Black Lives Matter was created in 2013, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin. Initially created as a hashtag between organizer friends to speak to the humanity of Black people in a world happy to discard us, Black Lives Matter grew into a movement. A movement that shifted conversations, educated millions, and galvanized many to action.
For a decade now, the world has discussed whether or not Black lives do matter, which has led to millions of white people “discovering” their privilege and the role of their privilege in the oppression of Black people and other people of color. The Black Lives Matter movement brought racial justice to the forefront and helped launch a cottage industry of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) experts.
Enough momentum that many truly believed—and, in some cases, continue to believe—that racial equity and equality is within arm’s reach.
I am no longer one of those people, though I doubt that I ever really was. Because at the same time that we were declaring that Black lives do indeed matter, millions of white people became serious about ensuring that if Black lives matter, white lives will continue to matter more. These white people, fueled by the racist vitriol of the Trump administration, were able to build onto a racist, conservative foundation that was actually launched in the Reagan years.
Their dedication to ensuring that white lives matter more is bearing fruit as we see individual states roll back any and all diversity initiatives, the Supreme Court reverse affirmative action, and state legislatures create climates that are extremely hospitable to the extreme racist white contingent.
While my current state of residency, Maine, has not exactly been hospitable to the extremely racist white folks, it has not been inhospitable to them either. Which is why Maine finds itself playing host to Christopher Pohlhaus, a former Marine who has set up camp in Northern Maine with his neo-Nazi training camp, Blood Tribe. As word continues to grow about this camp, many are content to chuckle and dismiss the very real threat Pohlhaus poses. Instead of being worried, many think because we only see “small” numbers of extreme racist folks in pictures at local hate rallies, that these folks are a fringe group that is best ignored.
Listen, if ever there were a time to listen to a Black woman, I would suggest listening now. I have written several times about the growing movement of white neo Nazis in New England because, well, when your day job is running an anti-racism organization, it’s your business to know who and what the threats are. Yet, when I write and speak on this, I feel like I am spitting in the wind, as people reply with words that feel increasingly empty and naive. No, these people aren’t just gross, they are a fucking threat.
The uncomfortable truth is that while visible white extremists are small in numbers, there are many white people who do sympathize with them, and the odds are high that if you are white, you know these people. How short are memories that we forget that 53% of white women in the United States actually voted for Trump, and despite his nonstop stream of antics and indictments, if a presidential election were held today, Trump still has a chance of winning.
Despite the sheer awfulness of the Trump years, he is still entirely too popular and I can assure you, it is not just white folks in Southern states supporting Trump. No, even in blue states like Maine, there are many Trump supporters and what exactly do you think these people are supporting? Trump’s amazing policies? No, the only policy that Trump has that people support is that white lives must matter more.
In the years since the great racial awakening of 2020, support for the Black Lives Matter movement has dropped. Why do you think that is? Because despite how absurd it may seem to you, significant sums of white people are not comfortable with the idea of racial equity or equality. These white people, in turn, support racist policies that are hostile to marginalized people and the lawmakers who create them. And the thing is, unless they tell you, you have no idea who the racist is next door. Not all racist-leaning white people are bold enough to slap a “Don’t tread on me” sticker on the family car.
I know this because these people exist in my own family of creation. There are people in the families that I married into who love me and my children—their own blood relatives—but they supported Trump and they support the kinds of politicians that Trump emboldened to throw off any pretense of respect for rights beyond white men’s rights. The result has been a huge schism, to the degree that despite my own family being small, my children do not fuck with the racists on their Dads’ sides. These are people I know “love” me, and admire me, and who are familiar with my work but who failed to understand how the policies they support in the privacy of the voting booth impact their own kin.
If I, an outspoken and known Black racial justice writer/speaker and director of one of the oldest anti-racism organizations in the United States, know that these people exist within my larger family (I am divorced, but my kids do have dads), you almost assuredly know a few of these people. It’s just that white culture, particularly in New England, is structured to avoid “unpleasant” topics.
It’s how another white family member recently ended up at an event, sharing space with a man who was throwing up white supremacy signs in a photo that was sent to me. The family member in question did not notice the sign, but I did—immediately. There is a certain level of racial blindness and naiveté that comes with the terrain of whiteness. The only way to move past it is to be on guard 24/7 and be ready to activate. It is not enough to wish and hope the racism away, or read Black folks’ writing. You actually have to do something.
Look, you can’t quit smoking or drinking unless you are intentional and actually take concrete actions that lead to concrete changes. A dinner to discuss your privilege and self-flagellate yourself or an anti-racism book club doesn’t actually move the needle beyond you—if it even does that. How many of you read my work and share it with others and take concrete actions? Hell, do you even contribute to this work with material support as a token of gratitude for your learning?
Here in Maine, the local neo-Nazi training camp is starting to attract the attention of lawmakers, but between those pesky amendments and the lack of a strong structural analysis around race, I would not count on policymakers to magically make the hatemongers go away. Though it is refreshing to know we have lawmakers willing to address the issue.
The thing is, the left and the not-racist white folks are always playing catch-up, instead of getting the upper hand. We are discussing “equity” when we have literal Nazis who are two steps ahead of us. They are planning the race war and we want to have chats on DEI. Do you see the disconnect? What good is equity when there are white folks training to start race wars and actually willing to physically harm people? Who are we planning to call? The police? The same police that the same non-racist white people were saying should be defunded a few years ago. The same police that often cross-pollinated with the racist whites? Stop looking for the saviors and lean into that role yourself.
Last week’s brawl in Montgomery, Alabama, should serve as a warning about how tense the racial climate really is. We must move beyond simplistic conversations on race and privilege. I am sorry to say, but white people acknowledging their privilege does nothing to fight hardcore racists ready to lay hands on people, nor does it stop the rollback of rights at the state and federal level.
What will stop this is organizers in communities—people organizing where they are, people getting involved in municipal and state government. Funds to support organizers and educators and, more importantly, creating genuine connections and communities of accountability when it comes to racism. Along with the willingness to name racism for what it is. Stop calling it hate; it isn’t just hate. It is a systemic problem built into the foundation of the United States, when people like me were considered three-fifths of a human.
We fail to progress when we fail to connect history to the present—when we hold onto the myth that things were good and now this stuff is happening. When exactly were things good or better? When did racist policies and racist maneuvering by society stop happening? The Obama years, in hindsight, were the breeding ground for a white grievance started generations earlier.
The sooner we accept that most racial advancement was superficial, the quicker we can get to the work at hand. If this so-called mythical racial progress was real, would we really be having this conversation? Just because we spent a decade with a Black Lives Matters movement, did it really make Black lives matter?
Friends, we are at a tipping point, and if you seriously are concerned about racism in this country, you need to start thinking about what you are willing to do in the fight against racism. There is a role for everyone, whether it is financial support, ground organizing, running for office, or just pushing the conversations deeper in your circle of influence.
You can no longer be a passive bystander, content to read posts online and repost them. The anti-racists of Tik Tok will not save us, and while they are informative, informative does not stop a neo Nazi intent on stomping mudholes in Black and brown people. However, white anti-racists ready to square up with racist whites can stop them. White people having real conversations can stop white youth from being radicalized online. Bold and fearless white people with a structural analysis, who are passionate about supporting anti-racism work, can make a difference. It is time to activate and do it in the context of accountability. Who will you be accountable to? Who will support you in this work? What are your next steps?
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