On Wednesday, Josh Moon at Alabama Political Reporter published an article titled “An apology for white people”.
His article is in response to Hanceville, Alabama’s white mayor requesting New Orleans’ mayor to send their Civil War monuments which honor the Confederacy to his town. Moon criticizes this mayor’s racist request and says that “such ignorance shouldn’t be a surprise to us.”
He says, “If you’re white and you’ve lived in Alabama for any significant period of time, you’ve found yourself in the white scrums, where the racism – after glancing around and lowering the voices – bubbles to the surface.”
Moon fixates on these private, racist conversations that white people have, how “ignorant” these people are and how “dumb” racism is. He laments the “complacency” which allows racism to continue, and calls for us to speak up more in these social occurrences.
But if Moon’s analysis is correct, then how should we, as citizens of Alabama, address racism today? Instead of racism being a public problem that shapes the economic and political institutions in our state, Moon gives an account of racism that trivializes it into the private conversational habits of white people.
Civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael gives a sharp rebuke to this view of racism: “If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power.”
Instead of looking at power, Moon looks at racism in Alabama as a knowledge problem, where “ignorance is cultivated and allowed to survive”. But I don’t think the political and economic leaders of Alabama were ignorant in any way about the racist policies that have shaped our state today.
For example, look at school segregation in Alabama. Nonprofit EdBuild did a study on the most segregated school district boundaries in the country today, and Birmingham’s suburbs ranked near the top of the list.
When rich, predominantly white suburbs like Mountain Brook and Vestavia segregated their school districts from Birmingham city’s, they were deliberately trying to make sure their kids didn’t go to school with poor, black kids. Racism matters because rich, white people in Alabama had the power to make laws and policies which furthered their own interests at the expense of black people’s.
I don’t doubt that Moon was well intentioned in his article, but how does his picture of white racists’ ignorance challenge existing racism today? His call to action is simply for white people to challenge other white people’s racist statements, but he has nothing to say about how to challenge white power in Alabama beyond that. By viewing racism as something that manifests itself in the ideas of white people instead of how white actions affect the lives of black people, Moon misses how white elites in the state have used their power to hurt black people’s lives today through education, housing, policing, and more.
Dannial Budhwani is a writer based in Birmingham. He currently writes at the Birmingham Business Journal, and his work has appeared in WBHM 90.3 and The Auburn Plainsman.