We are the change and now is the time! Use your voice

“We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”- Preamble to the U.S. Constitution

Our nation’s relationship with the truth is often tenuous at best. We are a nation that has always espoused values and visions that, frankly, have never squared with reality. After all, we were seeking to create a perfect union while settling in on stolen land and using the labor of enslaved people.

As a nation, we have never fully and publicly acknowledged the irreparable harm done to innumerable displaced and massacred native people and to the enslaved Africans whose bodies, labor and land were the ultimate sacrifice in creating this so called perfect union.

Instead, as the sun settled on this new nation and allowed for growth beyond belief, we sold our brand of righteousness around the world and people gobbled it up. America as a beacon of hope and new starts, a place to be free. And yet, the lies on which this nation was built lay beneath the surface. As a descendant of enslaved Africans, I have always been critical of this nation and the message of hope which we marketed to the world and of the lies which we have fed to our own people—so heavily and so consistently for so long that far too many of our own people are ignorant of our own roots.

To be clear, America has never given a damn about non-white people and has long been cruel to those who are not white and who lack the ability to one day be considered white (like Irish or Italian immigrants generations ago, for example). The hopes and dreams that fuel America require the American-made creation of whiteness. Whiteness is the key in America and unless we are willing to face that uncomfortable truth, we are trapped in a circle that we destined to stay in forever.

In this moment, millions of Americans are horrified at the scene that has unfolded in recent weeks. As the Trump administration looks to crack down on what it calls rampant illegal migration, it has instituted a “zero tolerance” policy where migrants and their kids who now  arrive at our borders are separated, the adults face deportation and their kids are taken away and we now know are being housed in conditions that no one should face. Abandoned Walmarts now house kids who, after enduring what the average white American could not fathom just to make it to the land of dreams, are being warehoused in a strange new land away from their parents. In a six-week period, the U.S. government separated almost 2,000 kids from their parents.

The reports are heartbreaking and rage-inducing given that this policy belongs to the Trump Administration and yet Trump won’t own it; instead, it looks like these kids are being turned into a political tool for the man child/POTUS to get his way (aka, the border wall he campaigned on).

While some of our politicians are speaking out against these atrocities, most are mum, because at the end of the day, it’s just politics and too many of the white men and women who we elected don’t give a damn about these families.

Social media is filled with heartbreaking stories and inside the silo of social media, many are repeating the tired words “This is not the America, that I know.” Well, it is the America you know because if you can utter those words, it means you don’t know the real America. A country that from the late 1800s to the 1970s forcibly took Native American kids away from their families and sent them to government-run or church-run boarding schools also known as “Indian Schools” where the goal was to strip these kids of their identity and instead force them to assimilate into the dominant culture and abandon all aspects of their family culture. In other words, wear a mask of whiteness that was forced on their faces.

During slavery, enslaved Africans were constantly under threat of having their loved ones sold off, and with the fugitive slave laws the state was complicit in ripping apart Black families. While the technology has made it a lot easier, one of the reasons it’s hard for Black Americans to trace our lineage is because of how our families were constructed, ripped apart and reconstructed often at the whims of white people.

Let us not forget that during World War II, President Roosevelt, by executive order, declared that people of Japanese descent would be interred in isolated camps. From 1942 to 1945, this country imprisoned Americans on our own soil simply because of their heritage.

Again, I say that as we watch this current humanitarian crisis unfold, this is us. This is our nasty truth. This is how we have always treated non-white people. America is that aging beauty whose beauty we now know was artificially enhanced, the beauty we thought existed was more a figment of our imaginations and desires rather than our reality.

If we are to move beyond this moment, now is the time to become really clear on just who we really are. And commit to who we actually want to be.

It is time to understand that racism and bigotry are the foundational building blocks of our nation and once we own that ugly truth, we can work to change the narrative moving forward. But nothing changes beneath the surface without that honest acknowledgement. It means making sure that our people are not ignorant of our history so that we can stop repeating the mistakes of the past. In this moment, we must not allow ourselves to become desensitized or overwhelmed because frankly that is what the Trump folks are counting on. Trump is a chaos master and it is tiring but now more than ever we must have the courage to use our voices and our talents to say “No more!” How many times must we go down this path of state sanctioned dehumanization?

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Photo by Yeshi Kangrang from Unsplash

Pissing on our heads and calling it rain

Recently, in Trump-landia, the Donald had this to say in the wake of complaining about (or vaguely threatening) NFL players for taking the knee during the national anthem and Kim Kardashian “advising” him about prison reform:

“What I’m going to do is, I’m going to say to them instead of talk … I am going to ask all of those people to recommend to me—because that’s what they’re protesting—people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system. And I understand that.”

He added, “If the athletes have friends of theirs or people they know about that have been unfairly treated by the system, let me know.”

This statement was made to insinuate that he would be willing to use his power to “pardon” these individuals. As a result, liberal white folks from here to England have been swallowing their pride (and common sense) and choking out accolades for this dude. I actually had people that know me, who have interacted with me personally, low-key praising Trump. Are ya’ll ok? Do Black folks really have to sit y’all down and tell y’all why his statement is bullshit? I know sometimes racism isn’t obviously stated, but this one should have been easy to catch for more reasons than just one.

First of all … how’s that wall coming? Did they repeal and replace yet? Has he been able to successfully scrub Obama’s name from the history books and put Hillary Clinton in jail? Everything that comes outta that bum’s mouth is a cotton-pickin’ lie (in my Annie Mae Chapman voice). You can’t trust any person with money who chooses to show their face, publicly, looking like they got slapped with a bag of Cheeto dust.

Secondly, he’s basically pardoning folks in exchange for a damn photo opp. Its 2018, and Donald Trump still uses photos of famous folks, especially famous Black folks, for publicity. Think about it: we live in a country where a photo with the president pretty much gets you three wishes. I don’t know what Kim Kardashian spent her other two wishes on, but I’m sure we’ll find out when Kanye West decides to enlighten us on the finer points of systematic racism. Oh, for those of you who didn’t hear: Kim Kardashian read the cover of Michelle Alexander’s book and is now an expert on mass incarceration. She’s not the hero we need, but trust me … she’s the hero we deserve.

And for my final point, this statement has distracted some of you to the point that you don’t even realize how harmful this actually is. By insinuating that athletes are upset because they think their “friends” have been treated unfairly, Trump has transformed the whole conversation from a broader discussion about injustices that permeate every space in our justice system to a conversation about personal vendettas. Personal vendettas and special treatment.

Imma need a Super Saiyan-level side-eye for this one. Donald Trump isn’t the white savior this country needs or deserves. Even though we have totally become a cesspool of antiblackness and AR-15s, I still want to hold on to the thought that we deserve better than this.

Y’all don’t hear me, though.

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.

Photo by Denise Johnson on Unsplash.

Learning about white culture to unlearn it as the default

Driving through Oxford County, Maine, over the weekend, my daughters and I were talking about how fascinating and puzzling it is for us to imagine being a family whose idea of fun would be hanging out in an RV in the parking lot of the Oxford Plains Speedway and going to the races. We talk quite a bit about racism and whiteness, as well as socioeconomic differences and similarities among people here in Maine. I got to thinking about the question: What exactly is white culture? I have my own ideas, but surely scholars have studied this, right? (They have.)

I have some ideas about what I think “white culture” means, but that’s informed by my own background. What are the qualities that make whiteness, the culture? Maybe something about being restrained and tight in communications? I don’t actually know. I’m curious. I want to know more. What is white culture? What do I think about this essay describing white culture? What are the traits that make someone “seem white,” and how are our children taught those qualities in school and in life?

And that’s when I realized what I’d like for young children to learn today. I’d like there to be lessons about white culture and whiteness. I’d like for us (especially white people) to examine how we learn how to be white; what are whiteness’ expectations for social and economic success? As Ijeoma Oluo wrote in “White People: I Don’t Want You To Understand Me Better, I Want You To Understand Yourselves,” “Your survival has never depended on your knowledge of white culture. In fact, it’s required your ignorance.” She’s not the only voice of knowledge sharing this concept—we white people need to understand whiteness, how we learn it and perpetuate it and expect it wherever we go. (Again, my curiosity runs away with me here…those of us white people from financially comfortable backgrounds probably expect everyone to be like us even more than white people who come from poverty; how is that taught? How can we unlearn it?)

I’ve been imagining what it might be like if young children learned about whiteness: that it is one culture out of many. Perhaps then it wouldn’t be assumed that the default is whiteness. Children could go through their schooling with a critical eye. I’m confident they would catch many of the ways whiteness seeps into every facet of their lives if they were taught early about the ways we’re steeped in the expectations of whiteness. The teachers and children could still continue with their studies, but they’d bring with them an awareness that most lessons are taught with an assumption that whiteness is the default. They could take apart everything they learn as they go.

And, because there are few spaces that are 100-percent white, I’d want these lessons to be shared with the understanding that almost everyone in the United States learns how to be white—to survive, most people of color must learn to code switch—but to be sure to bring in Black and brown racial justice experts to guide the lessons, making sure Black- and brown-bodied children aren’t harmed by the study of whiteness.

It turns out (remember, Google is always our friend!) there are tools to help teachers as they are teaching while white, including a “build a learning plan” tool. Even in just a few Google searches I can see that the study of white culture is definitely already a thing (here’s one example); I just haven’t studied it myself, yet.

So, alongside the valuable lessons children in many schools are learning about “different cultures” (e.g. music from Indonesia, cultural studies of South American countries, fundraising for Puerto Rico, attending performances of theater groups like Maine Inside Out, etc.), students might learn about white culture as just one of the many “different” cultures. And, instead of those “other” cultures seeming to be exceptions to the whiteness-rule, the children could know that whiteness as default is a lie kept in place by power-hungry, greedy, selfish people who don’t know how to share. (Children recognize how not-sharing is problematic!)

Perhaps if generations of children learn about whiteness and white culture, we might have a better chance at dismantling white supremacy. As I’ve mentioned before, a white friend of mine pointed out that white supremacy wants to keep us apart. Understanding whiteness can shed light into those spaces we’ve been tricked into ignoring. Let’s walk together in the light.

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.

Photo by Michael Frattaroli on Unsplash.