Whites Talking to Whites: moving beyond anti-racism and privilege

* this is a section of a larger work which will be published in 2015.

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I think it was my junior year in college. I was already hot over something, I can’t remember what exactly now, but I know it was not a good time for me to be taught anything about privilege. I remember my voice being horse from all the yelling. I was on the phone with my girlfriend, who was a junior at the University of Minnesota, who was explaining white privilege and systems of domination to me. I was clearly not trying to hear it. I went to Hamline University with a bunch of wealthy bougie people that constantly judged me for being working class; they were privileged, not me. How could I be privileged when I was being laughed at for having to use a bungee cord to hold my trunk down? How could I be privileged when I was being told that a pair of jeans cost more than my whole life? It just didn’t make any sense to me.  My girlfriend was gracious and eventually convinced me to agree to disagree. It would take me a number of years to call her and tell her she was right, I still remember the feeling vividly. Little did I know privilege was only the first step on the journey.

As I learned more and began to explore my own racial existence I came to understand that my white skin, whether I liked it or not, meant something. I realized that the price those European immigrants paid to enter into America covered my cost of admission as well. My skin color did indeed come with privilege in American society.  I dedicated a tremendous amount of energy to understanding this phenomenon, and then proclaimed my newfound understanding to anyone that would listen. I passionately consumed anything dealing with race and privilege. I examined my whole world through this lens. However, it wasn’t until recently that I realized centering privilege, for me as a European-American working to dismantle white supremacy and reconnect with humanity, was all wrong. I wanted to be anti-racist so badly that I spent very little time actually thinking about what I was for. I yearned for something that made me feel whole, something that gave me life. I needed more than anti-racism. I needed culture.

When anti-racists lead by talking about privilege it often leads to anger and defensiveness, like mine at my girlfriend. I certainly was not alone in my anger at the notion I had any privilege due to the color of my skin. There are literally millions of working class and poor whites who feel similarly to how I felt. Leading with privilege when trying to call them in does nothing but shut them out, making them defensive. If this were the only reason to stop leading with privilege it would be a terrible one because it caters to white sensibilities. Sadly, it is not.The most important reason to readjust how we approach the conversation is because understanding, and even addressing, privilege does nothing to address the culture which created it: white supremacy. If our goal is to eliminate racism then we need to truly examine whether or not discussing white privilege moves us any closer to that goal. The answer is quite clearly: No.[i] Whiteness cannot be framed as a privilege. It is no privilege to pillage the Earth. It is no privilege to live a life disconnected from creation, to be cultureless. We must move beyond a system of knowing that can frame whiteness as a privilege and move to one that understands that quite the opposite of being a privilege, whiteness is a problem.

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There isn’t any Negro problem; there is only a white problem- Richard Wright

Much of the rhetoric attached to privilege has to do with the fundamental unfairness of it. This is meant to appeal to people’s general sense of right and wrong in order to convince people to care about the race based disparities that serve as the measurement of white privilege. Often times those that take up this rhetoric advocate for eliminating white privilege by approaching the subject from the angle that inequality is un-American, and therefore should be eliminated. This approach caters to the patriotic sensibilities of the general public and assumes that the foundation of America is one of equality and fairness. This misreading of America’s foundation leaves this approach incapable of actually providing any remedy for white supremacy and the racism that is its result, which, ironically, creates white privilege.

The failure to place white supremacy at the heart of America only sets any movement for justice up for a catastrophic failure because it fails to identify the root of the problem: whiteness. Even if everyone acknowledged privilege European- Americans would continue to identify with the made up racial category of whiteness and still subscribe to the race thinking that feeds white supremacy. Folks are left with nothing to do but placate to some vague sense of equality and justice. Furthermore, it furthers the belief that we are all individuals living free from the legacy of our ancestors; nothing could be farther from the truth: We are all products of our past. This legacy means that we must wrestle with the origin and purpose of whiteness: divide and conquer. However, when whites fail to identify whiteness as the racial problem nothing is done to uproot white supremacy. This plays out in movements and public rhetoric. The white, liberal anti-racists who are often, ironically, the public figures of the discussion around racial justice fall short of calling for the reorganizing of institutions such as the criminal justice system, which is so entrenched in white supremacy that murders the likes of George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson — whose only motivation lie in racist lines of thought– are absolved of all responsibility. They lead protests which ask for these systems to reform and to provide justice for Mike Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice; to them the system is broken when in reality it is working perfectly. They never openly call for the government to pay reparations for slavery. In fact, they are often the ones claiming those calling for reparations are dangerous radicals. They tend to believe the essence of the system is good, it just needs tweaking. They are cut from the same cloth as the white moderates Martin Luther King wrote about in his “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” who claimed he was too extreme. They saw his actions as fundamentally changing the culture of America and were uncomfortable with it. Just like the white moderate that was urging Martin Luther King to slow down and accept the gradual, largely meaningless, changes which they were willing to accept the white, liberal, anti-racist of today is urging a similar slowing down and gradual softening of whiteness. They realize the inherent unfairness of American society, and want the absolution that comes with denouncing that unfairness but do not want to give up what whiteness has provided. They want their cake and to eat it too. What’s worse,  by not problematizing whiteness conversations about white privilege not only fail to move us closer to racial justice they actually end up perpetuating white supremacy.

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Much of the anti-racism rhetoric is actually much more in-line with a softening of whiteness, an easing of consciousness for folks who perceive themselves to be good people and may even want equality. However, when push comes to shove these people are not willing to sacrifice what whiteness has granted them. They simply want everybody to have what they do. The problem is, without attacking the root of the problem: whiteness, they are using cough syrup to treat lung cancer.

Equality has never been an American ideal. This is a truth that many cannot come to grips with. From the genocide of the Native people, to slavery, to Jim Crow, to the largest wealth gap in history equality is not something America, the institution, has even remotely been interested in pursuing. Any progress that has been made towards justice is the direct result of people, who were traditionally not even included in the definition of American, pushing the system. The system, however, is what is important. It is the system, the institution of America, that has the greatest impact on social status and life opportunities, and therefore it is the system that must be examined and changed. And it is the system that is largely ignored in the discussion of white privilege.

Now, at this point, many might be saying “but it is obvious that the system is what grants privilege. So, the system is always present in conversations about privilege.” While it is true, the system does generate privilege, so in that sense the system is omnipresent in those conversations, there remains a failure to connect the dots back to the very origin of this country. The remedy, therefore, is often to simply advocate for everybody to experience life in the same way as whites do. This analysis fails to understand that the way whites experience life only exists because of the divide and conquer effect of whiteness, as well as it ignores what so many poor European-Americans know: they are oppressed too. True they are not oppressed racially, but the poor and working class European-American has much more in common with communities of color than they do with the elite whites who run this country. Discussions of privilege often flatten out this nuance and therefore fail at building the kind of coalition necessary to achieve real change.  Still, most importantly, this approach ignores that how whites experience life flows from a system of knowing that objectifies and harms the Earth, humanity, and all of creation resulting in a hierarchical society where a small few live isolated and disconnected lives hoarding immense resources while the rest of the world pays the price.

We know there has to be someone (or millions of someones) on the bottom, that is how America, and the capitalist world, works. This is directly related to the economic system and relationship to the land which necessitated whiteness in the first place. Because white supremacy and whiteness develop out of the capitalist mode of thought, which privatizes and objectifies everything, there had to be an explanation and rationale for the obvious and completely ludicrous disparities present in American life. This explanation and rationale came in the form of the ideology of white superiority. Recall Bacon’s Rebellion and the systems response to it: the articulation and legislation of whiteness and the color line. The system has been heaping benefits on white folks ever since, whiteness was the goal of every immigrant group precisely because of these benefits. So, when anti-racists express sorrow and regret over the wages of whiteness, but are not willing to tear down the systems that paid them, their regret amounts to an exercise in futility and egotism. The conversation does nothing to chip away at the identity of whiteness, in fact it accepts the legitimacy of whiteness as an identity, and therefore fails to make any real strides towards racial justice.

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As long as you think you are white, there is no hope for you- James Baldwin

It is worth noting here that the audience for this work absolutely matters. People of color have long said the job and role of European- Americans in the struggle to eradicate white supremacy is to work among and with the white population. Most famously through  Malcolm X:

I tell sincere white people, ‘Work in conjunction with us- each of us working among our own kind.’ Let sincere white individuals find all other white people they can who feel as they do- and let them form their own all-white groups, to work trying to convert other white people who are thinking and acting so racist. Let sincere whites go and teach non-violence to white people

To this end it makes absolutely no sense to talk to white people about their privilege, or to hashtag about it (#crimingwhilewhite), which is only a symptom of the disease. Instead, for those people interested in true racial equity and justice, they should turn their attention away from privilege and start to think about their own identity as white people. Privilege assumes that our identities are white. This is where we need to begin: we are not white. Whiteness is a political socioeconomic alliance that maintains and props up the very systems that create the privilege, and our oppression, in the first place. The only way to effectively redress white privilege is to address the category of whiteness. European-Americans need to divest from the idea that is whiteness and the system that nurtures it: white supremacy. Then and only then, will efforts towards racial justice be authentic and productive.

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Now, let me be clear privilege does exist, and it is an important part of being European-American. So, addressing it is necessary, but the time for doing so comes after problematizing whiteness in and of itself. When we prioritize a divestment from whiteness, when our identities and knowledge of self are not tied up in this insidious mythical racial category it becomes easier to recognize and accept that a lack of melanin means something socially. It also makes obvious the need for new systems of knowing which result in harmony with creation as opposed to objectification.  That is to say it has the potential to “call white people in” instead of calling them out for their privilege. It shows whites the myth of race and the reality of racism.[ii] What made me call my girlfriend and apologize for not hearing truth was because I understood, at the most basic level, in my DNA, that I was not the problem, whiteness was. This realization remains crucial to my identity and, more importantly, it is the reason I am able to acknowledge the benefits my white skin gives me while also realizing “benefits” in this system amounts to hemlock from a golden goblet. This leads to yet another benefit of contextualizing privilege as a symptom of the larger disease: the potential for diffusing the tremendously obnoxious and counterproductive aspect of the anti-racist position, white guilt. When we divest from whiteness and begin to think of ourselves culturally, as opposed to racially, white guilt becomes less of a factor and is replaced by a desire to build a society and culture together that has, at its root, harmony and peace for all. This desire, this new connected worldview, would be one that inherently indicts privilege as fruit of the poisonous tree of whiteness. Whites would move from race thinking back to cultural systems of knowing and begin to think of themselves as part of a community as opposed to individuals who exist in a vacuum free from the consequences of our ancestor’s decisions and actions. European-Americans, instead of being viciously opposed to participating in healing from our historical traumas, would be active participants with a stake beyond feeling guilty. So, what might that society look like?

[i] It is important to me here to make a distinction between people of color calling whites out for colluding with their privilege and white folks who think they are doing antiracist work by telling folks they have privilege but failing to indict the system that gave them their privilege. People of color and even European Americans doing this work should call people on their bullshit when they are manipulating and capitalizing off their privilege.

[ii] This is the title of elder Mahmoud el Kati’s work.

 

Hope in Tumultuous Times

Zoe and Me

I sat on my couch with my brother. My 9 month pregnant wife just couldn’t do it and had gone upstairs. As much as we tried to keep the TV on Monday Night Football and the conversation on the any moment birth of my daughter we found ourselves watching Prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s “announcement” of the Grand Jury’s decision to not indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown. We all knew it was going to happen but it still took the wind from my chest. I know that no freedom has ever been won by appealing to the morality of people and systems that have none, but I still felt the tears in my eyes and the fist in my throat.

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I knew that I couldn’t avoid it, for better or worse, I was going to be going in on social media for the next several days. I knew there would be folks I was tangentially connected to that would defend or make apologies for Darren Wilson and condemn the protestors. I was ready for that. What I wasn’t ready for was two of my former students chastising the protestors. These two beautiful brown human beings, who have lived a life full of struggle due in no small part to the level of melanin in their skin, were adamant that the protestors were mistaken and that race had nothing to do with what was happening. My spirit seemed to crumble under the weight of the reality of how utterly useless their education was. There are no stop the police from killing me or identify and dismantle white supremacy standards in the school I teach at.

What would they try to tell my biracial daughter? I’m not going for it.

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At 4:45 in the morning of December 1st my wife completed labor and gave birth to our daughter. I have never witnessed such strength and divinity in my life.

My daughter was born on the anniversary of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat. I stared into my daughters eyes and knew nobody was moving her.

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December 2nd 1859 the American government executed the freedom fighter John Brown. I am reminded of the ancestors white supremacy has erased and whose legacy I want to live in.

White people across the country are coming unglued over the centering of race in the growing movement for justice. I whisper to my daughter “Long live John Brown”

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It’s happened again. A Staten Island Grand Jury has declined to indict the police officer who choked Eric Gardner to death. The officer used an illegal chokehold and the death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner yet there will be no consequences. All of this despite the event being videotaped, making President Obama’s plan for body cameras seem rather pointless. White Supremacy gives zero fucks who is watching.

Protests erupt across the country. My daughter is fussing and I get up to change her diaper. This is my revolution.

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Today is December 4th, the anniversary of Fred Hampton’s assassination at the hands of Chicago PD and the FBI. The country is still fighting to save Black Lives from the police. The names race through my mind: Aiyana Jones, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, my daughter starts crying and cuts off the heart breaking roll call. I pick her up and hold her tight to my body quoting Chairman Fred “We are the people, not the Pig.”

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Tomorrow I will wake up and remind myself that I am human, that whiteness has not and can not take that from me. I am connected. I will engage any and all Europeans who want to deny the reality we live in and I will do my best to show them we are more than what whiteness has tried to make us. This is the least I can do for all those souls sacrificed at the altar of white supremacy. This is what I can do to make sure my daughter is not counted among them.

All Power to the People. 

Dear Good Police Officer

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Dear Good Police Officer,

I’ve heard a lot about you. I am not convinced you exist, though you will have a chance to prove you do very soon in Ferguson, Missouri. See it is being reported that the Grand Jury has declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown.

You may be wondering what this has to do with you. Well the answer is fairly simple. It is being reported that the authorities- local, state, federal and even the National Guard- are planning a police-state style response to the protests that will surely take place when the decision is announced. We already know what this type of response looks like, they responded this way during the early protests and violated any number of human rights. You need to refuse to participate in this blatant manifestation of white supremacy. If you really are a good person you realize it is only white supremacy that devalues black life the way this country does. You will recognize the righteousness of the rage felt by the protesters. You need to stand by these people. Instead of using tear gas, batons, and rubber bullets on people simply demanding that the life of an eighteen year old be worth something you should be protecting them from these things. Surely you understand that. Surely you know you need to protect and serve these people too.

I haven’t seen you yet but I’m really hoping you do exist because when you decide that you cannot follow orders which hurt and devalue people we will have won a major victory and the world will be that much closer to being a peaceful place. I know this will not be easy and it requires sacrifice but that is what being a good person is about, making sacrifices.

Hope to see you soon. Power to the People

Ryan

The Decreasing Importance of Melanin: the lesson from the 2014 elections

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Last night’s episode of The Daily Show featured a segment that discussed the diversity of the Republican wins on election night. Jon Stewart and Jessica Williams discussed the nontraditional and seemingly strange victories of Republicans (the first Black female Representative from Utah was elected, and the First Black Senator from the south since reconstruction was elected, both are Republican). Stewart asked Williams if this meant that the Republicans were the party for people of color, Jessica Williams assured him and the audience that no, it didn’t mean the Republicans were stealing the Democrats base and that it would remain clear that Republicans still “fuckin suck.” The country can expect this to be a pretty often repeated refrain coming from Democrats leading up to the 2016 elections. There will also be endless analysis of how Democrats can secure the Black and Latino vote and the lessons they need to learn. We can also be sure that the Democrats will not learn the most important lesson, the lesson that Republicans have seemingly embraced: melanin level has nothing to do with white supremacy.

Republicans are capitalizing on the all too common misunderstanding of race that associates ones values and opinions and interests with melanin level. They have realized that the country is getting more brown and in order to be relevant in the future they have to reflect this browning, the easiest and most superficial way to do this: run candidates of color. They don’t need to worry about turning off their base because they have remained steadfast in their policy positions and it is unacceptable to explicitly state you don’t want people of color represented. So, while the Democrats are doing everything they can to convince the white moderates in their party that they are not too closely aligned with policies and positions that are commonly associated with bettering the position of people of color such as: universal health care, taxing the wealthy, aggressively combating climate change and more general environmental issues, opposing militarization, ending the Drug War,  increasing SNAP, the Republicans are free to prop up token candidates of color that fully intend to perpetuate the culture and system of white supremacy while coming off as diversifying the party. The fact of the matter is that conservative policies hurt poor people and people of color. The small government approach takes away from the ability of the federal government to correct the monumental violence that has been perpetrated against communities of color. The conservative obsession with personal responsibility results in a world where the police take the life of a person of color once every 28 hours and the country actually debates what the victim did to justify being killed. Conservative fiscal policy and tax cuts for the wealthy have resulted in wealth creation being limited almost exclusively to the top 7% of our country while the wealth gap has only continued to grow. These Republican candidates will do nothing to stop that, black or white.

The problem is that Democrats don’t want to oppose white supremacy, they just want it to be a bit softer so they can count on people of color choosing them as “the lesser of two evils.” No matter how many Black people get elected, either Democrat or Republican, we are a country founded on white supremacy; it is in our very make-up. It is up to us, the people, to see through this charade, to reject white supremacy and abandon both of these manipulative, self-serving parties and start organizing and voting for our actual interests. We need redistribution of resources. We need to protect the earth. We need to stop valuing profit and property over people. We need to have a living wage. We need to end mass incarceration. We need to feed people. We need to shelter people. We need to educate people. We need to cure people when they are sick. We need the common good. If no party is talking about those things then we need to run candidates ourselves.  Until we do this, until we understand that white supremacy and whiteness have nothing to do with the color of our skin I fear the okie doke will continue to be successful, Republicans will continue to prop up token candidates of color and Democrats will continue to cater to the white paranoia of its members and the people will be stuck with no options because we already know they both “fucking suck.”

Aiden’s First Lesson (Excerpt from Erasing Whiteness coming soon)

School 2 Small

The sun seemed to be shinning a little brighter this morning. The type of sunshine that made it seem like everything was glowing. You know the type. It wasn’t just the sunshine though, even the birds were singing my favorite song. I always loved the first day of school but today was especially exciting.

“Aiden, you are going to be late! Get down here and eat!” Mom thought I was still asleep but who could sleep on such an exciting day?

The morning was always a triathlon for the senses: There was the smell of day old coffee being  re-brewed; we didn’t get paid till next week so Pops did what he had to do; the glow of the incandescent light bulbs which made the kitchen look like something out of a poor persons Norman Rockwell painting; Pop’s cigarette smoke burning the eyes and throat doing its best to distract from the sweet smell of burning menthol, which everybody in the room, if they were honest, could taste– he worked overnight and needed a little something to keep him up long enough to wish Becca and me a good first day of school; at any given time someone was trying to talk over the radio which stayed playing the top 40 hits that “we know you want to hear!;” then there was the smell of burning hair from Becca’s curling iron which, mixed with the coffee and cigarette smoke, made the entire house smell like something rich folks imagined when they thought about families like mine. All accompanied by the chorus of neighborhood dogs responding to Charlie’s, our 80 pound Husky, good morning serenade. In the midst of all that what I cared about was happening behind Mom who had just won the battle with the toaster and got the two pieces of bread to stay down. Soon they would be covered in a thick layer of peanut butter.

“Good morning Mom.” I mumbled through a yawn and sat at the table waiting for the toaster to finish its job.

“What up little shit?” Becca said without missing a beat. Her Auburn hair held just a tint of orange. Mom loved that because she felt like it was her contribution to making us. Mom is 100% Irish, complete with the fire red hair and freckles. When Mom married Pops, who ain’t Irish at all, one of the things she worried about was when they had kids Pops’ dark features would just kinda wash away the half of us that was Irish. The orange in Becca’s hair let Ma know she was in there, that she was still here.

“Becca! Don’t use that language in this house!” Mom said that same line every time Becca cussed but it didn’t stop her. Becca was older, she was going into the eighth grade, so she felt like she was grown. Not that Becca didn’t go through the motions, she always said “sorry Mom” but it never stopped her from cussing the next time.

The first day of school is always a little more exciting than the mundane nine months that follows but today had an extra energy to it. Today was the first day back at my old school: St. John’s Catholic, a small neighborhood school filled with the kids of waitresses, cooks, construction workers, garbage men, and other jobs of the sort. Last year was great. It was the first time I was in public school and didn’t have to wear a uniform. I didn’t have any homework… ever, and I made a lot of friends who lived on the North side of the city: Richie, Cory, and Travis were my closest. Public school was cool. I still saw some of my friends from St. John’s around the neighborhood and I would rub it in their face that they had to wear those ugly, stupid uniforms and they had homework. Last year was cool. But at my best friend Jason’s birthday party I realized I needed to go back to St. John’s. We were playing video games in Jason’s room and I was telling him how much cooler public school was than St. Johns and without even looking up from the TV screen Jason shook my whole world.

“Yea but you are going to be dumber than us.” Damn! He said it so calmly too. I couldn’t even form my mouth to make a sound. The whole burning in my chest threatened to consume my whole body. Jason still had the controller way to close to his chin and was hella focused on the game, it was like nothing to him.

“No I ain’t!” it was a weak comeback, I know, but Jason was my best friend I didn’t think I needed something clever. Jason stopped playing the game, put the controller down in front of his crossed legs and looked at me like I was one of them abused dogs on those TV commercials.

“What’s X times 8” Jason asked with the dumbest grin I had ever seen.

I had no idea what the answer was but I quickly shouted out “two!” and grabbed the controller to take my turn. Jason just laughed and went to the kitchen.

It was that moment, sitting there all kinds of confused and hurt and embarrassed that I decided I was going to tell Mom to put me back in St. John’s.

This morning I felt something like Craig Mack in Return of the Mack (Cory had put me up on hip hop and rap music). My uniform was fitting nice, Mom had ironed it extra right this morning. I made sure there was enough gel in my hair to hold every  single strand in place even if I was caught up in a tornado. I had to show Jason and the rest of my friends that I hadn’t lost anything; I was always one of the smartest and I needed to stay that way, I needed them to know nothing had changed.

Like I said, this morning the sun was shining extra bright and it felt extra warm too. It really was a perfect morning. The other kids in the neighborhood were already at the bus stop when I got there, they didn’t all go to St. Johns but we shared the same bus stop. Anyway, we all headed up to the corner store to get candy, just like normal but this morning I found an extra dollar in my pants pocket so I could get a Snickers and a Coke… perfect day! The bus ride was cool it felt good to be around Jason and my other friends. It wasn’t that Cory and them weren’t cool but… well… they weren’t Jason and them. It wasn’t until I actually got to school that I noticed things were not all good.

I guess I didn’t notice any change from my group of friends in the neighborhood, they didn’t treat me any different (although, apparently, they noticed it too) I thought I was just Aiden. But apparently I had changed, at least let Andrew tell it.

At St. Johns there were only about twenty five kids per grade, so everybody knew everybody and with very few exceptions everybody got along. At least up until the fourth grade. Now, I know that in the fourth grade identities are developing and what not so some ripples in the harmony are to be expected, and what happened was certainly a part of that but it was more than that too. It all started when I got off the bus. Andrew was getting off his bus at the same time, I didn’t see him though because I was too busy being welcomed back by Steve and his brother Sam.

“Aiden, you know you’re white, right!?” Andrew and me weren’t what you would call friends but we weren’t enemies either. I guess you could say we tolerated each other. I mean St. Johns was small it didn’t make sense to have enemies.

“Yea Andrew I do. Why?” my voice cracked a little at the end and a small whole started to burn in my stomach.

“Then turn your fucking hat around!” Andrew was the youngest of four brothers so he had learned to cuss so smoothly. He hit the emphasis perfectly so that anybody who could hear him stopped dead in their tracks.

I couldn’t move. My mouth felt dry like I was sucking on cotton all morning. I felt small, instead of being comforting the sun now felt like I imagined it did for the ants when my cousin Shane held a magnifying glass over them. All the joy and triumph of my homecoming was gone.

“Make me bitch!” my emphasis was even more perfect than Andrew’s. I mean my Pops didn’t raise a punk and I sure as hell wasn’t going to let Andrew Johnson make me feel like one.

Of all the people at St. Johns to tussle with, though, Andrew was not my first choice. Like I said he was the youngest of four brothers and had plenty of experience defending himself. The one advantage I had was that I could tell he wasn’t used to somebody his age coming back at him.

“You’re a wigger Aiden! Look at you! Listen to you! You ain’t nothing but a wigger! You’re white and act like a nigger!” Andrew was moving closer to me as he was yelling. I balled up my fist and got ready to throw down.

“And you ain’t shit but a racist!” Once again I matched Andrew’s intensity. Right as I was cocking back to deliver a right hook to Andrews chin  Sister Beverly, the matriarch of St. Johns, appeared in the window just above our heads.

“Aiden Collins! Andrew Johnson! To the office, right now!” when Sister spoke everybody stopped. More than that, you did exactly what she told you to. She just had it like that.

When we got to the office Mr. Strauss was on the phone. He didn’t even look up from behind his glasses he just pointed to the two chairs against the side wall. Mr. Strauss had been in the Army before going into education and he looked like he was trying too hard to hold on to that shit. He still wore his hair in the military cut, even though he had maybe a fourth of it left. You would catch him every now and then using military time. I remember once he caught Troy in the hallway after the bell rang “Troy! Class started at 1300 hours!” Troy had no idea what the hell that meant but he got his ass to class. Strauss always dressed the same: white shirt, black tie, black slacks (always with a perfect crease), black dress shoes. He could be more than a little intimidating so Andrew and me moved as quick as possible to the chairs and sat down.  I didn’t understand what was being talked about but I got the feeling he wasn’t happy: every few seconds he would take these deep, deep breaths and the vein in his temple was bulging all the way up to where his hairline had receded to. I knew it was real bad though when Mr. Strauss took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes with his index finger and thumb.

“Alright, well then we are just going to have to do what we have to do…. No I don’t want to either but if enrollment doesn’t go up then there is nothing we can do. We CAN’T close! She will understand.”

Mr. Strauss hung up the phone.

“Gentlemen, what is going on?

We both just kind of looked at each other.

“Well, I will be making a call to both of your families. Not a good way to start the year gentlemen, get to class.”

The rest of the day I just kind of stayed to myself.  It wasn’t that I was scared of Andrew or wanted to avoid him but something he had said really hit a soft spot. I couldn’t tell you what it was exactly but I felt very uneasy. I had to readjust the plan. I thought today was going to be one of the greatest days of my life, I was coming home. Now, though, I just wanted to get back home.

“Aiden, you just get back and are already fighting?”

“For real!” came the echo of voices followed by some half-hearted laughs.

“We didn’t fight. Andrew wouldn’t be here if we did!” it didn’t matter that I was feeling some kind of way there was no way my friends were going to see that. I worked hard to puff up my energy along with my chest.  I felt a little like small animals must when they get anxious and scared and try to make themselves intimidating. I think the hair on my neck and arms even stood up.

The rest of the day went by without much happening. Andrew and I exchanged some stares but neither of us said another word to the other. When I got on the bus home I sunk into the last seat, the one that is only really half a seat, with my back and head resting against the window and closed my eyes. For some reason there was a boulder forming in my throat and all I wanted to do was cry.

“What the fuck Aiden! “ Mom only cussed when she was super upset. “It’s the first day and you were in the principal office!”

“Mom, it wasn’t a big deal. We didn’t even touch each other. Mr. Strauss was tripping.”

“I don’t like fighting Aiden. What happened?”

“Mom, we didn’t fight. Andrew was talking stuff and called me a wigger so I called him a racist.”

“What is a wigger?” The look on mom’s face was a strange mix of genuine confusion and disgust, like she has just opened up some Tupperware full of food you couldn’t even recognize anymore.

“A wigger is a white person who is acting like a . . . you know . . . the N word”

“Well that’s stupid to say. But he does have a point Aiden.”

It felt like I had just been punched in the chest.

“What do you mean Mom!?” I couldn’t tell if I was more hurt or angry.

“Well you are white Aiden.”

“I know.”

“So why do you run around listening to that music and talking like that?”

“Talking like what?”

“You talk like one of those rappers Aiden! That’s. Not. You!”

“I thought we weren’t suppose to see color” you could hear my voice crack.

“We don’t. But you are Irish. We are white.”

“And that means I can’t listen to rap?”

“It means they are not your people!”

I could feel my throat start to tighten and my eyes start to fill with water. I didn’t know what to do or say so I just whimpered “whatever” and went to my room where I buried my face in the pillows on my bed and cried until I fell asleep.

Your #ownracism: a response to white liberal “allies”

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I was scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed the other day and saw Everyday Feminism had re-posted an article with the title “Choose a Shirt: Risk Being With My #Ownracism.” It was an article written by a wealthy white liberal male who had made his own shirt in response to the “Racism Ain’t Over But I’m Over Racism” shirts being sold. His version is a handmade A-Shirt with the phrase “Ask me About my Racism” written on it. Right away I felt some kind of way but I kept reading and sure enough my suspicions were confirmed. This was another rich white boy who was “raised in an academically-oriented environment by parents who taught me about racism and the American struggle to overcome it.” He was “an eager member of  ‘A World of Difference,’ which was a diversity-awareness group of mostly White high schoolers [sic] who visited our local middle school to teach the mostly White younger students about tolerance and respect for diversity.” He went on to attend Wesleyan University, which he says has a “strong liberal and radical student population” there he “learned about my own privilege and the ways I personally participate in and contribute to oppression.” Which of course. Of. Fucking. Course. Led him to become “an inner-city middle school educator and taught in and out of schools for 10 years with the goal of helping to create a more just society.”  He then goes on, in perfect white liberal fashion, to list the ways in which he has distanced himself from American Whiteness: “My wife is from Peru and we have two biracial daughters. My phone contact list and my Facebook profile are proof of how many brown-skinned people are among my friends and acquaintances. I have lots of Black friends!!!! I LOVE the Daily Show, I HATE Fox News!!! I speak Spanish and have many relationships with people in Spanish. I took West African dance in college and it really taught me how to move!!! I have traveled to countries like India, Bangladesh, and even lived for 2 months with a host family in Guatemala.”

The rest of the post is how racism is an issue inside of him (and every other white person) and that the way to combat it is to simply #own it. He even has a real cliche mantra full of nothing he could actually DO. This shit right here is too much.  This dude, like so many other white liberals with money, completely misses the point. It is disingenuous and self-serving. Yes, racism is inside you but it is also outside you! And when you say the key to ending white supremacy is to #ownracism… Oh wait, the article doesn’t even use that term… when you write a fucking essay discussing racism and don’t use the term white supremacy you are counter-productive. You mention Mia Mckenzie and “Black Girl Dangerous”  but I’m pretty sure you are they type of “ally” she is talking about. This has to stop. You have to STOP!

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This dude, and other white liberals, just like conservatives, believes racism is a problem of individual bigots. This isn’t surprising, the system works for them. They cannot honestly discuss a radical altering of our relationship to resources, to the Earth, or to each other because it would mean giving some shit up!  It’s ironic that the name of his blog is “Risk Something” because he is doing the exact opposite. He is trying to convince people that he is a “good” white person. He went to college, he even taught in the hood… fuck you. You really want to #own your racism? Start Here:

  • Own whiteness and white supremacy. And I don’t mean melanin levels. I mean the ideology, the culture. I mean that fact that the SYSTEM is set up for white people. Racism is a product of that system. You cannot fight racism without indicting the system and culture. Figure out how to be cultural again outside of the America consumer capitalistic frame.
  • Understand that this is an issue of material resources. The reason racism began is because wealthy elites wanted to maintain their economic superiority. Consider how your class position serves as an obstacle for the destruction of white supremacy.
  • Never, Never cite your wife, children, friends or your global voyeurism and cultural tourism as credentials. What the Fuck!!
  • NEVER use that you taught in the inner-city (we all know what you mean) as a credential. Instead go teach where you came from. Teach your wealthy white parents that whiteness is the problem and to identify with the Earth and resources and people differently. And that leads me to my next point and really closes the circle nicely
  • Never think an institution prepared you to end racism. Remember, racism is a product of white supremacy and white supremacy is systemic. Master’s tools and master’s house… get up on your Audre Lorde.

Understand white liberals, when you take this approach to ending racism you are perpetuating the problem. The fact is white supremacy will not end if we don’t have a cultural shift; if we don’t change our relationship to the Earth and to each other. That shit is radical and I bet they don’t teach that at Wesleyan.  And since the article ends with a Baldwin quote so will I “As long as you think you’re white there’s no hope for you”

Enough Already: individualism and a slow death

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Enough already! This morning I heard that the Vikings had “reversed course” and are exempting Adrian Peterson from team activities. This comes on the heels of outrage over Ray Rice and the NFL reversing course on his discipline after TMZ released the video of him assaulting his then fiancé. Since then there has been a certain sensitivity paid to NFL players and the NFL’s course of action when dealing with violence. The sad thing is all this outrage is simply another manifestation of America’s superficialness and concern for the bottom line: the almighty dollar. It is nothing more than America’s own individualism and ultimately sickness on full display.

In America we are taught, either explicitly or implicitly, that we are all individuals and as such are responsible for our actions. Nothing wrong with that. However we are also taught that these actions exist in some sort of vacuum free from the influence of others while others also remain free from the influence of our actions. This is the cornerstone of America and it is killing us. Of course, we know this is the farthest thing from true, some of us more so than others. Either way this belief in individualism is everywhere and serves as the backdrop upon which the tragedy that is America plays out, all in the name of the almighty dollar.

Consider the Ray Rice situation. What he did was wrong. Point. Blank. Period. However, the Ravens and the NFL knew that domestic violence was an issue in the league. How could it not be since it is an issue in America? The NFL took no significant interest in the issue. It was only after Ray Rice was caught on camera that the NFL decided it needed to act. Even then the reaction was disturbing to many: a two game suspension. So, when TMZ released the video, which provided no new information about the incident, the NFL and the Ravens ceased the opportunity to quell public backlash by suspending and releasing Ray Rice. Let’s be clear this was a business decision, nothing more. If the NFL was concerned about domestic violence and believed this type of action was an effective way of combating it Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald would also be suspended, but they are not. In true American fashion, the NFL has taken the position that Ray Rice is simply a “bad apple” whose actions are solely his own and as such he is deserving of punishment as opposed to rehabilitation, education, and/or therapy. Sadly, this focus on individual responsibility and punishment satisfies many Americans, as there are now calls for the Vikings to cut Adrian Peterson (the governor even weighed in!), while changing nothing systemically and allowing for the NFL and the Ravens and the Vikings to continue making immense profit.

This emphasis on individual responsibility provides a concrete and simple villian making it very easy for many American’s to ease their conscious because they know “the bad guy” has been punished. We then continue with our normal consumer driven lives as if everything is right in the world. This approach does nothing but perpetuate the sickness that is slowly killing America: the belief that we exist disconnected from society, history, and mainly each other. We focus on Ray Rice as the problem but ignore the violence done to women on the daily in households all across America. Those homes have the privilege of existing in the mythical American individualism. We ignore the violence done to women by Republican’s blocking the Equal Pay Act. We ignore the violence done to women by the continuous drones our country uses to wage the War on Terror. We are in shock that Ray Rice could be so brutal and turn around and pour millions into the latest Hollywood action movie which is guaranteed to be saturated with violence. We ask ourselves and our friends how you could put your hands on your partner or your child while cheering on the President as he proclaims the United States will hunt down its enemies. We feign horror at Adrian Peterson disciplining his child but the cop who murdered Michael Brown is enjoying his freedom. We care so deeply for children that a significant portion of the country wants to send thousands of them, who arrived at our border seeking help, back to their war torn nations simply because they are undocumented. Our individualism has blinded us from our duty: to make the world a better place. Nothing illustrates the total failure of this approach better than the hypocrisy of Anheuser Busch chastising the NFL while producing and profiting of a product that facilitates the violence they are supposedly taking a strong stance against. After all, it is each individual’s decision if they drink and how they act when they do. We exist in vacuums.

This has to change. And the change begins by understanding we are all a product of something and that something matters. We do not exist in vacuums and if we are truly outraged at violence against women, or violence being used as a discipline technique, or violence in general then we need to take the time and make the effort to understand the roots and influences and motivations of such things. Byron Hurt and Brittany Cooper have done a great job of doing just that. Of course this leads to tough and often times ugly truths about us and our country, but that is part of the process and like everything else we are in this together, even the healing. And let us not forget, that is the point: healing.