“Nigger!” he screamed from a car, speeding past me as I legally crossed the intersection. Akron, Ohio. December 2018. These moments are more and more common in our nation’s current climate. White supremacists across the nation are actively live-streaming, killing, and even legislating their hate all over America.
One of the most well known white supremacy groups is the Ku Klux Klan which has been around since the reconstruction era after the Civil War. History.com reports that after President Johnson publicly condemned the Klan in 1965, the “cases of Klan-related violence became more isolated in the decades to come, though fragmented groups became aligned with neo-Nazi or other right-wing extremist organizations from the 1970s onward. In the early 1990s, the Klan was estimated to have between 6,000 and 10,000 active members, mostly in the Deep South.”
However, USA Today reports that the “number of hate groups active in the USA rose to its highest level in two decades last year, according to an annual survey released by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The count of active groups that the civil rights organization labels as espousing hate climbed to 1,020, up from 784 four years ago, and was propelled by a rise in extremism, the center said. From 2017 to 2018 alone, the tally rose 7 percent.”
After November 2016, groups like the KKK and others involved with the so-called “alt-right” movement are back to marching in the streets, but instead of burning crosses, they’re brandishing tiki torches. This public arena hate revival is a return to our old overt racism. A return to a time where white supremacy was upfront, personal, and more direct than it has been in many years. We must remember the white supremacy rhetoric and belief system was the status quo – believed and practiced by most whites – only 60 years ago. Even with the advances made by the Civil Rights movement, our society has found the path to the mountaintop of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream to be long and arduous.
With each court case or new legislation, we have tried to erode white supremacy and work towards equality at the summit of Dr. King’s fabled mountain. The sad truth is we still have so much work to do to reach a place where people don’t suffer under the weight of oppression. We have not even seen the bottom of Dr. King’s mountain range. White supremacy shaped our world and remains the support system of our American society. This country was built on it. It is ingrained in our political, economic, and social structures. It has been acting as a silent partner on behalf of whites. It is a silent killer of dreams and goals attacking People of Color.
In every power structure in our country, people of color must navigate a very harmful and damaging minefield. Think about youth of color. In our schools, the systematic grouping and labeling require we prepare our young in a very different way than whites. Parents today must be honest with their kids early on. Black parents must have difficult conversations about race with their kids at younger and younger ages; conversations that white people will never have to have with their kids.
My 7-year-old knows when she is out in public she is judged much more harshly than her white counterparts. She must be the best and most well-behaved at all times. Even while behaving like normal children, the others will be viewed as kids being kids, but she will be viewed as unruly or as a problem child. I want my child to have all the same opportunities in life as white children, but I know she will have a harder road. You see, in America, it’s the Same Country, Different World.
Racism perpetuates and harms people of color because it robs us of the chance to live freely. In most situations, we are not given the benefit of the doubt. We are presumed to be the worst first, and then we must prove that we are “different” than the reflex presumption. On the opposite end of the spectrum lies privilege. It allows white mass shooters to be seen as merely troubled individuals as if that absolves them of their crimes. Our society actively makes excuses for them, with media reports speculating on how they became so lost or mentally unstable. We don’t fear white men as a whole because those guys are simply lone wolves acting out of unstable but self-righteous anger, while people of color are lumped together and labeled thugs every day for far less than what these white men have done.
A white person who kills church folk at the altar is a killer, as in the case of Dylann Roof, but we see his humanity more easily than we see the humanity of a father in a car with his family who is pulled over by police for a faulty headlight (R.I.P. Philando Castile). We look for reasons to blame him for his wrongful death and smeared his reputation to justify the police officer’s fatal actions. This is white supremacy working hard to cast the players in their respective roles, justifying the ways in which the system interacts with them.
White supremacy has reared its head all over our country. Just this past week it showed up during a congressional hearing in the form of tokenism and its aftermath once a white man got his feelings hurt by the rightful assertion of a person of color. A Representative tokenized a black woman by proclaiming that Trump can’t possibly be racist if SHE works for him. People of Color are not monolithic. We don’t all agree at all times. It was racist to parade her around as a symbol. To use this woman, your nieces and nephews of color and your ‘unlikely’ bromance with another representative of color is racist. You can know all these people – even like all these people – and still be racist.
White Supremacy turned the truth-telling of Representative Tliab into a chance for a white man to cry about his hurt. White supremacy makes his hurt matter more than her truth. White supremacy invalidates tokenism as racism because he was hurt. It is racist to act in such a way, but white supremacy made us all have to shift the narrative so that the hearing moved from her truthful description to making him, the white person, feel safe again. White supremacy has a choke-hold on our society and now it’s twisting its hand once again trying to choke out the life of progress we have made since the Civil Rights Era. Make America Great Again is taunting us and beckoning for the good old yesteryear when white men ruled and we orbited around them. The mountaintop path is being blocked by those who walk into black churches and kill Christians. It is blocked by those in the White House who yell “build the wall” in an effort to stop the browning of America. It is blocked by those who only see and hate Muslim terrorists while refusing to acknowledge homegrown white terrorism, like the members of the Charlottesville KKK rally.
This awful and dangerous place where white male terrorism is on the rise in public spaces is scary but very familiar to America. Our country is reverting to old habits of exclusion and destruction of all who are different in order to keep white supremacist roots flourishing in our society. White superiority is hiding in plain sight behind our politically incorrect but ‘honest’ society. People are comfortable yelling Nigger on the streets and typing it online. People are comfortable voting for hate. People are comfortable robbing kids of a school if it means building a brown-blocking wall. People are comfortable establishing Go Fund Me accounts to support white supremacy defenders.
Nigger. It settled in my ears, wounded me, and filled me with the pain of mourning the erosion of our progress. Today, I acknowledge that we have never reached Dr. King’s great mountaintop, but now we are running from it. I am saddened and scared by this truth. Don’t call the ‘new’ rise of White supremacy a comeback. It’s not a comeback; it never disappeared. It has been brewing quietly for decades. No, it’s a come-out.
White supremacy is reaching out to reclaim its seat at the head of the table after living underground. Everyday folks are willingly throwing those who are different under the bus. Black, LGBTQ+, Immigrants, and all those on the fringe are being sacrificed like lambs. Why? In order to SUSTAIN White supremacy.
White supremacy has always been a part of our world. Admit it. It will probably always be there unless those who benefit fight to end their domination. Whites must rage against the machine. Challenge their family and friends to stop putting their own interests ahead of others. People of color must continue to speak their truth, and we must act to change our world. White supremacy depends on whites being willing to ignore their privilege and the oppression of People of Color. It is time to move differently. It is time to Make America Great For The First Time, For Us All.
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Kenyona “Sunny” Matthews is a motivational speaker focusing on issues of diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism. She is a University of Akron School of Law graduate who focused on civil liberties. She earned her bachelors from Guilford College majoring in Political Science, Philosophy, and African American Studies. She was an active college student helping to start an Anti-Racism team at Guilford College, responsible for organizing city-wide diversity/inclusion events, and developed coursework focusing on race and racism.