because nothing is cut and dry.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Dear white people

This is not a polished or highly-edited article. It is my raw writing and thoughts; prioritizing imperfect sharing and sparking dialogue over prolonged crafting [end caveat].

To myself and my fellow dear, beloved white people,

We need to look at our own anti-black racism. How it lives in each of us. We need to also look at the impact it has on the world.

We need to look at what's holding us back from 100% committing to the idea and growing movement that black lives matter. We need to push through the walls that are keeping us silent amongst white family and friends. White supremacy depends on white people being taught not to think or ask questions about race and racism. That needs to end with us.

This isn't just about cops killing people, or gun violence, or black men. This is about state violence. State violence includes being complicit in regular citizens turning violent against each other - for walking down the street as a black trans woman or for being houseless and sleeping on the street. State violence includes letting one in three black children live below the poverty line in a country with plenty of shelter and food. State violence includes locking millions of black people up in cages (almost half of the prison population, at six times the rate of white people) instead of supporting them to lead safe lives. State violence includes insufficient funding and support for people living with HIV/AIDS. This is about so much more than cops killing people with guns.

As many others have said, this is not about Darren Wilson in particular. He is not a "bad apple." He is a white person in a system of white supremacy. Part of me doesn't doubt he felt his life was threatened. And - does that make justify shooting? Killing?

The racism that made Wilson "feel 5 years old" and see Mike Brown as "the Incredible Hulk" is a racism that was trained into him. Systematically. A racism that was and continues to be trained into all white (and nonwhite, though distinctly differently) people in the US. Trained into me, into the most "down" anti-racist white people that exist. We all have racism within us.

And yet - anything that is trained and learned can be un-trained and un-learned. Its like a Magic Eye - you can teach yourself to see the layers. You can teach yourself to see the system of white supremacy that is separate from your own humanness, your own rational thoughts about sacredness of human life and dignity. I am on a life-long journey and have a long way to go. And yet, I can tell I am changing, I am unlearning, I am re-learning ways of being distinct from white supremacy. I see other people changing and unlearning and re-learning around me all the time. It is not hopeless.

So, we act. Those of us who have been showing up, we need to keep showing up. Those of us who haven't shown up, spoken up, engaged in some way -- I'm asking you to engage with me.

I'm saying this to myself as much as anyone else. A personal mantra. Putting it out to my community will help keep me accountable.

Keep showing up, keep showing up, keep showing up. Proudly carry that sign that reads "Black Lives Matter."

Keep showing up, keep showing up, keep showing up in the name of black lives mattering. Mattering to me, to me, to me.

Not in a "my best friend is black" kind of way.

In a "our histories and lives and futures are intertwined as humans" kind of way. In a "until the world is safe for black folks it will not be safe for me" kind of way. In a "I cannot sit idly by when black parents' kids are being shot" kind of way.

I've spoken to white family and friends - progressive, liberal, social justice-oriented family and friends - who are so immersed in their own shame of having racist thoughts that they are silent during this time of uprising. "This one time I had a racist thought so I must not be ready to show up to a protest for racial justice." Or, "I don't know what to say, or what my sign should say, or what if it feels awkward to be there as a white person?" Or, or, or.

I have spoken to white family and friends who have fixated on the details - "what if Mike Brown *did* steal?" "What if he did punch Wilson?" "What if Wilson really did feel like his life was threatened?" "I don't totally get what these protests are for." They are unable to look at the bigger picture.

Perfectionism keeps us from acting. There is never a perfect time or place; a perfect instance. That is not the point.

I grew up with a framed posted hanging in our family bathroom that read "the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality. - Dante."

There are movements happening all over the country and Earth; crisis is not new. We are in a time, however, of being called upon to respond to moral crisis, to sustain our response, and to push for long-term change. To remain neutral is to support the status quo. To support the status quo is to be complicit in the continued killing of black people.

This country is one that is literally built on the backs of exploited native, black, and brown people. To stay "neutral," as in, not to act in some way, is to stay neutral on the issue of white supremacy, racialized economic exploitation, and more.

We need to remember that anti-black racism is fundamental to this country's existence. We need to remember that by liberating black folks from this oppressive society, we liberate everyone else - white people included.

We must act in the name of this collective liberation.

"Acting" looks all sorts of ways.

If you have the time and the able body, turn out. Physically. Feel what it feels like to be part of a movement - literally.

Donate money. Sign petitions.

Write. Share your thoughts. Ask questions that feel scary to ask.

Turn to community support that can be helpful. Engage community that is being unhelpful (please don't just un-friend them! Lets engage our white folks, not shut them out. They are our responsibility - nay, opportunity - to organize).

One of the things that helps me get in touch with my personal anger about anti-black racism is how it has affected me. How it has numbed me and my people (who historically were slave-owners) to the suffering of black people. How this country - the policies, the history I was taught in school, the messages the media gave me about beauty, who I was taught to fear, who I was taught to love - on every level I was taught I could look away from black suffering. My parents and others in my life have done their best to teach me otherwise, but it is not enough in the face of a whole society that is built on making sure I and other non-black people look away from black suffering.

So, I call on us white people to look. To watch the videos and the histories and the violence and the outrage and the devastation. And the resilience and creativity and hope and love. I am not calling for some exercise in making ourselves feel terrible just so we can try to "know what it's like." We will never know what it's like to be Black in America. What we will do is flex our muscle of empathy. Get in touch with our shared humanity.

White people, we need to get our people. Showing Up for Racial Justice, Catalyst Project, Chris Crass, Paul Kivel are great places to start.

I am not even sure posting this so publicly was the "right" thing to do but I didn't want to hide behind my own fears and silence my own here I am.

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