Revisiting the silo of whiteness

“When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in the ghetto, you don’t know what it’s like to be poor; you don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you walk down the street or you get dragged out of a car. And I believe that as a nation in the year 2016, we must be firm in making it clear. We will end institutional racism and reform a broken criminal-justice system.”
– Bernie Sanders
The 2016 presidential election season is starting to bear a faint resemblance to the 2004 film Crash, a film in which a group of vastly different people find their lives colliding around the issue of race amongst other things. In many ways this election cycle is leading Americans of all hues and stripes on a collision course with race and how we see or don’t see each other. Unfortunately, life is not a film and things won’t be wrapped up neat and tidy within two hours.

One thing that is very clear to me is that racially segregated lives combined with fear can lead people to say and do some really curious things. I’m also vividly reminded that we humans are guided by our fragile egos (myself included) and when the ego takes over, combined with nonstop media messages courtesy of Fox, CNN, MSNBC and Facebook, tensions rise and reason leaves the room.

A few nights ago, Bernie Sanders made several comments during a debate that frankly should give us all pause and not because they were awful or possibly taken out of context as some are suggesting. Rather, because his assertion reveals how white supremacy operates. It “others” people who aren’t white, and in far too many cases it’s unintentional and it’s blind. It often doesn’t know what it doesn’t know because, as I wrote last year, the average white person lives in what I refer to as the silo of whiteness.  To be white in America is to operate in a world where you live, love, work and play primarily with people just like you. Overwhelmingly and disproportionately. Sometimes even exclusively. (It should be noted that research shows non-white people are more likely to have racial diversity in their friendships and networks than are white people.)

Even in diverse cities, town and suburbs, we often conduct our personal lives in proximity to people just like us. Yet because of how power is held, this does not operate the same in reverse for people of color. We may live in segregated spaces but power is held by white bodies. It means that often people of color have had an opportunity to observe white people in a way that white people rarely observe people of color. It also means that people of color don’t have as much freedom or ability to interact only with their own race.

This power imbalance leads to beliefs that are often based on half truths, “data” and stereotypes. It makes it easy to equate the plight for racial justice without acknowledging that Black people exist across the economic spectrum and even the most privileged Black person knows that economic privilege provides scant protection at times against racial discrimination and profiling. It also means when Blacks and other people of color speak up and demand parity, we aren’t always heard.

The energy swirling around this year’s presidential candidates has created a vacuum where increasingly people of color are tired of being asked to “go along to get along.” Whether it’s Bernie’s revolution or Hillary’s potential big first. This election season has opened the floodgates to people talking down and insisting that marginalized people must do XYZ lest they are “low information voters.”

While many of us are sharing a common economic plight in this changing world where the middle class has essentially become an upgraded version of yesterday’s working class, we cannot ignore the fact that race matters. Race always matters and the sooner we get comfortable acknowledging that reality and working tirelessly within our communities to change the discourse around racialized realities, the sooner we may get to a place that race is secondary. But we are not there yet. Not even close.

To ask people of color to ignore their racialized existence and experience is a form of racial abuse. Many well-intentioned white people this election season are so focused on what they feel is best that they seem incapable of hearing and stepping back. Rather than beating the drum about what a candidate did 50 years ago, perhaps we would all be better served asking how can we help change that candidate’s narrative so that it works for everyone. Instead of demanding silence that  results in business as usual for a certain segment of the American population.

I am often characterized by some as a “race baiter” and while I disagree with that, I do believe in talking about race because I know that talking openly and honestly about race and racism can make a difference. I think that when we see the humanity of everyday people, it allows us to think deeper about race and how it affects our lives. I most certainly have had my own thinking on race expanded by dialogues with people of other races whom I got to know as people not white people or Mexican people or something else but as people.
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Black Women Are the Ones Voting For Your Liberal Politics : A Guest Post

I’ve been meaning to write this for a long time. Connect the dots, take data from Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 and break it down to white folks. My people. Liberal white people. Democrat-leaning white people. The kind of white people who show up to hear Bernie Sanders speak and then freak the hell out about “respectability” in protest. Like that’s a thing. Like, an affluent white guy/socialist firmly cemented within the power structure of American politics is a shrinking violet in need of protection from the Black woman brute.

Here’s the thing, though. Black women, the ones the white folks — my people–are so angry with for leading and disrupting political speeches in the name of Black Lives Matter are the ones who vote for candidates like Saunders. And they must, in their due diligence as voters within a democracy, hold politicians accountable when their overwhelming majority is taken for granted.

It Bears repeating: It is women of color who, election year-over-election year consistently vote white liberal politics into office. They did it in 2008 and they did it again in 2012. They even do it in midterm elections

Let’s go to the numbers.

In 2008, and through exit polling, McCain won the white vote of both genders by 55%.
That same election, Obama lost white women by 7% to McCain.
And only 41% of white men voted for Obama.

In 2012, Obama’s re-election was called “historic” for the amount of women who voted for him. But as we all know women are not a monolithic group no matter how much the media likes to group us all together. The key point here is white, married women en masse have never voted for Obama. Ever. There is a very specific subset of women who are liberal and vote that way in large numbers. They are:

Women of color
Single, white women (ALL ages)

As The Atlantic so keenly pointed out in 2012, race and ethnicity are, generally speaking, the easiest ways to determine how one voted for both genders. Here’s how they broke it down:

If you were to list gender and racial/ethnic groups by their Democratic vote on Tuesday, the list would go like this: black women (96 percent), black men (87 percent), Hispanic women (76 percent), Hispanic men (65 percent), white women (42 percent) and white men (35 percent).

However, I’d argue the quickest way to determine how a woman probably voted is through these two things:

Marital status

Keep in mind white voters of both genders continues to shrink within the voting pool which is how Obama could win the women’s vote, yet still lose white women. It’s also how Romney could win the white vote of both genders and still lose the election.

But what does this mean for Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter disruption? It means EVERYTHING.

Black women are, by in large, the organizers of the movement. Ninety-six percent of them voted for Obama. When we talk about the standard bearers of Liberal politics moving forward, the reality is these voters are women and they are various shades of brown. If a voting bloc that wins elections was a cupcake, single white women are the sprinkles. White men are negligible as baking powder. The population of the United States leans 53% toward women.

The fact remains the people Saunders needs to vote for him look NOTHING like him. And, they don’t look like Hilary Clinton either. Clinton is a white, married woman. Her demographic as such consistently votes Republican. White, married people can’t quit the GOP. White, wealthy women, however, voted for Obama in key “monied suburbs” in Colorado, Virginia and Ohio. He won them by seven points (but lost the white guys), yet these numbers are not the kind of overwhelming voting bloc one can use to tamp down on Black Lives Matter protestors to sit down and wait their turn. In fact, Black Lives Matter organizers are doing exactly what they should be doing: withholding their vote and making politicians earn it.

No one sums up Black women as a voting group better than the Center For American Progress: As the 2008, 2012, and 2013 elections demonstrated, women of color are a key, emerging voting bloc with the potential to significantly affect electoral outcomes.

White liberals, my people, stand down.


Liz Henry was a BlogHer Voice of the Year in 2012 and 2013. Her writing has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Postand Brain, Child magazine. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter. She lives in Philadelphia.

Why We Can’t Wait…musings on Bernie, his stans and BLM

(Note: The headline is not a typo, as several readers have assumed since it was first published. The word “stan” in its simplest term is an extreme fan. Or, as Google will tell you: “A stan is an avid fan and supporter of a celebrity, franchise, or group, often a rock/pop musician. The object of the stan’s affection is often called their fave.” Or, as the online Urban Dictionary will tell you: “Based on the central character in the Eminem song of the same name, a “stan” is an overzealous maniacal fan for any celebrity or athlete.“)…and now, on with the post
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have long held the belief that one of the largest barriers to meaningful discussions on racial matters in the United States is the uncomfortable reality that, by and large, whites and Blacks live highly segregated lives. This de facto segregation, however, is not a two-way street; Black people usually must interact with white people because the majority of power and institutions are governed and controlled by whites. In Black communities, it is not unusual, as we saw in Ferguson, Missouri, that despite an overwhelmingly Black community, the people in control were primarily white. However white people can live, work and love in spaces and rarely if ever encounter a real live Black person. Living in Maine, I have had the first-hand experience in my 13 years in this state of being the first Black person that many people have actually known. This is not an uncommon situation outside urban areas, the South or the coasts. There are not insignificant numbers of white people who have little if any real interaction with Black people. The even dirtier secret is that even in more racially diverse places, oftentimes the communications and connections between people of different races is rarely beyond the superficial.

These silos of whiteness as I like to call them, while seemingly innocuous to those who find themselves ensconced in the silo, are often highly problematic as this country experiences a real demographic shift at a time when anti-Black sentiment is at an all-time high.

If nothing else, the recent brush-up between presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, his followers and the Black Lives Matters movement shows just how troublesome the silo of whiteness is when it is unable to recognize the humanity of a people under duress because of a lack of manners.

While the GOP is overflowing in wanna-be presidents, the other side is not. Which makes the Socialist senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, a stand-out candidate because unlike the establishment favorite Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bernie speaks for the little person in us all. Which is probably why Bernie is awash in energy as many people are looking for a candidate who might be able to truly shift this economic nightmare that threatens us all. Bernie also cares about the other issues that matter such as climate change. Bernie is a liberal progressive’s dreamboat. However despite Bernie’s platform and past history as someone who in his youth took a stand against segregation and racism, Bernie wasn’t saying much on matters of race in a day and age where the fragility of Black life is on display for all. Until members of the Black Lives Matter movement started disrupting his rallies.

I am not going to rehash the Black Lives Matter disruptions and Bernie’s eventual inclusion of a platform that does speak to matters of racial justice. What I am going to speak to is the reaction of Bernie’s supporters to Black Lives Matters tactics which, for anyone who is familiar with social justice work, should be familiar. In a nutshell, Bernie was and is the most accessible candidate and the one most likely to “hear” the movement and make changes in his own work, unlike Hillary Clinton or any member of the GOP. Even an old Socialist seems to have recognized the strategy and is adjusting his message accordingly.

However, after the most recent disruption in Seattle which turned ugly, it is clear that many white liberal progressives are not nearly the ally to Black folks that they think themselves to be. In fact, unless one is intentional in unpacking their own whiteness and white privilege, the sad reality is that many progressives are simply steeped in a paternalistic, colorblind fantasy that does not take into consideration real-life Black people and when confronted with real Black people who are in real pain, they can’t cope with it and they slide into their white supremacist mindset often without even realizing it.

For many of Bernie’s white supporters, they don’t want their candidate’s chances ruined which, while admirable, threatens to completely invalidate any understanding of just how serious the state violence that is currently being inflicted upon the Black community really is, while they simply fret that their candidate will get labeled a racist by Black activists. In attempting to link economic justice with racial equity, the Sanders campaign and its followers also paint the Black community with a broad brush that is rather offensive and insulting in that it assumes that the vast majority of Blacks are impoverished and maybe even uneducated when the reality is far more complicated than that especially in a day when Black women are one of the most better educated groups in the country (there is also an inherent assumption, quite naive, that economic equity will largely eliminate systemic racism).

The troubles that confront Black America are complex in part because of this country’s unwillingness to publicly acknowledge and address just how harmful our racial past really was and how the effects are still playing out in 2015. Black Americans have been under siege and harmed for hundreds of years. Slavery ended in the 1800s but its replacement, Jim Crow, was alive and well into the 1960s. When we step back and realize that many who were born and raised under Jim Crow are still alive and understand the impact of that legacy upon younger generations of Black Americans, we see a puzzle that requires more than good-paying jobs and dash- or body-cams. It also becomes a lot clearer, if one can get past their own emotions, why today’s generation of young Black activists are not feeling like they can wait.

In many ways, the hard-won gains of the Civil Rights era are being rolled back…under the watch of our first Black president (token). Black life is viewed as disposable and denial of Black humanity is the norm.  The Black Lives Matter movement is rooted in the idea that Black Lives not only matter but that they have value and a place in a country that our ancestors helped to build without compensation. Black Lives Matter is not just a slogan but a public declaration of Black love for ourselves and when we love, we do what we need to for those who we love. There are many white-identified allies who are struggling with the “brazenness” of BLM and wondering if BLM is doing too much or pushing too hard. Yet when we look at the words of Martin Luther King (including the ones that began this post), we see that we have been here before.  In fact, Dr. King penned an entire book explaining why we can’t wait. It seems that the young people of Black Lives Matter are following in the rich tradition of King and others who understood that fighting for one’s humanity and freedom is never convenient, neither for themselves nor for those who don’t experience their oppression. To create true change involves disrupting the current systems that seek to oppress, and true allies and accomplices understand that to create equity means a willingness to give up something for the good of all. Anything less is empty words and more of the same.
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