The banality of American racism

The banality of American racism

Matthew Braunginn

As a nation, we have desensitized, or whitewashed what we really are. There is no such thing as American exceptionalism, we are no different than the horrors other nations have perpetrated. The banality of America, the banality of our racism and not seeing it that way is dangerous. In fact, we have perpetrated some of the worst atrocities in history and are not much more than a step away from those we see as evil. And, in fact, it is one of America’s original sins. Racism is evil, it’s horrible, it’s monstrous, and it is also normal. People often believe they cannot be racist because they are good people, they don’t do bad things. They are good fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, they give back to their community, and more “good things.” The fact is, that racism, in all its normality, has infiltrated all of us, yes even those of us that believe in equality, those of us that are “liberal” or “progressive.” The banality of racism means one does not have to be a bad person to be racist.

The normalization is ingrained through many aspects of our culture. We see this in the daily images that we see in our media. The majority of people living in poverty we see on screen are black. The majority of criminals we see on screen are black. This creates an image that criminality and that poverty is Black. The normalization seeps into everything — like many national media outlets not labeling the massacre that happened in Charleston a terrorist attack. The normalization is when the media calls Richard Sherman a thug. The normalization is when our media isn’t investigating the connection of our elected representatives to white supremacist organizations. The normalization is when the white general public shows no outcry over the fact that our there are many declared white supremacists in our military. The normalization is that the FBI issued a report in 2006 that detailed infiltration of our law enforcement by white supremacists to crickets and our media is still largely silent about that report to this day. The normalization is when you say you don’t see color; we are Black, see us. The normalization is when you do not confront your own bias or even refuse to accept that you have bias. Racism is in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Racism is in our ghettoized cities, which was not done on accident; it is everywhere we look. Yet many chose to look past it and you have probably looked past it more times that you know. That is part of your privilege, you can look past it when we live it.

There are many more, insidious ways this normalization comes across. It can come across as a woman clutching her purse as black men are walking her way or thinking a Black interviewee “isn’t a good fit.” It can be anything from discounting our interactions with police, to questioning our life experiences, and to believing that we need to be saved.

This savior complex, this idea that we need to be saved is a form of liberal racism. We are not the ones that need to be saved, you are. We did not invent racism, you did. We did not create systematic oppression of Black people, you did. We did not create the ghettos, you did. We did not implement the broken window policy, Bill Clinton did. You created the conditions we live in. You are the ones that need to save yourselves, from yourselves. Everyone has skin in the game, racism is not just a black issue it is an American issue. We want equity. We are demanding that you stop doing what you’re doing. We need investment, not to be saved. We need you to stop oppressing us. Not to be saved. We’re drowning and you’re holding our head down. Don’t hold us down and say we need a lifeguard to try and save us; stop holding us down. We are not what our police chief may believe, that we are a 5-year-old throwing a tantrum for candy and we just need to be disciplined. We aren’t children that don’t know any better and these issues aren’t like candy. Apparently, jails full of Black people and an arrest ratio of 11:1 are just us screaming for candy.

Liberals and progressives want to believe that they would have been abolitionists and not owned slaves. But the truth is, most would have either owned or defended slavery, which at first was not limited to the south. We forget that the many of the first police forces came together as slave catchers. We forget that escaped slaves were still fugitives in the north. We forget that Madison was a sundown town, meaning if you were black you needed to leave town before sundown. Abolitionists did want to end slavery, but most did not believe in full equality for black Americans. They felt that we still must be taught to be civilized. The truth is: most of you would have accepted slavery as just the way things are or that we needed to be taught how to behave. The truth is many of you believe that in 2015 and many of you don’t even realize that.

This paternalistic racism still goes on today by our “liberal” allies. We see this in the pool of applicants in Teach for America. It is saying “All Lives Matter” instead of “Black Lives Matter.” It is generally accepted that white lives matter, but it is not accepted that Black lives indeed do matter. There would not be a disproportionate number of Blacks lives living in poverty, incarcerated, or murdered by police if we did. It would not mean that a Black male with a college education is just as likely to be hired as a white man with a high school diploma.

Cartoonist pokes fun at #AllLivesMatter movement
Cartoonist pokes fun at #AllLivesMatter movement

So many white “allies” are doing work that they feel is in our best interests, the well-intentioned ally. The most recent example is when Black Lives Matters protesters interrupted the Netroot Nation conference and many Bernie Sanders supporters were upset about that, feeling that Sanders was the candidate that we must support. They told us how we should support Bernie Sanders because of his economic message, or because he marched with King. This is racism. Bernie Sanders has not gone into depth about the racism rife in our judicial system, but has just mentioned it. Bernie Sanders has not gone into the depths of the uniqueness of the economic oppression of Black Americans experience, but has just mentioned it. We are told that doesn’t matter and that someone, say Scott Walker, would be worse for us. Walker would be horrible, but you don’t court voters by saying we should be thankful, without talking about issues that are important to us. I don’t care he marched with King; I want to specifically hear how he will address the institutional racism we face today. Not glossing over the fact and turning it back into a general economic message, especially when black poverty is so much deeper than white poverty. Earn our vote; you are not entitled to it.

Racism comes in many forms, but to defeat it, you must defeat it among yourselves. And to do so you must center black people, you must let us lead it. But that doesn’t mean that our allies do not or cannot play a large role in this. You must be conscious of your own bias, your own racism. You cannot tell us what is “best for us.” You have to listen to help change the American culture of racism, the American culture of white supremacy. It is no longer acceptable to speak ‘diversity” and not practice it. It is no longer acceptable to tell us what we need. We are and have been telling you what we need. It’s time to listen and move in the direction that we want to move in. It means that you cannot center yourself; it means you must help in deconstructing your white privilege. It means you must work against your best interest, as white supremacy is in your individual interest; it gives you an advantage over all. Your privilege is part of the normalization of racism. We are here to say it is no longer acceptable to ignore the reality of the racist society we live in every day of our lives.

Written by Matthew Braunginn

Matthew Braunginn

Matthew Braunginn is a Madison native and civil rights activist.


  1. *While the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition has been constantly hectoring its ‘potential’ white allies on their privilege and the need to fall in line behind their leadership, the usual suspects of clergy, non-profits and charities with media support in tow, have seemingly and not even quietly, retaken the initiative and the spaces of community support, both white AND BLACK, in Madison. We’re seeing more than a bit that class position and positioning do tell as well.
    *In the mean time, playing the game that ‘you would have been a slave-owner’ is comparable to ‘you would have been one of the thousand that Harriet Tubman lamented didn’t know they were slaves’ or ‘one of the two-thirds of the black community that disapproved of Dr. King’ or ‘one of the 75% that disapproved of the Panthers in real time’! Please…”or the 90% that approved Obama”…..
    *It is far easier to commandeer a mic than to say something with it. Testimonials to the self, without political analysis and vision (preferably radical and fresh), ring hollow and hint at a very lack of direction after a time.
    *Breaking it down to basics the question to be asking with regard to white allies is: GIVEN THE CURRENT POLITICAL IDEOLOGICAL LEVEL of the BLM Movement, why would or why wouldn’t you as a white person be willing to take an arrest (or worse) to demonstrate your alliance and solidarity?

    Being an elder and having traversed the block more than a few times, one can risk and withstand that to critique demonstrates privilege and necessarily makes one part of the problem, that one’s “centering” mechanism must be faulty and/or expiring and that one’s ‘intersections’ must be clogged or clotted.