Following the Anti-Trump Rally after the national election in the fall, I wrote a letter to TKS apologizing for my participation specifically in the disrespect towards Trump supporters. The disrespect I’m referring to was chanting “fuck Trump supporters” while marching through downtown Galesburg. Since that letter, I received a lot of feedback from many individuals with a diverse range of political opinions and I have reflected deeply on my actions and others’ interpretation of my words.
First, I would like to clarify the intent of my letter. Throughout my time in Galesburg, I have learned about the role of our college in the community. Although our histories are intricately linked, Knox has been afforded many advantages as an institution that have made residents feel marginalized. Knox students also have a significant amount of privilege over many residents in Galesburg and Knox County. Despite our complex identities and the marginalization we may experience, we are connected through the opportunities provided by being a part of the Knox community and the significant impact college will have on our future successes. Given this, I interpreted certain actions of the rally as perpetuating the elitist divide that many residents already feel exists between the college and the community. I aimed to draw attention to this in my letter and suggest that we use empathy as a tool to better engage the public about these difficult political issues.
Good intentions do not always lead to a good impact, however. Although some people resonated with my words, others felt that I was appealing to respectability politics and tone-policing activists of color. Although that was not my intention, I find these concerns very valid and I acknowledge that my letter suggested these criticisms. I have come to realize that it would have both been far more constructive for me to have approached my concerns with the organizers before writing an article in TKS and that a point about Knox and the Galesburg community could have been made without critiquing a specific effort. I am sincerely sorry for my impulsive and insensitive action and even my hypocrisy in advocating for joining people we disagree with around a table to “craft holistic solutions together” when I did not do so with the organizers of the rally. Furthermore, in saying that “I was complacent in an effort that isolated those who I must embrace most,” I devalued the fact that it is actually people of color and real white allies that need to be embraced the most and further supported in these difficult times. The people I worried we isolated are ones we also should engage and respect, but I fear that too often, in trying to empathize with opposing concerns, white people silence the already-marginalized voices of people of color. In our society dominated by normative whiteness, it is the responsibility of white allies to use their privilege and the platforms their voices have to amplify the ideas and concerns of people of color.
In fact, I firmly believe that we, white people, also have the primary obligation to engage other white people in dialogues about institutional and systemic racism and I was not explicit in expressing this. I vow to take on these responsibilities and I vow to urge my fellow white people to also dedicate themselves to these efforts. Racism is ultimately a problem with white people, so we need to be proactive in dismantling the social systems we exclusively benefit from and that have been supported by centuries of global oppression. We need to understand the role that normative whiteness has in the development of our white fragility in difficult conversations about race. We need to take responsibility for our collective history and also hold ourselves accountable for the ways that we still perpetuate racism, even with our good intentions.
Lastly, my article missed an important point about direct action. Although I do feel that dialogues and communication are important for the radical changes that need to happen in our society, these are only options with people within a similar power dynamic. Although I still agree that “now is not the time to grip our egos and be divisive” and that we should engage with people we disagree with, that solution may only work with individuals, not the larger institutions within our society. Historically, social victories have not been won by appealing to the pragmatism and benevolence of bureaucracy, but rather by the organized and consistent efforts of loud and passionate people. Direct and organized action is necessary for large-scale change because our institutional obstacles are greater than the search for opportunities to “craft holistic solutions” with people we disagree with. If we want to make America a real democracy, the power of the people must be a force we all come to believe in, actively support, and contribute to.
Thank you to all those who wrote to me about my original letter and to those that helped me reflect on it. I hope this letter is something you may also understand and appreciate. To any that valued my original letter and do not quite understand the rationale behind this revised edition, I urge you to reflect upon the following quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letters from Birmingham Jail in 1963: “I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’”