By Chris Crass (March 19, 2016)
The continuing adventures of anti-racism at the Nashville YMCA:
“They should all go to Russia or China if they don’t like it,” shouts the woman in her 70s behind me. We’re both on running machines, and my pace quickens. She goes on about how angry those people make her. She’s yelling about the news on CNN playing above us, of people in Arizona blocking traffic, protesting Trump.
I thought of my comrades I know in the streets in AZ, and I turn around, keeping my stride (I might add) and as loud as she was speaking, so many in the packed gym could hear, “those are the people working to make our country great, great for everyone. And lots of people are mad, I’m mad about racism against Muslims and immigrants.”
She interrupts me: “Then you go to Russia or China.”
I respond: “And where do you wish you were living, in the America of the slave society, back to Jim Crow segregated apartheid?”
She interjects: “You know what’s great about this country, everyone has rights…”
“That’s true for rich white men,” I jump in, “but most people who have rights today, have not had them throughout the history of this country, and it’s only because of people like them today, who protested, who stood up against racism, stood up for equality.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about”, she responds, “I was alive during WWII when this country was great.”
“The lesson of WWII is that we must always oppose fascism, oppose racist demagogues like Trump scapegoating immigrants, and over a billion and half Muslims around the world, and that’s why those people protest.”
“Well I’m old, and have seen how the world works.” She says.
“Well, you’re on the wrong side of history today.” I conclude.
And then there was silence. People are looking at us, it’s uncomfortable and awkward. And I remember that she could have made her statements, unchallenged and loud, and white silence would give it legitimacy, make it sound like she’s expressing what all the other white people around us are really thinking. Well hell no. Her words are poison, that infect and spread disease. My goal was not to change her mind, but make her less effective. My goal was for other white people to hear a white person speak out against racism, against scapegoating, speak for the rights and dignity of Muslims and immigrants, and to help embolden them to speak out too, just as other people speaking out inspires me. And my goal was to call myself forward into my values.
And let me tell you, working out the next twenty minutes, meditating on the power of people’s movement, meditating on the need to love the racism out of white communities, and amplifying white anti-racist voices around the country, nourished my soul. I love you YMCA, and I love working against the death culture of white supremacy in white communities. I love being in this work for collective liberation with all of you! Let’s get free.