Either we destroy white supremacy or we stop lying to ourselves

“Beyond the ebb and flow of racial progress lies the still viable and widely accepted (though seldom expressed) belief that America is a white country in which blacks, particularly as a group, are not entitled to the concern, resources, or even empathy that would be extended to similarly situated whites.”

Derrick A. Bell, Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform

Since 2003, I have shared my struggles as a Black woman living in one of America’s very whitest states, but really the reality that I have lived in Maine is the reality of the majority Black people in America. “How could that be?” you might ask. Well, it is because we are confronted with overt and covert racism in our daily lives. Regularly. Virtually every day for most of us and more than once a day by far. Racism existed in my hometown of Chicago; after all, it was there that at the age of 16, I had a white child call me a nigger. It was was there where a police officer accused me of being a sex worker for the “crime”of being in the passenger seat of the car with my then husband as we drove down the highway (this being the 1990s, mind you, not the ’60s or even the ’70s, in case you got confused and thought I was an adult back in those decades…hell, I wasn’t even born until the 1970s). It was in Chicago where teachers chose to ignore the fact that as a sullen 16-year-old whose father had been diagnosed with cancer that I wasn’t just being hard-headed and not going to school but that I was in crisis.

The racism that I discovered in Maine was not, in hindsight, particularly extreme in terms of actions or behaviors. But what it was (and continues to be) extreme in the utter lack of racial representation. Simply put, in Chicago, there was a community that provided safe harbor and respite from the slings and arrows of racism. But in Maine, for the majority of Black people and other people of color, we are isolated and that makes the racism that we face even more dangerous. Rarely do we have a safe harbor to retreat to and nourish ourselves. Few (to the point of being almost none at all) largely Black neighborhoods or shops or hangouts. Instead, we are hyper-vigilant and always on though because we are constantly surrounded by whiteness and people who expect us to “act white.” Granted, that is slowly changing thanks to younger activists who are working diligently to change things. But it’s still very much an unfinished work in very early progress.

I must confess that I am tired, I am weary and I am mad. Recently a “friend” suggested that I tone down my rhetoric on race as I was turning people off. Funny thing is that for the past several months, I have been in a deep funk about my work because at times, I wonder if my writing or work has any real value beyond knowledge or camaraderie. As I watch a younger generation of Black activists and thinkers come up, I think they are on to something: The humanity of Black people cannot wait for a collective mass of white folks to realize that we have as much right to sit at the table of humanity as they do instead of always requiring that we twist ourselves to be palatable to the white gaze and aesthetic.

Technology’s ability to capture racial injustice on camera has led to millions of white people starting the process of waking up to the realities of race in America and while that is a good thing, it is not enough. It is not enough to realize that white privilege is a real thing regardless of one’s economic situation. Waking up to whiteness and acknowledgment of injustice do not lead to the structural overhauling of this entire system which is desperately needed. In short, it is no longer enough to educate yourselves and work towards being anti-racist in your personal sphere.

White privilege exists on the foundation of white supremacy, which is what we need to address as a collective body. To be born in a body labeled as white is to be born into white supremacy, it is to be as steeped in white supremacy as a Lipton tea bag is in a mug of steaming hot water.

Western civilization was built on white supremacy and affects every interaction in our lives from how we run our meetings to how we buy our homes. Whiteness is the cultural norm that we are all forced into and for those of us in bodies that are not white, our ability to survive is often tied to just how well we can fit ourselves into this narrative that upholds whiteness as the cultural norm. If you think I am lying, look no further than the former President of the United States. Barack Obama’s ability to distance himself from Blackness was part of his ability to capture the hearts and minds of millions of white people. He was our first Black president and yet it was under our country’s first Black president that Black people mobilized in numbers not seen since the Civil Rights era as we affirmed our right to exist thanks to the growing numbers of Black people being killed by police.

This space has long served as the starting place for many white people to create awareness around racism but that is no longer enough for me as the creator of this space. We must move the needle on racism and while education and knowledge are central to that process we must also have action. We need to ask ourselves are we upholding white supremacy and thus perpetuating the never-ending cycle of racism or are we taking stock of our lives and actions and looking at where we can be the change?

The past several days have been hard for Black Americans as we saw yet another police officer acquitted in the death of an unarmed Black person who was so clearly undeserving of lethal force. Last summer, Philando Castile was pulled over for from the crime of having a busted taillight while driving with his girlfriend and her child. After being asked for his license and registration, Castile told the officer that he was licensed to carry a firearm and that he had one on his person. He was polite and complaint, the two things we are always told will keep us from being shot. Yet the officer decided that his life was in danger and shot into the car multiple times killing Castile. Castile’s girlfriend recorded the incident on Facebook Live as her 4-year-old daughter witnessed this all from the back seat. Yet in the end, the officer was acquitted. People wonder why we say Black Lives Matter but more times than not the system sends the clear messages that Black Lives Don’t Matter.

As many of us sit with this unsettling reminder that our lives only matter when white America says they do, we were faced with another brutal reminder that our lives don’t matter. Seattle police shot and killed Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old Black mother with a reported history of mental health issues after she called to report an attempted burglary. Lyles, who was pregnant, was armed with a knife which apparently triggered the officers to shoot and kill her; her children were present in the apartment. A woman calls the police to report a burglary and ends up dead. In moments like this, I find myself wondering is there any reason for any Black person in America to call the police given that the system has the uncanny knack of finding us so threatening that whether we are 12-year-old kids engaging in play with a toy gun at a playground or driving in our cars or calling for help, we still are killed. Yet white men who go into Black churches and shoot and kill people can be delivered safely to jail with a pit stop for fast food before being locked up. Or they escape from jail, go on a crime spree and can still be captured alive.

If this space resonates with you, what are your plans for change? How are you affirming the humanity in Black and non-white people? How are you supporting people of color? How are you taking your learning and putting it into action? What is holding you back? If Black lives really matter to you, how are you letting the Black people in your life know that?

Lastly, to the “friend” who said I was too much, I say no. In fact, what I have been doing is not enough and I will work until my last breath to create change. If that makes you as a white person uncomfortable, decolonize your mind and break free from the shackles of white supremacy. Do better, think better and be better. Dismantle the system that says whiteness is rightness and everything else.

Do these things. Do them, or else acknowledge that the lives of non-white people, especially Black ones, are simply not enough of a priority for you to unplug yourself from white supremacy and white privilege. Make change in yourself and around you, however you can, or stop lying to yourself.
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Here we are again and why we say Black Lives Matter

Oakland, Cleveland, Ferguson and so many other cities and towns and now, Baton Rouge. Another Black person dead under questionable circumstances involving the police. Another life taken too soon. Another family left to grieve. Another community wanting answers. Wanting justice and knowing it’s unlikely to come. We have been down this road many times before and the sad reality is that without systemic change that also involves accountability, we will go down this road again.

In too many instances, the dead person is accused of having brought their death upon themselves for a litany of reasons. The specifics don’t matter because when we have a system that is desensitized and sees Black and Brown bodies as inherent threats, our lives as disposable  any excuse or justification for our murders will do. This year alone reports indicate that in excess of 120 Black people have been killed by the police. These are not isolated incidents, especially when the fallout affects all Black and Brown people.

How do you trust a system that is indifferent to your humanity? How do you teach your children that police officers are people who will help them when you know that is not a universal truth? When you know that Black children have lost their lives at the hands of the police. How do you have hope in a world that is indifferent to Black pain and suffering only when it can be consumed as trauma porn as people watch and share videos of our killings and yet do little or nothing else beyond that?

Whenever one of these shootings goes down, it is not only the deceased’s loved ones that feel the pain and void; it is also the collective Black and Brown family that feels the pain because never is the thought far away that it could be your family next. Whether you live in the hood, the burbs or the country. Whether you are blue collar, white collar or rich as hell, you know this so-called random happening could just as easily happen to you and yours.

Raising Black children in this day and age is an act of courage because you wonder: How do you keep them safe? How do you keep them open and loving in a world that can snatch them away from you at any moment? When you see the mothers and wives grieving openly, as a mother, you feel their collective pain in your body as surely as you felt your own labor pains.

We will Facebook, tweet, write our think-pieces, march and maybe even raise some money to help the family out but it is never enough. It is never enough. Until the day when the collective human family that involves our white brothers and sisters feels this pain and rises up to demand accountability that starts locally and spreads outwardly, we will be here again.

Black Lives Matter and so do the lives of all non white people who are too rarely acknowledged as part of the greater human family.
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Getting back to the issues or Not now, Black people

Since the untimely demise murder of Michael Brown in August 2014, matters of race and racism (both systemic and personal) have been very much at the forefront of many discussions in the US. The barrier of politeness that made in-depth talks of racism taboo outside of academic and racial justice spaces has been lifted and we are all talking. Now, that’s the kind of thing I encourage normally, but the problem is we aren’t all having the same conversation on race and racism. Sometimes, it seems we aren’t even speaking the same language.

The racialized silos that we live in make honest racial discussions very hard to come by. Far too many white people have no meaningful interactions with people of color and, frankly, in many cases they have literally no interactions period with people of color. For people of color and specifically Black people, a power imbalance creates a system where speaking openly and honestly to a white employer, colleague, etc. could have disastrous effects.

Yet a younger Black generation is showing itself to be fearless. They have seen their parents and grandparents grapple with race, they have seen the realities of racism play out in their communities and with their peers, and they are saying “Enough is enough.” This presidential campaign season we have seen candidates forced to address the racial questions in ways that many of us are not quite used to seeing. However the questions must be asked. Racism is the stain that we can’t quite seem to ever wash out in part because we aren’t trying hard enough. We aren’t comfortable with discomfort, and to acknowledge that a white middle class was created at the expense of Black people sits uneasily in the pit of stomachs. Which is why most white people don’t try to think about it much.

To acknowledge that the “hood” and the “ghetto” were government constructs used to keep those people in their place is to acknowledge that many of the truths that white Americans were raised to believe in are lies.  To look at the last 60 years in the United States is to see an ugly reality, and some realities are so horrible and so ugly that for many of us we cannot allow ourselves to feel the weight of that inequity. So we look at inequity in bite-sized morsels that won’t choke us to death and we pat ourselves on the back because we aren’t “those” ugly racists, and we do the best that we can and leave it at that. But to those of us staggering under the psychic weight of racism, bite-sized morsels of racialized compassion and care are more a slap in the face than anything else.

I was thinking about this a few days ago when a video surfaced of two Black activists who attended a private Hillary Clinton event and confronted Clinton with words that she had spoken in the 1990s. Clinton wasn’t the president in the 1990s (her husband was) but she also was not a “typical” first lady. The Clinton legacy of the 1990s is one that created hardship for Black and Brown communities, and we are now living with the impact of mass incarceration and other societal changes adversely and disproportionately affecting people of color that really picked up during the Clinton administration. So there is a justification in asking Clinton where she stands on issues that impact communities of color.

In the end, the activist was thrown out and we hear Clinton utter “Let’s get back to the issues.”  That single sentence is how I feel most matters of racial justice play out for white people. When you are fully free (and acknowledged as fully human), you don’t understand the urgency of someone else’s desire to get free because you have never not been free. Whether you are the poorest white person in the backwaters of the Delta or Appalachia to the waspiest WASP in the northeast, to possess white skin in a society that normalized and centered whiteness is to hold a privilege that others see but often the holder of said privilege cannot see. Your issues and actions are normalized; they are business as usual. They are the important issues; they are not seen as pesky interruptions or uncomfortable moments. To see someone demand accountability and full humanity is often viewed as rude when the real rudeness is that people have to ask these questions in the first place. Then again, if we lived in a world where all lives mattered, maybe we wouldn’t.

Lately, I find myself wondering how we can shift the narrative so that Black Lives Matter becomes something that really matters to all. That it is as important to us all as the air we breathe and the people we love.  How do we take racism out of its compartment and make the full weight felt enough that we all will say enough is enough? I wish I knew…
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