“In Somali, when we see injustice we say ‘dhiiga kuma dhaqaaqo?’ which translates into ‘does your blood not move?'” -Warsan Shire
Fellow white folks, there are some things we need to talk about. Especially given our current political climate, it is time to leave the comfort of your privilege and acknowledge the reality of racism. Race seems to be increasingly prevalent in public discourse, but too many of us are still not willing to do the anti-racist work that must be done if we ever hope to have racial equality in this country. This is long overdue, but better now than never. I want this to be a “calling in” discussion, and I hope you will receive it as such.
1. White privilege: If you are a white person in the United States, you benefit from white privilege. Full stop. Because our country is and has always been a white supremacy, a society built to ensure the success and superiority of white people (and also literally built on the backs on black slaves), you carry with you an immense amount of racial privilege. This does not mean that you cannot be marginalized in other ways – many of us are. This does not mean that your life is easy or that your struggles don’t matter. However, even the most economically disadvantaged white folks retain racial privilege that people of color simply do not possess. For some concrete examples of white privilege, click here.
2. Racism as a system of oppression: In order to understand the significance of white privilege, it is also necessary to understand that racism is a system of oppression. Certainly it is true that racism can happen on an individual level (e.g. hate crimes), but even these individual incidents occur within a larger culture that institutionalizes the oppression of black folks. While we’re here, let’s go ahead and debunk the myth of reverse racism. Because racism is a system built on the of oppression of people of color (particularly black people), white people in the United States cannot experience it. While people of color can be just as prejudiced as white people, they cannot be just as racist because they do not hold political, economic, and institutional power. The same can be said of reverse sexism (which also does not exist).
3. Policing: One of the most obvious examples of a racist institution is the police. Since the murder of Trayvon Martin and the emergence of Black Lives Matter, the racially charged brutality of the police has been exposed more than ever before (at least in the eyes of white folks – people of color have watched this go on for decades). Policing is an institution that has, since its very inception, been rooted in racism. As James Baldwin wrote in 1966, “…the police are simply the hired enemies of this population. They are present to keep the Negro in his place and to protect white business interests, and they have no other function.” American police systematically target and control black people with methods ranging from arbitrary traffic stops to point blank murder. This has always been the case, except now we often have video footage as proof. And let’s be clear: these incidents are not isolated. They reveal a pattern of abuse and oppression that literally kills. Many racial justice advocates, myself included, believe that the police should be abolished because of the irreparable damage the institution causes. Read the argument for abolition here.
There are many, many more examples of the ways racism manifests itself in our institutions, but the reality of black folks being murdered in the streets by the people who are supposed to “serve and protect” is especially stark. We should consider the amount of people murdered by law enforcement to be a national emergency. White America’s reluctance to see this reality for what it is has led us into the new Civil Rights Era. Black people are literally fighting for their lives while a disturbingly large portion of white people sit back and watch. With he-who-must-not-be-named as our president, racially charged hate crimes have become commonplace, and the emergence of the “alt-right” (aka white supremacists) has made it clear just how far we have left to go.
4. Liberal racism: Also worth considering is the new “liberal racism,” which was both the topic and target of Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Liberal racism describes racism that is perhaps more subtle but equally as dangerous as blatant racism. Many of us are guilty of participating in this. From celebrating the Obamas as a “respectable” black family to perpetuating racial stereotypes, almost all of us are complicit. We eagerly consume black bodies through athletics, film, and music, but rarely grant these artists and athletes the full humanity we give to their white counterparts. We celebrate what we perceive as “exceptional blackness,” which is most often due to black folks working twice as hard to catch up to white standards, all the while accepting only the black people that are palatable to our sensibilities. There is no better example than former President Obama, who would never have been elected had he not played respectability politics extremely well.
5. Does your blood not move? If you have made it this far and you want to be a better ally, the best place to start is by educating yourself. While people of color are the authorities on racism, it is not their responsibility to educate us. As Kali Holloway writes, condemning racism is easy. Being a true ally in the fight against white supremacy requires time and research. I would suggest reading as much literature by black writers as you possibly can. These three books are a good starting place:
Between the World and Me, by Ta Nehisi-Coates.
Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, by Mychal Denzel Smith.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. (And/or watch the Netflix documentary 13th, which is based off of Alexander’s book.)
Most importantly, open yourself up to the experiences of marginalized people. Accept that their lived experiences inform us of what’s really going on. Listen, learn, repeat. It is absolutely crucial to to acknowledge that this learning never truly ends, because we can always be better. We will fuck up sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. Doing the work to be anti-racist is not easy, but it is necessary. And as the most racially privileged group in America, the responsibility of dismantling white supremacy is ours.