Robert Azzi: I was once you: Today, I’m the Other

For the Monitor
Published: 3/7/2021 11:00:15 AM

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Confederate flag flown from the back of a pickup truck. The last time it happened I managed to drive up alongside the F-150 – we were on a multi-lane state highway – long enough to see the driver had a young boy with him. I’m assuming it was his son.

His presence moved me more than the flag offended me – that the boy was learning such hate from his father appeared to be nearly intolerable abuse.

A generational abuse that persists to this day in far too many spaces – public and private – abuse perpetrated by Americans who feel that, as Isabel Wilkerson wrote in Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, “the rug is being pulled out from under them – that the benefits they have enjoyed because of their race, their group’s advantages, and their status atop the racial hierarchy are all in jeopardy.”

And in their discontent they revert to stereotypical racist tropes: Confederate flags, Nazi symbols, Klan tattoos, ahistorical story-telling, violence – and a deliberate embrace of ignorance – to target the Other.

Such hatred, intolerance, and ignorance as we’re witnessing – from insurrection at our Capitol to excessive use of force inflicted on some communities to disproportionate deaths from COVID-19 within communities of color – is not easily reversed or undone.

In 2021, in New Hampshire, where I was raised by immigrant parents in a place where I believed it was safe to raise my daughter, racist tropes well beyond flags regularly manifest themselves: an anti-Semitic post from the Daily Stormer reposted by a state rep without apology; a rep from Manchester – where I grew up – who refers to LGBTQ peoples as “…some deviant sexuality…”; a FB post from another state rep that calls out, “If you see a BLM sign on a lawn, it’s the same as having a porch light on at Halloween. You are free to burn and loot that house.”

All those “representatives of the people” still have their positions.

“Trump was ushered into office by whites concerned about their status,” Ashley Jardina wrote in White Identity Politics, “and his political priorities are plainly aimed at both protecting the racial hierarchy and at strengthening its boundaries.”

A racial hierarchy trying to strengthen its borders by trying to make sure that students – including children and grandchildren, like the boy in the F-150 – never learn that a nation inspired by a dream that all people are created equal would founder on the shoals of racism and bigotry.

In 1925 the state of Tennessee tried a high-school teacher, John Scopes – in what is colloquially known as the Scopes Monkey Trial – for violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, which forbade teaching evolution in any state-funded school.

In 2021, here today, we’re confronted by debate over House Bill 544, a bill not unlike Tennessee’s Butler Act, which has been offered by a coterie of white, smug, ignorant state reps trying to define and prohibit “the dissemination of certain divisive concepts related to sex and race in state contracts, grants, and training programs.”

A coterie of white people trying to further their privilege by channeling Tennessee in 1925 – white people trying to forbid the teaching of critical race theory or an awareness of systemic racism – in order to maintain their perceived superiority.

They are scared and selfish.

Scared of losing privilege, scared that their children might learn of the violent and racist depredations having been done in their name, scared that their grandchildren might learn the history of a nation that, from 1619, has prospered on the backs of enslaved peoples and the genocide of Indigenous peoples.

Selfish, unwilling to share the beauty and glory of America with the peoples who were exploited to build its wealth and power.

What does it mean to be Black in New Hampshire?

Ask Antwan Stroud, an 18-year-old Black man sentenced to 30 days in jail – and two years’ probation – for being part of a protest against police brutality in Manchester last June. Stroud, through his attorneys, has filed to withdraw his guilty plea after discovering that two white adults present at the same protest received lighter sentences, with no jail time or probation – an injustice so vile that even the conservative Union-Leader, in a piece by Mark Hayward entitled ”South Willow Street justice: Jail the Black guy,” opposed the result.

What does it mean to be white in New Hampshire?

It means that you could live in Amherst – named for General Lord Amherst, who commanded British forces in North America during the French and Indian War and who’s known for initiating the practice of giving smallpox infected-blankets to Native Americans in a genocidal effort ” … to Extirpate this Execrable Race” – without knowledge or guilt.

It means you can be an ex-governor and call a Black president “lazy.”

It means that you can name your country club after the Native American community from whom you stole the land – without guilt – or continue to cheer on high school teams with racist and dehumanizing names.

It means you can be a small town police chief, sworn to uphold the law, and join a rally to overthrow the Constitution without consequence.

Daily, I read “Letters to the Editor” across New Hampshire. I follow FB, Twitter, Gab, Parler, and MeWe pages of many local politicians and activists willing to flaunt their ignorance in public. I visit websites and blogs that make space for the most malign of opinions – often by contributors too cowardly to use their own names – and what I’m seeing is that they are so deeply enmeshed in their biases and bigotry that not only are they politically and culturally illiterate but they’re proud of it.

Proud never to have read Caste, Waking up White, Stamped from the Beginning, or White Fragility, proud never to have read Derrick Bell, Bryan Stevenson, or Ibram X Kendi, to have never read James Baldwin; proud to quote MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech but ignorant of Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

It means they don’t know America’s true birthing stories.

I believe that knowing those stories – having the boy in the pickup learn truth from the stories – liberates us as a nation, frees us to fulfill the aspirational challenges of freedom, liberation, equity, equality, and social justice.

There was a time when not all people designated white in America today; i.e. Ashkenazi Jews, Italians, Greeks, etc., would have passed as white when they arrived in America. Today, however, political considerations of ‘whiteness’ have expanded to include them after they earned their whiteness by serving what Wilkerson defines as the “dominant caste.”

I could pass and be one of them. I did, once.

Today, I’m proud to be the Other – amidst my people – retelling our stories.

Really proud.

(Robert Azzi, a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter, can be reached at His columns are archived at

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