Posted on June 20, 2018

White People Are Cowards

Michael Harriot, The Root, June 19, 2018


Everyone knew that slavery was evil. Everyone knew that Jim Crow was evil. Everyone knew that lynching was evil. Everyone knows that any kind of injustice or inequality is evil. These things persist because most white people don’t actively fight to eradicate them.

And most white people don’t actively fight to eradicate inequality and injustice because they usually benefit in some small way. The Southern economy was built on evil slavery. Jim Crow laws maintained a national order with white people firmly planted atop the social hierarchy. Systematic injustice keeps black people in their place, but it also comforts white people to know that the big black bogeymen are being kept behind bars.

Inequality and racism exist not because of evil but because the unaffected majority put their interests above all others, and their inaction allows inequality to flourish. {snip} White people who are quiet about racism might not plant the seed, but their silence is sunlight.

Many of those people don’t speak out because they fear alienation more than they hate racism. For them, the fear of having someone furrow their brow in their direction outweighs their hatred of sending children to an underfunded school knowing that they don’t have an equal chance at success because of the color of their skin.

They know the reality of disproportionate police brutality, but they don’t have to worry about their children being shot in the face. Their kids receive good educations. Their kids can wear hoodies whenever they please. Little Amber and Connor’s résumés don’t get tossed in the trash because of their black-sounding names. Their children’s futures are determined only by work ethic and ability. Therefore, they stay silent on the sidelines.


That is cowardice.

On Thursday, while visiting San Antonio, I was approached by a gentleman who heard my name and wanted to know if I was the Michael Harriot from The Root. He said that he was a paralegal who works with one of the noted immigration attorneys who were all over the news that day (I don’t know which one because I had been traveling and … Crown Royal). He began to explain how the Trump administration was literally putting children in concentration camps.


Just before he shook my hand and said it was nice meeting me, he explained that it was entirely possible that those children might never see their parents again. Then he said something that I still cannot erase from my brain. He paused, his hand still gripping mine, and looked past me as if he were recalling something, and said, “This is some Gestapo shit, man.”


Despite the similarities between 1933 Germany and 2018 America {snip} the most obvious parallel between the Third Reich and the Trump administration is the willing silence of the majority.


But it is not just the politicians in the Republican Party who are afraid to speak out against their base; the spineless cowardice of the Democrats has also become increasingly apparent. We expect Republicans to stand with their fearless leader and maintain their grip on power, but Democrats have been so silent that Rep. Maxine Waters’ defiance makes her look like a crazy woman in a tinfoil hat by comparison.

{snip} Two-thirds of Americans say that separating children from their parents at the border is unacceptable, according to a CBS poll.


The crisis at the border is the latest addition to a long list of instances when white people have chosen silence over what is right. Most of the white people who supported civil and voting rights still did not march, boycott or sit in. The white people who shed tears over police videos won’t attend a Black Lives Matter meeting.

Cowards. All of them.

At least once a week, I will receive an email from a well-meaning white person who wants to know what they can do to fight injustice and inequality. The answer to that is simple. Whenever and wherever you spot racism or inequality, say something. Do something.


If a white person spoke up every time a fellow Caucasian used the word “nigger” in the safe space of whiteness, they would stop doing it. If a white person advocated for diversity and equality behind the closed doors of power, where black faces are seldom present, people in power wouldn’t dismiss the reality of the tilted playing field.

And maybe I should go back and add the word “some” before every mention of “white people” in this article {snip}.


“Some” is not enough.

Some white people will speak out sometimes, just like some fish can fly and some bears can ride bicycles. But if a biologist were lecturing on the mobility of aquatic animals or grizzlies, it would be idiotic to interrupt with the rare cases of flying fish or bears that ride Huffys.

Fish swim. Bears walk.

And white people are cowards.


The most disheartening part of all this is that black people and other people of color alone cannot abolish discrimination and hate. It is a problem created by white America and maintained by the silence of the majority. Every form of inequality would disappear by next Friday if every white person in America used his or her privilege to eliminate it.


Republicans who disagree with the Trump administration remain silent. Instead of screaming at the top of their lungs, Democrats are calmly suggesting the same electoral solution that put Trump in power in the first place. Moderate whites say nothing behind closed doors. White women still have not confronted the 53 percent of their population who supported Trump.

And that is why racism persists. That is how Trump maintains his power. Injustice is evil. The cowardice of silence perpetuates injustice, and anything that perpetuates evil is, by definition, also evil.

Therefore, silence is evil.


I thought white people were evil.

I was right.