Johnny Townsend: When protesting against genocide is a racist act
FILE - In this file photo dated Monday, Oct 30 2017, a bumper sign calls for the end of farm killings in South Africa, during a blockade of a freeway in Midvaal, South Africa. U.S. President Donald Trump has tweeted that he has asked the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to "closely study the South African land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers." Trump added, "South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers." (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, File)
Some of my Mormon friends and relatives post frequently about the atrocity of racial genocide. But, like many white conservatives of the religious right, the only racial injustice they seem able to see anywhere in the world is that heaped upon whites by people of color.
My friends and relatives sound the alarm regularly about blacks killing whites, recently posting a photo of several black Africans in South Africa marching with white baby dolls nailed to posts, quite a horrifying image.
Still, I admit to feeling ambivalent about their repeated calls for justice. It’s like a police officer ticketing a black driver for speeding. Yes, the driver was breaking the law, but when only black drivers get ticketed in a given county or principality, while white drivers speed on by, the enforcement of a law we all agree is good becomes a racist act, not the embodiment of justice.
My Mormon friends and relatives, like so many other conservatives, don’t protest when white police officers kill unarmed blacks. I don’t hear a word from them about the multiple documented cases of voter suppression, when ballots collected from black voters are discarded, or polling places in majority black areas are eliminated. My conservative Mormon friends and family don’t protest against President Trump’s Muslim ban, or about Israeli atrocities against Palestinians. I don’t hear a word in support of desperate immigrants and refugees trying to enter the Promised Land.
But if a white person anywhere in the world is hurt or killed by non-whites, that’s worth talking about.
But when they don’t talk about oppression and violence against whites when it is perpetrated by other whites, I can’t quite believe their sense of outrage isn’t tinged with racism. I don’t hear my conservative Mormon friends and relatives protesting WalMart’s low wages forcing thousands of its white employees to apply for food stamps and other government assistance.
I don’t hear any complaints about a for-profit health care system that refuses care to millions of white people, leading to tens of thousands of premature white deaths every year. I hear nothing when a white domestic terrorist kills dozens of whites at a country music concert, a single act which killed more whites than all the white farmers killed in South Africa last year.
But liberals and progressives are awful because they don’t care about white genocide in South Africa!
Yes, we care about the murder of white people. It’s just not the only thing we care about. We care that even after the end of apartheid, South Africa remains a nation with perhaps the most extreme income inequality in the world.
Closer to home, we care about conservatives removing elected officials in Flint, Mich., and poisoning its water supply. We care that, years later, the problem still hasn’t been resolved. I haven’t heard any of my religious conservative relatives say a word in support of reparations for the descendants of African slaves. I haven’t heard them say anything against reparations, either. The issue is completely unimportant to them.
On Columbus Day, one of my Mormon relatives posted about how brutal Native Americans were, that they gave as good as they got, so he was going to celebrate Columbus, not indigenous people. Mormons, who revere the Book of Mormon as scripture written by Native Americans, should instinctively care a little more about indigenous people, but right-wing racism has beaten back their theology and compassion like an angry mob.
If the only injustices my right-wing friends and family care about are those which afford them the opportunity to demonize blacks or other people of color, it’s difficult not to see their protests against genocide as a racist act. Especially when they offer no suggestions for how to resolve the racial problems in South Africa or anywhere else. The point of the posts I see is simply that blacks are bad and white people are the real victims in today’s world of political correctness.
We don’t need to compete for whose injuries are worse. We should be able to unite and together fight injustice everywhere we see it. We on the left are willing to side with conservatives when they are oppressed, with whites when they are oppressed, with anyone anywhere who is oppressed. But to be successful, we’re going to need religious conservatives to care about justice for more than just themselves.
Let’s work together to make the world a safer place for everyone.
Johnny Townsend, op-ed mug.
Johnny Townsend, Seattle, is the author of “Behind the Bishop’s Door” and many other collections of Mormon short stories. His latest book of essays, “Human Compassion for Beginners,” was recently released by BookLocker.