Your Whataboutism Is Exposing Your Racism

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Your Whataboutism Is Exposing Your Racism

Shutterstock / Katherine Welles

It’s pretty clear to anyone paying attention that racism is alive and well in America. It’s also clear, if you take people’s comments on the internet at face value, that no one in America is actually racist.

Who admits to being racist? No one, other than self-proclaimed white supremacists. Even most of the “white nationalists” deny their racism, cloaking it in egalitarian-sounding language. Puh-lease.

So no one is actually racist, yet racism persists. Miraculous how that works.

Of course, racism doesn’t care if we admit that we’re infected by it or not. Racism actually prefers to sneak in under the radar these days. That’s its specialty.

I have seen quite a few blatantly racist comments about Charlottesville, where a rabid white supremacist mowed down a group of people with his car, killing 1 and injuring 19. But I’ve seen a whole lot more not-so-blatant racism in response to it.

It’s not the n-word or “I don’t like black people” that’s permeating discussions. The way racism is manifesting right now is through whataboutisms — false equivalencies that deflect from the issue at hand in an attempt to make people feel less icky about white supremacy.

For example, when someone points out the fact that black Americans still have not attained true equality in our country, people come back with, “Equality? What about the fact that we had a black president?!”

Of course, they forget the fact that people lynched Obama in effigy and continually used racial slurs to refer to his wife and children. They ignore the certain truth that had he had even a 10th of the personal history of his white successor, he’d never have gotten past the primaries. And they ignore the racial hurdles our one and only black president had to cross — hurdles that are still there.

So, no, a black president does not automatically mean true equality. Clearly.

When someone denounces the hatred and violence at a white supremacist rally, people say, “What about the violence at Black Lives Matter marches?!”

Of course, they forget — or haven’t bothered to pay attention to — the hundreds upon hundreds of BLM rallies and marches that have been nothing but peaceful, the fact that BLM’s foundational tenets are equality and anti-violence, and that the BLM founders have publicly denounced all violence committed by individuals in its name.

On the other hand, the very nature of white supremacist rallies is inequality and implied violence, even if no one is directly physically harmed at one. Their ideological foundation is hatred, inequality, and the destruction of entire races of people. A website popular among white supremacists and neo-Nazis managed to blame the death of Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer on road rage and called the victim a fat slut at the same time. And a KKK leader said, “I’m sorta glad that them people got hit and I’m glad that girl died.”

So no. Not the same.

Then someone else pipes in with, “Well, what about how the small percentage of Muslims that commit terror acts supposedly don’t speak for all Muslims, but the small percentage of white supremacists who commit terror represent the rest?”

Of course, once again, they’re glossing over the fact that white supremacist ideology is all about dehumanizing and terrorizing non-whites — that is literally the foundation and purpose of their existence. The Islamic faith’s five foundational pillars? Faith in God and Muhammad, prayer, charitable giving, a period of fasting, and making a pilgrimage.

So, no. Not the same thing.

When someone brings up the fact that institutional racism makes life less safe for black Americans, people toss out “Well, what about black-on-black crime?”

Of course, they’re ignoring the realities of institutional racism and oversimplifying the complex socioeconomic reality of mostly black communities in inner cities. They’re also, ironically, missing the fact that most of that socioeconomic reality stems directly from white supremacist policies and racial discrimination — in other words, institutional racism — over the course of generations.

So, no. Not the same thing.

When people of color share the pain, fear, and anger they experience due to personal and institutional racism, people say “What about reverse racism? Racism goes in all directions, and it’s all wrong!”

Of course, refusing to acknowledge a person of color’s pain — which is not only personal, but also generational — and redirecting the conversation to white people’s feelings is a prime example of subconscious white supremacy in action. They’re also forgetting that reverse racism isn’t a real thing because racism is a combination of prejudice and power, and minorities have never held the power in the U.S. People of color can be racially prejudiced, but racism is inextricably interwoven with our history of white supremacy and the societal and institutional structures that go along with that history.

So, no. Not the same thing.

When responding to a question about whether statues of Robert E. Lee should come down, Donald Trump said, “I wonder is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” In other words, “What about the other slave owners from American history?”

Of course, Trump ignores the fact that Lee’s ownership of slaves was never the reason for the removal of his statues, and no one has claimed that it was. Washington and Jefferson owned slaves and were imperfect historical icons, it’s true. But their words and actions built the foundation of our democracy.

Those men aren’t known for trying to split the nation apart, so that they could happily continue the institution of slavery. They weren’t traitors who fought against their own country. They weren’t on the losing side of the bloodiest event on our soil. Lee may have been a military genius of sorts, but he fought the wrong battle on the wrong side and lost.

So, no. Not the same thing.

The thing about whataboutisms is that people think they’re making solid arguments when they’re really just avoiding the topic at hand. If you can’t discuss a specific issue without deflecting to something else, you might want to examine whether or not your position is, in fact, defensible.

And when you habitually deflect in discussions about white supremacy and racism, you may want to examine whether your position may actually be rooted in subconscious white supremacy and, by extension, racist. (That red text is a link, and required reading for all Americans in my opinion.)

Yes, I am saying you might be more racist than you think. Most of us white folks are more steeped in white supremacy than we realize (seriously, read that link). It’s not an insult; it’s the reality of being white in a nation built on and sustained by white supremacy.

Of course, that can’t be the case, can it? After all, none of us are racist…and yet racism is alive and well.

What. About. That.