This feels like an inflection point — this moment in our nation’s history. It feels different somehow from other similar moments. More hopeful. Like white people are finally listening. Some of them, at least.
There’s an openness, a willingness to acknowledge ignorance and blind spots when it comes to issues of race that feels unprecedented. As one white friend said to me the other day, “I get it now. Or at least I get that I don’t get it.”
And there seems to be a recognition that, hard as it is, we must look back and own our nation’s painful, racist past before we can move forward in any meaningful way.
One evidence of the striking singularity of this particular moment is the fact that there are currently 206 holds at the small library in Kearns, Utah, on the book “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People To Talk About Racism.”
But there’s also been a less positive shift in some quarters over the past few weeks. Where once there was almost universal outrage over the horrific murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and a long overdue acknowledgement that the civil rights movement actually didn’t fix all our race problems in America, now we’re starting to see the all-too familiar signs of fissures, division, polarization. Yet again, what is at its core a profoundly human issue is becoming politicized. And it’s hurting us badly as a nation.
Let’s take the sudden popularity of Candace Owens as a case in point. For those of you who haven’t yet heard of her, she’s a prominent conservative commentator, at least since 2016. Before that, she ran a left-leaning website called Degree180, and had never voted in any election.
Owens has famously called Black Lives Matter protesters “a bunch of whining toddlers pretending to be oppressed for attention” and, after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, declared that concerns over the rise of white nationalism were “stupid.”
Because she’s Black, many people who resonate with these messages have taken to using her words as ammunition on social media and elsewhere. It’s as though they are saying: “I am going to use this one Black voice (because it upholds my own worldview) to cancel out all the other Black voices in America.”
Chanté Stutznegger likens it to people listening only to one extreme outlier in a religion and holding that voice up as being representative of the entire religion, while shutting out the voices of the millions of other regular church members. Stutznegger and her sister Alexis Bradley have set up an Instagram channel (@letstalk_sis) to utilize their experience as Black women in Utah to address how to talk about racism, diversity and inclusion in our homes.
As Alexis Bradley of @letstalk_sis puts it, “The problem with these kinds of posts is that they shut down the conversation. When someone (too often someone I know and love) posts something like this, I want to ask them what their intention is. Is it to discredit my own lived experience? Because that’s incredibly hurtful. It’s saying, your experience doesn’t matter and has no validity because, look, Candace Owens says there’s no problem.”
Bradley continues: “The real danger with weaponizing these kinds of quotes is that it keeps good people from acting. If there’s no problem, then you don’t have to do anything.”
Stutznegger agrees. “In the time it took you to look up and share that quote, you could have been educating yourself about the very real and persistent problem of racism in America. Or you could have been reaching out to your local chapter of the NAACP, or donating diverse books to your library, or requesting diversity training in your school district. Or you could have been checking in with the police at your local station to let them know you care about them and are grateful for the work they do.”
The one thing we can’t do right now is shut down the conversation. Because if we do that, we’ll be stuck in the same place we’ve been stuck since the 1960s. And that’s just not acceptable.
“We have to be willing to listen to each other,” says Bradley. “We have to be able to sit with opposing views and realities. And we can’t get all our news from extreme sources — whether on the right or the left.”
We also cannot divide ourselves into rival sides or insist on seeing these issues as either-or dichotomies (either Black lives matter or blue lives matter; either you oppose the protests or you condone violence; either you deny police brutality exists or you hate all police officers). We’re better than this. We’re more compassionate than this. We care about each other more than this. We can navigate nuance, we can discern truth, we can find solutions.
The fact is that there are many conversations happening in our state right now where police departments, school districts, church groups are sitting down with members of the Black community and actively working on solutions.
This is the moment. In the words of Malcolm Jenkins, it’s the tipping point. Let’s not squander it. The time is now for us to sit and listen and then stand together and fix this. Once and for all.