To defeat white supremacy and other forms of bigotry, we'll need to have a series of "uncomfortable" conversations with our friends, loved ones, and coworkers.
This past week, I have given a lot of thought to what our nation stands for, and for what it must stand against.
A young woman, Heather Heyer, died because she chose to stand against a political ideology that suggested certain people are genetically superior to all others. She came to Charlottesville, Virginia, and joined thousands of others who risked their safety to say, “No, in America, we do not allow this idea to go unchallenged. In fact, we categorically reject it.”
Our nation’s history with prejudice, inequality, and legalized bigotry is a long and complicated one. We cannot deny the sins of our past. Yet we can do something about the future.
I’m inspired by the tens of thousands who came out to Boston this week to once again stand up against the idea of white supremacy. These individuals recognize that a person’s worth is not in their skin tone, but rather it exists in their character, in their ability to accept inalienable rights for all Americans.
It is not so strange a concept — it is an idea which has been pushed forward by many generations in the past. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on it and worked for it more than 50 years ago. Yet the work that King and other civil rights leaders is not done, and serves merely as a foundation for what we have to do in the years ahead.
The white supremacists in Charlottesville and elsewhere didn’t appear out of thin air — they have existed, quietly, for many years, and many more are still quiet about their prejudiced beliefs.
And so the work must go on. These individuals are free to believe what they like, but we are similarly free to counter their arguments with reason, and appeal to the broader American community to their sense of compassion and empathy.
So what do we do moving forward? Ideas don’t change just because we speak out in public settings. It is a necessary step to begin the process, but it takes much more work to move America to become a more tolerant and hospitable nation for ALL of its citizens. Public displays of standing up to intolerance are necessary — but so are the private interactions we make on a day-to-day basis.
What needs to happen is that individuals, like you and me, need to get uncomfortable. We need to have conversations, and to speak up, not just in large group protests, but in the everyday conversations we have with our loved ones, our coworkers, and our friends.
When grandma makes a rude comment about African Americans, we need to speak up. When a friend makes a joke about gays, we need to object. When a boss demeans a female coworker behind closed doors, we need to tell that person that they’re wrong, even when doing so may not be such an easy thing to do.
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The battle for hearts and minds does have its place on the evening news broadcasts and Twitter livestreams. But the most important front for winning over those who may espouse intolerable viewpoints (including those who may not be aware of it) is to be vocal about it when it happens in our homes or workspaces.
I’m not perfect in this. There’s been plenty of times when I’ve avoided confrontation because it wasn’t the “right time” to say something.
But consider the other side of the coin — you’ll realize that there’s never a “right time” to tolerate hatred and bigotry. There’s a way to be both civil and confrontational, to let those you care about know that their words have deeper meaning, and that they should think about what they’re saying, and what it really means.
It’s through a series of uncomfortable conversations that we can make America a better place for all. It takes work and courage, but it is most definitely doable, and achievable.