On Standing against White Supremacy

Tinesha Zandamela is a BYU student double majoring in Sociology and French, with plans to go to law school. She has worked as a director of a nonprofit in Utah. Tinesha published a book about her experiences as a biracial Mormon woman that is available on Amazon KindleThis is an excerpt of a speech she gave at “Stand Against White Supremacy and Racism Candlelight Vigil” in Provo, Utah on August 20th. The speech was not given verbatim, but it was almost identical to the written version below.

Over the last few days, people have asked how they can take action to stop racial injustice. And of course, with any large issue, there’s not one simple thing that anyone can do to end racial intolerance and bigotry in your communities.

It may be easy to look at other communities and easily identify the issues they have. It is much harder to do that in our own community. When I speak of community, I mean more than this city. Your community includes your friends, your family, and your co-workers and anyone else you spend time around and share your life with. Community encompasses a lot.  

I’m going to suggest a few things that you can do every single day within your communities. These are things you should think consciously about every single day and be working to do these things to create change.

The first thing you can do is to condemn racism in your communities. It is sometimes easy to hear a racist joke or remark and to ignore it as to not cause contention. However, any time you hear a racist joke, a snide comment, or watch harassment of people of color online or in person and you say something, you are working to end the normalization of racism. That matters. Simply saying, “That’s racist and that’s not okay” helps remind other people that those words and beliefs are not acceptable. Indeed, stepping up to keep those in your community from harming others with their words and actions is crucial.  

The second thing that you can do every single day is to actively work to learn about racism, listen to people of color, and then take action. Read books written by people of color. Do research. Learn about what movements already exist to end racial intolerance. Follow people on twitter or on Facebook who are having these discussions. As you learn, seek to take action. Perhaps you’ve done some research and you realize there is a policy in your community that is unsafe for people of color. Find out how you can change that. Find groups and work with them to create change. Education is very important and it helps us to move forward.

And the third thing, and perhaps one of the most difficult, is to do serious introspection. Just like I mentioned with communities, it is often easier to look outside ourselves and recognize other people hold onto stereotypes and biases, but we do not see it within ourselves. I challenge you to sit with this one. Spend every single day thinking about what you’ve researched and look within yourself. Whether or not we think we act on stereotypes we’ve been taught, we must be willing to look within ourselves, challenge our beliefs, and work to fix the negative things we’ve been taught.

Comments

  1. I need help with the second part. I’m looking for modern books to help myself and my children see what racism looks like now.

  2. Thanks for this, Tinesha.

  3. Geoff - Aus says:

    On a big scale you might encourage hate speak legislation. This is an example from one state in Australia enacted in the 1990s. It generally puts a floor under discussion, and can be enforced by complaint to a tribunal, which decides whether to procicute. We have freedom of speech, but believe hate speech should not be acceptable. It is rarely used.

    A person, by a public act, must not incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or a group of persons on the ground of –
    (a) the race of the person or any member of the group; or
    (b) any disability of the person or any member of the group; or
    (c) the sexual orientation or lawful sexual activity of the person or any member of the group; or
    (d) the religious belief or affiliation or religious activity of the person or any member of the group.

  4. Better by far to suffer the occasional hate speech, however defined, than to live under the tyranny of a government which has the power to decide what speech to suppress.

  5. lessonNumberOne: One book that’s been recommended here before (so nothing original by me) is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ _Between the World and Me_. It is not a ‘nice’ read, but it is addressed to his 14-year-old son: “I write you in your fifteenth year. I am writing you because this was the year you saw Eric Garner choked to death for selling cigarettes; because you know now that Renish McBride was shot for seeking help, that John Crawford was shot down for browsing in a department store. And you have seen men in uniform drive by and murder Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old child whom they were oath-bound to protect. . . . All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.”

  6. Mark, that’s easy to say when you are not the object of hate speech.

  7. It might be “easy to say when you’re not the object of hate speech,” and I don’t know how to measure how far “by far” is. But for both practical (those laws won’t change attitudes) and ethical (in essence, there shouldn’t be laws against expressing an opinion, no matter how horrific it is) reasons, the First Amendment remains the foundation of American freedom, and restrictions on it are carefully circumscribed.

    The 30th chapter of Alma gives us a little insight; it describes the Nephites during the early years of the reign of the judges, when you could have any opinion you wished, but you could only be punished for your actions. That seems like a reasonable limit to me. Like any other restriction and perhaps more than most, restrictions on your right to express your opinion (true or false, sublime or despicable, exalted or goofy) raise the same fundamental questions: who decides, and where does it end?

  8. Iconoclast, maybe. I tend to take a different view of the 1st Amendment (and some other amendments too). Let’s put the idea of hate speech regulation aside, though, because I don’t think it’s the author’s point. I do think it’s easier to get sidetracked with that sort of quasi intellectual discussion than to take a hard look at ourselves and examine how race factors into who we are.

  9. matthew73 says:

    LessonNumberOne, I highly recommend the book Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson. It’s an account of his experience over the past 3 decades or so representing mostly indigent, mostly African-American clients on death row in the south. Was really eye-opening for me, very well written, and often heartbreaking.

  10. Coates’ book is problematic in that it resorts to inflammatory rhetoric, as far too many works on racism do. Tamir Rice was not “murdered.” Tamir’s death was a tragic accident.

    There is only one phrase that will alleviate the centuries old burden of racism on our nation: “justice for all.” If all Americans truly believed that, racism would vanish. White officers could safely police black communities and blacks would feel secure. Children of any race or ethnicity could feel safe in any school. But Americans across the political spectrum have rejected justice. They want pain and injury inflicted on the scapegoat of their choosing. They do not want to carry responsibility for their own actions and choices.

    I was told today that activists are digitally outing protestors connected with Charlottesville events. Digital defamation and public shaming of your opponents are unlikely to lead to peace. I doubt we have seen the worst that racial friction will bring.

  11. Please wake up, Old Man. You’re repeating tired, failed tropes, and it’s not constructive.

    Coates’ book is problematic in that it resorts to inflammatory rhetoric, as far too many works on racism do. Tamir Rice was not “murdered.” Tamir’s death was a tragic accident.

    Here we have a version of the old complaint about uppity blacks making trouble. Old Man, if you want people to take your critique of Coates seriously, you absolutely must acknowledge the profound value and wisdom in what he has written. Instead you dismiss the book as “inflammatory” based on one sentence. It’s not even clear whether you’ve read the book or just christiankimball’s comment above. That’s not good.

    There is only one phrase that will alleviate the centuries old burden of racism on our nation: “justice for all.” If all Americans truly believed that, racism would vanish.

    And here we have that old standby of a conversation-stopper, the utopian “if only”: If only we could do that one thing that no one knows how to do, then everything would be great. In any case, now that we’ve shown our good intentions, we don’t have to talk about the really hard things that reality requires us to do. And comfortable people like Old Man can go back to bed.

  12. The argument that Tami Rice’s death was a “tragic accident” and not [an inflammatory] murder is quite relevant to Coates’ effort. His use of “murder” is not an accident. As Coates writes, “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body–_it is heritage_.” An unsettling truth that needs to be heard and understood.

  13. Thank you, Tanesha. This was an important reminder for me.

    lessonNumberOne: I just finished Michael Eric Dyson’s latest _Tears We Cannot Stop_. It was powerful, and I highly recommend it. In the last chapter he has a long list of other authors he recommends, too.

  14. Tinesha–so sorry. And again, thank you!

  15. Geoff - Aus says:

    Mark B, I am amazed that you would be offended by a government limiting hate speak in your society for the good of that society and especially the victims of hate speech which under our law covers race, disability, sexual orientation, or sex, and religion.
    Do you accept the governments tyranny in requiring vehicles to drive on the right? do you wear a seat belt? do you drive on the footpath?
    If you are comfortable with the governments tyranny in these areas for the common good, why not stop hate speech in public?
    The Church’s freedom of religion campaign is about limiting what others can say about them isn’t it?

  16. Geoff Aus. The British constitution does not have anything akin to the US Constitution’s First Amendment, and I presume that Australia has followed the mother country’s lead in that respect–else that statute you referred to would be voided as unconstitutional.

    Suggesting that traffic laws are somehow analogous to restraints on speech is just silly.

    And I think you have completely misunderstood the church’s recent emphasis on freedom of religion. Or perhaps, since it’s hard to imagine how anyone could make such an error, we should conclude that you’re intentionally mischaracterizing it.

  17. Please wake up Loursat, you are reading things into my comment which are not there. Likely it is due the cryptic nature of my initial comment, so I will grin and bear it, but give me the benefit of the doubt.

    Yes, I have read Coates and listened to several speeches. He is a very gifted writer and thoughtful person.

    Calling the death of Tamir Rice a murder is wrong. Would we call this case anything other than a tragedy if the facts were identical in another case but the officers were black and The young man was white? I would not. Calling it a murder in either case reveals a discriminatory bias. In either case, calling it a murder is inaccurate and inflammatory, regardless of the skill of the author or the accolades he has received.

    That is my beef with many authors when they tackle civil rights and racism. I’ll cut Coates some slack, because he was expressing personal views and feelings, but do these works accurately describe the problem? Do they suggest a way forward or is the tendency to wallow in the conditions of the past and present? Does the authors suggested course limit liberty or result in other problems?

  18. “Would we call this case anything other than a tragedy if the facts were identical in another case but the officers were black and the young man was white?” Young man? If he was white you would have called him a young boy. He was 12. Not even a teenager, let alone a “young man.” Fact is, if he’d been white he wouldn’t have been shot. And yes, in bizarro world where a white 12-year-old who’s committed no crime is gunned down by a cop, that would still be murder.

  19. Thank you, Old Man. I’m very happy to give you the benefit of the doubt.

    Between the World and Me is a remarkably powerful book. Please correct me if I’m wrong, Old Man, but I’m assuming that you’re a white person who does not have a comparable life experience to what Coates describes growing up black in Baltimore. I’m a white guy too. Given that, how could you or I possibly presume to say that Coates’s book does not accurately describe the problem? Our first, most fundamental obligation is to listen to what Coates has to say and take it in, sincerely. I’m not saying that his work is above criticism, but in my view any critic had better demonstrate a serious and deep appreciation for what Coates has accomplished. This book, and much of Coates’s other work, just can’t be casually dismissed, especially by white people.

    (Incidentally, I believe that the way you have framed your comments about Tamir Rice shows that you have not taken account of Coates’s larger argument. In the book’s full context, it is highly meaningful to say that deaths like Tamir’s are murders, regardless of whether they would be adjudged as murders in court. And in the book’s full context, the effect of calling those deaths murders may or may not be inflammatory, but it is certainly reasonable. I don’t believe it is a fair reading to condemn Coates for this.)

    Coates’s work is squarely in line with what others in the past have written: W. E. B. DuBois, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, to name just a few that a white guy like me has read. It’s just not possible to read the testimony of so many writers and somehow think that these powerful descriptions of their own life experience are inaccurate.

    You wonder about the way forward. I believe that the only way forward is first to face up to the reality of the present. As long as we have people pooh-poohing a book like Between the World and Me in the way you have done, we aren’t sufficiently facing the reality of our present time.

  20. “Would we call this case anything other than a tragedy if the facts were identical in another case but the officers were black and The young man was white?”
    Just to make what I believe is Coates’ point (and believe myself), it wouldn’t happen that way because our society values white lives more than black lives and so any officer, black or white, would hesitate and ask questions, if facing a young white man. And if they shot the young white man anyway, there would either be good facts justifying the shoot or good facts demonstrating murder. Either way, not a tragic accident.

  21. I don’t want to belabor the point because I’m not certain it is particularly germane to the post but unarmed white youth are shot by police, both white and black, under questionable circumstances just as black youth are. Details of these types of shootings are easily available on the internet but two quick examples are: (1) Gilbert Collar was an unarmed 18 year old white male shot by a black policeman who had a baton and pepper spray but chose to use his gun instead and a grand jury refused to bring charges; and (2). Zachary Hammond was an unarmed 19 year old white male who was shot by a policeman while driving away from him. Again no charges were brought. Thus any argument based on the premise that this wouldn’t happen in our society would seem to be problematic.

  22. “Thus any argument based on the premise that this wouldn’t happen in our society would seem to be problematic.”

    The young men you mention as examples were 18 and 19. Both broke the law. Tamir Rice was 12 and did not break any law.

  23. What amazes me most in this thread and the “An Outbreak of Nazis” is that the very people who would tend to argue (the Fox news crowd) that people who attempt to remove confederate statues and differentiate between Tamir Rice and Gilbert Collar, etc. are “re-writing history” or something are the greatest re-writers themselves–completely selecting partial facts for their own cause. (Yes, both sides do it, but let’s at least, as we doing here, point out when people are doing it!)

  24. For those complaining about Coates (Old Man), comments like Ojisan’s above highlight Coates point: there is nearly no difference in how our society treats white people who treat crimes and black people. In our society, being black is crime enough. If you can’t see, then you haven’t listened to enough black people (which is the second recommendation of this post! (though, perhaps, first chronologically)).

    Just yesterday, a black student in one of my college classes opened up about how, when he was shot in the leg at age 12, he realized quite forcefully he had to work harder than others to not already be written off as a criminal for his whole life, simply because he was black.

  25. Tim:
    In point of fact Zachary Hammond had not broken any law. As for the fact that Tamar was 12, is your position that yes it does happen to both black and white young men in their mid to late teens but it would never happen to a white 12 year old? If that is your position it seems pretty tenuous. Given that it happens to older teenagers, both black and white, it is difficult to see how you can say with absolute certainty that “Fact is, if he’d been white he wouldn’t have been shot. And yes, in bizarro world where a white 12-year-old who’s committed no crime is gunned down by a cop, that would still be murder.”

  26. Ojisan, you’re blurring facts. Zachary, 19, legal adult was high on cocaine and was evading police when he was shot (though this does not justify killing him). To even compare this to a 12-year playing with a toy gun in a park is ridiculous. Sure there was ‘tension’ with a toy gun, but you are making some wild claims.

    Fact is, white people almost have no reason to worry that their white children won’t come home from school alive. Black people have plenty of reasons. And they do worry. Every day. Time to face some reality, my friend, and not nit-pick over legalese. The more you do, the more you sound completely oblivious to the deadly racism we have in this nation. And it’s not a problem for black people to fix. It’s a problem for white people to fix.

  27. Actually, Old Man, I have had guns drawn on me. I’ve been pulled out of car and had a man with a n automatic rifle take my spot while the driver was also taken out and I watched as the car drove off with my wife and kids and other passengers in the back. I have more experiences, but bottom line. We have a problem in America with racism. This discussion is not about interracial violence. I see your deflect and refuse to wallow in it. This is about racism. Stay on target.

  28. That should read, “not about interracial violence.”

  29. Brian:
    The only aspect of this post and the comments on it that I have commented on is how specious it is to take an opinion which is not based on any factual evidence and build your argument for racism founded on that opinion. My point is that to do so undermines your position rather than helps because it is easily seen for what it is: your opinion not only not supported by evidence but rather contradicted by what facts are available which are that cops get away with shooting black youth and white youth with amazing regularity. The fact that one black youth was 12 doesn’t prove racism. You are not likely to persuade anyone with that type of an argument. As for racism itself I have not ever said that racism does not exist or does not need to remedied and in fact would never say that because that would be untrue.

  30. Ojisan and old Man, here’s the thing: being black means that you are more likely to be feared, suspected, pulled over, hurt, killed, etc. in the doing the same actions as a white person. I’m not trying use the killing of Tamir Rice as sole evidence of racism. There is plenty, plenty evidence of that. And also evidence that such racism is destroying black lives–even if not in death, but other ways. If you agree on that, than we have no dispute.

  31. But yes, that fact that Tamir Rice was black is absolutely why he was shot.

  32. Brian, don’t feed the trolls. Old Man, you’re in a time out.

  33. I don’t think I’d recommend Coates’ book to my kids. Yeah, reading it made me less ignorant, and it was powerful, but the feeling I had when I finished was pretty hopeless. I learned that every time a black person saw me, I would (as a white guy) be viewed (if subconsciously) as a potential oppressor — merely complicit with oppressors at best, and an outright racist at worst. I felt like there was no way I’d be able to relate to a black person as simply a person, that the divide was too great, and for weeks afterwards, every time I made eye contact with a black person I’d feel an instant tension. I’ve worked professionally with many people from different countries and ethnicities, and I’ve never felt that way.

  34. Martin,
    I agree. Coates’ message is one of hopelessness and I am a little unsure why so many defend him here. Some of black colleagues don’t believe he represents black America well. Brilliant writer, but nothing I’ve read indicates he has wisdom to offer for a way forward.

  35. On Coates. I believe he would say, the job is not his to point a way forward. It’s a white person’s problem. We need to figure it out.

  36. wreddyornot says:

    A great piece of fiction which everyone should read is Angie Thomas’s *The Hate U Give.*

  37. Some of black colleagues don’t believe he represents black America well.

    Is there any particular reason why Coates would have to bear the burden of representing black America well? Is this a role he has claimed for himself? Is this representative role something we worry about when the author is white?