We live within circles – the circles of racism, of white supremacy, of domination. And we may not always be clear where within these circles we reside.

I condemn the racist actions of a man who walked into a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and shot down 13 people because of his belief in replacement theory ideology. It would be easy enough for me to condemn those who live within this circle of undebatable white supremacy and leave it there, because their actions and beliefs differ so greatly from my own. Or I could expand my condemnation, as others have done, to the circle of those who espouse this replacement theory ideology without acting out its violence themselves, such as Tucker Carlson or Donald Trump. I could go on to condemn the circle of those who may not espouse such blatantly racist ideology themselves, but who aid and abet those who do – Republican politicians and voters. All of this is relatively comfortable for me so far.

But if I look more closely at these circles, I see that they exist within larger circles. Those of Democratic politicians who talk about wanting to help people but never pass policies such as universal healthcare and equal education funding that would benefit Americans of all races, but people of color most of all. Those of not-in-my-backyard white liberals who talk about the benefits of integration as long as there aren’t too many Black kids in their own children’s classes at school. Those of people who live in largely white communities and have the luxury of sending their own children to private school when the public school is not what they wanted, thereby opting out of that aspect of the community. And in that last circle I find myself. 

This is not meant to be an exercise in self-flagellation. There is no straight line between my choices and the choices of a man who perpetrated a racist massacre in Buffalo. But we do live within concentric circles, and it is too easy for me to turn and point my finger at him, at Tucker Carlson, at Trump, and absolve myself of everything.

We white people must condemn horrific, racist acts, the kinds of things that we would never do. But we also must turn our gaze back on ourselves, to determine how we contribute to the severing of community ties, to the increase in racial barriers, to the marginalization of those who we regard as unlike ourselves. 

That is the horror and the power of living within these circles. Every move we make must be both a plunge toward the center of these circles and a plunge into our own hearts.

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