The Real Faces of Racism

Late Friday night, we witnessed about 100 white nationalists–euphemistically calling themselves the “Alt-right”–marching with Tiki torches in hand. By Sunday, one young woman who went to counter-protest would be dead. She would be run over in an ISIS like car attack by one of these white nationalists.

Clean cut with polo shirts and khaki pants, these young white men were chanting Nazi slogans “Seig Heil” and “blood and soil.” Just how they looked surprised many people at home watching TV. We are used to seeing racist individuals as society’s rejects often wearing some identifiable costume. The Neo-Nazis with their skinheads, army combat boots and bodies covered with tattoos. The KKK with their signature white hoods. But these young men marched on to spew hate looking like the average college white male.

Unlike Neo-Nazis who go buy their outfits at an Army surplus store, these white nationalist looked as if they bought their outfits from the Gap.

On Saturday, the white nationalists were joined by the KKK and assault rifle carrying militia men. Even David Duke made an appearance boasting, “We are determined to take our country back” “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.” Behind Mr. Duke, the white nationalists, wearing white polo shirts, were cheering him on. By the end of the day, the worse would happen as many would be injured and that young woman would die.

So what happened to masks and costumes of the bogey man racists that lived on the fringe? Why is it now replaced with people wearing polos and khakis? Well, it’s because racism was never really a fringe movement. Yes, it used to be that those on the fringe were the most highly vocal about it.

But here is the thing, racism and xenophobia have always been part of the main stream. Racism and xenophobia are as American as apple pie.

I know first hand from personal experience. The images of these clean cut men with polo and khakis were not really surprising to me. They looked exactly like the same people who called me racial slurs like “sand nigger” while I was growing up in the midwest.

I remember as a freshman in high school, one day walking down my neighborhood street to go to a friend’s house. A truck with older boys dressed like normal high school kids pulled up next to me as I was walking on the sidewalk. “Hey, are you that Zand kid that goes to Millard North?” one of the boys in the back of the truck said. “Yeah,” I responded. “Why don’t you go back to your fucking country towelhead!” he shouted at me. His friend threw his cup of soda towards me, I ducked, and the drink splattered behind me. As they laughed, the driver of the truck sped off with tires screeching. Shrugging it off, I continued to walk to my friend’s house.

This wasn’t just one isolated event either. There were many incidents that some sort of racial slur had been used against me or someone in my family. Now in my late 30’s, I haven’t had this happen overtly since college. But I was not so naive to think that racism or the xenophobia had stopped. It is likely now more covert as many of my peers are older with families themselves. Saying racial slurs as teenagers or young adults is now far more consequential. I am under the assumption that racism or xenophobia still occurs locally either in its overt or covert practice. It is, unfortunately, a part of life.

I also now live a very different life in a very different place–a highly ethnically diverse city. And please don’t get me wrong, where I grew up, I had many friends who were some of the nicest, accepting and open minded people I know. But I would not hesitate to tell you that growing up where I did, being a kid who is just a little different and has a name that is different– you are bound to experience some type of bigotry.

I guess now I should end off painting a rosy picture or give some words of hope that racism and xenophobia will soon end. Sorry, it will not. Racism will never go away, neither will xenophobia.

So how did I deal with these people who thought they were superior to me just because they had a one syllable English name or had families of European descent? I didn’t. I dealt with my self.

I focused on making my self both a better and smarter person. I focused a lot of my studying and knowledge gathering on becoming a well-rounded person so that one day I could be of some value to society. I read not only about the sciences, but also about politics, philosophy, economics, and psychology.

Racism and xenophobia have its roots in the majority that feels disenfranchised. So while they go out to march that their plight is the fault of minorities and immigrants–a tired old scapegoat that has been tried and failed– continue to keep learning and keep focused on making life for you and those around you better. In the end, those who take responsibility for their own actions, its outcomes and look to improve it will be the people more likely to provide our highest values in society. And this is a major antidote against racists and xenophobes.