The news this week offered two striking, if unrelated, reminders that it is impossible to outrun the scourge of racism and white supremacy in this country.
First, after Serena Williams – perhaps the greatest individual athlete in history – was accused of cheating at the U.S. Open, a cartoonist depicted her, using the most racist imagery imaginable. After decades spent mastering a craft, which historically has been dominated by white athletes, Williams remains susceptible to the sort of racist stereotyping that would feel at home in a Ku Klux Klan mailer.
Meanwhile in Dallas, a white, off-duty police officer forcibly entered the home of Botham Jean and murdered him. In statements after the killing, the officer offered a string of obvious lies to justify her actions; the officer claims that she issued verbal commands, which Jean “ignored.” I suppose we all must be forgiven for thinking that a man is within his rights to ignore the rantings of a gun-wielding stranger, who has just broken into his home.
How are these two incidents related? They both speak to the extraordinary reach of white supremacy.
You can become the greatest athlete in history … but if you’re a black woman, our country will still figure out how to make you the villain.
You can get shot by a stranger who broke into your own damn home … but if you’re a black man, they’ll still figure out how to blame you for your own death.
No matter how fast you are … no matter how high you climb … no matter how safe your environment seems … you cannot outrun white supremacy.
When I speak with Black friends and colleagues about these issues, it’s clear that everyone has had a “Serena moment.” You can spend a lifetime being twice as good and still be respected half as much. You can hold your tongue 99.9% of the time, and someone will draw you into a racist caricature based on the 0.01% of the time when you just couldn’t take it anymore.
The onus cannot be on our Black brothers and sisters to be “twice as good.” We cannot expect people to outrun racism, because it is impossible to game a system that is hell-bent on perpetuating its own injustice from generation to generation. I’m calling on myself, and other white folks, to be twice as vigilant instead, and to dismantle racism with the same urgency that others bring to its protection.