Pittsburgh Left: It’s time for whites to confront racism in a meaningful way | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh Left: It’s time for whites to confront racism in a meaningful way

Racists have become emboldened in recent years because those around them have given them a free pass to be hateful.

I have never been discriminated against. I have never been pulled over by a cop without cause. I have never been beaten by a police officer. I have never been shot once, let alone multiple times. I have never been called a racist slur.

As a 44-year-old white male in America, I have never been the target of racism in any form. But as a white male, I’ve certainly seen my share of racist behavior. The reason, quite frankly, is that a lot of white people are entitled, pompous idiots and a lot more allow them to be that way — and the latter may be a bigger problem than the former.

Get a group of white folks together in just about any setting and the racists in the group slowly start to let race creep into every conversation. While watching a game, they’ll talk about the showboat athletes who need to “act like you’ve been there before,” or refer to “a bunch of thugs.” When talking about social programs, they’ll go on about all the “blacks on welfare” buying filet mignon and new Cadillacs. And then as these people spew their vitriol, there are those in the room who laugh or say a simple “that’s right,” whether they believe it or not. 

Racists have become emboldened in recent years because those around them have given them a free pass to be hateful. We don’t want to call them out on their nonsense for one reason or another; in a lot of instances it’s because the person is a family member. Others are right-wing political candidates like Donald Trump, who speaks openly and boldly about building walls and banning Muslims from this country. He’s able to say those things because hundreds of thousands of fellow idiots will reward him with votes in the primary. 

The only way that we’re going to make any advances is if we start standing up and not accepting this behavior. As white people, we can empathize with African Americans, we can rally, march and protest in solidarity. But a change of this magnitude has to come from the inside out.

That’s what I’ve tried to do. I no longer turn a blind eye to this problem. If someone I’m with makes a racist statement or goes on a racist rant, I tell them to stop. It used to be I would just leave the room, but what good does that do? This type of behavior has to be confronted head-on. Because if we don’t have the power to tackle this problem when it comes into our lives, I’m not sure that we can claim to be much better than the person who’s actually exhibiting the behavior.

Take a situation from December, captured on video, when protesters at a Mars-area fracking site were confronted by a white man who took issue with their protest. He has the right to engage them and challenge their beliefs, but what he did was turn his attention to a local African-American photojournalist name Tom Jefferson. He called Jefferson the n-word along with other slurs. For the duration of the more than three-minute video clip, those in attendance confront the man and tell him to leave. He stands defiant, almost proud of what he’s doing and saying. For his part, Jefferson keeps his cool and keeps filming. Those people refused to step down and back away from a tense situation. They did the right thing and we need more of that.

The man was later identified as John Pisone, who worked as a landscaper for a land-management company. He was fired within a day of the video going viral. For his part, Pisone apologized to Jefferson via WPXI and said, “I wouldn’t say I’m completely racist.”

That’s what a lot of racists say, usually before following up with some variation of, “They’re not all bad.” Lately, I feel like I need to use that quote when talking about white people: “We’re not all bad, there are some good whites.” The fact is, I think most people are good, but on the race issue a lot of good people have become too timid to speak up because they’re afraid of making waves or ruining relationships.

However, we’ve come to a place in history where we can no longer allow this type of hate to spread. It’s incumbent on us to stand up and confront racism when see it. The hateful idiots have shown they’re not afraid to speak their minds, so let’s show them we’re not afraid to speak ours.

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