The scene at the Delavan Grider Community Center earlier this month was a far too familiar one in our nation: a president and first lady comforting grieving families after another mass shooting. Once again, a killer’s easy access to powerful guns lethalized hatred. This time, the mass shooting at Buffalo’s Tops Friendly Market shared a common thread with mass shootings at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, a Walmart in El Paso, Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, and countless other mass murders, lynchings and individual acts of violence throughout America’s history since its founding: They were committed by a white supremacist killer or mob emboldened because they believed they had the backing of a white supremacist culture behind them.
So this time, President Biden’s message was very direct: “What happened here is simple and straightforward: terrorism. Terrorism. Domestic terrorism. Violence inflicted in the service of hate and a vicious thirst for power that defines one group of people being inherently inferior to any other group. A hate that through the media and politics, the Internet, has radicalized angry, alienated, lost, and isolated individuals into falsely believing that they will be replaced — that’s the word, ‘replaced’ — by the ‘other’ — by people who don’t look like them and who are therefore, in a perverse ideology that they possess and being fed, lesser beings.” President Biden continued: “White supremacy is a poison. It’s a poison running through … our body politic. And it’s been allowed to fester and grow right in front of our eyes … We need to say as clearly and forcefully as we can that the ideology of white supremacy has no place in America. None.”
The ideology of white supremacy has no place in America. This ideology was built into our nation’s founding, but the forces who are desperate to canonize it today as a permanent feature of our nation’s future must not win. And we must be insistent and unapologetic about teaching this message to all of our children. Throughout American history there have always been parents and community members who explicitly taught our own children that white supremacy is a lie. But even children who know the truth can sometimes internalize a lie from the culture around them. It also should not be a Black or Native American or Asian American or Latino or Jewish parent’s burden to be the only one teaching her children the truth about our nation’s history of white supremacy. And it should not be a white child’s burden to be ignorant of this truth because no one taught it to him at all.
Right now there are entire segments of our nation still embracing a violent lie with violent consequences. Many of the killers in these white supremacist mass shootings were young men who internalized these lies at very young ages. Unchallenged white supremacy and hate will leave all of our children at risk, and when it is fueled by our national love affair with guns, no one is safe — including a wife getting a few groceries after her daily visit to her husband’s nursing home, a community activist who wrote letters to Buffalo newspapers speaking out against gun violence, or a father picking up a birthday cake for his three-year-old son.
In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… . I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word[.]” We must drown out voices of hate and white supremacy with unarmed truth and unconditional love and action. If we remain bound to hate and violence we will destroy ourselves and our future.
Edelman is founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund.