For those who lived in the United States, have the headlines over the last year made you feel like our world had turned into a movie? Let’s take it back to 1998 for a minute…
In all seriousness, it has been mind-blowing to me. The fear-mongering tactics undertaken by leaders, to pit people against people, is unraveling vital threads that many within our nation have put their lives on the line for – and even sacrificed them – to build. Our country has never been “the land of the free” for all. The policies passed and actions taken have been designed to ensure whites stay in power and people of color remain on the margins. [Note: I had the opportunity to participate in one of the Dismantling Racism workshops. If you have never been through a focused training on racial justice, I highly, highly recommend it.]
It sickens me to even write those words, but to try and paint a rosy picture of an inclusive or compassionate past would be outlandish, if not dangerous. As a white person, it is my responsibility to learn, understand, and recognize the oppressive nature of our systems – and then take action. Whether it is public education, incarceration, the media – all of these outlets help to feed into the narrative that white is good and black/brown is bad.
Again, it’s ludicrous – so we (white people) need to be standing in active solidarity with our fellow humans, acknowledging that #BlackLivesMatter, abandoning silly notions that “race-neutral” policies will somehow “fix” diversity. We must seek to listen first. We need to be aware of our privilege that our skin color allows us to be treated differently in this world and opens doors that remain sealed for too many – pigment is powerful in the United States.
White liberals and progressives have a responsibility to organize their communities for social justice using an explicitly anti-black racism frame. There is no need to hide behind black or people of color organizations. Commit yourself to organizing poor and working class white folks. We are capable of organizing our communities. Our children need everyday white folks to work harder to ensure that black women don’t have to worry about dying after failing to signal properly, walking while transgender or trying to protect their children.” – Charlene Carruthers, national director of Black Youth Project 100
Black people don’t need to be convinced that anti-black racism, structural inequity and skin privilege are facts; white people do… White people have to do the hard work of figuring out the best ways to educate themselves and each other about racism. And I don’t know what that looks like, because that is not my work, or the work of other black people, to figure out. In fact, the demand placed on black people to essentially teach white folk how not to be racist or complicit in structural racism is itself an exercise of willful ignorance and laziness. – Darnell L. Moore, senior editor at Mic and co-managing editor of The Feminist Wire
Recently, Stephen Colbert invited DeRay Mckesson to “The Late Show” stage. Mckesson is a Teach For America alum and is on the frontlines of activism for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. McKesson’s visit to the program made waves as Colbert brought up his own privilege during their conversation, which turned into the two literally swapping seats for a dialogue that we don’t often see on mainstream television programming.
I’m embarrassed and at times filled with shame at how late I am to being willing to recognize my privilege. I’ve admitted this in front of various rooms before. In reflection, I believe that was rooted in guilt: guilt for being White, guilt for having an upbringing where I could take part in pretty much whatever I wanted, guilt for the understanding that not attending college was never even a question or thought. I could do wherever I pleased without question. It took me nearly 30 years to begin unpacking these realizations – and it’s not over yet.
So, when I hear phases like, “we need our country back,” it sends me into a tizzy. BACK FROM WHAT? Really? I will not claim to know the circumstance of all white people, but I have to scratch my head when I hear political candidates use this phrase during speeches. Similarly, the “we’ll make this country great again” is a head turner. To make our country really great would be to NOT go back into our past that was constructed on violent extremism – denying civil liberties and access to resources. There are fragments of greatness, in principle, but these pieces have not been available to everyone.
Each day, we have an opportunity to recreate the narrative and to dismantle the structures rooted in white privilege. So I am going to do my part, whether it is writing blog posts that may make you and even me feel uncomfortable; seeking out media from sources like The Root, and getting involved in groups like Standing Up For Racial Justice.
I won’t ever claim to be an expert. I won’t ever claim to be perfect. But this is me – trying – to work towards a just, loving world where no pyramid power structure exists. I believe this can exist – but it’s going to take all of us to be a part of the movement.
You may not get the validation you hunger for. Stepping outside of the smoke and mirrors of racial privilege is hard, but so is living within the electrified fences of racial oppression – and no one gets cookies for that. The thing is that when you help put out a fire the people whose home was in flames may be too upset to thank and praise you – especially when you look a lot like the folks who set the fire. That’s OK. This is about something so much bigger than that.
There are things in life we don’t get to do right. But we do get to do them.
– Ricardo Levins Morales
I’d love to hear about resources, outlets, etc. that have informed or enlightened you on this topic. What are you doing to for justice? What would you like to be doing that you are not already?