Are Americans afraid to achieve nation's ideals?
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on May 26, 2022)
Author: Dr. RL Booker
Editor: Veronica Mobley
Many people express shock at the killing of supermarket shoppers by a gunman spewing hate against people of color, but the stoking of fears with white supremacist ideas makes such horrors easy to anticipate. On May 14, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, self-proclaimed white supremacist and anti-Semite, went into a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York, where he is accused of shooting and killing 10 people and injuring 3 others. Buffalo officials say he fired over 50 bullets while live-streaming his gruesome and heartless act on social media. Of the 13 people shot, 11 were Black.
Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia stated, “this is an absolute racist hate crime.” At one point, the shooter aimed his gun at a man, but when he realized the man was white, said "Oh, sorry," and moved on to keep shooting non-white people. Buffalo officials made it clear the shooter was strategic. He planned this attack by driving several hours to the county most populated by African Americans and scoped out the supermarket the day before the attack. In a 180-page manifesto, he praises convicted murderers like Dylann Roof, who murdered nine black church members at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015. He also stated that low birth rates of white people “will ultimately result in the complete racial and cultural replacement of the European people." That notion comes from the racist and xenophobic "Great Replacement" conspiracy theory.
While parts of this theory have existed since the late 19th century, the title originated from Renaud Camus, a French novelist, conspiracy theorist and white nationalist. Camus says “native white Europeans are being replaced in their countries by non-white immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, and the end result will be the extinction of the white race.” While this conspiracy theory had been considered fringe, you can hear variations of it on mainstream networks like Tucker Carlson’s Fox News opinion show. A New York Times investigation published in early May showed Carlson had invoked the conspiracy theory in more than 400 episodes. People who buy into this theory see that America is becoming more diverse, sparking fear that white people cannot exist in such diversity. In reality, the shifting demographics of America are actualizing the symbol of the 1886 Statue of Liberty, an icon of freedom with its message to immigrants arriving by sea:
“Give me your tired, your poor, "Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, "The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. "Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, "I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
How did we get so far from the meaning in this message? Intentionally driven fear. The stoking of fears that prompt people to commit violence on people they deem inferior, or ones they believe don’t belong in this country, has created a recipe for more attacks on communities that often want to thrive but are just surviving. In a 2017 report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security, officials found that between 2000-2016, white supremacist groups were responsible for more murders than any other domestic extremism group. In 2019 and in 2021, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified under oath before Congress that most of the racially motivated violent extremism is due to white supremacy ideology and it is at the highest threat priority level, commensurate with ISIS.
When we see this information and we know it is real, why are there people in power who turn a blind eye to this very real problem? That's an especially powerful question for the many public officials who proclaim themselves to be followers of Christ. For centuries, Black Americans have waited for the ideals our Founders enshrined in the Constitution to become reality. As we get closer to those ideals, we see more outcry from people who want things to remain how they have always been — a nation articulating those ideals but never realizing them.
Many people imagine white supremacy died once the ink dried on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Black people and other people of color who experience it know white supremacy remains very real and very present. If people won’t believe us, or the FBI and Homeland Security agencies that confirmed it in Republican and Democratic administrations, who will they believe and what does that mean? I've heard some American Christians respond to murders of Black people with comments like "What about Chicago?" or "What about Baltimore?" When will they lean in with the Christlike mentality they say they have?
You cannot talk about communities that have high poverty and crime rates without also looking at how those communities were created and why. Many of those communities were created because of white supremacy ideology, i.e., segregation, redlining, denial of community resources, etc. Also, Black Americans who live in communities with high poverty and a high crime rate want those issues resolved just as much as they want white supremacy eradicated.
If anyone questions why standing with your fellow Americans to fight white supremacy is vital, just research what the lives of the 10 people murdered in Buffalo meant to those who loved them dearly. Their names are Ruth Whitfield, 82; Pearl Young, 77; Katherine Massey, 72; Heyward Patterson, 67; Celestine Chaney, 65; Geraldine Tally, 62; Aaron Salter, 55; Andre Mackniel, 53; Margus D. Morrison, 52; and Roberta A. Drury, 32.