White People for Black Lives
January 6, 2015
Revolutionary imagination is the most dangerous and therefore meaningful thing any of us have to offer. So I am writing in order to support coalition building in the struggle against racism that will matter more, and do more. There is a new anti-racist movement led by Blacks, many who are queer Black women, in this country today. We white people need to see them, recognize this new movement that started in Ferguson, Missouri, and actively support it in whatever way needed.
I went to see the film SELMA on opening day in New York City and the theatre was standing room only. http://www.selmamovie.com
I was reminded of the indomitable courage of Blacks to get the right to simply vote. I was also reminded of the brutality and malevolence of white people, including the President at the time. The audience was multi-colored, with about half being white. I wondered if the whites were letting themselves feel the pain and the shame of who “we” can be: full of hatred and terrorizing.
I live in this moment as a white person who deeply believes in, and who grew up in the Civil Rights Movement when my family’s lives and me were predominantly nurtured and shared with Blacks. Most whites hated us. We were white race traitors. I was singled out and bullied in my High School as a dirty Jew N—– lover. We lived in the Black community surrounding Atlanta University where my father taught. I later came to full adulthood in the US feminist movement with socialist Black feminists as my comrades.
White people have structural power and privilege that gives us more of everything than people of every other color. This power of whiteness is big. It is formidable. It is everywhere. So reforms may help but are incomplete. The new Black Lives Matter activists are attempting to fully disrupt this racism. Die-ins are supposed to stop life as usual—from traffic flow to shopping malls.
The months leading up to seeing SELMA have been etched with multiple killings/murders of Black boys and men by white police officers leaving heartbroken families and communities. Several Black women have also died while in police custody, but have garnered much less publicity. Police officers have not been held accountable, while Black communities have been left to mourn. It seems as though a fully blown new kind of militarized policing is in place, most particularly for Blacks—gay, straight or trans.
The structural systems of racism that are in play today are not identical with previous forms. Much has changed. Much that has changed has not necessarily brought greater equality or freedom. Some of the equality trickles down to a few, but not the many.
Emmett Till was murdered at the age of 14 in 1955 on the false charges of rape of a white woman. In 1964 civil rights workers Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman were murdered. Fred Hampton of the Black Panthers was shot and killed by Chicago Police in 1969. Assaults like these have continued. Rodney King, was brutalized by white cops in 1991. Abner Louima. was sodomized with a broken off broom handle by New York white police officers. He had been an electrical engineer in Haiti, before.
And then more recently there have been the heartbreaking killings of unarmed Black teenagers, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown, by white officers. And as if this is not enough, Eric Garner, a father of six is choked and killed while fighting to breathe; and 12 year old Tamir Rice is mistakenly murdered; and Dontre Hamilton, a mentally impaired young man is shot 14 times and killed in Milwaukee and then Antonio Martin, is killed right outside Ferguson, Missouri again. The autopsy of Ezell Ford in Los Angeles was just released. Police shot him in the back and his killing is classified as a homicide. This is what racism looks like: not so random murders by white police of Blacks for being Black. Reform of the police state in the US is a must, but totally not enough.
Racism pours from each and every site/sight. Ebola, a disease of Black Africa, and colonialism, and white privilege, and wealth ravages Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea while the US worries about its “white” self. Cuba sends hundreds of doctors, Doctors Without Borders tries to stem the fury of the disease wherever it is, and we punish our few doctors and nurses who have gone with quarantines and fear.
This racism is embedded in misogyny and class inequalities so rape and sexual violence exist alongside and inside the system of racialized capitalist hetero patriarchy. Marissa Alexander—who fired a warning shot against her abusive husband—and is threatened with a jail term of 60 years, succumbs to a plea deal because there is no justice system she can trust.
Amidst all this the Black Lives Matter movement emerges. Black Lives Matter (BLM) re-orients and redirects the white gaze. It demands a revolutionary assault on white supremacy. Ending chattel slavery did not uproot the racial hatred; instead it removed the legal structure upon which it stands. The Black Life Matters, and Hands Up Don’t Shoot movements continue the struggle to dismantle and abolish racial hatred. This hatred must be expunged with the remaining structural leftovers of economic and gender inequality.
Chattel slavery was reformed rather than destroyed. What would it look like to annihilate racism, as B.R. Ambedkar, the Indian Dalit writer and activist might have it? http://www.versobooks.com/authors/1887-b-r-ambedkar
BLM activists are pondering these questions and using new tactics to do so. These demos are spontaneous and dispersed but they are connected. They are making a new movement for racial justice that includes intersectional knowledge of sex, race and class divisions.
It is good that Obama is president because it proves that this is not the answer for addressing racism today. Racism is not an individual problem so no one individual can fix it, even if they wanted to. The structures themselves corrupt and coopt so the pressures must come from outside/in. This is why the BLM movement seeks to disrupt the systems that support racism. Entry is not an option. They will stay in the streets till police officers are held accountable, and Cheney and his gang is found guilty of war crimes. Disruption can be used to further expose injustices. I dream of a time when this kind of accountability will be fully realized.
The horrific brutality of white privilege embedded and reproduced first in settler colonialism and then the system of chattel slavery hangs around in every crevice of this country. It is the dirty open secret that keeps being pushed from view in new forms of brutality: from lynching’s, to police killings, to rape and sexual violation. The tactics change some while the strategy of dispossession and humiliation remain similar.
The misogyny used against Black female slaves and women today is embedded in the racism of chattel slavery. Black male slaves suffered it as well as they could not lay claim to white patriarchal privilege. Slavery was a class/caste system that relegated all blacks to crushing poverty. It was simultaneously variegated by a racialized gender system. To think of slavery as simply racist is to falsely disconnect it from its white misogynist roots/routes.
This is why any assault against racism puts the misogyny of racism in the mix. The challenge is to dismantle and recreate the white supremacist hetero-capitalist patriarchal structure of everything. So it should be no surprise that the key leaders of the Ferguson rebellions are queer Black women: Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza. They started the Black Lives Matter hashtag after the murder of Trayvon Martin. Cullors is a founder and director of Dignity and Power Now, which is a justice organization for incarcerated peoples. Garza is director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Tometi is executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
Black lives are an all encompassing site of justice for Cullors, Tometi and Garza. This specific site takes them to the place of universal justice. If the US can be rid of racism towards Blacks racism in all its forms begins to be challenged. As Alicia Garza says, when Black people really get free then “every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free”. http://thefeministwire.com/2014/10/blacklivesmatter-2/
I agree with this initiative. In order for democracy to ever be fully inclusive of humanity it must re-arrange it’s thinking about universalism, which has historically been an exclusionary concept to begin with. Slaves were not a part. No woman was. Therefore specificity is needed to re-invent and re-orient democratic theory and practice. Universals and the abstracted “individual” are preferred as though it encompasses everybody in its non-specificity. But the non-specificity is a farce because it originally meant white property owning men. Specify the “individual” by gender and race and the Black woman becomes a newly inclusive notion of democracy rooted in specificity that potentially embraces universality. It is time to try things this way after so much of history has been blinded by exclusionary rights parading as inclusive and just. http://www.amazon.com/The-Color-Gender-Reimaging-Democracy/dp/0520084225
White crazy people
When Frank Rich asks Chris Rock if the election of Barack Obama meant progress, Rock says, yes, it showed progress for white people, they have progressed, they were the one’s with the problem, not us, we were and always and have been ready to be president. ”White people were crazy. Now they are not as crazy.” And, then just to make this perfectly clear to whites who might not get it he says of his daughters: “The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people”. http://www.vulture.com/2014/11/chris-rock-frank-rich-in-conversation.html
I will take Chris Rock’s optimism and try to put it to good use but also be reminded of Franz Fanon’s statement: “We revolt simply because, for many reason, we can no longer breathe”. http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/37728.Frantz_Fanon
Let us be reminded of Eric Garner pleading for his life: “I CANNOT BREATHE”. He said it eleven times before he died.
Reform and revolution, again
I love the clarity and energy of Black feminist/writer Brittney Cooper’s activism of every sort. She posts on Facebook, December 12, 2014: “Regarding tomorrow’s March on Washington, let’s just say I been over Marches on Washington since I lived in Washington. There are many problems here, not the least of which is that I need the Civil Rights establishment to be original. Every crisis in Black America does not call for a march on Washington. Those marches are largely about telling us who our new leadership is supposed to be and allowing us a good “Sunday Morning shout,” so to speak, without doing anything substantive…Now in this moment, die-ins disrupt traffic and business as usual. And they are acts that give political place to black rage. I’m also here for tomorrow’s march in NYC, because that is about a show of solidarity in a local place where this occurred. But I couldn’t be more disinterested in another March on Washington. Sharpton and co. keeps doing that because it doesn’t require them to think. Let’s do a new thing, folks. Let’s be creative. Let’s talk to these young folks and follow their lead, and get on board, with whatever we have to give.”
There are newly new systems of racism that make racism and its white privilege more complex to see, and not. Brutal police shootings of mostly unarmed Black boys and men and women harkens back to the terrorism of chattel slavery. But although slavery—its racism and sexism and classism—is present it is also massively restructured in new forms. In chattel slavery a black person was ascribed his or her status, there was no opportunity so to speak to achieve. No race to run. To be Black was to be poor and enslaved; there was homogeneity of powerlessness even if made up of unique individual selves.
Today and recently there has been a Black president, a Black woman secretary of state, a Black Attorney General, a Black Joint Chief of Staff, a Black woman commander of the Army’s elite drill sergeant school. So things have changed while also staying similarly racist. There is an evolving militarized police state that now orchestrates an unforgiving racism that continues to put Black bodies, of all genders, at risk while also diversifying the gaze. Racism intersects with sexism all the time, and racism also has many colored variations. To complexify and enlarge is not to reduce. It is to open racism to its heterogeneity.
A revolutionary intersectional and coalitional movement is needed today. Central to this coalition must be the attack on racist, capitalist, hetero-patriarchy. The revolutionary status demands intersectional understandings of each and every identity. Hopefully BLM is working from this commitment because the purpose of any regime of power is to mystify its source of power. Maybe this moment allows for revolutionary change; a complete overhaul from the bottom up to rearrange colors, sexes, races, and genders and with them the white supremacist nation itself.
Black Feminisms, again and always
I have joined with white feminists in support of Black feminists of all sorts that have questioned Obama’s signature policy on race, My Brothers Keeper (MBK). MBK focuses on Black boys and men to address their lack of racial opportunity. Girls and women are assumed to be something other than part of the racism. Black men wrote to object, then Black women and women of color did so as well, with the leadership of Kimberly Crenshaw.
This critical response towards MBK desires to make it inclusive, rather than exclusionary. It is not positioned against anyone or anything, but rather lovingly takes the racial umbrella and allows it to cover the multiple communities of color across gender and sexual lines.
To the extent that racial injustice exists in collusion with gender injustice and sexual violence it is in the interest of all women—whatever the color—to stand together against the privilege that underpins misogyny. We seek full equality for all people of color, boys and girls, men and women, gay and straight and trans alike.
Anti-racist anti-imperialist Justice for All
The militarist regime of the US has our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Syria and Pakistan as the model for white privilege at home and abroad. Malcolm X might say that the “chickens have come home to roost”. The underside of the newest militarized policing is the high levels of incarceration of Black and Brown peoples, women and men alike. The US is fully militarized both at home and abroad. At home Brown and most especially Black bodies feel the direct force of this reality. The warrior state has bled every which way so that the “war at home” is an extension and a core. It becomes difficult to say exactly where the fields of combat are.
From Occupy to the Moral Monday protests, to Ferguson to Gaza back to the People’s Climate March I hope white people can move forward. Revolutionary possibility is located here—between and with our differences and our similarities. Our humanity is the shared sight/site that needs to see and embrace conflict alongside love.
The modernized tyranny and brutality of the US state and its collaboration with transnational corporations requires brilliance on all of our part to thwart the very confines that it attempts to imprison most of us within.
Do not be looking for a revolution like the past. We need one for the future; one that is accountable to people of all colors, most particularly Black people who suffer the greatest indecencies today.
This may feel impossible but a politics of the seemingly impossible is needed more than ever. We, the big “we,” need a new modern civil rights movement that disrupts newly.
The terrorizing US militarized police state demands that we build coalitions to save the planet and ourselves with it. Black Lives Matter should lead the coalition or imbibe it with the priorities that will save Black lives, and the rest of us as well.
To be a white anti-racist feminist is painful. I must know the pain and take it into myself. White supremacy is newly out of control so I will listen to my Black sisters leading this new revolution. Because they know it is a time for revolutionary abolitionism of white supremacist hetero-capitalist patriarchy.