Quiet evil, closely held, politely denied, powerfully cruel


To the Editor:

A letter to my non-black sisters and brothers.

This is not about cops. I would go to the mat in defense of the two policemen here in Aquinnah that I know — Paul and Rhandi. They show up, they take care, they keep us safe, they know our names. They embody serving and protecting. They demonstrate that power linked to love makes community. There are police like them all over this country. So no, this isn’t about cops per se. It is about race — about down-and-dirty racism.

The explosion of frustration and anger and fear that we are witnessing in cities all across this country is the result of a long history that shows that power linked to racism — kills. The kids raging on the street are sick of the killing, and don’t know what to do to stop it. Don’t be mad at them. 

Racism is deep — it is harbored in dark places within the souls of so many otherwise good people. We need to stop it. Now. I recommend starting by looking in the mirror.

This Sunday’s New York Times had several articles that spoke truth. The one that moved me the most was in the Business section. It was written in response to a reader who enquired about the safety of having her “cleaning lady” come in during this time of COVID. The reader pointed out that the cleaner was a good person, of Mexican descent, who needed the work, and was an efficient worker, but came from a crowded home and took public transportation. Was it safe to let her in? The journalist gave a powerful and scathing response, pointing out that the question was the wrong one. Where was the concern for the worker’s safety? Wasn’t it a fact that the worker didn’t really need to clean the reader’s home, but actually needed the paycheck, and was risking her health (and that of her family) to get it? Was the reader providing safety equipment for the cleaner? Providing hazard duty pay? Offering the alternative of a paid furlough so the worker could stay home sheltered from COVID — just like the reader was? And why was it germane to mention that the worker was of Mexican descent? The question posed by the reader in fact demonstrated suffocating, blind class privilege and xenophobia.

Oh, how I loved that response. You could hear my shouted “Yes!” all over town. I was reading a righteous piece, and it was in one of the most important newspapers in the country (albeit one that is read by only a small percentage of the people, and most of them of a similar mindset). But this gave me courage. We were getting down to the root here. Both class privilege and xenophobia are cousins to racism — quiet evils, closely held, politely denied, powerfully cruel.

There is no virtue in denying the fact of your privilege. In fact, that denial profoundly, deeply hurts real peoples’ lives. And right now, when all humanity is sharing the nightmare of a nasty virus that can kill any of us, right now is when your kinship to the rest of the human race should be most apparent, and when you should be able to do better.

You have to do something. The time when the people will no longer tolerate injustice and fear is now. Look in the mirror and ask yourself what you must do. You can begin by demanding better: from politicians, from public servants, from yourself. Share what you can spare. Stand up against hate. Be clear that Black Lives Matter.


Kathie Olsen