For years now, the City of Flint, Michigan has struggled through the crisis of the toxic water flowing through its pipes and into the homes, schools, and businesses of its residents. The problem still remains. All over the city, people are still cooking and bathing with cases of bottled water. The simple filtration systems that have been installed in most homes fail to properly reduce the toxins so people are forced to crack open bottle after bottle and jug after jug just to get through the day safely.
And through it all, both race and racism have been cited as the root cause for why the people of Flint have experienced this crisis. While the population of Flint is predominantly black and Latino, white officials in other districts outside of the city were often the ones making the flippant and destructive decisions that ultimately destroyed the pipes and ruined the water supply.
But in America, where we’ve boiled racism down to whether or not someone used the n-word or is an undercover member of the KKK, many have refused to accept that racism played a role in Flint. It has, of course, but absent a smoking gun of an official being filmed being a flat out bigot, the narrative hasn’t quite stuck the way it should.
Except now a journalist actually recorded a white county official there openly and repeatedly calling black residents “the n-word.” The official, Phil Stair, is not some Confederate Flag wearing redneck with a swastika tattooed on his neck either. He wears suits and ties, polo shirts and khakis, but he’s a bigot nonetheless. He smiles in the face of black co-workers and brags about having black friends.
“Flint has the same problems as Detroit— fucking niggers don’t pay their bills, believe me, I deal with them,” said Stair to independent journalist Chelsea Lyons in a video broken by Jordan Chariton on his news platform Truth Against The Machine.
And there we have it.
I don’t know why I continue to be surprised to hear people talk like this. Less than I think I am surprised to hear it, it’s just disgusting. Just hours ago, Phil Stair resigned from his position at the Genesee County Land Bank in Flint. He should’ve been fired the second the recording was discovered. How has this man’s bigotry and blatant racism affected the work he’s done not only as a county official, but in any position he’s ever served in? I think we could guess how, but it’s ridiculous that we basically have to catch and record a man like Phil Stair actually using the n-word before people believe just how prevalent bigotry like his truly is.
Are we actually expected to believe that this is the first time he’s ever spoken like that? Are we supposed to assume that he waited until he was middle aged to start casually referring to African Americans as the n-word? Of course he’s been using the word and of course this journalist was not the first person to hear him actually say it. All over the country, from San Francisco to Ferguson to Baton Rouge, when investigations into the emails and text messages of police officers have been searched, they repeatedly show cops, including long-time captains and lieutenants and commanders, referring to African Americans as n-words and monkeys and apes. Other messages from white officers have actually shown them openly texting about lynching black people and planting evidence on them.
A full investigation into Phil Stair of Flint should be launched. Every decision he ever made in Flint should revisited. Every email and text message he ever sent should be searched – as should those of every single person who has touched anything related to Flint.
As much as many conservatives want to say that racism is dead and gone in America – it isn’t. It’s clearly alive and well. And it isn’t just skinheads and Neo-Nazis who are the perpetrators of racism and bigotry in America – it’s government employees, cops, and businessmen who seem to get away with a lifetime of bigotry because they don’t attend Klan rallies on the weekends.
It’s not simply enough to address some of the symptoms of racism in America – like fixing the pipes in Flint – we must address the symptoms while simultaneously going hard after the people who keep it alive. Because here’s what I know, as long as men like Phil Stair are allowed to be decision makers in our society, the symptoms of racism will continue to endure. Likewise, and I say this as I travel and speak all over the country, until white people own the burden and costs of racism and bigotry as a problem they’ve created and maintained, the change will be far too slow.
In America, we have a bad habit of forcing victims of discrimination, be it racism or sexism or Islamophobia, to also be the primary, sometimes exclusive, advocates against that discrimination. And it hardly seems to work. Men must step up to fight sexism, Christians must stand up to fight Islamophobia, and white people must step up to fight against racism as if their own lives depended on it.
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