Last weekend, for the first time in six years, I got to spend a few hours with my grandmother. We caught up on lost time, she officially welcomed my husband into the family, and she spent no small amount of time warning us of the dangers of white supremacists and white supremacist compromise.
That’s not surprising. By now many people know that black families often have The Talk with their children at a young age.
The Talk educates black children on how to respond to the threat of supremacist action at school, in the neighborhood, during encounters with the police, and in just about every other circumstance. What many people don’t seem to know, however, is that The Talk is really more of a lifelong conversation. Children and young people are told what to do in a situation but the adults in black families discuss supremacy all the time. Was a certain action profiling? Was a resume rejected because the name at the top was “too black”? Can you be fired for wearing your hair a certain way? The Conversation begins with The Talk and will last until equity is achieved.
My grandmother makes no claim to expertise herself but when she speaks up in The Conversation, people listen. My grandmother lives in Goldsboro, NC and attends Greenleaf Christian Church. If Goldsboro sounds familiar to you, it may be because you heard that MacArthur Fellowship recipient Reverend William Barber is the pastor of that church. Or you may recall that then Presidential candidate Pete Buddigeg went to Greenleaf Church in Goldsboro to gain support for his candidacy. If you want to talk politics and supremacy vis-a-vis the black American experience then Goldsboro is a good place to go. And since MacArthur fellows and counselors to Presidential candidates listen when my 88 year old grandmother speaks on racism and supremacy, I do too.
With that in mind, I was not surprised when white supremacy came up in conversation with my grandmother but I was surprised that it came up with my white husband in the room.
The Talk or The Conversation has always been something that stays in the family.
So for me, the intimate discussion of white supremacy that included a white-bodied person represented a tipping point.
It is a sign that conversations within black families have turned from enduring supremacy - a challenge in its own right - to finding solutions to America’s white supremacy problem. And on that point my grandmother said something profound: white-bodied people who believe in racial equity have to begin acknowledging and solving for the damage that their supremacist peers are doing to this country. For an example of how a failure to acknowledge the danger of supremacy, we need look no further than the Capitol Riot.
On Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 a mob of Trump supporters overran security at the nation’s capitol as Congress was in the process of counting the electoral votes to certify Joe Biden as the nation’s President-Elect. Many of these rioters had been convinced by President Trump and other right wing conspiracy theorists that the results of the election were fraudulent. In order to back up his claims of fraud, Trump and his conspirators engaged in brazen acts of supremacy. They threatened local elections officials, chanted at officials to “Stop the Count” where Trump had more votes but not where his vote tally was higher than Biden’s, Trump himself pressured the Georgia Secretary of State to “find” enough votes for him to win that state’s electoral college votes, and the Trump campaign lobbied the courts at every level to suppress or otherwise throw out the votes in areas with high concentrations of black voters.
This is a critical point because black voters almost uniformly supported Joe Biden for President and The Conversation prepared black people for this behavior. White-bodied people were evidently unaware that mobs of supremacists damage buildings without regard for the law, kill people - as they did in countless lynchings - without regard for the law, and have bombed black communities without regard for the law.
Black people recognized Trump’s actions as supremacist actions from the beginning.
We have accepted voter suppression as a norm in the country and we know that supremacist actions are a frequent check to our political power. Arguing in court that signatures should be more closely examined with the goal of throwing out the votes of black people is as supremacist as counting a black person as 3/4s of a human for the sake of political calculations.
This is not new.
What’s new is that supremacists acted to check black political power and lost. Their response was to riot and attack the capitol building of the United States of America rather than attacking black people.
It is difficult to overstate the implications that the Capitol Riot will have on the movement for racial equity.
From the inception of our country, white-bodied people have compromised with their supremacist peers at the expense of black lives. From red lining, to wealth inequality, to failing to address disparities in our education system, to police breaking into people’s homes and shooting them in their beds, to accepting that law enforcement can snatch people off the streets in unmarked vans during protests for racial equity but failing to provide adequate security when a literal mob of supremacists is openly planning to commit violence at the capitol - the counterweight to systemic racism has been systemic impunity and the development of a culture that tells supremacists that there will be no accountability for their actions.
But with an attack on the United State Capital must come accountability. And alongside that accountability - there is an opportunity.
Now, with the future of our shared democracy on the line, we must all work together to check supremacist ideologies and root out that culture of compromise. Because now we all know and realize that a supremacist attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. And in order to help spur that change, people like my 88-year-old grandmother are changing tactics and bringing The Talk and The Conversation to white-bodied allies in ways that she has not done before. She told me, as we were shifting from politics to more pleasant conversation, that the torch had been passed and that it was incumbent upon people like myself and my husband to make equity a reality.
We accept that torch and the work that comes with it. And we hope that our neighbors and our community will do their part as well.
Jerome Evans is a Nokomis East residents who serves on the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association Board.