**Updated 5/31, in response to the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin.**
In March 2018, I attended the March for Our Lives in Washington DC. it was the second large rally or march I’d attended in as many years. The year before I attended the Women’s March in January. Together, literally millions of people marched or gathered all over the world to end violence and abuse. In the wake of both of those rallies, for each of the movements, for every protest, there are nearly as many millions of people who are deriding and belittling those who are standing up and taking action. For every Emma Gonzalez asking us to change, there is a Sean Hannity that questions their motives and insults the protesters. For every Tarana Burke who says Me Too, there is a Harvey Weinstein who tries to gaslight them. At least he did. And now, we have the protests and riots all over the country in response to the killing of yet another unarmed black person by police, and a nation coming to grips with the fact that maybe those protestors and rioters might have had a point. At least some of us are coming to grips.
One of the many unanswered questions that I am left with after attending these events, after hearing all the impassioned speeches, after seeing all the stories of commiseration on social media, is why is there such hate toward these people who are finally standing up? I wish I had THE answer, but I only have my suspicions. And most of you are not going to like them.
There are of course easy answers to this question. One of the easiest is that what many people call the Backfire Effect is in full force in these cases. If you are unfamiliar with the Backfire Effect, it is simply this: when the human brain is presented with information that contradicts a deeply held belief, it reacts as if the person is actually being attacked. A person, when confronted with new information, can experience symptoms that would be the same as if someone was physically threatening them. This is an evolutionary throwback, but it’s not even regressing that far. Maybe only five or ten generations in some cases. It helped people survive against other tribes and groups, to survive the way they knew how. Sociologists call it Tribalism, today we can see it in our Nationalism.
If you want more information on the Backfire Effect, there is an excellent summary of it here, by The Oatmeal, but my point is there is a very real and very simple explanation why so many people respond with such vitriol when they see others protesting gun violence or for women’s equality or for minorities equality, because they don’t see those things as problems. Except, even with the easy answer, it leads to other difficult questions. For example: if the Backfire Effect kicks in when a deeply held belief is challenged, why do people so deeply believe in their guns or that women or minorities don’t deserve equality, more so than they feel the victims deserve justice? I only have my suspicions, and most of you are not going to like them.
Before I get into those, let me tell you something about myself that I’ve recently come to grips with. I have spent most of my 43 years on this planet trying to prove that I am half white as well as half Hispanic. And not just any Hispanic, but my father is Afro-Rican. His family has Latin and African roots, which is just a way of saying that the boat his slave ancestors came over on stopped in Puerto Rico opposed to Georgia or the Carolinas. As a result I look sort of Black, definitely Hispanic, and mixed as hell. But I don’t look white. But I am, just as much as I am Latino, but nobody knows it until I have the chance to explain. Nobody will look at me and see my Irish and Scots-Irish bloodlines of the hardworking, sturdy people of Appalachia. Nobody believes that on St. Patrick’s day, when I wear green, I’m celebrating that side of my family and that I’m more Irish than most who celebrate it. Nobody understands why I don’t speak Spanish, especially Latino’s. It shames me every time a fellow Hispanic asks me a question in Spanish and I can only respond with, “Lo siento, yo no hablo.” However, I am often complimented on how good my English is and how eloquent I am. The unspoken “… for a man of color.” hanging in the air. I’ve spent 43 years of justifying my whiteness because my otherness is so obvious. I tell you now I am done. I’m not going on some sort of rebirth of my culture. I’m not going to reinvent myself, but I’m no longer going to validate my whiteness, because White Males, (are you listening) I suspect you may be the problem with our country.
I say White Males as a generalization, in the same way I’ve been told all my life that Latinos are fiery and thieves and poor fathers, that Black men are thugs and gangsters and absent fathers. I realize that it’s not every white man who is the problem, not even the majority of you, but when we look at the people who are causing the problems our nation are facing that are dividing us, it’s almost always White Males at the source. When there is a mass killer*, almost always it is a White Male. When we look at groups like the NRA, it is comprised of mostly White Males. When there is a case of corporate fraud or massive embezzlement, of Political corruption, it is almost always a White Male. When a man is accused of sexual harassment or violence, it is mostly a White Male. Right now, as we speak, the terrorist groups that pose the greatest risk to Americans are White Extremists and Supremacists, who have killed more Americans than any other terrorist organization.
Again, it’s not all white men, it’s not a majority. It is a very small minority, probably the same percentage you see with criminals in Black or Hispanic men. If anything, the percentage of the offenders in most of these categories mirrors the population, which means statistically there should be more white offenders. But here’s the problem white men, you who don’t rape, abuse, or steal, too many of you don’t hold those who do accountable for their action. Too many of you look to the rest of us to blame or worse, stay silent. We need you to decry them for their actions. We need you to jail them. We need you to say, “This is not us! He doesn’t represent us!” You have a majority of the problem, the responsibility is yours, but the sound of your silence in the face of the abused, underpaid women, or in the face of the unjustly sentenced or gunned down black and brown men, or in the face of the slaughtered innocents, only emboldens those who would do those things in the future. We need you to speak against them and take action because right now, at this time, White Males still own and control most of this country. As long as the rest of you allow them to mock, abuse, jail and kill the rest of us without much outrage, it will continue to happen. But those days of the White Male’s rule are soon coming to an end and your chances of getting in good with the rest of us are quickly diminishing. More and more women are entering the business and political worlds. There are more women getting advanced degrees than men, and the fastest growing demographic getting a college degree are women of color. Within a generation or two more, the balance of control will slip away from you and you may never get it back. You will lose your chance, and we will not forget those who chose to lose it rather than admit they were part of the problem and stood with us to change it.
But you won’t take this chance, and I know you won’t. At least not enough of you. That is why I’m done trying to justify my whiteness. I’m tired of seeing people so convinced of the superiority and dominance of White Males that when their victims ask for justice, march for equality, stand up for their rights, that they insult them, belittle them, and yell at them because it goes against that deeply held belief. And in some cases, they will be so incensed by this demand for equality, they will threaten those people and their families and some will try to kill. And too many of you white men and women, and not a few minorities as well, who are good people, who raise families, who contribute to society, will remain silent in the face of that abuse. I hear that silence, an emptiness I am all too familiar with growing up, and I no longer will extoll that part of me. While I cannot escape it, it’s as much a part of me as my darker skin and nappy hair, it will not be the metric by which I measure my worth. I will no longer ask, “Don’t you believe I’m White?” I will tell you that I am American, I am a teacher, the child and descendant of immigrants, a product of two worlds, and I am all the richer for it. And so are you.
Even now, many of you who have read this are upset, and may not have even made it this far. “That’s not me!”, “Not all white men are like that!”, “We’re not violent!”, “Why are you trashing the White race?” some of you will shout, and behold! Your tribalism is showing, the Backfire Effect in full force. Take a breath, stop reacting, and think. What is it that I am saying to you? If I’m wrong, and surely I missing many things in this long rambling narrative, why am I wrong? What am I missing? Have a conversation with me. That is something our country sorely needs: more conversations where we talk to understand one another, not just to make a point. And once we have, will you then stand with us and against those who wish to harm us, even if they look like you? Or will you still belittle us, insult us, and suppress us? Will you stay silent? Shall we stand together or will you push us down, again?
My name is Christian Curet, and I am not white. I am not Latino. I am an American, and I am asking you to help. I am listening. We all are.
*edited 5 Aug 19: changed to “killer” as the data represents 4 or more people killed, not just shot.
*edited 31 May 20: to include updated information and in response to the killing of George Floyd.