“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
I couldn’t have been more than 17 when, grasping the white supremacist flyer, my friend and I drove up to the gas station, pulled in and made our way to the pay phone. We didn’t have mobile phones in those days and besides, it was a higher call rate number. We brought out the flyer and dialed the number carefully, holding the phone between our ears. Some guy got on the line going on about the purity of the white race, yadda yadda yadda. We were titillated.
My yearbook from that year isn’t one I’d readily pull out to show off yet look at myself. The same friend and I somehow ended up privately sharing views on white supremacy, tagging SWP and other neo-nazi jargon onto each other’s pages. We each had friends who were not white and would have never seen them as lesser than ourselves, but for some reason we started entertaining the hatred, minus any specific face to associate it with. Perhaps it was because we’d both dated a guy before we knew each other who was all about the white power. He was also the only guy who ever hit me and was verbally abusive and, for shame, I dated him twice. But I think really for me, it was because I was angry at the world and at those black guys who wouldn’t listen to the word STOP, causing my friends and I to have to physically defend ourselves. We could have just as easily hated on student journalists, which they were, or high school boys, which they also were, but we chose black.
Let my 39 year old self be clear: There is no excuse for having SWP and 88 written proudly in your high school yearbook, surrounded by innocent messages of ‘Have a great summer, keep in touch!’ If I could have a do-over…
This isn’t something I talk about, ever. I was reminded of it when discussing the election with a friend who commented that his actions and those all too familiar words against women were in the past, and we shouldn’t hold it against him. I am steering clear of discussing Trump here, so won’t comment further on that, but I will say it gave me a moment’s pause, remembering my adolescent stupidity. And truthfully, as much as I try not to hold any prejudices against anyone now, I am still human and prone to doing so, but I am only too aware of this.
But seeing these reports and videos of the increase in racist attacks in the states, hearing people’s fears of being harmed, witnessing public figures both in Trump’s crew and those riding his coat tails say things undoubtedly reeking of racism, I have to let you know this about me. Because this behaviour cannot be ignored. For the sake of your vulnerable, impressionable teenagers and children and of course, for those who it would cause physical and emotional harm. You cannot pass someone up who is publicly declaring white power and that this is what will make America great again. Don’t assume they’ll go away. Let your children see you stand up and say this is not right, not acceptable, not what you voted for. Get out from behind your ballot (or lack thereof) and stand for something in your community with your whole self. Challenge racism (and all the other isms) as if your life depended on it.