A lot of people want to heal our communities in the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville. I am here to counter such narratives. This is not the time for healing. Now is the time to double down on admittedly painful efforts for change instead of feelings.
Trying to heal a community without changing its condition is like waiting for a wound to scab over around a knife. You can’t fix a heart you don’t know how you broke. It may very well be time to heal our communities if “healing” means “accepting hard truths from the oppressed” first, followed by some other concrete changes, and then whatever else you think “healing” means after that.
Victims of racism don’t need you to acknowledge that racism is bad. Even racists know racism is bad. They need you to feel motivated in the interest of sustained action.
If you are in the fight against racism to feel good, you’re in the wrong platoon. We’re not at the “look at what we did” phase of fighting racism. If your chest is stuck out because of your progress and there are literal Nazis walking around America unmolested in 2017, tuck your chest back in. Fighting racism sucks. It’s hard, painful work. It’s never-ending work. It’s sad work. It isn’t pleasant work, and the goal of it isn’t to make you feel pleasant about the work. The goal is to end the effects of racism…the concrete, real, daily grind effects of racism.
If we have to keep reminding you that racism exists, you’re not fighting racism. If we have to keep sharing basic information for you to get motivated, you’re not fighting racism. If we have to be anything other than what we are for you to help us fight racism, you’re not fighting racism. You’re work adjacent. In the ‘hood we call that “unemployed.” It’s funny when we’re talking about somebody who won’t work a minimum wage job and keeps asking us for five dollars every week. It’s less funny when we’re talking about saving people’s lives.
Suggesting that it is time for our communities to start the healing process around racism after a weekend like Charlottesville exposes either a naïve concept of what racism is, or a cannibalistic self-help regimen of social orders. “Healing” suggests that you have discovered the source of distress, that you understand how the wound affects the body overall, that you have determined to some extent what caused the wound, and that you know how to fix the wound. “Healing” suggests that you have ascertained how to dress the wound: how to clean it, determine the depth of its rupture, have an awareness of what aid is most effective. And finally, “healing” suggests that you have the will to fix the wound, to get your hands dirty with the work of actual care, that you have the stomach and resolve to mend that which has been damaged, then cleaned, then cared for. As it turns out, a lot of people are committing a sort of pleasant malpractice on racism.
I would argue that any visible wound of racism is a symptom of a deeper condition. By the time Nazis are marching on your campus and the police are doing nothing about it, you can toss out all your band-aids. What do you extract out of the white supremacist to fix the wound they have left behind, that their policies and institutional manifestations have left behind? When it comes to racism shame is a pitiful antidote and healing is snake oil. The disease of racism isn’t a knife wound; it is a cancer. America doesn’t have a cure for that cancer yet either, and even less interest in discovering one. This country just installed a blatant and unapologetic racist as president, himself a mere symptom. Even with all of the tricks and outright attacks on the voting process in an effort to effectively remove the power of the people from the decision of who takes office, the problem seems to dig deeper into the bone. One day society may finally diagnose racism in this country for what it is. I hope there will still be a black person left to say “I told you so.”
If you cannot agree on what racism is in line with the realities of the oppressed, you cannot heal your community. If you cannot find oppressed people willing to talk to you freely and openly about their oppression in the face of your willingness to help, you are not ready to heal your community. And if you cannot recognize how your desire to heal is less important than the need for a change, not in hearts, but in actions – we can accomplish a lot if you focus more on defeating the plans and effect of racists than changing the hearts and minds racists – then you are not interested in healing at all. You are interested in not feeling guilty.