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”

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

  1. Hey Ryan, I’m glad you read my piece and I appreciate your thoughts. I listed all those “credentials” tongue-in-cheek because they are the kind of “credentials” that typical White liberals use when they try to pretend that they don’t have any racism. Then I try to make clear that those “credentials” don’t add up to shit when it comes to really dealing with racism. My target audience is fellow White liberals, and so I begin by pre-addressing the excuses that we tend to use to get past their bullshit (“I have Black friends! I taught in inner-city schools!”) and get to the heart of what I’m trying to say
    –that if White people like me are using our liberal views as a pass for dealing with the racism that lives inside of us, then we’re part of the problem.

    I’m glad you point out the fact that I didn’t address institutional racism. You’re right, and if I stopped there, we would be in trouble because addressing just my own internal racism wouldn’t be enough. My approach is helping to move White liberals from talking a good game about “not being racist” to the realm of practicing anti-racism, which requires us to first recognize that we practice White supremacy all the time. I start with addressing the racism inside of me that is its own entity, not an inherent part of me. That sets me up for the next question I want to write on, which is “Where did this beast inside of me come from?” The answer to that is institutionalized racism, which, as you point out, must be addressed.

    I don’t pretend that acknowledging my own internalized racism will solve all the problems. But I do think that if large numbers of White people were able to get over trying to avoid being labeled as racist and just accept that racism and White supremacy is something we’ve been born into and incubated in and live everyday, then we can move on to DOING something about it instead of wasting so much energy trying to avoid being labeled as racist.

    1. Peace Abe, you say you list those things tongue-in-cheek so I’ll take your word for it, although it doesn’t come off that way. Beyond that you are missing my point, your job should be to analyze your whiteness and figure out how that has disconnected you from humanity.There is nothing in your piece that even hints at that being your motive. Your mantra and everything you say deals with an abstract idea which can be solved by just being aware as opposed to the reality of white supremacy, and as I say in my response that doesn’t surprise me because you come from wealth. Your first step of acknowledging racism as opposed to combating the label is much more likely to be accomplished by speaking to the systemic roots of racism– as I mentioned in my piece. Honestly your piece sounds like its coming from a guilty white liberal. I don’t know if that’s true or not because I don’t know you but you have said nothing here (at least you acknowledge you didn’t address systems at all) that makes me feel any different. I suggest you look into (if you haven’t already) the work around abolishing whiteness specifically the work of Noel Ignatiev.

  2. Ryan, what if I WERE a guilty White liberal? What would that mean in terms of whether or not I have a role in the struggle against White supremacy? Truth be told I am an EX-guilty White liberal…when I was in my guilty phase, I wouldn’t have said shit about my own experiences with racism…I would have felt too guilty about it! I would have thought that staying quiet would be enough. I spent most of my life feeling like I was just another representative of oppression, destroying all hope for justice. So I stayed quiet about it, hoping it would got away. Then I realized that if I was born with all these megaphones of privilege, and if I chose NOT to use them to speak out about oppression and my own role in it, then I’d just be another footsoldier of oppression. So I’m trying to educate myself (thank you for the reading recommendations, I’ll add Ignatiev to my list) and document my processing publicly as I go in order to be a resource for other White liberal folks who, like me, tend to use their liberalism as a “smokescreen” (of typical liberal excuses such as those that I list) to avoid the hard work of undoing racism.

    If I present my journey as some sort of final product, where I’ve got the entire thing already figured out from internalized to institutional racism, then I think that’s a missed opportunity to allow my fellow White liberals to come along with me. I see this post as step one…getting past avoiding the label of racist in order to move to step 2, which is asking where my racism comes from. And yes, this certainly requires my exploration of my own Whiteness and White supremacy, which I address in another post. http://www.risksomething.org/blog/who-is-the-nigger-risk-the-mirror

    1. Abe, An elder told me a guilty white person is a dangerous white person. I’ll leave that at that.

      As far as the rest, I actually respect where you’re coming from. I hope that you (we) can get past identifying with whiteness because it is truly the disease. So, maybe what I am saying is that the divestment from whiteness is the next step. I think that will be difficult for folks with class privilege because economics is what gave birth to whiteness. That is not to say I don’t think you can do it, only time will tell that.

      On a personal note, I know my post may have felt like a personal attack and I want you to know it wasn’t. It is difficult sometimes to live public lives because we put ourselves out there for people to critique as they see fit. It’s that whole public vs. private life thing. and sometimes in public we need to be more ruthless and uncompromising than we might be in our private relationships. I hope you understand my post is about moving the public conversation forward and that I appreciate you putting yourself out there. Good luck on your journey perhaps our paths will cross in the future. Light and Love.

  3. Ryan, my blog is intensely personal and so there’s no way anyone could say anything about it (positive or negative) without it being personal. So I’m not worried about that personal aspect. I am concerned about your reading of my message which was the opposite of my intent, and I’m curious to know if other folks experience similar misunderstandings or get what I’m trying to say. You’re the first person I’ve heard from who thinks I was listing those excuses as a way to establish my credentials, as opposed to revealing a smokescreen that liberals often hide behind.

    I’d also like to address your “rich white boy” comment. It’s an easy and satisfying label to use and I’ve even used it on others (which is quite ironic, looking back at it). The fact is, though, I come out openly about my being a “rich white boy” to nearly everyone I meet, because I believe the shame that liberal Whites bestow upon people with money (often themselves!) is, in fact, the enemy of justice, in that it encourages silence and hiding from the very people who have the capital resources that could help movements to transform our capitalist society. Here’s Bernie Glassman: “When we vow to be oneness, we vow to see everything as the Buddha, as Christ, as the Way. Because the Way is everything…I have met many social activists who believe that everyone is the Way except rich people. They’re comfortable going into shelters and food pantries, they mingle easily with people on the streets of our inner cities, but they can’t say hello to someone with lots of money. In their case it’s not the poor and dispossessed who are the Other, it’s the rich. When peacemakers vow to be oneness, there is no Other.”

    1. Abe, I haven’t heard from anyone who read your post and thinks you weren’t serious. And your defense of rich people is further proof of the disconnect I suspected was present. You come off as paternalistic and hella hella guilty. Not just in your original article but in your comments here as well. Maybe go ask someone in your circle that is in the trenches preferably a person of color about what I’m saying because it seems like we are talking in circles. Take what I said or leave it. Up to you. Peace

  4. Hi Ryan,

    I am not a person of color, but I DO get what you are saying. I think I see where your frustration is because I my perspective as a person who was raised and currently living at or below poverty level.

    I can see how a lot of it seems like explaining guilt and “I’m trying so hard to be right!”

    From my knowing Abe a tiny bit and following his blog, I think he is constantly readjusting his purview on race and class. The fact is though, people are PEOPLE as we all know. When we aren’t at a social justice rally or having discussions online each of us has to eat, sleep, and explore life/ourselves/the earth. He really does have these people in his circles and that influences him every morning when he wakes up until he goes to sleep at night. Maybe even also in his sleep.

    It is very hard to do this, when you are from one community that appears homogenous and self-sustaining, to leave it, everything you know and put yourself “in the middle”. On the one hand he may be discussing something with a friend who lives in a mansion and trying to explain to them about the system and how oppression effects the lives of others. And the next day he is talking to me about why he can’t trust me to help me find a place to live. And maybe in the next minute in a discussion with you that highlights an impact that is the opposite of his intention (which is very frustrating!!)

    I do see what you are talking about as well. I think that he has a hard time balancing his identity that he has grown up with and what is right and good about it. I had to remind him at one point that poor people can also be intellectuals, and come from “good homes” with two loving parents. And that being born wealthy and reaping those benefits are the luck of the draw. People may see him as more respectable and intelligent than myself because he has nicer clothes, better overall health and fitness, and of course a way better education (not to mention, he is and out-going, confident young man.) If he and I were running for congress and all they knew was what we looked like, people would vote for him. I am not sure, but I believe he struggles with exactly what he did for himself and what was handed to him.

    AND also, at the SAME TIME, I truly believe that his heart is open and he is trying to find the best way to make positive change in the world. He is trying to find a way to introduce small amounts of discomfort to himself in the hope/faith that it will inspire others to do the same. This is a guy that actually took part in an activity where he was homeless in New York for one week. I laughed, but truthfully, not everyone would do that if they were given everything they needed and left alone.

    “the system” is all of us. It’s policies made by “all of” us. The 1% have wealth, but we have power in numbers.

    Is being a total race traitor and destroying whiteness the answer? I don’t know. I don’t feel overly attached to my skin color. My identity is based on where I am from and what I have gone through and who I am innately. However, as ABE describes, there have been things that I have had to come to realize before I could truly move past my blind belief in this system that oppresses so many. I had to face up and talk about the thoughts that I had, including being afraid of black teenagers, assuming that a criminal on the news is going to be black.. etc.

    I think his #ownracism campaign, as I have said before, needs to be coupled with something else. Admitting you are racist and NOT feeling guilty about it should be scarier. But feelings aren’t actions. How someone acts after they feel something is what is truly dangerous.

  5. Ryan, I followed the link you posted (and posted, and posted) on the Everyday Feminism Facebook page, and I’ve read your response to the Choose A Shirt article. I have also read the comments above, containing the discussion between you and the author of the article, Abe Lateiner. Seems we are all on the same page. You just expect everyone to be as advanced in their journey, and evolved as you are, which, ironically indicates that you have work to do as well. Kudos to Abe Lateiner for handling your conversation with grace and respect.

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