Condemning white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia or anywhere else is how we honor ourselves as human beings. We condemn it by naming it, speaking, mobilizing, demonstrating, legislating, educating against it, and by prosecuting hate crimes wherever they occur. However, unless we want to wake up at age 90 witnessing more of the same we must take a new and deeper look at this endless tension, anger, and hatred by too many whites toward too many non-white people.

 

I believe that material depravation and low self-esteem occurs before racism is triggered. To reverse racism we must understand that original distress. To ignore it is asking for more pain.

 

“Racism follows a feeling of unworthiness, of being socially, economically, and politically ‘victimized’… and of being a failure. Someone has to pay for such low feelings and self-perception. This means a need for scapegoats in order to feel superior and to exercise personal power over others. Racist people tend to feel insignificant, isolated, wronged and unloved and they remedy that feeling of exclusion by blaming (and hurting) someone else for it” This is meant to be more than empathetic! It is to understand the roots of racism in order to end it.

Here are many of the white working people that Bernie Sanders speaks of and in part why he is now calling on us to create community, one that includes all of us. We can ignore the supremacist reality and focus on condemnation, or as progressives we can do it smarter and different. Educating, legislating, law enforcement, and condemnation while necessary will never alone solve the problem of racism. The roots are too personal. We need to be as face to face as possible reaching out with our values, material and emotional supports. The more we actively demonstrate our concern for their lives the safer will be the lives of their potential victims and the more harmonious our country.

 

So how would that work? What needs to be done is to create and proliferate personal dialogs throughout the nation where supremacists verbalize their anger, fears and aspirations, knowing that likely for the first time, they’re being seen, heard, and known. Would it be hard to sit in a room with them – of course! and equally hard for them as well. But while condemning their hateful behavior we urgently need to talk with them more personally. Whether or not these dialogs take place, I believe a bold progressive agenda that includes a separate community component, can best speak to the personal and material depravation felt by these people. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center eight southern states house eight of the top 10 hate groups in the country. Although that is where these conversations might begin all progressive agendas should consider them as well.

 

So do we react with the same thinking, rhetoric and NON solutions, or do we take Bernie up on his call to build an authentic experience of community in which all of us feel respected, trusted and cared for. I recognize that so many of these people were born into a racist environment conditioned to hate from the start. I have no illusions about the near impossibility of changing them. But I do believe that even hardened racists can be neutralized to the point they are no longer a direct threat beyond their personal prejudice. How do we do that? By offering them the real possibility that they can ultimately feel a sense of mattering and belonging beyond their supremacist group; that they can secure their material needs and have the opportunity to reach for their highest and best. On the other hand if we constantly lead with an accusation and lecture SOLELY on racism while not acknowledging their deeper personal distress, they won’t hear a word we say about racism or anything else. And guess what – nothing changes!! Lets not allow blind anger (however justified) to sabotage a long overdue yet reachable solution.

 

Self loathing and material fears are at the roots of racism. The problem of white supremacists is first a human problem made worse by racism. So let’s think anew, with an approach, (this or another) that honors the victims of HATE not just by condemning it, but by STOPPING IT!

 

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Rich Cohen has been a Progressive activist for nearly 50 years. He has worked as an organizer and speaker for community-based groups and presidential and congressional candidates. He received mayoral appointments to th eLos Angeles Landlord-Tenant Mediation Board, the Redondo Beach California Crime Prevention Commission, and was an elected Precinct Committeeperson in Corvallis, Oregon. Rich has taught social studies at the secondary level and worked as a Field Deputy for California State Senator Alan Sieroty. His private sector work includes decades with Pre-Paid Legal Services, MCI, Western Union, and Frontier Telecommunications, all in a sales capacity. Rich lives in Wilsonville, Oregon.


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