Hold on a sec…putting on my hat.
My hat as executive director of Community Change Inc (CCI).
Why am I wearing this particular metaphorical headgear today? Well, just as I was getting ready to write this piece, I saw something disturbing and telling. I was scrolling on Instagram in the morning, when I came across raw footage from outside the library in Fall River, Mass.—where NSC-131 was once again protesting outside the public library.
Why? Because the library recently hosted a drag queen story hour for kids.
In the event you haven’t been paying attention, storytimes and other public events with drag queens across the United States have become the latest targets for groups such as NSC-131 and their hateful counterparts. There is speculation that the recent sabotage of two electrical substations in Moore County, N.C., were an attempt to shut down a local drag show.
The thing is, these incidents are increasing almost weekly and a good number of them don’t get the coverage they should. The only reason that I often know about them is because of the work that we do at CCI. The thing is that the same people targeting drag queens and, by extension, the LGBTQ communities in general also target communities of color. When these people show up in communities, make no mistake: These public outings are also part of their recruitment arsenal.
Odds are that if you are a regular reader of my work, you may not be in the target demographic for NCS-131 and their ilk. But whether you believe it or not, odds are high that there is someone in your orbit who is in their target demographic.
For too many white people, their anti-racism work is siloed, and as a result, you are leaving money on the table. Or, rather, you are leaving people you care about, particularly young people, open to the seduction of these groups.
The irony of this being that in recent years we have seen an increase in interest in anti-racism education and knowledge, but that increase in interest is not translating into an increase in anti-racism action or activity beyond book sales and siloed discussions. Part of the problem is due to the fact that any Black person or POC can write a book or come up with an anti-racism hustle and because of their marginalized identity, too few people question them or truly vet their theory, approach or actual deeds.
There is also the fact that many of the popular anti-racists of color have a class advantage that many front-line organizers and folks on the ground do not have. Activists out of Ferguson and other hotbeds of anti-racism organizing, often in the aftermath of Black deaths, have long made this point. In fact, the work of the last decade has given rise to a peculiar class of “celebrity” activists. The problem is, where is their ground game? Where is their relationship-building and praxis?
It’s the reason that the plethora of anti-racism books that have flooded the market are long on matters of the head (the intellectual and theoretical stuff) and short on matters of action beyond ones that are suited to the comfort class.
Heaven forbid we tell you that we may very well reach a crisis point where this work will entail putting your literal body on the line in support and solidarity for marginalized people. That you may need to use your privilege to do more than drop a few bucks in Venmo accounts and buy books. To tell you that you may need to organize in your community to confront racist yahoos when they come to your town. Or maybe you need to run for the local school board to ensure that reality is taught in your local schools. Or that decolonizing spaces is a deep commitment where you may need to be willing to give up something of personal value to reach the end goal. Supporting Black people, other people of color and other marginalized groups is not just a slogan.
It’s an embodied existence requiring you to have trust and perseverance even when you are uncertain. Even when you might not be entirely comfortable or even safe.
We are actively losing ground and watching white nationalists and fascists build in real time, most of it under the radar of local media—with Elon Musk at the helm of Twitter, I fully expect to see their efforts expand in the coming years. All this at a time when corporations, organizations, and individuals are pulling back their anti-racist, DEI, and racial justice efforts. Some for financial reasons; others because the national moment of racial awakening has passed. After all we have a mixed-race woman as vice president of the United States, and with the Trump grip loosening to some degree, we are taking it as a sign that things are not so bad.
Things are bad. How bad? Massachusetts, a reliably blue state and home to CCI, the organization I lead as executive director, has one of the highest levels of hate propaganda in the country. The same Massachusetts that folks associate with Harvard, the Kennedy family and all things liberal is damn near a breeding ground for hate. So is a good portion of the rest of New England. Yet to the average progressive in the region, they would most likely tell you that the South is the awful place we need to solely worry about.
Just a few weeks ago, white nationalists tried to disrupt an anarchist book sale on a Saturday morning, down the street from Harvard Square. The reason I know this is because members of the larger CCI ecosystem were present and reporting. But again, these moments are seen as blips instead of a pattern of escalation, which even in Maine rings true. Some months ago, white nationalists rolled through the Maine town of Kittery, and while the community issued a response a week later, the lack of preparedness in that moment sends the wrong message to these types. Communities need anti-racism rapid response teams—individuals who are plugged into larger regional anti-racism networks. As recently evidenced in Lewiston, Maine, when white nationalists decided to take a stroll through an area frequented by the Somali community.
While I have written for years on all things anti-racism related, the time has come for action and commitment. As we wrap up 2022, the Department of Homeland Security continues to say that the threat of domestic terrorism is real and has issued its seventh bulletin for communities of color, LGBTQ communities, and other groups at risk of harm from white nationalists and related types to be on alert. It is time for folks like you to think about your own action plans for 2023. What is your anti-racism action plan for 2023? Beyond material support, what will you do in your community to let fascists and white nationalists know that they are not welcomed in your community? What support will you need to achieve that goal? If you haven’t already thought of this, I encourage you to do so now and if you are comfortable sharing, I would love to hear from you and possibly point you in the right directions to help you actualize your plans.
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Image by Ross Findon via Unsplash