The Unlikely Racists
A Short Story With Lasting Implications
Nothing was familiar, the world had gone mad, and Don was starting his life over in a brand new location. He was alone, new to the area, and eager to find a social group to associate with. The night had been flowing well thus far as he met and conversed with friendly strangers over craft brews one warm Wednesday evening in Old Town. Up to this point, conversation remained casual and he had high hopes of forging friendships with the enthusiastic strangers around him. The group wasn’t completely comfortable with him yet, but he had a feeling his approval rating was still trending upwards; that is, until that one cancerous topic came up. It was clear to Don how the group expected him to respond in this situation; and yet, he found it extremely difficult to justify giving the desired answer to their leading question.
In regards to the horrific catastrophe that had recently taken over the news cycle, an injustice so grand as to ignite the passions of millions of people across the country, there was no doubt that they were living in the aftermath of what would surely become a historic moment in time. Very few details from the case had been revealed at this point; nonetheless, there was a collective sense of grief surrounding this terrible tragedy. On the surface, the case seemed open and shut; finally an injustice that we could all get behind. The perpetrator of this most disgusting assault on humanity was in custody; but the act itself was so egregious that vast groups of citizens were compelled to take to the streets (and to Facebook) in protest.
In the beginning, everyone was indeed in agreement; this was undoubtedly a tragic and unfair event. No one wants to see extreme acts of unjust violence against anyone; especially if that act is between a figure of authority and a helpless minority. And so, together the country grieved and commented on the blatant cruelty and fundamentally wrong actions of a trusted officer of the law against an innocent-until-proven-guilty citizen. In that moment, there was no left or right; the country was in sync.
However, it wasn’t long before feelings began to change for many following the aftermath of this historic moment. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of people that had formed opinions on this ordeal seemed to fall into one of three categories. Everyone was upset; but some people were generally unaffected, “It’s a tragedy, but bad things happen. Such is life..”
Others saw this horrific event as evidence that the world in which we live is plagued with racism and a blatant disregard for the lives and livelihoods of black people. This second group, made up of people of all races, had become convinced that the system is (and always has been) rigged for the benefit of white people and to the detriment of blacks. From their point of view, the oppression of black people in modern times is a travesty so significant that the only solution is to overthrow the entire system, and by any means necessary.
The third group of people came to be as a result of the actions of the second group. This mostly silent, but steadily growing majority of people were of the opinion that the whole situation had been blown out of proportion. They noticed that violence and chaos now filled the streets of major cities across the country in the name of ending racist police brutality. Some even pointed out the fact that the numbers didn’t exactly support the cause; however, acknowledgment of such facts were met with extreme hostility from those in the second group. Anyone that doubted the intentions of the Black Lives Matter movement was deemed a racist, even if they were themselves, black.
“So, what do you think about the BLM movement? Exciting times right? Our generation will go down in history as one that fought for change and succeeded.”
Don knew what he was supposed to say; he’d already heard the points of view from all three perspectives. In fact, when this all started, he was a member of the first group. It’s always a tragedy when an innocent person is killed, but that is the way of the world. In the days following the event, he began seeing and hearing more and more increasingly emotional responses from those who had once feared for their lives in similar situations; he couldn’t help but feel sympathy for them. Eventually, as his interest in the topic heightened, he began to do his own research and subsequently became torn as a result of his findings. The things he began to see frustrated him immensely.
The very same passionate supporters of Black Lives Matter that preached equality and accused the president of dividing the country seemed to be the ones that were actually leading the division. Don’s Facebook timeline was filled with matter-of-fact style posts suggesting that any ideas that differed from those of the BLM movement were inherently racist. These posts served as bait, daring anyone to disagree; and the unfortunate few that did so were attacked viciously. Screenshots of comments taken out of context, as well as, the identities of those commenters, were shared widely and served as a warning to others who dared question the actions or motives of the movement.
Don had seen what happens to people that refuse to tow the line and he wanted no part in that. Conversely, he also found it hard to express support for the well-intentioned group of misguided activists. It’s one thing to get behind a movement that on the surface, sounds like a great and virtuous cause if you are unaware of its faults. However, it’s another thing entirely to perpetuate ideas that you know to be invalid.
Searching his mind for an adequate response, Don decided on, “I definitely support the idea that something should be done about the injustices of the world; but I can’t say that I completely agree with everything that BLM stands for.” He was met with stark silence and blank stares from those around him.
“Are you saying that you don’t believe that black lives matter?”
Don was blown away by the question; of course he wasn’t suggesting that the lives of black people didn’t matter! It was at that moment that he realized that the genius behind this campaign was a matter of semantics. The name Black Lives Matter is a double entendre, serving as both the name of the movement, and also a general statement that no decent person would ever disagree with. In reality, the phrase “black lives matter” is equivalent to saying something like, “the sky is blue.” No reasonable person would actually disagree with such an idea, which makes the act of saying it pointless. Telling someone that “black lives matter” suggests that you think the person doesn’t already believe that statement. It is down this path of faulty reasoning that some people come to the conclusion that those who don’t support Black Lives Matter must be racist.
“I’m not saying that at all. Obviously everyone’s life matters, I’m just saying…”
Don had unwittingly stepped on a landmine and was cut off abruptly. “All lives can’t matter until black lives matter!” A chorus of agreement rang out amongst the group as the once-pleasant conversation began to turn hostile. Don then paused for a moment to think of a way out of the hole he was digging himself. Should he risk further agitating the group by explaining his point of view? Or, would it be better to simply agree and move on? The latter option would certainly be easier, but would it be right?
Don wanted desperately to explain his reasoning, to show footage of the riots, and to highlight the full extent of the resulting carnage. He wanted to share with the group the actual number of people who had been shot and killed at protests, the numerous buildings in cities across the country that had been raised to the ground, the statues of abolitionists, and freed slaves, and even of Jesus that had been torn down and defaced. He wanted to explain the point of view of those who stood in opposition of BLM; to show that the vast majority of people in this country were sympathetic to the cause, but simply disagreed with the group’s actions. He wanted to illustrate the actual source of the country’s division, and even suggest ways to remedy the situation; but instead he stayed quiet.
“Maybe, you guys are right,” he acquiesced. “I didn’t mean to offend anyone.” The group reluctantly accepted his weak apology but he feared the damage had already been done.
“That’s good to hear. As we all know, black people are being oppressed by a systematically racist country; and if we don’t stand together and fight, then we may very well end up as slaves once again.”
Don immediately regretted his decision to comply. Taking up for a radical group that many still saw as virtuous was one thing; but he wasn’t sure if he could justify expanding that idea to the point of saying that black people in general were being oppressed in modern day America. Afterall, the previous president was black. Every kid of every race in this country has to go to school; and even black people with mediocre grades are capable of getting scholarships and grants to colleges solely based on the color of their skin. Even as a black guy that benefited from this particular leg up on his white friends, Don found this practice unfair in a society that prided itself on racial equality.
There was a time when black people were indeed held back. Roughly 80 years ago, people did indeed rise up to fight and protest these injustices; the result of which was equal rights for all races. How then, could Don sit here and pretend that we still lived in a world where an entire race of people was being prevented from succeeding in life because their skin happened to be dark? On some level, Don was actually offended by the idea. Did these people honestly think that this country, the United States of America, was just filled with racist white people that wished only to enslave blacks? Surely, they weren’t suggesting that we were still living in a time where black people were being prevented from succeeding in life because of racism. Don could hold his tongue no longer.
“Whoa, wait a second. Are you saying you all believe that black people are being oppressed right now in America?”
The group took his genuine question for a joke and burst into laughter that lasted until they noticed that Don wasn’t laughing with them. The tone of the conversation grew serious and the leader of the group led the ensuing fit of outrage with a semi-rhetorical question. “You’re kidding right?”
Don sat silently, unsure of his next move until he was presented a new question from the group. Tensions were rising and multiple pairs of piercing enraged eyes proceeded to plague him.
“You don’t think that racism still exists?”
Don took a moment to digest the question before forming a response. This was no longer a friendly exchange between friends and strangers; the stakes had risen significantly. “Sure, racism still exists; but honestly, is it really that big of a deal?”
The audible gasps of the group were loud enough to halt the conversations of every other table in the vicinity. Every astonished face was wide-eyed and speechless as the shocked silence prompted him to continue. “I mean, obviously there are still racist people in the country; but does the fact that some people think of their race as being better than others really affect the individual lives of any given black person? It’s obviously illegal to kill anyone of any race. Colleges and businesses alike are all strictly forbidden from discriminating against applicants because of race. To my knowledge, the libraries of every city in America are open to people of all colors; and even if that wasn’t the case, most people have a computer in their pocket capable of bringing forth the knowledge necessary to learn nearly any profession.”
An intense, collective air of outrage filled the room and Don was the source of the anger. So much for making friends, he’d be lucky to make it out of the bar alive. However, he wanted to conclude with a question that might spark the interest of those who opposed his ideology.
“Is it possible that the issue isn’t actually one of race, but rather one of social class? The unfortunate truth is that the vast majority of crime committed in this country happens in inner-cities, and by minorities. The “virtuous ones” hear this and suggest that the stats must be rigged, or that this is so because of racist cops; but, is it possible that the information from the most official of sources is correct? If it is indeed the case that black people tend to commit a disproportionate amount of crime in this country, this would certainly be a disappointing fact, but perhaps there is still a solution.
What if the focus wasn’t on black and white, but rather, rich and poor? And what if we didn’t look at this situation as one of good versus evil, but rather, the fortunate and the unlucky? What if the solution was as simple as encouraging those born in seemingly hopeless situations to work harder? Perhaps the solution is as simple as that. What if the intense passion and drive to fight for a worthy cause was focused on enabling the less-fortunate to succeed rather than blaming the innocent?
There is a group of people that are adamant that racism doesn’t exist. There is a group of people that are certain that black people are being oppressed, and there is a group of people that don’t even consider this to be a topic worth exploring in the chaos of today’s times. What couldn’t we achieve if we all just came together?”
The room fell silent and the group stared at Don in disbelief. The entirety of the bar was quiet as every patron awaited the reaction of the initial group. Several moments passed before the leader of the group stepped in. He peered deeply into Don’s wavering eyes for a while as he took in the words that had brought the bar to a halt. Eventually, a smirk formed on the face of the leader as he looked around at the anxious members of the popular group at the bar. “In all my years, I never thought I’d see the day that I would be proven wrong.” A dozen pairs of eyebrows rose at this statement.
“Kanye West isn’t the worst coon in the country, this fucking guy is!” The group exploded in laughter, as did many of the surrounding tables. Don hung his head in shame and exited the bar alone and without any new popular friends, another victim of the mob.