YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
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February 2017

By Jamaal Smith, Racial Justice Community Engagement Manager, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin

A Challenge to Societal "Normalcy"

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
-Bishop Desmond Tutu

In a recent racial justice session during Mission Week at Marquette University, Rev. Jim Wallis, renowned civil rights activist, author, and founder of the Washington, D.C.-based organization Sojourners, said, “Repentance from (America’s original) sin is to die from the concept of whiteness.” Since the inception of this country, Whiteness (or White Supremacy) has cast a dark cloud, blocking the possible rays of hope that were to shine bright through the characteristics of its intended foundation: liberty, justice, peace, freedom, and equality. Yet, for many who are outside of America’s “inner circle”, they have yet to realize the idea of laissez-faire – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – in its truest form. America’s forefathers, who spoke vehemently on these concepts, set the tone to what would become of its precious land of liberty.

George Washington, who is recognized for his heroics as a war veteran and the first president of the United States of America, once sold an African slave for a keg of beer. Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence in which the preamble states “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal”, owned nearly 200 slaves. John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States, did not support slavery, but opposed the abolitionist movement because of the dangers it may entail, forgetting that the millions of slaves on plantations across the country were living in terror every day.

There is a strong correlation between these three examples from the Founding Fathers and where the United States currently stands nearly 200 years later. Throughout history, we have lived through tumultuous periods that have created a hypocritical environment riddled with the disease of injustice. Periods like chattel slavery, vagrancy, and Jim Crow have long been catalysts to the establishment of White Supremacy at the expense of people of color, most notably African Americans. In place of the founding principles has been imperialism, colonialism, and genocide; thus amassing a greater sense of fraudulence over liberty. How else would there continue to be a holiday which celebrates Christopher Columbus for his “discovery” of America, a land inhabited by the indigenous people across multiple territories, thus the reason for the title, “Native Americans”?

The role of whites in positions of power is deemed normal. Many are able to acknowledge the presence of white supremacy, yet feel there is no action available to eradicate its existence. Furthermore, when Whites who recognize the injustice in White Supremacy (as John Adams did with slavery), they too often sit back and say nothing. Silence indicates siding with the oppressor, as Bishop Tutu aptly stated. Therefore, my challenge to all of us today is that we begin to challenge the societal normalcy of White Supremacy. Be vocal about racial injustice, gender exclusion, discrimination based on sexual orientation, or religious intolerance. Don’t be afraid to become agents of racial dissidence. If we remain silent on these matters, it signifies that we condone the activity, which makes us just as complicit as the perpetrators of racism.

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The 2038 Racial Justice Blog includes monthly insight from YWCA staff and community members working for a more just and equitable Milwaukee. Learn more about our 2038 goal.