Are All White People Racist?

This is something that’s been knocking around in my head for a little while. I’ve had my answer to the question for what feels like a long time. Now, I’m in the midst of an online protest–#FBBlackOut–so it seems a good time to talk about it.

First, what is #FBBlackOut, and why am I participating? 

In simplest terms, this black-created, black-led protest seeks to hit Zuckerberg in the pocketbook by encouraging protesters to deactivate our accounts from 10/16/15 at 10:16am EST through 10/19/15 at 10:19am EST. Deactivation means Zuckerberg receives no ad revenue from said accounts.

It started because people of color feel unsafe on Facebook. From groups like the not-so-cleverly-named ‘Nate Higgers’ proliferating (and rarely being taken down because they supposedly “don’t go against Community Standards”)

FB group 'Nate Higgers' failing to be removed by FB

(though for the first time I have ever seen, Facebook reversed decision on this one group–possibly at the pressure of several hundred users reporting the group at the same time?);

'Nate Higgers' group removed!

to such ridiculousness as showing the graphic and violent deaths of people of color over and over on auto-play on Facebook, but having the death of one white person immediately removed from the stream (because white death is more distressing?);

white death is more distressing than black death, according to Facebook

to people of color being banned/removed from Facebook for up to 30 days for saying “fuck white people” (a sentiment I, as a white person, can well understand, coming from people oppressed by my race);

PoC banned for saying 'fuck white people' on FB

and more. There’s rampant blackface, racial slurs, use of nooses and antisemitism and all sorts of derogatory, racist language and imagery on Facebook. Usually, reporting it results in an image like the first–a result of ‘Sorry, we can’t/won’t help you, because we don’t consider this to be hate.’ And though so many users–like myself–have ‘reviewed’ the process by telling Facebook that yes, this is indeed hate, it has seemed to have little impact.

Thus, #FBBlackOut:

#FBBlackOut Zuckerberg

I am participating in solidarity, because I am tired of seeing my siblings of color treated so terribly and made to feel unsafe on social media.


But this isn’t only about social media. White people don’t do these kinds of things only on Facebook, or Twitter, or Fetlife, or whatever other social network. And while sometimes it is that egregious–like, say, driving a vehicle marked with Confederate flags through a black party–it’s usually not.

And I think all of us white people are complicit–even those of us who are actively working against racism. I know that makes it sound hopeless, but I don’t think it is.

The thing is, racism is systemic. It’s part and parcel of our current system of power. All our power structures rely on racism (and sexism/misogyny, and cisnormativity, and heteronormativity, and etc.–but this is about racism, and so I’m focused here for now) to function. If we took out racism, very quickly things would crumble and change. That’s pretty scary for those who are currently in charge. And it’s pretty beneficial to anyone with white skin, regardless of whether we’re working to change the system.

For example, I do anti-racism work. But if I go into a bank with a friend of color with the same or better qualifications, I stand a better chance of getting a home loan than that friend. It doesn’t matter that I do anti-racist work. My father, who is white and who leaves pretty angry racist comments on my Facebook wall with alarming regularity (despite believing himself non-racist), would stand the same (or possibly slightly better, due to being male) chance as me of obtaining that loan, and still better than my friend of color.

Also, when I walk down a street, no one clutches their purse in fear. How do they know I’m not the best pick-pocket around? They don’t; but conveniently, I’m not black. I also don’t get followed around stores by over-worried salespeople/management–they don’t think I’m there to steal, they assume I’m there to shop. Usually, if I need help, I can’t find anyone to help me. They’re either ignoring me or too busy harassing following the black customers.

People who look like me are pretty easy to find in entertainment, too–skin-color-wise, at least (I’m not going to get into the size thing now). Mostly, white people aren’t stereotyped into roles. Also, white people tend to be treated as ‘generic’ for pretty much any nationality in these roles, while people of color are rarely cast in anything but stereotyped roles. Entertainment may seem fluffy–but it both shapes how we view the world and is shaped by how we view the world.

In terms of protest, the very fact that we have to keep reiterating how peaceful the protests in the wake of the deaths of Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Sam DuBose, Tamir Rice, Amber Monroe, Jasmine Collins, the Charleston 9….. takes a breath The fact that we have to keep reiterating how peaceful the protests have been in the wake of all of the deaths that inspire the #sayhisname and #sayhername and #saytheirnames chants and actions is itself a form of racism. It says that we expect black people to be angry, and that that anger is unjustified even when it is so justified there are no words to explain how justified that anger is. And then…when white people actually do riot over pumpkins and games–well, we call those things ‘just another day,’ or ‘kids being kids,’ or ‘fun and games.’

I live in a predominantly white neighborhood. I’ve never had to fear the police marching through my streets in-step, knocking batons on the ground, spraying teargas and other chemicals long into the night without warning–without giving me and my loved ones (and any of the children and elderly in the area) time to clear out. But I have watched that happen in more than one neighborhood of color in St. Louis–most especially when the police shot and killed Mansur Ball-Bey.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/st-louis-shooting_55d5f900e4b055a6dab32fcc
St. Louis police at Page & Walton following their killing of Mansur Ball-Bey

I could keep giving more examples of how racism exists. I could keep pointing that out, but that doesn’t really answer the question.

What does?

Simply, in every example I (or anyone) could give, white people have power, and people of color do not, in the current system.

And even when we white people do anti-racism work, we’re still beneficiaries of a system that prizes white people over people of color.

And even when we opt to walk away from racism–well, that’s a privilege, isn’t it, to be able to put down that burden? People of color don’t get that option. Racism is always there, always present in their lives, and they can’t walk away from it. Us choosing to walk away? That’s us being complicit in the system of racism by exercising our privilege not to think about it or deal with it.

The good news is: we can keep fighting the system. Every one of us who joins the fight means one more set of hands/arms/brains/heart in the struggle to right this massive wrong. And that means we’re that much closer to overturning this systemic ill.

It’s long. It’s hard. It’s continuous. And it is importantSo many people’s lives hang on us recognizing our complicity in racism and choosing to take up the work anyway of anti-racism.

I truly believe:

None of us are free until all of us are free.

“Discovering” Racial Issues

White people, we need to talk–white people to white people. We need to have some conversations that aren’t all about PoC educating us. We need to be educating each other.

Our education is a necessity. A lot of us don’t know. Our ignorance is not an excuse.

See, there’s a problem right now–a problem that’s been around for a long time, actually, and it’s a problem that weaves throughout us white people coming to understand racial issues. We tend to think we’ve ‘discovered’ these issues, or to act like we’ve discovered them–when really, most of these issues have been there forever. PoC have been living these issues (health care, shorter life spans, broken-up neighborhoods, food deserts, redlining, etc.) long before we came in and realized these issues were there. It’s a product of our whiteness that we didn’t see these things as issues before.

We didn’t have to see–because they didn’t affect us.

And white women–well, a lot of times, we get ‘white feminism,’ indicated often in statics such as ‘women got the right to vote in 1920.’ No, white women got the right to vote in 1920, and failure to include that word–white–shows a failure to understand that we’re not all in the same place, we’re not all affected in the same ways by the same issues. My white experience of sexism is not the same as a PoC’s experience of sexism–because that experience of sexism comes with an additional experience of racism that cannot be uncoupled from it. And we cannot forget that oftentimes–usually–almost always–probably always (because right now, I can’t think of an example when this was not the case)–PoC have been pushed aside, thrown under the bus, to make way for white people’s rights. “Oh, we’ll get to PoC later,” they say–we say–if we say it at all. We’re just so happy to get our own rights, you know.

I’m not here to blame any of us. We can’t change history. The past has happened.

I am here to say that we can–and should–own up to what we’ve done. We need to do that. And that starts with educating one another. It starts with learning. It starts with realizing that these issues haven’t been ‘discovered’ by us. PoC have been telling us about them for hundreds of years. Us just now listening doesn’t make it some big discovery.

I mean–for many of us, it is a discovery, in a sense–because we’re discovering that we weren’t taught as we should have been taught. We’re discovering a failure of history books, of public education systems, of government systems. We’re learning about white supremacy–that it actually exists, and that our ignorance of it perpetuates it. We’re learning that too often, there’s a real cover-up of racial history. Too often, history is literally whitewashed.

I live in St. Louis. Right now, a small art gallery, Yeyo, is running Letters to Hop Alley: Drawing Displacement in StL’s Chinatown. Prior to this art opening, I hadn’t even been aware of any history of a Chinatown in StL. I went, primarily to learn. What I read distressed me, angered me–but it’s not about my feelings. What I read also enlightened me. I learned that when my city built Busch Stadium, it undertook a concerted effort–via the press and the police and the white populace–to first malign and then criminalize and then drive out the residents of the existing Chinatown. As efforts were underway to demolish the Chinatown and build the stadium, no mention was made of what had stood before–only of what was replacing it. The beautiful structures, the lives, the artistry; the homes, the memories, the businesses: all gone, in the name of profit, in the name of gentrification.

Now, my city–my city, home to Ferguson and Florissant and so many other small towns and municipalities built upon the backs of the poor, upon the backs of PoC, upon their counted-upon arrests and tickets and jailings (and StL is not alone in this in our ‘great’ nation)–my city wants to build a new stadium, for millions of dollars. Supposedly, this stadium will ‘retain’ the Rams–a team that doesn’t want to stay, for a populace that doesn’t even show up to its home games. My city, which has been home and birthplace to so much of Black Lives Matter, to conversations about race and homelessness and malnutrition and public education, wants to once again take this step of spending all this money on this stadium for what seems a ridiculous purpose.

The stadium? Well, for its part, so far, it has outlawed the unfurling of any banners with slogans with which it doesn’t agree. There are to be no BLM banners there. It’s a space for white people to enjoy watching–well, watching the labors of a lot of PoC, because there are an awful lot of PoC athletes, aren’t there? And yes, there are white athletes, too, and yes, they’re generally well-paid–but what of their education? What of their lives post-sports? What of concussive head injuries? But the stadium doesn’t care, so long as white people fill its stands without making a fuss about black lives.

Also, the ‘new’ stadium is once again proposed to be built atop Native burial grounds.

And yet–none of this is a discovery, not really. PoC have known all of this. This is actual lived history. These are actual lived lives. This isn’t fresh. This isn’t new. This is ongoing. It is wearying.

Treating it as if this is something new centers whiteness, because it means PoC’s problems–their lived realities–only exist if white people are paying attention to them. We must empathize with how this is something ongoing. What happened to residents of Hop Alley–residents having to have papers, for example–is happening now (like having to have papers in AZ, or stop-and-frisk policies in NYC, or redlining). Just as Asians have always been in the Midwest, so too have the struggles of PoC been ongoing, and so too have their erasures been ongoing.

So, white people, let’s talk. Let’s sit and learn in other spaces and then come together to educate one another. It’s more than time we took that burden from PoC, and it’s far past time we stopped treating their struggles as ‘new’.

Lila Perry is a Girl. Deal With It.

CW: I’m discussing the continuing harassment of Lila Perry, a transgender girl in Missouri–my current home state. She has been using the girls’ locker room and bathrooms since school started this year, and many students (many of them female) have walked out in protest. In this post, I am addressing TERF (trans-exclusive radical feminist) comments regarding this issue. I’m putting the rest of this post below a cut so that trans people do not need to read this and be triggered. Cis people, I am a cis person talking to you. Please do read this post.

Continue reading

8/9/14 – 8/9/15

I remember where I was when I heard that Mike Brown had been shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson.

I remember where I was when they announced no indictment for former officer Wilson in killing Mike Brown.

I remember watching from afar–when I couldn’t be there in person–the teargassing of my city, of my fellow residents. I remember hearing the government representatives tell us that if we didn’t behave, of course we deserved tanks in our streets–as if anger is not an appropriate response to hundreds of years of systemic oppression. As if peaceful angry protesters are the same as people rioting over nothing. As if it didn’t take exorbitant measures to get national attention to a problem that has been killing people for hundreds of years.

A lot has happened in the last year. Much of it has been good, though it would be a mistake to claim a past-tense (as that article headline does): that the protests worked, as if they’re over and done, as if racism is solved, as if police brutality is solved.

Yes, Ferguson’s courts and municipalities are seeing an overhaul. Yes, there’s more money for police body cams, and yes Obama is embracing talk about race.

But:

A CBS/New York Times poll published at the end of July found 58% of white people thought police were no more likely to use deadly force against black people than against white people – the same figure recorded shortly after Brown’s death in Ferguson. It also found 51% of white people thought the criminal justice system either treated black people fairly or was even biased in their favour – a fall of only two percentage points since 2013.

A Pew poll published at the end of April found the proportion of white Americans reporting a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the police to treat black and white people equally had actually risen slightly since 2009, while falling among black Americans. And while the share of white Americans with very little confidence in the police applying equal treatment rose slightly as well, it jumped sharply by 12 points among black people to a level approaching half of all respondents.

This, despite that people of color keep dying in police ‘care’. Thanks to #SandySpeaks and #SayHerName, Sandra Bland may be the most recently ‘famous’ of these deaths:

The possibilities are these: Bland died from an untreated head injury after State Trooper Brian Encinia bashed her head against the pavement and police staged her suicide; Bland died from an epileptic seizure (recall that Encinia’s response to Bland telling him she had epilepsy was “Good”) and police staged her suicide; Bland was killed or died in some other way in police custody and her sucide was staged; or Bland indeed took her own life, after she informed police of previous suicide attempts and they utterly failed to prevent another while she was in their care.

There is no version of events where police are not culpable for Sandra Bland’s death.

As well, systemic racism is itself alive and well. This is evident not only in the deaths at Mother Emanuel AME, where Dylann Roof murdered 9 people of color simply for existing as people of color, but also in the number of transgender women of color (and transgender people of color in general) who are murdered and have been murdered this year. Even mixed-race families aren’t immune to police harassment and brutality, to systemic racism just as they drive from their home to visit family.

Black men –

Black Men Killed by cops
From: http://images.dailykos.com/images/118810/large/Black_Men_Killed_by_cop.JPG?1417792621

and black women –

Black women killed by cops
From: http://www.onebillionrising.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/11119135_10152922664669226_5906757496662627872_n.png

keep being killed by cops. Cops keep killing them. They’re more likely to die by police violence than white people, despite being a smaller portion of the population.

In a one-year-later interview posted on MotherJones, @Nettaaaaaaaa (Johnetta Elzie) points out that Rome wasn’t built in a day:

JE: The police are still killing people. Six people died Wednesday. But I think it is so unfair that people expect leaps and bounds to happen in just 365 days. Nothing in the Civil Rights Movement was accomplished in a day. The Civil Rights Movement spanned 10 years. So, for people to expect so much out of one year is really, really wild to me. And that question kind of shows me how far removed people are from this. Proximity matters. So, if you are an onlooker, and you’re just looking for progress and improvements and things like that, then that’s a different conversation to have with someone else who’s not so invested. But for some people, this is their life. They’ve been harmed by the police. They’ve seen their family and friends harmed by the police. And this is emotional work to be doing. So in this one year, I feel like we have accomplished much. But there is still a lot to do because police are still protected by their unions, by the institution of policing in general. And still have been killing people at higher rates than even last year, for example. July was literally the deadliest month of 2015. And that’s a problem.

It is a problem. Things are different, and in some ways better–but also in some ways worse. We’ve woken up the slumbering beast. We’ve lit the match and touched it to the kindling. We cannot now ignore, no matter how much we may want to, that racism exists and is systemic and pervasive. We cannot ignore that it kills. And we cannot ignore that we still have work to do.

Mental Illness, Killing, and Racism

“Ha ha, don’t go on a killing spree now!”

“Mentally ill people are more likely to be led to hate.”

I heard both of these two things in response to me telling people I love that I am mentally ill. The second was responding in part to Dylann Roof’s murdering 9 African-American people, and lumped all mentally ill people into this category of potential killers and haters.

Now, it’s true: any one person is a potential killer, potential hater. But that is independent of whether a person is many other things.

This perception of mentally ill people as killers, as dangerous, is incredibly harmful. Everyday Feminism had a pretty good comic on schizophrenia recently that pointed out that those of us who aren’t neurotypical tend to be stigmatized very heavily. This stigmatization means that we’re less compassionate toward those of us who are the most likely to harm ourselves, and therefore less likely to advance narratives and laws that protect us.

And we are also more likely to ‘compassionately’ ascribe mental illness to white killers, which both stigmatizes those of us who really are mentally ill and furthers the problem of racism by trying to explain away white killers’ actions as having to do with something other than murderous intentions and/or racism and/or misogyny and/or classism.

Sometimes, we use suicide as a way to explain away suspicious death, such as in the case of Sandra Bland. Not only do we contend here with racism and misogyny, but also belittling of the very real dangers of suicidal ideation and mental illness.

We, the mentally ill, aren’t convenient props to be used to explain away racism and misogyny and classism. We’re not there to give lazy writers a convenient murderer.

Using us to explain away murder, misogyny, and racism only further perpetuates the systems that keep us all chained up.

#nonearefreeuntilallarefree

Misogyny and Racism Kill

In the wake of the Charleston Mother AME Church shooting, I’ve done a lot of reading. I’ve watched the events unfold of #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches, black female pastors receiving death threats, and the Confederate flag debates.

Two articles stuck out to me, personally, as they dealt with the ways that gender and race intersect, particularly in relation to this recent and the ongoing violence perpetrated against Black (and mostly female) bodies in the name of White female bodies.

The first challenged me to review my own self, as I am a white woman. Titled “I Don’t Want to Be an Excuse for Racist Violence Anymore,” the article explores Dylann Roof’s self-proclaimed motive in murdering Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson in their church after he sat with them in Bible study for an hour in their welcome. As he shot them, Roof claimed, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country.” This article–and I–focus on the ‘our women’ part of the statement. Whose women? Which women? Most of the people Roof killed were women, after all–but they were black women, and thus beneath consideration to him. To Roof, ‘women’ means ‘white women.’

From the article:
There is a centuries-old notion that white men must defend, with lethal violence at times, the sexual purity of white women from allegedly predatory black men. And, as we saw yet again after this shooting, it is not merely a relic of America’s hideous racial past. American racism is always gendered; racism and sexism are mutually dependent, and cannot be unstitched.

The article goes on to point out that this isn’t only a black-and-white problem–that it’s a problem of white and all non-white bodies, as shown by Donald Trump’s recent hideous remarks.

Again from the article: Trump failed to mention that 80 percent of girls and women crossing that border are raped as they make the journey. Those girls and women aren’t white. Gender is always raced, and race is always gendered.

Whiteness, then–the ‘purity’ of white womanhood–is being ‘protected’ violently by white men at the expense of non-white bodies, of all genders. This puts non-white women in a place of non-humanity and non-white men in a place of monstrosity. The problem isn’t non-whiteness; the problem is whiteness and how we live it out.

I refuse to stand by idly while white men try to protect me from a non-existent threat. I refuse to be made to sit on a pedestal. I reject the comfort of that position, even as I recognize that I cannot opt out of a system that subjugates and oppresses without question. None of us are free until all of us are free. 

The second article comes not from my own experience. It challenges me by coming from outside my own experience. Titled “On the Pole for Freedom: Bree Newsome’s Politics, Theory, and Theology of Resistance,” it focuses on heroine Bree Newsome’s now-famous take-down of the Confederate flag.

From the article:So I’mma say that the pole here – flagpole though it were – still marks a liminal space of possibility for what Black resistance beyond respectability looks like. Bree Newsome’s Black girl body climbed a pole, quoting scripture, to take down a flag that is emblematic of so much violence enacted on the Black body by the U.S. nation-state. Her act exploded every simple discourse we are currently having about what faith demands, about what decorum dictates that we should accept, about what are acceptable forms of resistance for (cis) Black women’s bodies.

Respectability politics would have the marginalized–women, non-white people, non-cis folks, non-hetero folks, etc–behave exactly like cisgender, heterosexual, white men in order to have the ‘benefits’ of existing. Bree Newsome took this notion and turned it on its head. As she scaled a pole, she recited Scripture. As she ripped down a symbol of violence, she claimed no fear. In the face of police–in the face of far too much police brutality against non-white bodies–she peaceably resisted and gave herself over.

Having read both this article and the one above it, I am struck afresh by the violence against non-white bodies, by the supposed protection of white women, by our (white women’s) complicity-via-silence.

From the first article again: It was, and remains, necessary for white women to decry the violence that is done in our name. It is on us to dismantle racism with just as much commitment as we dismantle sexism, for one cannot happen without the other.

We have work to do. We must break our silence. We must not sit passively by while our white womanhood is ‘defended’ from a threat that does not exist. We must uplift the very real threats that do exist–of racism, of sexism, of the kyriarchy.

Two ways to start: A reading list called the #Charlestonsyllabus. And a way to donate to help the churches that are burning, via the Rebuild the Churches Fund.