating curated videos for potential leads in the e-commerce world. Upon reviewing his stats today, we found that his rates of client engagement and retention was lower than another salesman, who happens to be white. While it is understood by us that cold sales are largely luck of the draw, there is a nagging feeling that seeing the name “Sanjay” in a byline has activated prejudices that may not necessarily be present when potential clients receive emails from a more Anglicanized name. I had not even considered the possibility of race being a factor in his lower statistics — and while I hope to God that those lower stats are just bad luck, the fact that I did not consider race as a factor in sales is an example of my privilege.
So, we’ve established that I am privileged, as a straight, white male in the United States in 2018. Now what? How can I use my privilege to challenge prejudice and be an ally to people of color? These questions are posed, but I am not sure if I am capable of answering them, at least definitively. As I stated before, my desire is to contribute more than the change.org petitions of the world. Do righteously angry tweets accomplish anything aside from preaching to the choir? I probably can’t go undercover to unravel the machinations of the Ku Klux Klan, or be the marketing executive who makes the decision to side with a disenfranchised athlete. I can talk up my friend the salesman, but at the end of the day, I can’t make the potential client ignore his or her latent biases. What does that leave?
In my opinion, love is the most important action that we can take. As often as the line is quoted, people seldom realize that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not stating a meaningless platitude when he said:
“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Dr. King was presenting us — all of us — with an actionable step to achieve equality. By loving those whom our society deems as “other,” we can forge bridges over the entrenched gorges occupied by the ignorant and the evil. I cannot take back the sins of the people who came before me, but I can affect change in the people who come after me.
That is not to say that the complacency of saying “I love all people” is a solution. This love must be active, and occupy every facet of our existence as a people. The fear that permeates our relations with each other must be purged, and there must be steps taken to leave the voices of the bigots with no one to shout to but the void. We must only give platform to love, and the moment hate speaks, we must annihilate it like a balm to an infection.
Perhaps there are detractors who will accuse me of exhibiting “white guilt,” a concept that is often brought up in this discourse. I would challenge the very notion of “white guilt,” as it is bound by the same complacency of adding a filter to a profile picture on Facebook. There is no need for “white guilt.” We have been presented with a clear, actionable plan to overcome the racial divide, and to be proper allies to people of color.
America’s problem with racism cannot be solved in a day, but step by step, we can move toward an actively loving society that presents all opportunities to all people. The wheels of change are turning, and at this crossroads in history, we must steer ourselves to the path of righteousness. It is to that righteous path, or assuredly to a path of darkness. It’s too late to turn back now. What matters now, is which way we steer.
Tucker Partridge is a senior Sturgis Fellow at the University of Arkansas.
Comments, critiques, and inquiries may be made to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tucker is on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and may be found using the handle @TuckerPartridge.
What do YOU think? Let me know in the comments below. Let’s start a discussion.