“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.”~ Franz Fanon
This weekend Donald Trump’s campaign hit a new low. After months of implying that strong-arming and inflicting violence on folks who are protesting his hate would be welcomed, he got what he had been asking for. First, one of his supporters sucker-punched a protester who was being escorted out.Trump responded as he always does: name calling and more veiled threats. This all culminated in Chicago and the canceling of his event there.
There is no doubt that Trump cancelling in Chicago is a victory. Let’s be even more specific, it is a victory for racial justice. Sadly, though, once again white folks are (largely) conspicuously absent from the direct action necessary for these types of victories. While Latino, Black and Muslim students organized and planned the sacrifice which would ultimately stop Trump, white folks seem to either 1) treat it like a bad comedy or 2) stump for Bernie Sanders. Here’s the thing though… Bernie Sanders won’t save us.
Feeling the Bern won’t save you.
Saint Paul Public Schools has been in pretty sustained drama over its discipline policies this year. In an effort to close the suspension and discipline gap the district has mandated principals pay closer attention to how, and why, and who they are suspending. This has all had a clear racial frame: lower the number of students of color who are being suspended. Last week these tensions once again led to headlines.
Theo Olson, a special education teacher, posted a critique of the discipline system which referenced the school to prison pipeline — placing a clear frame over who exactly he was referring to given that Black students are disproportionately the victims of the pipeline– and behaviors he claimed were now being ignored by the district. Olson’s post led to Black Lives Matter St. Paul getting involved, Olson being suspended and, most importantly, sides being drawn between whiteness and community. While seemingly worlds from Chicago and Donald Trump what is happening in Saint Paul is fruit from the same tree. The teachers vocally supporting Olson openly disavow racism; they claim this incident has nothing to do with race, many of them openly claim liberal and even progressive principles. Many #FeeltheBern.
Still, Sanders won’t save them.
You can dig up as many decades old photographs of Bernie Sanders being arrested as you can find. You can shame every Trump supporter that crosses your path. You can insert yourself in every critical-of-Sanders conversation you come across on Facebook, and it still won’t save you. You can whitesplain to every “friend” of color you have all the reasons they should vote for Bernie, be a Bernie Bro, and it still won’t save you. You can say you are only talking about “some” students. You can claim that you just want order. You can blame parenting, and Hip-Hop music, and it won’t save you.
Bernie won’t save you.
This is the mistake that white folks continue to make: investing in slightly less blatant and insidious forms of racism and mistaking that for sacrifice, for change. But that isn’t sacrifice. That isn’t change. So what do we do?
We must divest from whiteness. Not from white people, from whiteness. We must divest from the messages that implore us to be “patient” and to “let the system work.” We must understand that these are simply tactics used to protect the status quo, to protect whiteness. We must question everything we feel is “normal.” This starts by listening to people of color when they tell us something is off. It starts by reflecting on our own defensiveness and fragility.
Whiteness is intoxicating. It is not easily purged from our systems. Often times it is the last thing that white folks have to make them feel worth anything. We see this in Trump supporters themselves. They have been divided from humanity for so long that they can’t imagine their lives without whiteness. The Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy has been so ingrained in how they understand the world they would actually prefer fascism. What they do understand though, and this is an important understanding, is that the America Trump wants to return us to is not out of reach. They understand the requirement of whiteness for the oppression and dehumanization of the other. They simply want to remove the veil so that they can claim what has been promised to them, the spoils of war. For many whites who oppose Trump this is the blasphemy. It is uncouth to flaunt your privilege. We should, instead, support the “revolution” which focuses on alleviating the most egregious manifestations, but does little to alter the fundamental order of things. Feel the Bern, but don’t actually consider trauma and how it manifests in classrooms. Laugh at the circus that is a Trump rally, but never change the curriculum. Two sides, same coin.
When Black Lives Matter refused to endorse a candidate they were telling white folks our superficial attempts at pacifying people of color would no longer suffice. They continuously challenge us to examine Whiteness and dismantle it. It is up to us, those of us who have been prescribed with Whiteness, to accept the challenge and boldly re-position ourselves in the human community. Whether we have blind spots in our opposition to Trump or making thinly veiled racist comments about our students, the truth is staring us in the face: whiteness is the problem. And I know this for sure.
Bernie Sanders. Will. Not. Save. Us.
Only we can do that.