- Chris Wharton
“It’s okay to be white” is not okay
“It’s okay to be white”
This past weekend, as I enjoyed a beautiful Autumn day with my family, I saw the above phrase on a man’s t-shirt.
My initial reaction was a double-take. What the hell’s that all about? What’s he trying to say (and what reaction is he trying to elicit) by wearing that t-shirt?
“Kids, look at that guy’s t-shirt.” I quietly said to my three middle schoolers and one high schooler as we stood in line at the food truck. “What do you think?”
They seemed a little confused by my question. “Why’s my Dad asking me about that t-shirt?”, “Something must be funny, strange, or wrong with it”, they might have been thinking. After several seconds of contemplation, my 11-year-old son said “it’s racist!”
I said “Hmmm ... something’s definitely wrong with it – that’s for sure. What makes it racist?”
That’s a tough one for kids (and a lot of adults) to answer. At first glance, the shirt isn’t overtly racist – it doesn’t have a large swastika or a picture of hooded Klansmen on the front; it’s a seemingly innocuous phrase, but the divisive and taunting message is something we cannot ignore.
When we got home, we Googled “It’s okay to be white” and learned a little about the history of the phrase. The phrase is not new. In fact, it’s been used by white supremacists for over 20 years.
However, in 2017, it was thrust into the headlines when organizers of a poster campaign printed the phrase on posters and stickers that were put up in streets and on campuses across the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom in an attempt to provoke reactions from the left.
The campaign worked and had the intended effect with reactions rolling in across academia that condemned the message as insensitive, divisive, and racist. It was hardly a difficult decision to condemn the signs considering neo-Nazi groups, white supremacists, and even former KKK Grand Wizard, David Duke, publicly supported the campaign.
Then came the extremely predictable response to the outrage from none other than Fox News’ own Tucker Carlson who said “What’s the correct position? That it’s not okay to be white?”
And there’s the rub – this is precisely the intended conclusion the poster campaign organizers were looking for from the start – if you’re against the phrase “It’s okay to be white” then you’re saying “it’s not okay to be white” (i.e., white people are bad).
Increasing this sense of white victimhood is exactly what white supremacists want to do. And with every advancement made by a minority or minority groups, whether it be newfound rights or opportunities, the white supremacists want white people to feel it’s a direct attack against them, the victimized racial group. Fortunately, the number of white people who buy into this doesn’t yet constitute a majority, but the numbers have grown dramatically since America elected its first black president.
We cannot let this increase further. We need to recognize the slow poison that’s seeping into our society made up of these types of covert racism and microaggressions. We need to call it out when we see it. We need to leverage our privilege to add strength to the voices that are being muffled. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.).