Black People Should Start Taking Racists to Court

It might be the only way we get the justice we deserve

Black People Should Start Taking Racists to Court

It might be the only way we get the justice we deserve

A photo of an annoyed black woman sitting on a park bench.
Photo: Motortion/Getty Images

Sitting on my back porch the other day, listening to the cold Florida breeze, I started thinking about this old shithole country called the United States and how long racism has endured. It seems nothing can stop it. Politicians campaign with promises of fixing it, but they fix nothing. Simply calling out racist systems and institutions does little to change our reality.

Perhaps it’s time we stop playing nice.

Many people will claim to be ignorant of their own prejudices, but being anti-racist isn’t rocket science, and there are too many teachers, trainings, studies, tools, and too much history out here on racism and White supremacy to help us learn and teach what it is and what it looks like. Yet White people and non-Black people of color commit racist and prejudiced acts against Blacks sometimes with no thought. There’s no excuse for their behavior, yet it keeps being excused.

And Black people continue to live trying to avoid racist traps, navigating White coded language, learning about racist policies meant to harm us, training our Black children how to survive encounters with racist cops, yet nothing seems to be enough. Some racist acts are hard to miss, like the death of Trayvon Martin or the countless other Black men, women, and children killed by officers or trigger-happy gun owners with racial prejudice. Other injuries to Blacks because of racism are more subtle, like our epic history of national redlining or the local banks and landlords practicing racial discrimination.

One racist act can stop the trajectory of Black individuals and families attempting upward mobility for generations. One racist act has the power to do this. But we have some power of our own to stop it.

Taking racists to court may be the only way we can get the justice we deserve.

Thanks to cellphones, police body cameras, smart doorbells, and security cameras, we now get to see racism caught on video. But sometimes that’s not enough. Racist individuals know what they are doing when they commit these racist acts, and they know how to use America’s racist systems and institutions to get the job done and get away with it.

Most racists get off scot-free for their shitty vindictiveness, leaving their poor Black victims to pick up the pieces of their lives and deal with the humiliation and internal scars that come with racism. Our personal, emotional, mental, and physical injuries from racism are far too often overlooked and too easily forgotten about.

Almost nothing stops racist people from thinking and acting on their prejudices. There is rarely any punishment for people who commit racist acts against us. Taking racists to court may be the only way we can get the justice we deserve.

I believe Black people should sue racist perpetrators who commit racist acts that injure or harm Black people or their families.

A lawsuit puts racists on notice

If Black people collectively started suing the individuals who commit racist acts in addition to the institutions the racists are associated with—for example, suing both the racist who is being racist at their job and the company—people would learn pretty quickly to refrain from such behavior because of the adverse associated consequences.

Racists need to lose something. Suing racists makes them lose their anonymity. A public records search will spill the beans, especially when racists are trying to get new jobs, apply for loans, start businesses, or progress throughout their lives. If we have to carry the burdens of racism, they should have to live with the burdens of their actions.

Some people respond only to punishment

Just like little children, some adults need to be punished to learn a lesson. Sometimes more than once. If Black people sued racist White people (because they are a major source of racism for us), they’d learn a lesson from it, especially if they lose.

In the same way criminals are expected to pay restitution for their crimes, so should we treat the crime of racism. Racism is a public health crisis. It’s hard to meet a Black person who hasn’t been affected by racism in America. Because racist acts are perpetrated by the willful and the ignorant, racism is able to evolve, allowing it to be anywhere, at anytime, and it can do anything it wants to, thanks to racist people keeping it alive. The only way to stop the injurious effects of racism is to stop the individuals who perpetrate racist acts.

Suing for a financial judgment is a blow to racists’ livelihoods

Black people lose so much to racism every day. We lose sleep wondering why people hate us so much. We lose time when racists do inconvenient things throughout the day to delay our journey. We lose patience when having to deal with constant microagressions. The stress of dealing with racism takes years off Black lives and even kills Black babies.

Suing racists would deal an unexpected blow to both their psyche and wallet. Racists would have to miss work to go to court, pay punitive damages for our pain and suffering, or lose their jobs and/or businesses for mistreating us for no other reason than the color of our skin. Maybe then we’d see a decline in outright racist actions when we make them as uncomfortable as they make us.

When you’re defending yourself in a court of law, you’re standing up for your right to be treated as a human being and fighting for equality.

Suing helps us identify all racists

When the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) starting suing the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the late 1970s for damages related to lynching and harassing Blacks, White men in the SPLC were suing White men on behalf of Black folks in a White criminal justice system and winning money for themselves. The founder of the SPLC became filthy rich at the expense of poor Blacks and Black suffering, raking in millions from suing KKK members nationally, little of which has flowed back into Alabama or other cities where the defendants lived.

The SPLC has lost all credibility, because the anti-racist organization, run by White men, was found to be racist and sexist. The founder and former leader of the SPLC (who is White) was forced to step down last year after allegations of sexual harassment and racial discrimination came to light.

Suing racists can help us keep track of racists who pretend to be allies. It’s also an opportunity for Black attorneys, judges, and courts in our own communities to defend ourselves so no one else will profit from our suffering.

Suing leaves a public and historical record

If we sue a teacher who acts in a racist manner toward our Black children, there would then be a record warning other parents about them, even if the school district moves that teacher to another school. If a restaurant has a history of racial discrimination (for example, Cracker Barrel, Denny’s), Blacks and other minorities need to know that so we won’t patronize those businesses. Why are we supporting people who don’t like us, anyway? We are helping them get rich and saying it’s okay to treat us shitty, which is stupid. We are rewarding their racist behavior, which is not in our best interest.

If we work collectively in our communities to bring awareness to how rampant overt racism is by suing racists, we will leave a trail of breadcrumbs for future generations that could perhaps last for centuries. Danger can be found everywhere. Suing tells us exactly where it is.

Suing your racist can be therapeutic

Racism can literally make us sick. It can take a toll on our physical health, our mental wellness, and self-esteem. But fighting gives us hope and inspires us.

When you’re defending yourself in a court of law, you’re standing up for your right to be treated as a human being and fighting for equality. A successful lawsuit is a potential victory you can share with other Black people, inspiring them to fight against racial discrimination and anti-Blackness. No one will save us; we must save ourselves. The same applies to our healing. Winning a financial judgment could even help pay for therapy so we can end the generational trauma that’s compounded by every modern racist act.

Suing takes away the one thing people with power love and respect: money

Nothing stops people in their tracks like snatching money from their bank account, putting a lien on their property, or making them crack open their 401(k) to pay for damages related to their racist behavior. If Black people sued racists, those racists would quickly change their behavior to protect their money. They still may not like us, but they’d be poorer after acting on it.

Suing could be an alternative to reparations

White people, and even other racial groups, benefit every day from racism against Black people. Our entire national system was built from and thrives on anti-Blackness—disenfranchising Black people, killing Black people, exploiting Black people, excluding Black people, incarcerating Black people (the new Jim Crow), depriving Black people, and stealing intellectual property and art from Blacks to benefit Whites. When the topic of reparations for all those years of suffering arises, however, Black people are met with excuses of how such repayment would be too complicated.

Suing people who engage in anti-Black behavior could be a form of making amends for wrongs done, or at least help those who have been struggling against discriminatory systems for generations. Suing racists could be reparations for actions taking place now that stem from a culture created before, during, and after slavery.

The thought of taking a racist to court may seem far-fetched, but it’s been done before. In 2018, Marc Peeples, a Black man from Detroit, sued three White women in Detroit for calling the police on him and making false allegations to control the park where he was making a community garden with young children. These White women intended to harm Peeples by having him removed from the park and going to jail, an age-old intimidation tactic White people have used on us for centuries. Peeples noted that he lost his jobs and contracts because of the injuries caused by these racist women. (As of the date of this essay’s publication, Peeples’ case has not been settled out of court or gone to trial.)

Suing racists would drastically decrease this behavior. White people would have to think twice before calling police for no reason or for acting on their prejudice in other ways, because there would be repercussions. In many states, laws are in place to discourage abuse of emergency phone services and reporting false crimes, but these laws are seldom enforced. When one part of the legal system fails us, we can turn to litigation in order to receive justice.

Black people need to learn how to use the systems we have access to in order to fight racism. It’s time to stop being afraid of fighting White supremacy. It’s not going anywhere. It’s been here for almost 500 years. It’s time to stop waiting on a movement or a leader to save us. No one leader, movement, or organization can do all the heavy lifting that comes with fighting racism. The problem is too old, the battlefield is too wide, and the people are too stubborn. It’s time to stop allowing racist individuals to mistreat us without being punished for it.

Being racist is the problem of the racist, not Black people, and we shouldn’t be required to deal with problems we did not create. I don’t know about other Black people, but I don’t have anymore cheeks to turn. I’m all for teaching lessons. Black people suing our racists will teach them life lessons they will never forget. Document, record, photograph, track, gather your evidence, and tell the racists in your life you’ll see them in court.