Being a nice person isn’t always enough

By Nicole Hennessy

LAKEWOOD – “If all the people protesting for a better world started using their time to help feed and build houses for the homeless we would already have a better world. But that’s none of my business.”

The meme did what political memes do best: prove a point by using themes or examples that are either out of context or don’t properly align to support a fair conclusion — while taking on an arrogant tone that makes the poster feel self-satisfied and clever.

A comment soon popped up defending the meme by using the example of Germans helping Jewish neighbors escape the Holocaust. My mind was moving in several directions and I centered myself, letting go of the annoying aspect that every time people encourage others to look away from certain social issues to focus instead on others, the focus encouraged is often homelessness, which rarely actually gets dealt with and prompts the nastiest and most dehumanizing stances and stereotypes.

I replied with something to the effect that white supremacy, institutionalized racism and bigotry have always existed alongside good-hearted people doing great things. Kindness is always needed, but helping a persecuted person, as this example suggested, does not remove the need to challenge the persecutors, especially early-on.

As my community of Lakewood responded to swastika vandalism by covering city sidewalks in colorful chalk messages of love and acceptance; and as I read columns suggesting we all look for the good in others, as we face the hate that has bubbled up to the surface in this country, I struggled with the fact that being a nice person isn’t enough. Considering yourself non-racist isn’t enough.

There is work to be done.

This includes openly accepting your participation in a system that blatantly discriminates against and disadvantages people of color or challenging your questionable uncle or friend every single time they say something even slightly racist.

Put yourself out there. Most importantly, let go of the notion that talking to children about race is somehow damaging to their “innocence.” Please, talk to them. The idea that you shouldn’t is a method that allows white supremacy to persist, as white children are the only ones who enjoy this perceived innocence of remaining ignorant to race issues.

Women recognize we have a long way to go in achieving equality.

We openly challenge social constraints by doing things like sharing housework or child care with our partners, who are taking it upon themselves to challenge those constraints along with us by shifting traditional gender roles. Mostly, this is being done simply and in private, by folding laundry or mopping the floor. Enough families living this way in turn creates a cultural shift.

We must take similar actions to challenge racism that is so tied up in national policy that small actions must be paired with efforts to change laws and policies.

“Hate has no home here.” “Kindness.” “Love blooms in Lakewood.” Endless chalk messages like these are being written and shared even now. When it rains, new messages are drawn. Some hearts and suns. Peace signs. Rainbows. Intricate, flowery murals.

The movement, which has now caught on in other cities, is clearly giving people some much-needed hope and a sense of community. And that’s great, but don’t assume these nice deeds can replace the hard work we all must do to truly end inequality and create a more open dialogue on race.


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