Calling all white people, part 19: Chuck white feelings in the wake of Charlottesville

  1. Calling All White People, Part 19

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: Get real about what Charlottesville means, and get out of your feelings  

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

Look, I’m not going to tell you what’s been happening in Charlottesville, Virginia, the past couple days. If you’re deep enough under a rock that you haven’t heard about it all, get online and hit up Google search, OK?

But I have some feelings about what’s happening in Charlottesville and in particular how my fellow white people are feeling about it. And I have some words for those who are experiencing fear, dismay, outrage, guilt or affront (or anything else) with regard to said feelings.

Fuck my feelings.

Fuck your feelings.

Fuck all of our white people feelings.

I’m not saying we can’t have feelings about the way racists of all stripes straight-up decided to instigate a race riot and declare that white supremacy is willing to harm and kill Blacks and other non-whites to survive and prosper. I’m not saying you can’t be emotionally wrought by this horrific set of events.

But we white people love to get in our feelings, especially when we want to make sure people know we aren’t like “those white people.”

But instead of getting *in* your feelings, get *out* of them.

What are you going to *do* about all of this?

Again, not saying you can’t share tweets and Facebook posts; I sure have. But what are you going to do beyond that? What will you do to demonstrate that you won’t tolerate racism and white supremacy in this country?

You can declare all the outrage you want online or among friends about the racists in Charlottesville but what are you going to do about them and the system that both props them up and that they are trying to preserve? A system that, by the way, nurtures all of us white people at the expense of people of color, especially Black people…and which was built on the blood and backs of Native Americans and Black people.

What are you going to do about the white people around you who feel attacked by the Black people who point to Charlottesville and say, “See, white supremacy at work again, in plain sight and unchallenged by authorities” or will you remain silent because you don’t want to have uncomfortable feelings or don’t what those other white people to feel a certain way about you?

Screw your feelings and theirs.

When they say “The Ferguson, Missouri, situation and all the BLM protests were just as bad,” don’t let them get away with it. It’s not the same. Tell them that. Don’t allow them to have a dissenting opinion that is patently untrue. Don’t let them be entitled to feelings of sympathy for racists that are entirely misplaced and undeserved.

Ferguson was a place where Black people protested an injustice and had shrines and memorials with candles and such that were vandalized, and when they marched they were met with police and they were accused of burning down their neighbors when in fact there were more protesters putting out fires than outsiders or people negligently setting them. And yet they were met with tear gas and tanks and had to deal with being occupied in a military fashion.

Meanwhile, in Charlottesville, you have white people carrying not candles but torches, surrounding a church and being threatening toward people conducting vigils, while other racists dressed in fatigues and armed themselves and helped spur on actual assaults of counter-protesters and one guy drove a fucking car into a crowd of them…and the white people even threw tear gas at the people of color…and the police did nothing. No tanks. No sweeping show of force among the white people.

It isn’t the same and no matter how much Trump wants to say there is hate and violence on multiple sides, that isn’t the case.

The hate and the violence is overwhelmingly on the side of white people, used against Black people and other POC in overt ways like Charlottesville and in subtle ways with daily discrimination.

Fuck. Your. Feelings. And mine.

It’s time to change, and change will begin by standing up clearly for what you believe in. If you believe racism is wrong, stop hiding that from the people it will bother. Stop allowing non-white people around you to be misused or actually harmed and say or do nothing. Do *something* damn it. Something to show you’re on the right side instead of just saying you are. Something to support or protect people of color instead of hoping someone else will be there for them.

This isn’t, as BGIM and others have pointed out online recently, a “both sides” thing. This is a thing where racists are openly using violence and intimidation to ensure that white supremacy not only remains alive and well but shoves people of color down even harder than it has been for decades even with civil rights legislation in place.

You need to stop worrying so much about feelings and start worrying about which side you are on. Because being in the middle essentially makes you a supporter of the villains who will do anything and everything to harm people of color in order to make sure oppression remains the norm and becomes so normalized that it doesn’t even need to be done subtly anymore at all.
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White folks and affirmative action: The 101 real-deal lesson

The most dangerous White supremacists wear suits and smiles, not hoods. They kill with respectable debate and marching orders, not weapons. – Ju-Hyun Park

I am a Black woman from Chicago living in Maine who writes and talks about race pretty regularly. Then, to ensure that I really never stop talking about racism, my day job is heading up an anti-racism organization. That means that my small-talk game in social settings leads to some pretty interesting moments. If you want to kill the vibe at the local watering hole or social gathering, try talking about a job like mine in the era of Trump. I am what some might consider a buzzkill. Hey, it’s a living and someone has to do it.

Seriously though, what happens far too often is that some white person, upon hearing what I do for a living, wants to engage me on race and generally starts feeding me the “I don’t see race line”…“We are all the same”…or some other line of deflection that reveals that the speaker has never thought deeply or critically about race. Someone who rarely or never understands that to be white in America (and, frankly, most of the world) is to exist in a bubble of privilege.

As I said in my TEDx talk last fall, America is a nation built on stolen land that was built with the bodies of stolen and enslaved people. In choosing that course of action, we set in place a country where possession of white skin has meant inclusion into the family of humanity and anything less than white skin has meant a struggle to be viewed as fully human.

What’s interesting is that since the Obama presidency, there has been a shift in perception that white folks are becoming a minority and that anti-white bias/discrimination is an issue. Funny how the first non-white president out of the previous 43 white male presidents brought about this shift in mindset. I guess when you don’t see yourselves occupying the highest seat in the land, it causes one to feel some kind of way.

Well, fast-forward past the Obama years to the Trump months and we have Trump to the rescue, making America great again by putting those Blacks and other non-white, non-cisgendered, non-heterosexual, non-Christians back in their place. Under the thumb of the straight white man.

Given how fast things move in Trumpland (in the span of a Scaramucci perhaps, or maybe a Scaramouche?), I have tried to avoid writing about Trump directly because by the time I pen my thoughts and post, we will be on to the next calamity or stunt. However as news broke that the Trump regime planned to investigate anti-white bias in affirmative action admissions policies, I had to say something.

For decades now, there has been this fixed false belief that Black people and other minorities and immigrants were getting all the goodies once reserved for white people and thus displacing white folks from their “proper” place of entitlement. When you are used to having all the candy in the treat bowl, sharing does feel uncomfortable but that is how we achieve racial equity.

The real deal is that white folks and specifically white women are the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action. Let’s go back several decades and talk about how the great middle class in America was created. After World War II, soldiers came home and took advantage of the GI Bill, the reward for serving your country and coming home alive.

The GI bill allowed soldiers to come home and to have access to housing loans and education, as my friend and colleague Debby Irving writes about in her pivotal book Waking Up White. Debby talks about how her parent’s first home was subsidized by the government and her father was able to attend law school for free. Debby’s family was not alone. Millions of white folks had access to the American Dream and the GI Bill was the great equalizer. At the same time that white GI’s were starting to climb the ladder of the American Dream, Black GI’s were blocked thanks to the racial inequity embedded in the higher education, finance and housing systems. In the end, only 4 percent of Black GI’s were able to access the bill’s offer of free education.

Why does this matter in 2017? Well today’s white folks are the direct beneficiaries of those GI’s in the 1940s and 1950s. That means if your folks were able to get an education, buy a home and start building wealth, chances are high that you were raised with real access to the tools for upward mobility. Our homes are our largest biggest wealth builders and where you live matters even more given how we fund schools and other resources. All schools are not created equal.

Back on the other side, the FHA created a set of policies that would come to be known as redlining that essentially pushed Blacks into less favorable homes and neighborhoods. These policies had a trickle-down effect and Black folks were often relegated to communities with declining home values thus little chance to build equity and create wealth while their white counterparts were creating wealth in their homes. Moving to a better neighborhood wasn’t exactly an option since the better areas were associated with whiteness and Black folks were essentially blocked from accessing those areas thanks to the federal government. And when Black people have moved into such neighborhoods, white people have often moved out (no matter how professional or wonderful those Black people) and those neighborhoods were seen as less desirable and home values went down.

I am not about to give a full history lesson here but if any of this is news to you, a great place to learn more is watching PBS’s Race: The Power of an Illusion.

The same white folks who ballyhoo about non-white people getting great stuff for free or getting more benefits (both of which are very, very rarely the case) are often the same folks who refuse to see all what whiteness has bequeathed to white folks. To go even further, they often refuse to see whiteness at all. To be white for many white folks is to be “normal.” Thus, everything that white folks do is the norm or the “proper” way and everyone else is “other” or “wrong.”

So, when a country starts to racially and ethnically shift, it feels like a seismic shift of epic proportions to white people, even if it really isn’t. The thing is that even with the very real racial and ethnic shifts happening in America, that won’t necessarily change the power dynamics. And, ultimately, it is those dynamics that must shift for true equity and equal opportunity. After all, majority-minority locales (places where whites are the minority, that is) where almost all the power and wealth still resides with white people are not an aberration; it’s typically the rule.

There is a certain irony that the Trump cabinet is overwhelmingly filled with rich, white people and yet it feels the need to take on this almost entirely mythical anti-white bias. Truth is that this is nothing more than a wink and a nod at Trump’s base of disaffected white folks who have been left behind in a changing world. The problem is that it will do little at all to help his base (because they have been left behind by factors other than racial shifts) but it has the potential to create a world of hurt for Black, Brown and other non-white people who are participating in an unfair race that is tilted towards white success.

The only way we will move past this is to start having honest discussions on whiteness, but I suspect that conversation will not be held by the current regime.
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Either we destroy white supremacy or we stop lying to ourselves

“Beyond the ebb and flow of racial progress lies the still viable and widely accepted (though seldom expressed) belief that America is a white country in which blacks, particularly as a group, are not entitled to the concern, resources, or even empathy that would be extended to similarly situated whites.”

Derrick A. Bell, Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform

Since 2003, I have shared my struggles as a Black woman living in one of America’s very whitest states, but really the reality that I have lived in Maine is the reality of the majority Black people in America. “How could that be?” you might ask. Well, it is because we are confronted with overt and covert racism in our daily lives. Regularly. Virtually every day for most of us and more than once a day by far. Racism existed in my hometown of Chicago; after all, it was there that at the age of 16, I had a white child call me a nigger. It was was there where a police officer accused me of being a sex worker for the “crime”of being in the passenger seat of the car with my then husband as we drove down the highway (this being the 1990s, mind you, not the ’60s or even the ’70s, in case you got confused and thought I was an adult back in those decades…hell, I wasn’t even born until the 1970s). It was in Chicago where teachers chose to ignore the fact that as a sullen 16-year-old whose father had been diagnosed with cancer that I wasn’t just being hard-headed and not going to school but that I was in crisis.

The racism that I discovered in Maine was not, in hindsight, particularly extreme in terms of actions or behaviors. But what it was (and continues to be) extreme in the utter lack of racial representation. Simply put, in Chicago, there was a community that provided safe harbor and respite from the slings and arrows of racism. But in Maine, for the majority of Black people and other people of color, we are isolated and that makes the racism that we face even more dangerous. Rarely do we have a safe harbor to retreat to and nourish ourselves. Few (to the point of being almost none at all) largely Black neighborhoods or shops or hangouts. Instead, we are hyper-vigilant and always on though because we are constantly surrounded by whiteness and people who expect us to “act white.” Granted, that is slowly changing thanks to younger activists who are working diligently to change things. But it’s still very much an unfinished work in very early progress.

I must confess that I am tired, I am weary and I am mad. Recently a “friend” suggested that I tone down my rhetoric on race as I was turning people off. Funny thing is that for the past several months, I have been in a deep funk about my work because at times, I wonder if my writing or work has any real value beyond knowledge or camaraderie. As I watch a younger generation of Black activists and thinkers come up, I think they are on to something: The humanity of Black people cannot wait for a collective mass of white folks to realize that we have as much right to sit at the table of humanity as they do instead of always requiring that we twist ourselves to be palatable to the white gaze and aesthetic.

Technology’s ability to capture racial injustice on camera has led to millions of white people starting the process of waking up to the realities of race in America and while that is a good thing, it is not enough. It is not enough to realize that white privilege is a real thing regardless of one’s economic situation. Waking up to whiteness and acknowledgment of injustice do not lead to the structural overhauling of this entire system which is desperately needed. In short, it is no longer enough to educate yourselves and work towards being anti-racist in your personal sphere.

White privilege exists on the foundation of white supremacy, which is what we need to address as a collective body. To be born in a body labeled as white is to be born into white supremacy, it is to be as steeped in white supremacy as a Lipton tea bag is in a mug of steaming hot water.

Western civilization was built on white supremacy and affects every interaction in our lives from how we run our meetings to how we buy our homes. Whiteness is the cultural norm that we are all forced into and for those of us in bodies that are not white, our ability to survive is often tied to just how well we can fit ourselves into this narrative that upholds whiteness as the cultural norm. If you think I am lying, look no further than the former President of the United States. Barack Obama’s ability to distance himself from Blackness was part of his ability to capture the hearts and minds of millions of white people. He was our first Black president and yet it was under our country’s first Black president that Black people mobilized in numbers not seen since the Civil Rights era as we affirmed our right to exist thanks to the growing numbers of Black people being killed by police.

This space has long served as the starting place for many white people to create awareness around racism but that is no longer enough for me as the creator of this space. We must move the needle on racism and while education and knowledge are central to that process we must also have action. We need to ask ourselves are we upholding white supremacy and thus perpetuating the never-ending cycle of racism or are we taking stock of our lives and actions and looking at where we can be the change?

The past several days have been hard for Black Americans as we saw yet another police officer acquitted in the death of an unarmed Black person who was so clearly undeserving of lethal force. Last summer, Philando Castile was pulled over for from the crime of having a busted taillight while driving with his girlfriend and her child. After being asked for his license and registration, Castile told the officer that he was licensed to carry a firearm and that he had one on his person. He was polite and complaint, the two things we are always told will keep us from being shot. Yet the officer decided that his life was in danger and shot into the car multiple times killing Castile. Castile’s girlfriend recorded the incident on Facebook Live as her 4-year-old daughter witnessed this all from the back seat. Yet in the end, the officer was acquitted. People wonder why we say Black Lives Matter but more times than not the system sends the clear messages that Black Lives Don’t Matter.

As many of us sit with this unsettling reminder that our lives only matter when white America says they do, we were faced with another brutal reminder that our lives don’t matter. Seattle police shot and killed Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old Black mother with a reported history of mental health issues after she called to report an attempted burglary. Lyles, who was pregnant, was armed with a knife which apparently triggered the officers to shoot and kill her; her children were present in the apartment. A woman calls the police to report a burglary and ends up dead. In moments like this, I find myself wondering is there any reason for any Black person in America to call the police given that the system has the uncanny knack of finding us so threatening that whether we are 12-year-old kids engaging in play with a toy gun at a playground or driving in our cars or calling for help, we still are killed. Yet white men who go into Black churches and shoot and kill people can be delivered safely to jail with a pit stop for fast food before being locked up. Or they escape from jail, go on a crime spree and can still be captured alive.

If this space resonates with you, what are your plans for change? How are you affirming the humanity in Black and non-white people? How are you supporting people of color? How are you taking your learning and putting it into action? What is holding you back? If Black lives really matter to you, how are you letting the Black people in your life know that?

Lastly, to the “friend” who said I was too much, I say no. In fact, what I have been doing is not enough and I will work until my last breath to create change. If that makes you as a white person uncomfortable, decolonize your mind and break free from the shackles of white supremacy. Do better, think better and be better. Dismantle the system that says whiteness is rightness and everything else.

Do these things. Do them, or else acknowledge that the lives of non-white people, especially Black ones, are simply not enough of a priority for you to unplug yourself from white supremacy and white privilege. Make change in yourself and around you, however you can, or stop lying to yourself.
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If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense