by Catherine Shugrue dos Santos, MSW
Co-Director of Client Services at AVP
One month ago today, Nazis and white supremacists inflicted pain and violence in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, and we simply can’t afford to let our feelings of disgust and outrage fade. If we, as white people, do not stand up, step up, and actively fight each and every effort by hate groups and the government to roll back the rights of people of color, we are not truly fighting for LGBTQ equality.
White supremacy reinforces and engenders all oppression—patriarchy, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, anti-immigrant bias, anti-HIV bias, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, classism, ableism, and hatred in all forms. As white queer and trans folks, we must recognize that this violent extremism does not represent anything new, and that the real danger to our nation is not only white cisgender straight men marching with torches through the streets. The real danger here is our collective white silence, and the tendency for us who sit in our power and privilege on the sidelines.
I am not proud when I catch myself still feeling shocked and surprised in moments while scrolling through my newsfeed – because I realize that moment of surprise is all about my privilege. I would love to think that the world really is getting better, that the election of President Trump is an unfortunate period in our history that will pass, even if I do nothing. At first, I was hurt when people of color whom I love and work alongside every day told me they were not surprised when Trump won, and even seemed impatient with how heartbroken I felt. Because I wasn’t directly impacted by racism and white supremacy as a white person, I could believe we were on our way to better times.
As a social worker, and a queer anti-violence advocate, I knew we were not done. I never believed we were in a post-racial society, or that President Obama singlehandedly ended racism by being elected. I knew that the same Supreme Court who struck down DOMA also dismantled the Voting Rights Act, and that we had much more to do. But was I ready for the return of emboldened white supremacists marching through an American town? Even with all the work I have done, I wasn’t prepared—and that is on me.
As white people, we must challenge racism and white supremacy everywhere we see it rear its ugly head. We must stop the conversations about “all sides,” and “all lives matter,” in their tracks. We must stand up for what is right. We must denounce white supremacy in all its forms. We must fight to give up the privilege we have which we do not deserve, and did nothing to earn. We must do this because for all of us to thrive, we must create and live in a world where racism is not allowed to flourish, but is eradicated.
I believe we can work together, that we must do so, because as Ella Watkins says, our liberation really is bound together. As queer white folks who experience homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia every day, we have to realize that we are all in danger from white supremacy and racism. We must use our white privilege to fight oppression and injustice, as aspiring allies to communities of color, and particularly to our own queer and trans communities of color. If we do that, I believe it is possible for us to reach the America I was taught existed, where everyone is valued and free. As Langston Hughes said:
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!