OPINION – I’m not quite sure when the term “alt-right” worked its way into the political vernacular, but the ideology of this white nationalist bunch who goes by that name is certainly not new.
We had the John Birch Society, of course, spring up in the 1950s. In the 1860s, the Ku Klux Klan unfurled its ugly banner.
Most recently, however, a group of alt-right advocates went after the Sistas in Zion, a group created by Zandra Vranes and Tamu Smith. Vranes and Smith decided to celebrate their diversity as African-American Mormon women by putting together a humorous, engaging blogsite that has developed as a focal point for illustrating that Mitt Romney, Donny and Marie Osmond and Steve Young are not the only faces of Mormonism.
It began as a Twitter war when members of the alt-right started attacking the Sistas in Zion.
The devil’s in the details, of course, and the details of the abuse from these hard-right antagonists are ugly, especially when many of the attacks were made by fellow Mormons who advocate separation of the races.
A dear friend found himself wrapped up in all of this and was dismayed by how it was playing out on social media, lamenting:
This small minority of alt-right racists that have come out of the woodwork in recent months are especially troubling. I know a lot of Mormons who may not be particularly sensitive to certain racial issues, but I don’t personally know any that are this outwardly racist.
The fact is, whether racism is well-hidden or overt does not matter. In fact, I would rather have somebody be upfront about their racism than to have them hide it. At least I know who and what I am dealing with and can act accordingly.
The underlying truth is that racism exists – it has never really abated no matter how much we may think we accomplished to defeat it – and to act surprised is simply being naïve.
It is not always a matter of religion, although some churches have clear racist history.
It is not always a matter of culture, although some cultures have and continue the practice of racial separation.
But it is always a matter of personal judgment.
In many families, there is a wing of racism that is often shrugged off. How many of us really try to explain to Grandpa that his use of the N-word is wrong? How many of us explain to Aunt Jane that she shouldn’t be fearful if she encounters a person of color while out for her evening stroll? How many of us look the other way if a friend tells a joke that denigrates a specific racial group?
As long as we allow others to do so without calling them on it, we are a part of the problem by participating in passive racism, which includes giving a pass to those who may not be particularly sensitive to certain racial issues or think that just because they have liberal credentials they can toss around offensive words whether for effect or in jest. Most of us are guilty of this in one way or another; passive racism is still racism, and we cannot plead ignorance.
The circumstances of our current politics and sensitivities call for less political correctness, which means some people believe they can be as rude and disparaging as they wish without fear of consequences or retribution. They think they can pretty much say or do what they wish – no matter who they harm or how they harm them – with impunity because they are of the mistaken notion that political correctness is for wimps and liberals.
It’s been well-established that I am a liberal.
I don’t think anybody would call me a wimp, however.
So I will stand by being politically correct. I can and will be blunt. I know my facts and will not hesitate to use them. But I will not denigrate somebody simply for the pleasure of making them uncomfortable, because, well, I still subscribe to the most basic of tenets: Do unto others.
I grew up in the 1950s.
I was raised in St. Louis, Missouri, a city that fancied itself as a rather sophisticated place.
Still, it wasn’t until I reached the sixth grade that I realized that the N-word and all those other derogatory terms used to describe the various ethnic and religious groups that surrounded me were wrong and hurtful.
I couldn’t go to my friend Danny’s house to hang out, because his father was white and his mother was black.
I loved music, but even though Chuck Berry came from St. Louis, the local radio stations wouldn’t play his music. Or Little Richard’s. Or Fat Domino’s.
I remember calling the radio station and asking the deejay to play “Tuitti Fruitti.” The deejay said, “Pat Boone coming up!” I told him no, that I wanted to hear the Little Richard version. I was told that the radio station did not play “race music.” So I waited until the sun set and tuned my little transistor radio to the megastations blasting from Chicago and Memphis to hear the real stuff.
Some of us saw through the hatred of bigotry and racism.
Some of us learned.
Some of us didn’t.
Actually, a lot of us didn’t.
If we had, this conversation would not be necessary and my friend wouldn’t be so dismayed that people who subscribe to the same faith as his have exposed their racism.
All I can tell him is that yes, there are reasons why there aren’t a lot of African-Americans in Utah, just as there are reasons why there are not a lot in Wyoming, Montana and some other states.
And yes, some of those reasons are rooted in racism.
I can also tell him that I am proud that he stood up for the Sistas in Zion, that it takes courage to do so and that if there is one thing I truly respect, it is courage.
A lot has been written and said about this recently with the words “tolerance” and “acceptance” peppering the conversation.
But that is also a part of the passive racism that has been allowed to creep into the discussion, because to ask for tolerance or acceptance implies that there is something wrong with somebody whose skin color is not the same as ours.
What matters is what lies in our hearts and not in the color of our skin.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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