Katherine Na is a senior international studies major.
This November, Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the race for the presidency, flipping five historically red states blue and winning a record-shattering number of votes. And while I was glad to see Biden win (or more specifically, to see Trump lose), upon viewing exit polls, I didn’t feel nearly as victorious as I had hoped I would.
It was difficult to understand that 47.2% of the electorate cast their ballots for Trump, even after he was revealed to have repeatedly lied about the coronavirus and was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, among many other offenses. But realizing that nearly three out of every five white Americans voted for Trump was a huge blow. And as someone who has placed so much faith in her generation’s collective ability to be better, fairer, and more compassionate than those before us, I was devastated to learn that 45% of young white voters are Trump voters.
There were many reasons for me to be upset by this — Trump is a liar, he exacerbated a humanitarian crisis at the southern border and has attacked practically every minority group he could think of. But what I found most disturbing is the fact that Trump, who has repeatedly refused to denounce white supremacy and is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a hero to the alt-right,” managed to win over the majority of white people even after this year’s Black Lives Matter protests. Even after millions of people took to the streets to protest anti-Blackness and police brutality, culminating in what may be the largest protest movement in U.S. history, Trump still won the white vote.
I’m writing this article because I’m afraid. I’m afraid that the election of Joe Biden will cause white people to again become complacent and, despite their awareness that racism in the U.S. will continue to persist, Trump — the most obnoxious symbol of white supremacy — losing his presidential title will be enough to satisfy them. I’m afraid that this period of racial reckoning will become yet another moment, and liberal white people will again label Trump supporters as “fringe voters,” in denial of the fact that the majority of their community hoped he would win a second term.
White people, you cannot allow this to happen. You cannot allow white supremacy to continue to grow. And I address you not because I believe white people are the only people capable of espousing white supremacist views and beliefs, but because you made up the only group in which a majority voted for Trump, and because you are the only people who can dismantle white supremacy itself. To put it plainly, white supremacists will not listen to people of color’s attempts to defend their dignity. Other white people are the only ones who can even start that conversation with them.
Well-intentioned white people often describe themselves as allies of various causes led by people of color, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and United We Dream. In these cases, positioning yourself as an ally makes sense — it is an acknowledgment that while a struggle isn’t necessarily your own, you will lend your support to leaders of colors and utilize your white privilege to help the movement.
But white people cannot be “allies” in the fight against white supremacy, because, by definition, it is your problem to solve. As Ernest Owens, a Black journalist, writes for Philadelphia Magazine, “While racism harms [people of color] directly, it is caused solely by white people’s actions and cultural influence.” White supremacy is a white issue. It is the whitest issue of all. And to expect people of color to lead the charge to attempt to dismantle it — when they are the exact people who such an ideology dehumanizes and puts at risk for violence — while you relegate yourself to the role of an ally is both insulting and cruel.
Instead of being allies, white people must be leaders in the fight against white supremacy. It’s time to stop prioritizing your comfort zone and instead be the first to engage in conversations about systemic racism with your peers, friends, and family members who most need to hear and learn about it, not those who are the most pleasant to speak with.
Rather than approaching conversations with the Trump supporters around you as opportunities to feel self-righteous, work hard to change their minds and show them new perspectives. Your moral high ground is not as important as turning people away from such violent and hateful ideologies.
In his book “How to Be an Antiracist,” historian Ibram X. Kendi argues that the opposite of racism is not being “not racist,” but being “anti-racist.” In his explanation of the difference between the two concepts, he writes, “[Someone] either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist.”
Being a leader in the fight against white supremacy means that it is not enough to settle for the awareness that you, yourself, are not a racist. It requires that you be bold and confront racial inequities and bigotry at every turn, no matter how uncomfortable you may feel, because you understand that people’s rights and lives are at stake. I promise that you most likely know someone who may not be a white supremacist but does tolerate, or even support, some of its beliefs and structures. After all, nearly three out of five white Americans voted for one at the polls. The odds are in your favor.