Treating the cancer of racism

Despite two years of teeth gnashing, soul searching and disbelief, American white people are still grappling with race and how racism is embedded into the DNA of America.

Recently, America’s favorite progressive politician, Bernie Sanders, played with the truth in a recent piece in the Daily Beast, where in the aftermath of the recent midterm elections he admitted that many white people have a hard time voting for Black politicians. I think you know there are a lot of white folks out there who are not necessarily racist who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their lives about whether or not they wanted to vote for an African-American,” Sanders told The Daily Beast, referencing the close contests involving Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia and ads run against the two. “I think next time around, by the way, it will be a lot easier for them to do that.”

Like I said, Bernie played with the truth. See, it’s true that white people struggle to vote for Black politicians, but the reasons that they struggle are deeply rooted in the fact that they don’t see Black people as their equals. They are fully indoctrinated in the myth of white superiority.  To be fair, it is the myth that white people were born into and unless one is intentional in challenging it, it lives deep inside of you. It’s why even in anti-racism spaces, racial tensions flare up.

In short, they are racist, Bernie. But because white people have realized that being openly racist is not socially acceptable, most of them keep it undercover or don’t discuss it openly nor self-examine their motivations. They stick to polite racism for the most part. And, in the end, they only see racists as those who openly use racial slurs, burn crosses, carry tiki torches in alt-right marches or who openly antagonize and denigrate Black women like a certain orange guy living in a white house.

The average white person is seemingly ignorant of the fact that they they can be nice people, they can have Black or other POC in their lives and can still be racist. They remain ignorant that many of the preferences they hold (starting with the desire often live in “good” neighborhoods with “good” schools) are based on having few or no non-white people around. That they lessen Black and of POC routinely in their worldviews as a result of the white superiority indoctrination process.

Even when well-meaning white people want to do better, it still becomes a process that leaves non-white people out in the cold as the struggle to move beyond whiteness literally sucks all the air out of the room. It’s one of the reasons that talking heads in this era of hate insist on civility and hearing both sides.

That type of equivocation allows people to avoid looking too closely in the mirror and questioning themselves and maybe even facing the uncomfortable reality that they too may hold truly racist thoughts.  

Racism is a cancer that robs people of their life and liberty and yet we don’t treat it like the cancer that it is. Imagine going to the doctor, complaining of a host of ailments, only to receive a diagnosis of cancer and then deciding to forego treatment that could either save your life or at least create a better quality of life and extend it. Of course you would do it; when cancer does knock on our doors we do everything we can to live.

Yet when the cancer of racism makes itself known, we do everything to avoid treatment because it’s uncomfortable. Last time I checked, traditional cancer treatments are hardly a walk in the park, but very few willingly choose to avoid them.

In recent weeks in particular, America’s past sins have collided with our present reality and made it clear that hate is and was a foundational building block in this country. The only way that we can shift from our current course is to actually move to action. That action starts with the personal work that must be done to decolonize one’s mind and then extends to looking at what systems you can disrupt. It also will require a shifting of resources and requires white people to give up something, whether that is time, money, advancement opportunities, etc. This work requires losses for white people on multiple levels; one cannot continue to monopolize the power, money and opportunities and also create an equitable society. White people don’t have to become “losers” in the process of bringing about racial justice but they need to accept that they have too much in this society in terms of access, privilege and consideration. If you really want justice and equality and equity, you can’t sit in the warm embrace of whiteness, reading and staying in your head with the idea of fighting against racism. It requires action. And right now would be a great time to take action.

Study up, roll up those sleeves and slip on the gloves, and go after those tumors of white supremacy.


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If we don’t universally shun the hatred, little will change

It wasn’t until 1847 that anyone even suggested surgeons wash their hands. The idea was openly mocked by the medical community for the next 30 years and the doctor who suggested it was eventually killed by bacteria.

I think about that a lot. Fighting against an enemy that seems invisible to most, but the evidence of its destruction is everywhere you look…

From the moment that the very first enslaved African escaped bondage, there have been systems put in place to keep Black people wherever white people would prefer. The enslaved African escapes, so slave patrols are created.

Slavery ends, slave patrols become the Ku Klux Klan.

This type of reactionary attempt to re-marginalize Black people is a constant throughout American history. The white power movement was a reaction to the Black Power movement. No one bothered to interrupt us with “all lives matter” until we began explaining how Black Lives Matter.

Hate was attached to us when we were fully at the margins and no matter how far any of us have come since, this country has never put forth an honest effort to separate us from that hate. But the thing about hate that this country never seems to remember is that it ruins everything. It causes collapse. As a personal foundation, hate will ruin your health, and as a systemic foundation it can cause the entire system to collapse.

At the time of this writing there is a law in Florida that keeps former felons from voting. This law was originally written to specifically keep Black people from voting, but things changed. Now the majority of former felons in Florida are white. That hate wasn’t going exactly where it was intended anymore, so they’ve had to make adjustments along the way to keep focus on the intended target.

The electoral college was created out of racism as a means to help out slave owners. That’s the system that gave George W. Bush the presidency even though he lost the popular vote by 500,000. The next republican to become president is the one we have now and he lost the popular vote by 3,000,000. That’s six times as many votes as Bush. If that pattern holds it’ll be 18,000,000 next time.

Those are just two obvious, historical examples. I’m not even getting into the more subtle or personal ways in which hate is attached to us, but it is clear that as we move into the mainstream, this historically attached hate comes right along for the ride.

We point to the bad actors, like the president, and blame him. We point to the Richard Spencers and Gavin McInneses and blame them, but we never address the fact that hate itself is just culturally acceptable in this country.

We talk all the time about how much the president stokes hatred, but we don’t try to get rid of the actual hatred. No, I’m not talking about some kinda hippy-dippy, personal and emotional cleanse. And I’m not talking about making any kind of speech illegal, though I do have some thoughts about that.

I am just saying that there are things that are culturally acceptable and things that are not. For example, in absolutely no way is it culturally unacceptable to pick your nose in public. If you arrive at work tomorrow with your finger jammed into one of your nostrils, at first some may laugh, thinking you are deliberately being funny. Keep it up throughout the day and you will find yourself alienated and visiting HR for a mental health check.

Now imagine you acted like this after being told not pick your nose at work.

Have you ever been in a room full of people when someone coughs without covering their mouth? That person hears about it. Somebody says something every time. The cougher is often reminded that there are other people in the room and that they should not let something so toxic come out of their mouth, at the very least for the sake of everyone else. Sometimes the cougher is even told to leave and that they shouldn’t be around people until they become less toxic…

Unacceptable behavior is often deemed that way because of its effect on others and it doesn’t have to be legislated to be understood. But it does have to be recognized.

Don’t get me wrong, I see the same videos as you. And, yes, it’s nice to see all the Apartment Pattys getting theirs. But for me, it’s just not that much of a relief when all of the hate speech, all of the political assassination attempts, all of the internments of children, all of the church murders, all of the Nazis, klansmen, proud boys and fascists all come out of the same, affectionately titled Grand Old Party that is currently in charge of the entire government. And they are in charge of the government in a democracy even though they represent the minority of citizens.

Their hate and their methods are as old as abolition and they’ll either have their way or they won’t. We’ll either figure out how to separate the hate from a people or we will push those people back to the margins. One of those options I am hopeful for. The other the country has always found easier.

Always.


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Stop looking for the helpers; you’re it! You are the agent of change.

As we enter the season of darkness, the heaviness that hangs in the air is palpable. There is the literal reduced light outside which leaves many feeling out of sorts as we move deeper into autumn and prepare for winter, but there is also the internal heaviness that many of us are feeling as a result of the larger world.

Despite the platitudes that are bandied around that stress hope, in this moment it feels as if there is a distinct lack of hope. When a teenager shoots and kills a student in school and classes continue for the day, it feels as if we have crossed a line. We have surrendered a piece of our collective humanity.

This past week brought one of the most vile acts of anti-semitism in recent memory. A routine Saturday morning at a Pittsburgh synagogue turned into a massacre that left 11 people dead. Several days before that, two Black people were killed at a Louisville, Ky., grocery store by a white man who when confronted by another white man, is reported to have said “Whites don’t kill whites,” which apparently led to this armed bystander letting the shooter go free—so much for good guys with guns being the answer to gun violence. This coming on the heels of the Trump administration’s targeted efforts to erase trans people and a concentrated campaign of fear targeted at high-profile Democrats.

To say that the past week has been absolutely awful would be an understatement. It’s only compounded by the sad reality that Trump continues to hold what increasingly seems to be modern-day Klan meetings on an almost weekly basis.

So many awful things are happening that it is hard to keep up and yet at the heart of all of this awful is that some white people are committed to protecting whiteness and white power structures at all costs. Trump is the maestro at tapping into white hearts and stoking the flames of hate. Unfortunately after three years of such divisive rhetoric the, garden of hate that Trump cultivated is blooming.

In this moment, many of us are clinging to the hope that things will get back on track with minimal effort But the truth is, that probably isn’t going to happen. The upcoming midterm elections are absolutely one way to effect change but with voter suppression a reality in many parts of the country, voting is not a silver bullet. At best, voting will staunch the bleeding that we are dealing with as a nation but it is not going to be the magical cure-all.

Voting alone will not fix a white power structure. We cannot continue to believe that voting, reading books, donating a few dollars and good intentions will fix a raggedy-ass system that never should have existed in the first place. A system whose structure required the complete dehumanization of other people; a system that required the stealing of land and bodies and the systematic destruction of other people’s cultures.

I am convinced that the radical change we need will require the vision to imagine new possibilities and an active rejection of what makes us comfortable. It’s shifting power to those most affected, which in this case is Black people, other people of color and other marginalized people. It means being intentional in taking a new direction and essentially releasing old ways of being. It also means radical honesty about what we are facing and acknowledging that progress in the United States has never been a straight line. It means recognizing that two years into the Trump regime, it is no longer acceptable to continue to be dumbfounded by what’s going on. Trump told us who he was and as Maya Angelou wrote “When someone tells you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Given the shifts across the globe, we are entering a new era, one where the fight to preserve whiteness at all costs is the primary goal of a large percentage of white people, and that goal is supported by the passive efforts of most other whites to not rock the boat too much. Turning that around means becoming proactive and not reactive. Reactivity doesn’t serve us well. Neither do traditional values of the white supremacist system such as niceness and civility. Our long-standing commitment to civility has long kept us from having much needed deeper conversations. In this moment, if we are to connect with our individual humanity and the humanity of others, we must be willing to go deeper, not just in our conversations but in all that we do.

The hope that we need should not be dependent on charismatic leaders or other people but on the understanding that we each individually have a part to play in creating a world that we want to live in. It lies in recognizing that we should no longer look for the helpers, but that each and everyone of us is the helper and that our values should drive us to be a part of this change process. It is also understanding that the odds are high that we will not be the beneficiaries of this change and that if true change does come, it may be many generations from now. But it should be that our collective love for the greater humanity leads us to push on, that our collective love will hold us when times feel heavy and tight. But it also means understanding that love alone is not the change. Love must drive us to action.

Friends, I invite you to sit with how you are feeling in this moment. Trust me, I have been feeling out of sorts for the past week. Give yourself time to process. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t let it consume you. But also don’t stick your heads in the sand. I leave you with a piece that I shared on the BGIM social media and it offers a wonderful guide for what you can do moving forward.


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.

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