White Supremacy Is Not a "Southern" Problem

[Content Note: White supremacy.]

Racism is not just a "southern" problem. This is something about which I've written a bunch of times in this space — the pernicious idea among white U.S. northerners that racism is "over" (or significantly less pervasive) in northern states and only exists in southern states these days.

That is wrong. It is so clearly wrong that one can only assume the people who make such an unsubstantiable argument are doing so in a desperate bid to deflect attention away from racism they themselves see and feel. It is wrongness that is predicated not only on ignoring plethoric evidence of racism in the north, and ignoring the people of color who report being targeted by racism in the north, but also by ignoring one's own internal biases and the existence of white privilege from which one benefits.

Even arguments that racism is somehow uniquely tied to the Confederacy are wrong. I've yet to spend any significant time in any northern state and not see Confederate flag bumper stickers and/or other paraphernalia.

[CN: Video may autoplay at link] At the Indy Star, Rick Hampson noted in May that even Confederate monuments aren't uniquely southern: "Although the vast majority of these monuments are in former Confederate states, they are also in border states that fought with the Union (like Kentucky, Missouri, West Virginia, and Maryland); in Union states, including Massachusetts, Iowa, and Pennsylvania; and states that in 1861 were mere territories, such as Montana, Arizona, and Oklahoma. Two-thirds of Kentuckians who fought in the Civil War did so for the Union. Today, however, the state is saturated with Confederate memorials. The Fairview birthplace of Confederate President Jefferson Davis is marked by a 35-story obelisk, one of the nation's tallest."

Racism is still abundant in the north, too. Unfortunately.

But even among white people who acknowledge that racism still exists in the northern states, there are those who nonetheless assert that organized white supremacist groups do not act openly in the north — or react with surprise when organized white supremacist groups show themselves in the present, as if they are things of the past.

This, too, is wrong.

It was not so many years ago that my mother was out for a walk near her home in Indiana, in suburban Chicago, and saw KKK recruitment posters tacked onto telephone polls, which she furiously tore down as she walked.

It was only a couple of years after that, in the same town, when Iain nearly came to blows with a man wearing a Nazi t-shirt. In public. At the corner store.

And one might reasonably argue that such things are not surprising in Indiana, but again this is a distancing tactic. When I was in college, in the bluest of blue city of Chicago, I spent a night with a friend spray-painting over skinhead graffiti near his apartment.

All of us, like millions of other people, just encountered these pieces of organized white supremacy in our daily movements, just going about our lives. We didn't have to seek them out: They were right there.

This is not a southern problem. It is an American problem.

It's a problem that quite literally is threaded right into the nation's founding.

And while it may be tempting to say "this is not who we are," the truth is that is exactly who we are as a nation — and it's only by acknowledging that reality that we have any possible hope of changing it.

White supremacy isn't dismantled by neglect. It's dismantled by vigilant action.

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