Charlottesville was my Fault

Written by Josh Bryan

I live in rural Northeast Georgia, and was raised in rural Upstate South Carolina. I grew up hearing the black kids called monkeys and the n word at the playground in elementary school. I’ve heard members of my family say derogatory things about other races, including these racial slurs. I was even told in third grade that I couldn’t have a black girlfriend because, “people just don’t like that.”

I could make an argument that systemic racism is the cause of a vehicle plowing through a group of protesters in VA, but I know too many people who claim that “racism doesn’t exist.” So please, friends and family, hear me. I’m going to set aside the argument for systemic racism for a minute and look at the four types of racism that I see every day living here in the south.

I see this as a pyramid with the smallest population at the top and the largest at the bottom.


The four levels of the pyramid:

Active Racism: Active racists truly believe that one race is superior to another and they are willing to make their race have a higher standing than another. An example would be Hitler in Nazi Germany. Or, a more topical example, these idiots in Charlottesville.

Quiet Racism: Quiet racists also truly believe that they are superior to others, but they’re just not willing to say that in public. This is the scariest group of people on this list. Here’s a personal example: I once needed some work done on my vehicle and I took it to a shop. When I went inside, I was greeted with a heavily used dartboard with Obama’s face on it, followed by a conversation with the owner in which I heard the n word several times. This guy is not ramming cars into people or at a neo nazi rally, but it’s easy to see how the people that are at these rallies are surrounded by folks like this guy. I’m a teacher, and on multiple occasions I’ve had students tell me about some of the things that their parents have said about people of other races. They justify police shootings followed by riots by explaining how “they are made that way” or have “genetics that make them criminals.” This is real, folks.

“Soft” Racism: Soft racism is when people make racist comments or have a racial thoughts that they don’t realize are racist. “Today I was on the road and I saw this black guy walking…” or, “I teach a lot of ‘urban’ students,” or, “I have black friends, so I can’t be racist” etc. This group also contains racial bias. Invisibilia did a fantastic podcast about a father who had adopted a black daughter, but still found himself being cautious around a black man walking down the street. Even though he had just explained to his daughter that it’s not fair that people do this, he still found himself being a part of the problem (from Invisibilia, “The Culture Inside”). Why is this?

Every single person I know would say that they are not racist. And, again, we’re setting aside systemic racism for this argument. But I would argue a lot of people I know are soft racists. This is where I sat most of my life, and still find myself here on occasion. It is important that we not fear the prejudices that we are taught as kids (“people won’t like it if you date a black girl”), but to make ourselves aware of when these thoughts happen and to war against it, just like the man in the story above.

Passive Racism: For the most part, people I know aren’t any other these other three groups. Most people I know (including myself) fall into passive racism: they don’t speak up when others are racist, intentionally or unintentionally. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve heard a racist joke or even an off color statement where I haven’t had the guts to say, “hey, that’s not okay.”

This passivism is the root of the problem. Most people know racism when they see it (when people on the passive level see people on the soft level or higher), but just don’t say or do anything about it. But, what if this majority became active? What if we all agreed to, kindly, inform others that we’re not going to let people around us say or do racist things? What if, instead of blaming the president, or Nazis, or the alt-right, we took responsibility for our actions and the people in our own lives?

We must begin to speak up because by being passive and letting racist jokes and statements slide, we are literally building the foundation on which the KKK, Neo Nazi, and White Supremacist’s groups are built at the top of the pyramid. It doesn’t matter if it makes you uncomfortable or if it hurts your relationships, people are literally dying because the masses aren’t speaking up for those without a voice.

It is also easy to just cut off our friends and family who are soft and quiet racists. But, it is our job to stand up when racist ideas are brought up. As white people, we have an audience with our families and white circles that the black community will never have. If we do not start to have these conversations at the lower levels of the pyramid, who will?

So yes, Charlottesville was my fault, and your fault, and the fault of anyone who is not standing up to racism in our daily lives. Please, please, don’t be defensive, but take a moment to attempt to see that silence really is compliance.

I’m making a stand today to no longer sit by and let these things happen. I hope you’ll consider standing with me.


Edited on 8/15/17 at 9:52pm EST to correct mistake. Originally credited Radiolab for the Invisibilia Podcast mentioned.

119 Comments Add yours

  1. Rita Mariah says:

    This was excellent. I grew up in a large urban city in the Midwest & heard my fair share of negative comments about black people from my own family. I’m not white.
    I started calling them out in my late teens. I was shocked when I started my career as an educator & heard these sentiments echoed by colleagues. I’ve only recently spoken up. Everyone needs to.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maloo murrey says:

    Thank you. Josh Bryan, your students and our world are fortunate you are in the classroom, and in this world.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. devildollx says:

    This is a country built on free speech. That means EVERYONE here has a voice and the power to use it. Whether they choose to enable that power is up to them. No one here is ‘dying because the masses are not standing up for those without a voice’. That perpetual victimhood mentality is what’s wrong with this country. This whole writeup is cancer.


    1. Interesting… simply, this writeup is urging people to use the power of their voice to stand against what they believe to be a wrong-headed and growing trend. It is not a victim’s mentality which he promotes, but a warrior’s.

      One can either passively stand on the sidelines, mumbling to oneself how awful everything is becoming (which may possibly end in some sort of victimhood). Or one can join the opposition.

      To not join the opposition is to be complacent, even complicit.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. dolemite2015 says:

        Your voice doesn’t have any power. Your actions do. If you want to actually join the opposition then do the OPPOSITE of what they are doing, which is roaming around yelling things at nobody that cares. Let them go out and protest on an empty street. Meanwhile, you should be pushing your elected officials to revamp education, create jobs, and provide access and training so that the next generation isn’t tied into this perpetual cycle of poverty that begets these feelings of “someone else caused me to not succeed”, so I’ll blame them. Which is a systemic cause of said racism.


      2. <smile> Voices and actions both have power.

        It is good to push for education, job creation, access and training. It is also good to push for a society which does not systemically and socially slant the playing field based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or any other qualifier of ‘difference’.

        And wherever people cannot see that the playing field is so slanted, that is where voice comes in. When enough people use their voice to tell their own stories, when enough people use their voice to state what seems so obvious to some, but so oblivious to others, then the obvious holds sway.

        Only then can the elected officials be swayed to level the playing field; only then will the society see how unlevel the playing field will be.

        Otherwise, people will continue to blame those left standing on the low side of the playing field.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. devildollx says:

      “Your voice doesn’t have any power”..? If this were true, this country would not currently be in the middle of a war over speech and the freedoms allowing us to utilize it.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Kem says:

      You just don’t get it. Why hurt others?


      1. devildollx says:

        Why hurt others…? What?


  4. clownwife says:

    Speak out!!! Whenever I see injustice, I say something. It’s been awkward, but effective. It usually defuses the situation when someone says something. I work in a very diverse workplace and I see all kinds of racism. I’ve spoken out and it immediately dissolved the situation due to the racist being called out in front of people. Racists are cowards and they usually back down when called out.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jennifer says:

    I think you mean, not, instead of also in the first sentence based on context and the use of the word, Hut, to start the next sentence. Awesome article. I reposted but I made the edit.


  6. Jennifer says:

    I think you mean, not, instead of also in the first sentence based on context and the use of the word, Hut, to start the next sentence. Awesome article. I reposted but I made the edit.


  7. Linda Hoogland says:

    It’s uncomfortable to speak up, but I’ve done it, and it’s worth it!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Leon Shisler says:

    I didnt catch your name but I do think that you are homing in upon the problem. It is systemic and affects humans the same way flu and measles does. Sad to say it may be incurable . The bigotry makes no sense whatever from the point of ruining the same place where one hopes to live as good a life as he can in the 90 years he is given. So much for human stupidity. Sad isnt it ?


  9. dolemite2015 says:

    No… this is stupid. If you want to do something to alleviate racism, you simply do like the rest of us have done and don’t create a national platform for them to speak through, which is exactly what they have now due to people running out there with guns, bats, and bike chains.

    Furthermore, if any of you couch warriors want to get out and really help society, we need to start working on the primary drivers of racism, which is poverty and education. So head down to your local Dept of Labor, help some people learn to read, learn to build resumes, learn how to fill out applications on the computer, or even just use a computer. If you are in a position where you can create a business, then go create a business, provide wages, jobs, etc…

    This whole… “I’m going to stand outside and yell back at some people yelling at me”… that’s not brave. That’s stupid. All you are going to do is give them more national media coverage, which lets them spread their message of hate abroad.


  10. Eric Humphries-Moffett says:

    Thanks you for your honesty. These are some of the views that I have held but been to chickensh!t to voice.


  11. Kevin says:

    I will just let an actual black person do my talking for me!


    1. Tran says:

      Where did you find this?? We should ALL be posting, reposting and sharing it all over FB!!


    2. BloomingPeonie says:

      This POV is completely a product of a YOUNG person, not understanding history of THIS nation & solely relying on her exceedingly limited “personal” experiences. Totally devoid of the magnitude of the Two CENTURIES of racism/white supremacy that ARE the foundation of this nation being built on the concept of white supremacy & enslaving people of the black race for TWELVE generations!! Bye, Felicia!

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Josh Bryan says:

      Kevin, you’ve posted several times on this blog, and while I disagree with most of what you say, I do feel that you’ve brought a rational and valid argument to the conversation, and that is so much more important that us agreeing on everything. I do have to agree with BloomingPeonie below– she relies way too much on personal experience (and, granted, this entire blog was based on personal experience) (I also realize she used black-on-black murder statistics in the video) and she left on some very important stats. For example, 1-in-3 black men will be in prison at some point in their lives.


      1. Josh Bryan says:

        Oops hit enter too early.

        Black Americans make up 38% percent of prison populations, but only 12% of the US population. I think there is a bigger problem than just personal experience.

        However, in the light of personal experience, I would like to tell a story of something that happened at school yesterday. I had a student (white, 15 y/o, basic southern white girl) come into my class shaking at the end of the day. I know this student pretty well and could tell she was upset. She had just confronted two guys in the hallway (VERY unlike her) because they were saying things like “why are there so many god damn n****** in this school. Why the fuck do we let them use the same bathrooms we do?” And then proceeded to tell his friend how he had asked his uncle this week about how to join the KKK.

        So if we’re basing this off of personal experience, I, as the most basic white dude you’ll ever meet, have had a much different experience than the one she is expressing.

        Liked by 1 person

    4. Fig the Wonderkid says:

      Just because this one black person said this, it doesn’t make it gospel! Wouldn’t it be nice for you, if you could just pretend this is the absolute truth, without asking why about the things she stated. Then you could carry on with your low level racism, without having to worry about changing anything.


    5. It isn’t the media, miss.


  12. D. Parker says:

    I must say my kids keep me in line, I am in the Passive group. I’m a mix of many races or nationalities. My father is from the south, an African American and my mother is mostly white but a mix of American Indian, Persian, African American and Spanish. In my time life was hard because friends teased me because I had a light skinned complexion. Calling me white girl but I just thought they where jealous and as I got older I could see why. I was more excepted in society because of just that. But my mother raised me to be a proud Black woman. She alway said that I was Black because of the one drop rule. One drop of Black blood and you were Black! And that’s how I was raised and I saw the world. So I hung around other Black kids and grownups all my life. So I see that view of life. The black struggle and that way of life. Living in a lower middle class life in New York. I was born in New York were my father and mother lived. But they divorced when I was five. When I got older my mind was partial to other races and prejudice because of the people I grew up around and my surroundings. As an adult I was more open an caring because that’s who I was but not races. Well I didn’t think so. But I would catch myself group people by race or talk about a person by race first. Example: You know that white girl at work. Or I would act like I was talking Chinese by saying funny sounds trying to speak like them. It started to bother me eventually so I started to listen to my mind before I spoke. And when I had children and they got older they would call me out me out if they caught me saying certain things they felt were racist. They made me think in another way then I did before. Some things I didn’t think were racists before but they educated me on the things I said before. Today I’m a better person because of myself and my children. And I hope other people will change their ways like I have and reading people’s stories. I’m not perfect but I try and that’s better than nothing:)


  13. phil says:

    Wow! I am bowled over by how horrifyingly fucking corny this is. Is “cringey-meta” still considered a valid form of expression?

    I did not cause shit.

    You did not cause shit.


    I feel embarrassed for you having read this. I am more embarrassed for you because I know that you do not have the food sense to be embarrassed by what you wrote.


    1. Josh Bryan says:

      Thanks for being embarrassed for me Phil. You’ve really helped the conversation around racism today by pointing out that I don’t have “food sense.” You have increased the good in the world by sharing your thoughts.


  14. Kippen Gallagher says:

    Thank you, Josh Bryan, for your article/blog. You put it very well. I have spoken up periodically over the years; I have gotten tired and stayed silent other times; I want to “take my vitamins”/be willing to awaken my consciousness when things are difficult, and make this a given in my life. Politely and positively speak up against racist behaviors.


  15. BloomingPeonie says:

    Good essay..but I would move up soft & passive & make QUIET the base…so my pyramid top down would be Active, soft, passive then Quiet! QUIET is the base & largest group. Which leads to perpetuation…those who remain silent are biggest probglem & biggest group. ” all it takes for evil to flourish is good men being silent”


  16. Corinne D Bell says:

    Very nicely stated. I was raised Summers up near Charlottesville, and really appreciate the soundness of your article.


  17. And if I were to tell my story, it has many similarities to the stories of many other white people.

    Raised in an all-white suburb. ZERO exposure to any people of color.

    And yet, as a young child, I listened to the racist jokes from my friends, laughed at the humor and words, and shared them–even though I literally did not know anyone the jokes applied to.

    Something in the culture we are in perpetuates the stereotypes to the point where we eat it as our daily bread, then find ourselves acting in small ways and large as racists.

    In my opinion, because we don’t see how it started, how it is fed, and how it is spread, we don’t think *we’re* racists, and so we are in deep, deep denial about a culture that is deeply racist and white-centered.

    When we’re told to take a closer look, it’s offensive. We can’t possibly be racist–we don’t dislike black people.

    As if racism is an emotional thing we’re aware of.

    “Not actively hating black people” is a goal, of course, but that of itself is not actually the mark of not being racist. It’s kind of the lowest of the low bars, but it is not the minimal achievement to earn the gold star.

    I can’t say I’m very far along. If there are a hundred dots between “Full racist” and “Exemplary accepting and equal,” I am maybe at dot two or three.

    But I’ve worked very hard to get past dot one.


  18. Jen Elswick says:

    We’re on the same wavelength! See my recent comments along these same lines here: Thanks for your astute analysis!


  19. This is brilliant! I thought you did an excellent job describing the many facets of racism in a way that brings attention to changes we can all make. And it looks like you drew the rage of some internet trolls, so I’d say job well done!


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