Here’s a headline I’ve kicked around in my mind for a few days:
White people everywhere declare themselves “not racist” in response to black churches burning
Inspiration for that headline came from the below picture, which I now see circulating on Facebook amongst white people at ever-increasing frequency and popularity in the wake of the Charleston Massacre and string of additional white terrorist arson against black communities:
I don’t have a problem with the picture, per se. I have a huge problem with the fact that I see it with ever-increasing frequency among white folks in the wake of white supremacist terrorism against black communities. I even see groups of white people using the above picture to band together and declare themselves and one-another “not-racist” in a perverse sort of white ego circle jerk. I give exactly four fucks about this trend:
- It deflects from the real issue of black safety and liberation and institutionalized / systematic white supremacy, and makes it about the egos and insecurities of white individuals. Do I need to explain how problematic this is? I will anyway: when white people “respond” to events relating to black liberation by defensively declaring themselves “not racist,” it creates a comparison and equality between black lives lost and terrorized on one hand, and hurt white egos on the other. Such a comparison minimizes and marginalizes and delegitimizes black lives, even implying that white egos matter more than black lives. This is exactly why “Black Lives Matter!” has risen as a central slogan and even the name of the current liberation movement. This is a great example of racist micro-aggression, and shows how subtle and entrenched racism is in our society. It’s similar to how many people compare a broken windows to a lost life and try to make the discussion about the broken window.
- Individuals use “I’m not racist” as a way to excuse or hide their passivity: white people claiming they are “not racist” often use such claims to remain on the sidelines, as if this isn’t “their fight.” Or by virtue of declaring themselves “not racist,” they have no work to do. How convenient!
- Just as problematically, the white supremacist status quo uses the above-mentioned passivity and micro-aggressions of white individual defensiveness as a type of implicit apology for or endorsement of the current racist regime. It’s a type of wink and a nod.
- Also, you’re racist. Get over it. I’m racist. We’re all racist. In a racist society and culture, everyone is racist by default. Only when we actively do anti-racist things are we not racist…and even so, only temporarily. As Jennai Bundock reminds us, “Don’t tell me you are [feminist, anti-racist, BMX biker, runner, poet, anything, really]. I will know based on how you behave.” (paraphrasing)
In other words, you can’t stay neutral on a moving train, folks (thanks, Zinn), and talk is cheap.
When institutionalized, systemic and systematic oppression brutalizes and terrorizes people in your community — perhaps people you know — how do you react or respond? How will you behave? Do you, for example, support black armed self-defense or other forms of black agency and empowerment? Or do you try to police black behavior through the lens of respectability politics?
Well-meaning white people need to get off the sidelines, stop insisting they are “not racist,” realize its not about them personally or their own insecurities, and join in solidarity with the anti-racist resistance and liberation movements. This can take a literally-infinite number of forms, big and small (help make signs, publicly condemn the race terrorists, talk to friends and family about what’s going on, take some initiative to educate yourself, etc). To help establish some parameters, here’s what it DOES NOT look like:
- selfish individualism: defensively making it all about you, e.g., to claim or prove you’re “not racist”
- passivity: saying and doing nothing in support of and solidarity with those who put their lives at risk to speak out against ongoing racial inequality and justice or who directly get harmed by it.
- victim blaming: wondering silently what the black people “did to provoke” their attackers
The recent rash of anti-black arson in the US are acts of physical aggression — continuations of the Charleston massacre — targeting a minority population who has become increasingly vocal about the inequalities and injustices they still face at the hands of white supremacy. These are acts of war, perhaps even white supremacists’ efforts to provoke an explicit race war in the US. Until then, these acts of war constitute a reactionary, race-baiting, white-supremacist backlash against black liberation to overcome centuries of entrenched oppression — a type of scorched-earth white terrorism targeting the hearts and peoples of many black communities.
I stand in solidarity with the people of black liberation movements and against institutional and systematic white supremacy, including its more subtle manifestations as individual defensiveness, passivity or micro-aggressions.
This sometimes gets tricky. It gets more and more difficult to “other” the perpetrators when we focus on the subtle transgressions that form the fabric or foundation of the status quo. The perpetrators of passivity or micro-aggression start to look an awful lot like friends, family, even ourselves. Believe it or not, this is a good thing. It’s not that we remove focus from the terrorists of racism — we remain focused on them, and start dismantling the cultural and social basis of their social support system. It starts with us, but does not end there, as we learn to turn white fragility into courageous imperfection:
If white people want to belong to the beloved community, if we want to be part of the tide that is turning thanks to people of color-led movements like #BlackLivesMatter, then we have to show up as bold and genuine and imperfect…Dismantling centuries of dehumanizing institutions and practices — both in the world and within ourselves — can’t be a simple process. The good news is that transforming your fragility into courageous imperfection is the beginning of a lot more joy. It’s the beginning of a lot more connection. It’s the beginning of the end of racism.
The rest of the above-linked article is well-worth the read.