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Confronting Racism: A Letter

by Nicholas Barnard on July 10th, 2016

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice. – Martin Luther King Jr. – “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

I try to let my advocacy and words stand and speak for themselves. Going in public and saying, “Hey! Look at good this thing I did!” is something that I usually avoid. (This of course places me in the situation of attempting to prove a negative: Yes, I do good things and don’t mention them, but because I don’t mention them, fewer people know I do them. I am fine with this.)

Below there are a few passages I’ve quoted from Facebook. Yesterday, I shared these with a friend. She responded that this is why she doesn’t engage in politics on Facebook. I understand this, to an extent. However, letting racism go unchecked in your community, including your Facebook and Twitter communities, is granting implicit consent to allow it to continue. I also understand that confronting racism takes effort and energy. One of my small goals with this blog entry, is to lower the energy and effort it takes to confront racism by a small bit.

As anyone who knows me knows, I’m a big handbell geek. Among the ways I work at getting better at my art is participating in online discussions, including ones on Facebook. I came across one a few months ago where the poster, who I’ll call Cecilia, used the hashtag #ShortLivesMatter. I replied to the thread:

Cecilia, your tag #ShortLivesMatter seems incredibly insensitive. It’s a crass parody of movements that are working to correct systematic inequities in our society. #ShortLivesMatter seems exceptionally close to #AllLivesMatter, which should be true, but isn’t, thus why #BlackLivesMatter and #TransLivesMatter are important.

Sadly, my comment was predictably minimized by other contributors in the group.

Additionally, I received this message from Cecilia:

In a world where people are striving for equality, I find it counter productive to bring attention to blacks/trans/whatevers since it only perpetuates the inequality. There was no harm done in this post, seeing that you were the only one in nearly 100 likes that was offended. I will apologize for offending you, but I will not apologize for having a sense of humor. Lighten up and stop hijacking threads that were intended to be lighthearted fun. Unlike you, I will keep this between us and not start issues in a public group.

I was a bit caught off guard by this message, but I resolved to write a response to it. I wanted to take time to make the response meaningful and I hoped that it would change Cecila’s mind even the smallest bit. I just had two problems: I wasn’t in the habit of writing and I wanted to make my response perfect. Those two are a perfect combination for lots of procrastination. 124 days of procrastination to be exact. (Thats just over four months.)

I sent this message to Cecila about two weeks ago, and I’ven’t received a response yet.

I’ve decided to post it here. If you’d like to use any piece of it in confronting racism I grant you permission to do so.

Legal fine print regarding the previous sentence: Everyone is granted a free, worldwide, non-transferable license to utilize any portion of this blog entry after this sentence for the purposes of confronting racism in their communities. Uses that do not confront racism are a violation of my copyright and may result in legal action against the user. Finally, the remainder of this blog entry is not covered by any Creative Commons licenses.


I’ve thought quite a bit about your message. When I first read it I intended to reply promptly, but I delayed wanting to make sure my message was perfect. Eventually this message fell by the wayside of things to do. I wrote much of this message after attending a Maundy Thursday service and being reminded of Jesus’s commandment “to love one another as I have loved you.” However, the shooting at the nightclub in Orlando, Jesse Williams’s speech accepting his award last night, and other things have encouraged me to pick this back up.

My goal is to respond to your insensitivity with love and respect.

If people truly had equity and equality in our society, I would strongly agree that highlighting our differences would be counterproductive. However, this is not the case. I’ll provide two supporting facts among the many that exist:

  1. Black men use illegal drugs at roughly the same rate as white men, however black men have an arrest and conviction rate ten times that of white men.
  2. Forty-one percent of transgender individuals attempt suicide at some point in their lives, compared with only 4.6% of the general public who have attempted suicide.

I apologize for being very heavy handed with my comment, but I stand by its message. Let us pretend that you are woman’s suffragette in 1890, and I was a red headed man in the same era. The slogan used by suffragettes was a simple “Votes for Women” but I making fun of my unique red hair, held up a sign along side yours “Votes for Redheads” I as a red head have some unique difficulties. I’ll get a sunburn more quickly, I’ve been more likely to be bullied, and multiple other small things, none of which have any bearing on my ability to vote.

As a gay man I know how vitally important having spaces grow, discuss, and organize LGBT people is. Most of the world is straight, so spaces that are explicitly set aside for LGBT people are important for the community. #BlackLivesMatter is this online space for African Americans, showing up with a hashtag that makes light of this is as rude as a Jewish proselytizer passing out literature on the sidewalk in front of a Christian church. It is within someone’s rights, but it is disrespectful.

If you would like to have a further discussion, I am open to calmly and politely continuing this discussion, and I’ll make a concerted effort to respond in a timely manner.

Warm Regards,
Nicholas Barnard

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