When I heard about the Buffalo shooting, I was really disheartened. Hearing that this 18-year-old shooter was influenced by the “Great Replacement” theory, brought tears to my eyes for the families and friends of the beautiful ten individuals whose lives were snatched away from this world.
For those who may be unfamiliar with this racist ideology, the “Great Replacement Theory” is a conspiracy theory that “says that there is a plot to diminish the influence of white people.” People who subscribe to this theory believe that “this goal is being achieved both through the immigration of nonwhite people into societies that have largely been dominated by white people, as well as through simple demographics, with white people having lower birth rates than other populations,” according to The Associated Press.
In their April 2022 report, Define American identified what anti-immigration messages were most pervasive on the platform, YouTube. They were able to map out the top-performing anti-immigration content creators of the last 13 years and analyzed their messaging tactics, which they discovered that their “underlying arguments support the white nationalist theory of “The Great Replacement,” or the idea that immigrants of color will overtake predominantly white nations, causing a “white genocide.”
These messaging tactics sadly must be working, as a recent May 9 survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that “roughly one in three (32%) adults agree that a group of people is trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains. A similar share (29%) also express concern that an increase in immigration is leading to native-born Americans losing economic, political, and cultural influence—tapping into the core arguments of Replacement Theory—the study also indicates about one in five (17%) adults agree with both of these central tenets.”
The more mainstream this theory becomes, the clearer it is that the more white people avoid having the difficult conversation topics about race (white privilege, slavery, history of racism in America, etc.), Black lives will continue to be in grave danger.
Maybe we should start by unbanning race/identity books in schools and have children and their families wrestle with the ugly stain of racism in America, especially white families.
PEN America, an advocacy group that works to protect free expression collected an index of school book bans between July 2021 to March 2022, which found that books had been banned in 2,899 schools across the country.
Their index identified 247 books (22%) that talk about subjects of race and racism, including fiction and non-fiction titles that prominently discuss racism in the United States, though not exclusively. These books include frequently banned titles such as Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez, How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, and Dear Martin by Nic Stone. They also identified 107 books that talk about civil rights and activism (9%), which includes stories about historic and current conflicts dealing with civil and human rights both in the United States and globally, such as Good Trouble: Lessons from the Civil Rights Playbook by Christopher Noxon, which was banned while under review in Virginia Beach, VA, and We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures by Amnesty International, banned in Central York, Pennsylvania.
If nothing else, the Buffalo shooting should be a clarion call that keeping children away from authentic knowledge, they may be more susceptible to believing racist ideologies, like the Great Replacement Theory. Children need to be learning the authentic truth of America, in an age-appropriate way. By reading books like The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah Jones, many of the other aforementioned banned titles, children will be able to know the difference between what is racist and what is not, and make the choice to avoid going into the rabbit hole of racist conspiracy theories online.
All children, but particularly white children, need to know the ugly truth about the historical impact of racism within this country. They need to be aware of white privilege, so that they do not use theirs to purchase a handgun, target a predominantly Black neighborhood of innocent people, and shoot them, while they shop. They need to learn about the history of their ancestors enslaving ours, in hopes that they will not follow in their footsteps and further marginalizing our Black children through preventing them from securing a loan to purchase a home or starting a small business. They need to see pictures of our ancestors being lynched in the hopes that they will be so disturbed that they would never want to cause any type of violence to those who look differently than them.
They need to learn about the Civil Rights movement, so they can see how our ancestors endured being bitten by dogs when protesting for the very rights that many of their ancestors fought to keep for themselves alone. They need to know about the torment that Ruby Bridges and The Little Rock Nine had to endure when they integrated their white schools, in an attempt to get a fair and equal education, such as crowds of white people hurling racial slurs at them, spitting at them, threatening to kill them, so that they realize that racism is not only wrong, but it leaves lasting scars on the people who must endure it.
What is so upsetting to me is that those individuals who believe in this theory are “fearful” of being replaced by people of color. I wonder if it is crossing their minds that the families of Aaron Salter, Ruth Whitfield, Katherine “Kat” Massey, Pearl Young, Heyward Patterson, Celestine Chaney, Roberta Drury, Margus D. Morrison, Andre Mackneil, and Geraldine Talley will not be able to replace their presence that this shooter took away with his gun that day. All these families and friends are left with sorrow and memories of their loved ones to help them to hold on from day to day.
This week, I was listening to a sermon by a pastor who talked about how the truth can be uncomfortable to deal with, yet it can uncuff you once it is acknowledged and dealt with. I believe that this is true, especially when it comes to talking honestly about the impact of racism within this country. Until this truth is acknowledged and dealt with collectively as a nation, this theory will sadly continue to grip in the hearts and minds of individuals and incidents like Buffalo will never cease.
Journalist and activist Ida B. Wells said, “I feel…utterly discouraged, and just now, if it were possible, would gather my race in my arms and fly away with them.” The days following the massacre, I felt that quote for us, as the Black community. To be able to fly us away from the pervasive racism that we face and feel daily would be wonderful to do, as we mourn the loss of ten beautiful souls.
However, what we can do is honor their lives by keeping their legacies of faith, kindness, compassion, and activism alive in our hearts by serving within our local communities. We can continue to fight for a nation that recognizes and respects our full humanity, continue to love, and pray for the families and one another through this difficult situation, and make space to talk to one another about our feelings of sorrow, fear, grief, or anger around this tragedy