But This Is Now


[Leaders from the Civil Rights Movement during the 1963 March on Washington.]

From the time I was a young child to the time I was a young adult, my formal educational settings taught me that racism was a thing of the past.

It was serious, but it was largely behind us.

Oh, sure, there were some skinheads out there somewhere. And grand dragons marched in those occasional KKK rallies too. But those people were certainly the hate-filled exceptions. “Aren’t they awful?” we seemed to say with our scrunched up facial expressions of disgust and dismissal.

We dismissed their hatred, as we should have, but we also dismissed ourselves from the necessity of confronting our own racial biases. We kept these individuals away from the center of our civic life, as we should have, but we also kept ourselves from the recognition that race and class function systemically within our civic institutions.

We were majority white communities who learned, taught, and internalized colorblindness. It became a virtuous thing never to see race. “When I see people, I don’t see color,” we would say.

But this meant we never talked about the racism we did see. Most of all, this meant that we worked to deny the reality of racism right in front of us. We erased the harm that we and our larger systems were causing people of color. Occasionally, this meant we would erase people of color themselves. It certainly involved the erasure of their claims. We would dismiss them outright.

“That was then, but this is now,” we would say.

We gathered around photos of Civil Rights leaders from the 1960s and taught those to our children, as we should have. But before color printing, those photos were all in black and white. They had a veneer of past. I was born a mere eighteen years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — that’s it — but I grew up feeling like Jim Crow took place eons ago.

I have vivid memories of sitting around my house while talk shows from the 1980s and 1990s were on the television set. Oprah would dare to talk about race on her show, inviting guests to talk about real, lived stories. Almost inevitably, someone in the audience would stand up to make a particular, impassioned argument. Oprah would hold out the microphone for them to speak, and they would say something like,

“Why are you always talking about slavery? Can’t you let that go? That was then, but this is now!”

“Those police officers shouldn’t have done that to Rodney King. It’s awful. But that’s the act of those police officers. Stop trying to act like this is everybody. You got desegregation. You got Civil Rights. You got the right to vote. Stop blaming us for everything. That was then, but this is now!”

“But this is now.”
“But this is now.”
“But this is now.”

The phrase usually meant, “Get over it.” Racism is serious, but it’s largely behind us.

And yet, here we are.

On Friday, a man was working on his car in his driveway just south of Seattle. A white man wearing a mask suddenly walked up to him with a gun. He yelled, “Go back to your own country!” and pulled the trigger. The Sikh man has injuries, but thankfully, none of them are life-threatening.

But this is now.

On Saturday, the Klu Klux Klan announced that they would hold a rally outside of a Georgia courthouse to protest the recent sentencing of Joe Torres and Kayla Norton. Torres and Norton were convicted after a 2015 incident. On that day, they rode with a convoy of trucks that were waving large confederate flags, drove past a birthday party with black families present, and yelled racial slurs from the vehicles. The drivers then pulled off the road and parked, and a smaller group approached the families with more racial slurs. Torres pulled out a shotgun and made threats of violence. Norton made similar comments.

But this is now.

On Sunday, a lawsuit hit the news, claiming that as many as 60,000 immigrants have been detained and brought into forced labor — a violation of federal anti-slavery laws. This is alleged to have taken place at the Denver Contract Detention Facility, a for-profit detention center run by GEO Group. GEO Group has a contract with ICE. Detention and slavery are serving as a money-making scheme for white CEOs and white shareholders.

But this is now.

Renee Roederer

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