I have been moved by the protests across the country this week, as people of all backgrounds have come together to stand for the rights of the African American community.
I am white. My roots trace back to England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Northern Europe. Despite that whiteness, my ancient family was often targeted for race. For centuries the English oppressed and controlled the Welsh, Irish and Scots. My family contains both the oppressor and the oppressed.
Over time, my oppressor English and Northern European family also became oppressed. During the Reformation they joined, even founded, non-conformist religious sects. They were beaten, killed and driven from their countries.
Unfortunately, when my ancestors fled to the American Colonies, they didn’t take the lessons of their victimization with them. Instead, feeling their new power, they became the oppressor – in my family’s case, of the Native Americans. I’m not aware of any slaveholders in my family tree, but I suspect that people of color were not treated as equals by my family, be it in Virginia, in New England or during westward expansion.
Once a group has dominance in numbers and weaponry, they seem to seek someone to dominate. The vicious cycle repeats.
The stories from the 400-year struggle endured by African Americans are horrific. Post-emancipation and even the civil rights movement, there was a deliberate and systemic repression of African American rights. Dehumanizing treatment continues to this day.
I have been excluded, targeted, and treated unjustly, both as a child and an adult. But for me, these incidences have been small, escapable periods of my life.
Unlike my experiences, however, the African American community faces ongoing and generational prejudice. The injustices began centuries years ago and don’t seem to end. Those successful in white-normative roles are patronizingly used to prove that “anyone can succeed if they want to.” Those who don’t fit the white mold of dress, speech, career, music, and other criteria are marginalized or maligned, deemed unworthy of sympathy.
The criminal justice system itself seems to demand a double standard of behavior: obey minor laws to the letter at all times, have a subservient attitude towards authority and white members of society, accept scorn and suspicion without frustration. Live by these and other unspoken rules, or risk being harassed, arrested, beaten, even killed.
I’ve been in the car with white friends who talk back to the police officer who pulled them over. Not one has been accused of carrying drugs, or has been beaten for talking back.
I’ve been pulled over for “fix-it” tickets and never had my car searched.
I have friends and family who jog in unfamiliar neighborhoods and aren’t asked for ID.
I have gone to parks and not been questioned about my right to be there.
I have seen the children of white friends receive lenient punishment for minor crimes, while black youth are incarcerated. None were threatened, beaten or killed.
I have been near crime scenes and never been suspected or unfairly detained.
I’ve never been followed in stores for browsing “too long.”
My world is safe and calm. I don’t need to fear the police or anyone else. But my safe world isn’t enough. Studying the stories of my ancestors has taught me that I need to ensure that all are treated as well as I. If I trust and love others, I can make a difference. If I listen to other people’s experiences without judgment, I can make a difference. If I speak up for the oppressed, I can make a difference. If I fight against injustice wherever it is found, I can make a difference.
There are many things we can do to end the racism that continues in our society, be it subconscious or overt. The time has come for our society to stop having an us versus them mentality. We must treat all individuals as God’s children and to reach out in love to those unlike ourselves as we seek solutions to ease their burdens. This is the only way to heal this nation from its racist wounds, the only viable path forward.
Jonia Broderick is the United Utah Party candidate for Utah’s 4th Congressional District.