The aftermath…are we ready to get real or will the circle jerk continue?

This might be one of the hardest pieces I have ever written. In this moment, words feel empty and meaningless as we grapple with nine beautiful souls losing their lives in sacred space. Words feel meaningless because we have been here before and most likely we will be here again. The older I grow, the more I recognize my past mistakes and with age, I attempt to avoid making the same mistakes continuously. Yet when it comes to race in America, we have spent hundreds of years making the same mistakes and in the larger picture, we have done too little to correct the wrongs of the past. Instead, we cling to fixed beliefs and empty words while lying to ourselves that change has come.

In the aftermath of this heinous act, so many words are being bandied around as we struggle to make sense of what we call the unbelievable. Yet it isn’t unbelievable at all. We are a country whose prosperity grew due to the forced eviction of Brown people and the forced labor of stolen Black bodies. Violence against Black people has been an unbroken and recurring theme here. Yet we continue to engage in the same type of intellectual dishonesty that has been the norm in this land when it comes to matters of race and act like this isn’t business as usual.

A young white man walks into a historic Black church and after holding sacred space with these special souls, he announces his intention and in a cold blooded fashion, he embarks upon his mission of hate. And yet we are surprised? We as a collective have done nothing to eradicate the disease of white supremacy. It is the foundation of this country. And for white supremacy to thrive, it has to have it’s boogeyman…the boogeyman of white supremacy is Black people. Anti-Black bias is the thread that holds white supremacy together and yet we don’t even have the heart to own that. Instead we code our words and we say untruths when in fact the the majority of white people in America are not all that far removed from Dylann Roof deep in their hearts.

We live in our “good” spaces, with “good” being the codeword created in our society to speak to a way of life sans those people we deem “other.” In this case, those others are often Black people.  We talk class instead of race because it won’t indict us and it’s less scary than any chatter about race.

People often ask me what they can do to help create a racially equitable world and sure, I give my usual suggestions which often include reading books written by white colleagues, etc. But honestly, there are times I want to ask: Why are you asking me what you should do? There are times when I want to deviate from my stock answers and tell people that they need to lean into their discomfort, that they will need to examine everything they ever learned or knew about race and most likely discard it. I want to ask people if they are willing to give up their privilege and power and lessen themselves to create equity? I want to ask them if they will have the heart to speak up, speak out and even lose friends and loved ones over racial matters? The vast majority of white people won’t do this and the sooner people admit this, the better off we just might be. Because maybe then we will just move into the harm reduction phase of racism instead of this fantasy of eradicating racism.

Deep breath here. I spend my professional life in spaces with white people who understand racism and white supremacy on an intellectual level but I fear that even among white people who are doing the work, too many have fallen into the head space and not the heart space. In these cases, they create the performance of change with little to actually show for it. Too many times in white anti-racist spaces there is almost an invisible competition to be better than those other white people. To perform as an anti-racist, to use the jargon, to do the work. And, with communities of color asking white people to work in their own communities, that invisible competition grows, rendering most anti-racist activity null and void.

Compounding matters is the reality that white supremacy doesn’t just infect white people; it infects all people. It creates people of color who worship at the altar of whiteness and will do anything to achieve status in the eyes of white people but that is a post for another day and a workshop that needs to be created.

I don’t expect much to change racially anytime soon. Sure, we might get another Black president one day, a few select Black folks will be allowed to ascend to positions of prominence, and so on…but the real change of breaking down the current systems and overthrowing them? Very unlikely unless we actually get serious about acknowledging that we have a problem. That means being honest, that means being intentional even in our casual conversations, that means having the courage to acknowledge that racist behavior is not unthinkable. It’s not only thinkable but it happens everywhere and any time and it happens with alarming regularity. It means giving up the circle jerks even when we grasp the scope of racism and not falling victim to “performance change.” It means actually leaning into our discomfort and doing change. It means not derailing and pretending that gun control could have prevented the shootings in a country with a history of attacking the Black church. In 1963, four little Black girls in Birmingham, Alabama, lost their lives in a church bombing. The means for carrying out the killings have changed but the reasons behind the killings have not changed.

This is one of those times where I wish I could offer up hope but as the attacks on Black personhood grow bolder and closer together. To quote comedian Jon Stewart from a few days ago…I got nothing for you. Instead, I grab my loved ones close and pray for the strength to navigate in hostile space without losing the little bit of love for humanity that keeps me going through the day.

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10 thoughts on “The aftermath…are we ready to get real or will the circle jerk continue?”

  1. I am very grateful to hear your thoughts here. What you so succinctly articulate is the primary reason why, after 2 years attempting to live in Vermont, I will be leaving in several weeks. This weekend I was in dialogue with a musician online who had written the following on his FB page in response to the murders in Charleston, “We continue as a country to hold
    African-Americans in deepest contempt for their presence among us –mirror that they are of our weakest, most unlovable and unforgivable selves.” Every single day of my life here in VT I have been treated with this deep contempt in a way I have never experienced in any other location I have lived in, or visited in my 58 years of life. I was not surprised when I recently read information from the Southern Poverty Law Center claiming that VT had 4 active hate groups. I observe these people regularly, with their confederate flag bumper stickers, sneering at me with disgust. Or treating me as though I was invisible. Yet truth be known, there has also been an accumulation of good white people who consider themselves to be decent middle class anti-racists who have been similarly problematic. I’ve met people here who are sincerely committed to “doing the work” and know all of the right things to say to me and others regarding racism in the U.S. I’ve done the workshops and been a part of endless discussions & conversations about “issues”. But none of these same people have so much as asked me to share a f*-ng cup of tea. I sense they are comfortable working for black people but not necessarily in order to have any kind of actual relationship with actual black persons. It is as though much of the present day “workbook” frowns on anything like actually taking action to actually change anything. Talking and listening…that seems to be the extent of it. With more examples than I care to recall or recite, I have come to a similar conclusion as you BGIM. And though I prefer to be optimistic about that “long arc” I cannot help but feel that that puppy is stalled and we are in something of a societal ice age.
    I also think many whites doing the work are comfortable with black people as long as they are also doing the work. What would happen if we black people were just, well, enjoying leisure time. With each other? With them?!?!? Only acceptable if there is work involved. Wait a minute…this sounds familiar…
    And, (and I know this will not be easy) there is also another aspect I am wondering about as a possible downside of “doing the work”. Something that all African Americans engaged in the work might consider as well. Many of the black folk here I have met are passionately involved in social justice and are dedicated to work that is beneficial to their communities and also helps them maintain a sense of positive agency. They know they are contributing to moving the justice ball down the court even if it’s just a little… But some black folks are living that alternative life, where they aren’t engaged in the work in any way, aren’t exactly passing for white, but aren’t exactly making a big deal about being a person of color either. For me at least, even when I did connect with passionate, intelligent black people, it was challenging to get a sense of connection because so much energy was invested in the struggle. It was as if we were in an Olympic event and could not really enjoy our moments together because there was such a need to concentrate on winning the game… I got a sense that too much energy is needed to engage in anything that might diminish the primacy of the need for the work to happen. Because of this phenomenon, I have often wondered if the (white supremacist) terrorists won.
    Barbara Holmes, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Memphis Theological Seminary, as well as Professor of Ethics and African American Religious Studies wrote a provocative text called “Liberation and the Cosmos: Conversations with the Elders”. In the book, Ms Holmes submits a thoughtful, fictionalized “conversation” between herself and noted black thinkers from different eras including, Thurgood Marshall, W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr and even pop culture icons like Nina Simone, James Baldwin and Tupac Shakur. The various speakers weigh in on their opinions on black liberation. The book touches on questions including; if “We SHALL overcome” is always the memetic anthem of the movement for racial and social justice, how can liberation ever truly BE. I for one am still meditating on the answers and the wisdom in the words of these ancestors. My dear sister BGIM, your writing has been a great source of inspiration. Your writing is insightful, heartfelt and downright juicy. As I say adios, I wish you well in whatever you endeavor, and always pray for you to be happy, healthy in body, mind and spirit and free from suffering. Paz y ashé.

    • My own little experience here in the Whitest State was rather revealing ….walking a friends dog in the streets in Augusta’s, Sand Hill. I was horrified to see the “Bars” flying high on a flag staff near a large building of sorts, could it be the Klan’s meeting place ? Horrified to see this symbol of Confederate glory in my midst, I checked around with his neighbors (those of French Canadian descent who were equally being discriminated against by the area’s Anglo’s / no nothings). Turns out the owner was a well – off eccentric and the building housed his personal swimming pool – while the diversity person at the University of Maine Augusta was delighted to learn that an indoor swimming pool was in their midst for renting out, I guess that his Franco neighbors had a few words with the flag bearer because I never saw it flying again. And I learned from a French – Canadian member that the “Bars” was the symbol as well of the State’s Militia….. did some needed education here as well. I guess some of the answers lie in exposure and education !

  2. Thank you for this powerfully honest piece. I’m one of those white people doing anti-racism work and I’m acutely aware of the invisible competition you described. I feel it trying to hook me when I see other white racial justice advocates selling more books than I have, getting well-paid speaking engagements, or collaborating with prominent Black people. The thought that this competition renders our efforts null and void is terrifying. I will hold your words in my heart as a reminder.

  3. Tough to gasped that this punk so welcomed into such a black historical space …. commences to murder such holy people. My usual jest, “blame it on the Puritans” does not ring the bell, here. But what it means is that White America has got to grow up fast. While we claim to be the military power of the world, this means that we are just the world’s bully. As a “white nation” we never matured, instead we are stuck in an adolescent immaturity and now governed largely by “in for themselves” baby boomer’s … I do not see any real change ….but I know that my ancestors – the Anglicans and Quakers that were the European founders of New England would be horrified and like myself, very troubled !

    • In a nutshell .. what is now the United States was built on the premise of the Mass. Bay Puritans that totally adopted their false mythology that they were ” Saint’s” and “Ordained by their God ” to “save the rest of the world from their sins” as defined by Calvin and his extremists. Whatever means that they were to used was justified to obtained their “God given mandate”. One of the first acts the Saints did was to enact their 1641, “Laws of Liberty’ to reflect this mission. This meant the rewriting of much of English Common Law so that even the Indentured was effected in that those ” of color” could be held in bondage indefinitely. Hence “White Supremacy ” or the superiority of the WASP — White Anglo- Saxon Protestant race was ingrained into the national conscious of the United States and until this shackle is broken — it shall continue to be so. This punk reflects the end point of such indoctrination. The only hope is that the emerging minorities shall soon take their rightful place as the majority in the United States and demand that they too shall have the power and privilege that this still — very “White nation” claims for only itself—- including those “white allies” that are still clueless !

      • Geez — now they are blaming the “action” of this punk on his internet searches ….. when is White America going to wake up and take responsibility ?

  4. Oh, and by the by, the people we lose when we change seem to always want to come back around down the road a piece and lo, the years have gone by, but fences get mended and circles get unbent

  5. It’s a relief to read your words, because they articulate the concerns that are a bit deeper into the layers of “the onion” than most people ever seem to want to go. It seems to me that if someone doesn’t ask people “if they are willing to give up their privilege and power and lessen themselves to create equity?”, they are never going to figure out that that’s what it’s going to take. The reason for that is that it just isn’t in very “get real” terms sustainable. The Earth can’t fork over enough for all of us to live like white people in this country take it for granted they ought to live. People who change their ways often find that they even lose friends and loved ones, because the ones they lose just couldn’t hack it hearing all the new thoughts and feeling the difference. I’m speaking of people recovering from addictions. Addictions we’re willing to identify as such any way, because our lifestyle, as dependent as it is upon the unaddressed crimes that white people today continue to benefit from (genocide and slavery) is a culture of addiction. And since, the “vast majority of white people won’t do this (speak out, change their hearts), I think that pointing out that “the sooner people admit this, the better off we just might be … we will just move into the harm reduction phase of racism instead of this fantasy of eradicating racism” is the perfect metaphorical smack-down and for all the reasons of little to show, competition and an essential lack of conscious action.

    But what I fear is that this will go on, not because of racism, but because racism is such an effective tool. It seems like before 9/11, the “little people” were actually verging on a kind of cohesion that was truly beyond race. Everybody counted and honoring all colors was the linking of arms at the elbow to take on a broken economy and worse, a broken approach to the Earth. It was so fragile that I think a lot of people dismissed it as soon as the planes hit the towers. Which often leads me think there was so much more going on that day that we don’t even need to know, we only need to know we heard a truth that cannot be killed. If we don’t put an end to racism, and not just against African Americans, but specifically against Native NORTH Americans, and put our shoulders to the gristmill of making green jobs specifically for the Black & the Red among us, we will lose our home here. Simple.

    “Compounding matters is the reality that white supremacy doesn’t just infect white people; it infects all people. It creates people of color who worship at the altar of whiteness and will do anything to achieve status in the eyes of white people.” And most egregiously, in my opinion, that worship entails joining in the implicit denial of the genocide that gave white people an entire continent to wreck. There were more than a few people here when the western European ships landed. Some say 134 million. Reduced to less than a million by the time California was 10 years old. Yet I rarely hear African Americans say anything except Native Americans except that “they got the worst of it”. Ho! Simply not true. Don’t be ridiculous. That sounds like somebody thinks they have something to lose. Which is true in a way, but not the way I think these folks think. Nobody is better because they got taken instead of taken. Know what I mean? One way instead of another. We need to get wholly more indigenous and start thinking like we know where we are.

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