Privilege: A Life Unquestioned…

February 20, 2015

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” – Zora Neale Hurston

I haven’t been able to get that Zora Neale Hurston quote off of my mind in this New Year―2014 asked some major questions that I’m hoping 2015 will answer. Mike Brown’s killing hurled us into a social dialogue on race and racism unlike one I’ve seen in my lifetime. Sure, we’d seen these questions being asked on a national level around other similar tragedies―Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, tragically too many other names to mention―but as the news headlines moved on to other things, the voicing of those questions, on a broad, national level, went from bold queries to whispers to indecipherable murmurs to a hush; complete silence, until the next race-based tragedy occurred.

photo credit: www.philly.com

photo credit: http://www.philly.com

But, that’s not so this time around. Mike Brown’s killing set a Movement into motion that has been dedicated to amplifying those questions, specifically and most especially in spaces where those questions cause the most discomfort, where those questions were birthed, where those questions thrive, but are greatly neglected―white spaces. The Movement is active, alive, kicking, and fighting, loudly, proudly, and unapologetically demanding answers to those terrible questions―it seems it will not rest, we will not rest, until those questions are answered. Those questions revolve around the killings of Darrien Hunt, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice, Tanesha Anderson, John Crawford, Kajieme Powell, Akai Gurley, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Michelle Cusseaux, Yvette Smith, Antonio Martin. Those questions are based in white supremacy, the brutality and militarization of American police, systemic racism in America, and related violence, injustices and inequalities.

Those questions are tragic. Those questions are real. Those questions are unfairly felt by, and asked of, millions of black and brown Americans who did not ask to be in this sick, unjust “interrogation.” Nonetheless, there are those individuals who ignorantly, if not cruelly, question the actuality of those questions.

As the questions were magnified in 2014, I noticed the (white) denial that these questions hold validity, that these questions are real, that these questions even exist at all. This, of course, is nothing new―we’ve seen this same response from White America time and time again. Yet, in the past, as the questions being asked on a national level moved from bold queries to whispers to indecipherable murmurs to a hush, White America was again allowed to sit in their comfortable, complicit silence. That national silence obviously did not nullify the questions being asked, it merely attempted to muffle and ignore them. That silence―not afforded to everyone―is enabled by privilege, as others outside of that privilege can’t so easily ignore or escape the haunting, echoing reality of those questions. This time, however, much to the frustration of many (mostly white) individuals, the Movement is ensuring that the echoes of injustice are heard by all.

This has led to much controversy and outrage.

You can observe White America’s attempts to cover their ears to these questions in the constant attempted derailment of conversations of systemic racism and white privilege, in the attempted justification of the killing of black bodies through demonization and dehumanization, in the arrogance of the belief that injustices unknown to, and not experienced by, them are nonexistent. You can observe White America’s attempts to step around these questions with, “What about black on black crime,” or, “We have a black president,” or, “I have a black (friend, spouse, adopted child, employee, etc),” or, “You’re racist for talking about racism.” And still, anytime I write about systemic racism in America, white supremacy, and or white privilege, it never fails that a white person―usually a man―will emerge from a dark corner of the Internet with retorts attempting to debunk what I am saying, only to satirically prove the point I was making.

White supremacy, white privilege, white denial, white rage, white tears, all white everything.

Please, do not for one second think that I am excluding myself from these thoughts. As a heterosexual, white, American, man, I realize that I live in some of the most prime property of intersectional privilege in this imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal America. I say that not to boast, but to point out my awareness of my own privilege, and my fight to work out my own way of existence in this world in relation to that privilege. Some pockets of the Christian church speak about “working out your salvation,” that salvation is not something that just happens to someone at one single point in time. But salvation is, rather, a lifetime commitment of labor; I see acknowledging privilege in the same way. Acknowledging privilege isn’t a once-off event—it’s daily work, intentional effort to be self-aware, mindful attempts to not take part in the perpetuation of dominator values. It’s work. But without this initial and continual work, it’s impossible to fully understand these important questions being asked, much less to fathom and imagine the much needed answers to those questions.

When it comes to racial progress in America, it seems we are at a strange type of stalemate. I would say this is mostly hinged on that fact that many white people do not, or cannot, see or understand their role in this struggle. Those white people who do not understand the questions being asked don’t understand them because they have never had to. In his book Faces At The Bottom Of The Well: The Permanence Of Racism, Derrick Bell breaks down this entire American situation in a short excerpt, even before the preface or table of contents,

“Black people are the magical faces at the bottom of society’s well. Even the poorest whites, those who must live their lives only a few levels above, gain their self-esteem by gazing down on us. Surely, they must know that their deliverance depends on letting down their ropes. Only by working together is escape possible. Over time, many reach out, but most simply watch, mesmerized into maintaining their unspoken commitment to keeping us where we are, at whatever cost to them or us.”

This is not to be confused with ideas of white saviors—alternatively, the reality that there can be no true social progress without white consciousness. Too many white people see racism as a “black problem,” if they even admit it’s a problem at all. This is simultaneously tragic and ironic considering white supremacist ideology and practice was, very obviously, founded by white people. However, most unfortunately, white supremacist indoctrination knows no bounds, and is not limited to the minds of only white people. Once set into motion, white supremacy—as an institutionalized system of domination—can be maintained and perpetuated by people of all races, both on institutionalized and individually internalized levels. With that said, systemic racism and white supremacy in America is a white problem—one that unfortunately and adversely impacts the lives of black Americans.

Anti-white supremacy is not anti-white people. The fight is against the systems we are all caught up in, a fight against dehumanization.

But many white people cannot see themselves in the “answers” because the don’t see themselves in the questions.

Chinua Achebe said, “Privilege, you see, is one of the great adversaries of the imagination; it spreads a thick layer of adipose tissue over our sensitivity.” The unfortunate truth is, many white Americans cannot—or are not willing to—put in the work of “answering” the questions because they don’t understand the questions. Privilege has protected them, and their loved ones, from being inconvenienced by those questions. They live lives unquestioned, untouched by the injustices that lurk outside their bubble of privilege. Protected by privilege, the privileged hear others speaking of injustices unknown to them and conclude that those injustices must not exist. Those who cannot find themselves in the questions will struggle—or refuse—to put themselves in the work of finding answers, in being answers.

Naturally, the perspective of people benefiting from institutionalized systems of domination in America is myopic—obstructed by privilege. Instead of ventures to hear the questions clearly, they will fling irrelevant “answers” at the questions that they do not understand, that cause them discomfort, that question their very place of privilege. It is most often easier to believe lies that whisper sweet nothings into our ears than it is to listen to a truth that disrupts our peace. Those benefiting from privilege—and various intersections of it—have never tasted the bitter injustices wrought by the dominant cultures. As James Baldwin pointed out in his letter to his nephew, “They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.”

Privilege protects. Privilege blinds. Privilege allows people to not have to question realities outside of their own. Alas, you don’t know until you know, and most privileged people don’t know because they have never been forced to know. And ignorance is bliss, as they say. But this cannot be an excuse. At this point, if people don’t know, it’s because they don’t want to know. And privilege is what grants them the option of not knowing. That stubborn refusal to acknowledge privilege, and or the realities of others outside of one’s privilege, is violence. Those who choose to remain ignorant to the vile injustices and inequalities of institutionalized systems of domination in America are complicit in that violence. Those who choose to continue to remain silent are complicit in their silence―complicit in the killings of…

Amadou Diallo and

Trayvon Martin and

Jordan Davis and

Yvette Smith and

Michelle Cusseaux and

Mike Brown and

Eric Garner and

Akai Gurley and

Kajieme Powell and

John Crawford and

Tanesha Anderson and

Tamir Rice and

Ezell Ford and

Darrien Hunt and

Antonio Martin and

every other name of black and brown bodies slain in America’s past and

every other name-turned-hashtag that we will be forced to know.

Let this national conversation cut away the thick layer of adipose tissue that Chinua Achebe speaks about. Let us continue to amplify the questions, and if we don’t understand them, put in the important work that brings understanding. Let those tragic questions of 2014 educate, enlighten, engage, and guide us to appropriate action in 2015. Let us continue to seek and fight for the answers. Let us have the courage to be the answers.

 

“This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well.” – Paulo Freire

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Response to “Types of White People Who Comment on Black Experience and Pain”…

August 19, 2014

I thought I would take a minute to comment on some feedback I have received on the “White America’s Response to the Killing of Mike Brown” piece I wrote.

First off, thank you to those who have read it and offered kind words, constructive criticism, feedback, and insight. I truly appreciate it. As we know, the killing of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, (the list, unfortunately, goes on), are not isolated incidents, but rather symptoms of a much bigger, older, uglier systemic problem. If we can’t have productive conversations that lead to appropriate action, I’m afraid things will never change.

I do, however, know that these are not easy conversations to have. So, it’s great to see those who are committed to attempting to seeing the best in each other, dedicated to having really difficult, honest conversations about “us.”

Below I will clarify/answer/respond to some misunderstandings/questions/comments―from various corners of the Internet―that I have received (exclusively from white people) about the piece.

1. The author is racist (I assume towards white people?) and this article is ridiculous.

The piece was ridiculously long, though I know that is not what you were referring to.

Calling out systemic racism and white supremacy is not racism. I love many, many white people―the vast majority of my family is white, I have many white friends, I myself am white. These institutionalized systems of dominance have been around since way before any of us even existed. I absolutely hate the systems, but I (try my hardest to) love the people caught up in them.

I think some readers had issues with my “categories of white people,” which I will address later.

It’s really difficult to write and speak about racism without offending someone, because, though it’s a systemic issue, it is also a social ill that is perpetuated by individuals, negatively affecting other individuals. It is often a charged topic that sparks heavy emotions for most people involved. Incidents like the killing of a black teenager by an older white male often send these dialogues about race and racism into a downward spiral of destruction, leaving the polarities further polarized, and everybody more angry and (feeling) unheard. It makes me so sad. I don’t want that, but I was aware that some readers would be angered by this piece.

With that said, in the piece, I did explicitly say that, in response to people speaking out in situations like Mike Brown’s killing (and, I will add, against racism in general), some common responses from certain white people are:

YOU’RE the racist one!”

“You hate white people!”

And that happened again. So, that’s interesting.

In the piece, I also spoke about how dehumanization is necessary for the perpetuation of racism. With this idea in mind, it was interesting to see some people’s responses to what I wrote. People who know me personally, who know my heart, who know my intentions in writing pieces like this, who know I was not writing with hate or malice, those people were able to hear my heart, they could probably literally hear my voice in their heads. Even some of those people expressed that what I wrote “challenged” them, but they did not feel attacked because they know me. On the other hand, when it came to some strangers, I realize they don’t know me at all, which allows for dehumanization and misunderstanding of my “voice.” Even the way many of these readers spoke about me personally, it felt like they really couldn’t stand me―like, some of them really seem to hate my guts. And that’s ok.

2. By making “categories of white people,” I am “being racist,” “generalizing and doing the same thing to white people that I am accusing white people of doing to black people,” “an idiot,” “confining all white people to four small categories and being unfair,” and “leaving out other groups of white people.”

First, I think it’s important for me to say that these “categories” are archetypal representations, specifically of white people who comment on black experience and pain. That is a very specific thing. Not white people in general. Not all white people. And not four categories of white people that all white people must fit into. Rather, just, types of white people who comment on black experience and pain. It would be like if I were able to take all of the different tweets white people have tweeted about Ferguson and Mike Brown, put them in some fancy machine coming from an 80’s movie’s idea of the future, and asked it to create four general archetypal descriptions of common types of white people who comment on black experience and pain, this is what it would spit out.

Though they are admittedly not all-encompassing, I also did not just randomly pull them out of thin air. These are categories based on behaviors and patterns I have witnessed over many, many years.

My anti-racism work did not begin when Mike Brown was shot by Darren Wilson. I grew up in small town, Tennessee. I was confronted with my own racism-demons and battles with white supremacy from early on. Later, I lived in Cape Town, South Africa for ten-years (Apartheid had only ended five-years prior to me moving there), working with youth and communities who were directly, negatively impacted by racism and the legacy of systemic racism, white supremacy and oppression from Apartheid. I organically got involved in anti-racist work in Cape Town out of necessity, because those issues of systemic racism and white supremacy were intrinsically linked to other social justice issues I was dealing with, working with the demographic of youth I worked with. I now live in East Flatbush, Brooklyn and am daily confronted with issues of systemic racism and white supremacy here, too. I have been dedicated to this fight for a while.

And no thanks, I do not want a cookie (as one internet troll so kindly offered).

These “categories” are merely my observations of different representations of white people’s responses to black experience and black pain that I have seen each and every single time one of these tragic events occur, even when I was living over in South Africa. I mentioned in the piece that these categories are “neither an exhaustive list of every representation of white people who comment on black pain and experience, nor are they static, as some people fluidly move in and out of categories, and some categories share characteristics. They are merely my observations in watching white America’s spectrum of different responses to the killings of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, Emmett Till, and the list unfortunately goes on.”

They are archetypes, like sibling archetypes of oldest, middle, and youngest child―though we know certain qualities that we have pinned on certain siblings, every “oldest child” might not have all of the stereotypical qualities of an oldest child, or any, at all. But, often, if you are an oldest, middle, or youngest child, when speaking with others who find themselves in the same position of sibling hierarchy, it is often possible to find commonalities.

The categories are like the major pit-stops on the spectrum of racism―with groupings of qualities―that I have observed people possess, at each stop. Some white people “find themselves” be in between “stops,” or not on the map at all.

Again, every white person does not have to fit into one of those categories.

If you don’t “find yourself” in one, that’s ok. If you did “find yourself” in some of the descriptions of the different qualities I described and that angers you, or you suddenly feel defensive, I would ask you why it makes you feel that way. This was not meant to be a personal attack on you.

3. [Do you] think beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mr Brown was gunned down while just standing there? The cop’s injuries, gunshot locations, and robbery video all suggest that the officer’s story is accurate. If there is evidence to prove otherwise, then they should indeed fry the officer. If not, then rallying behind a violent criminal while rioting, looting, and throwing Molotov cocktails at police is crazy.

We don’t know all of the facts. That does not stop many people who are responding to my piece from enacting a narrative that boasts the presumption of guilt for Mike Brown, and an automatic biased assumption of innocence of Darren Wilson.

I think it is unfortunate that Mike Brown―like Trayvon Martin and others before him―is not here to give his testimony. A picture of Darren Wilson’s injuries have not been released, if this claim is even true. As a matter of fact, though he admittedly shot Mike Brown, he has still not been booked or charged, and continues to be on paid administration leave. The autopsy, and gunshot locations, corroborated with witness accounts, one bullet entering the top of his head, meaning his head was bowed, and others on the inside of his arms, confirming he had his hands up in surrender when he received those shots. But many people are quick to dismiss the multiple witness accounts because of politics of respectability and racism that speaks to the bigger picture of the context we are living in.

The robbery video has nothing to do with the shooting. It was an unjust, convoluted, unprofessional thing for the police chief to release that video on the same morning he released Darren Wilson’s name for the first time, after six days of keeping everyone in suspense. The police chief (later that same day) admitted that Officer Wilson did not know Mike Brown was an alleged suspect in the robbery at the time he stopped him, and that Brown was stopped for “walking in the street.” Now, even in responses to my piece, many white people are justifying the killing of Mike Brown using that information―it’s obvious to see how effectively they have tainted the jury pool before the real suspect of the killing has even been arrested. Even if Darren Wilson had known he was an alleged suspect in a robbery, on-site street execution of an unarmed suspect is not protocol or due process for the theft of cigars.

Another larger problem, linked to systemic racism and white supremacy, is the media’s criminalization of young black victims and canonization of white suspects and killers. This article When The Media Treats White Suspects And Killers Better Than Black Victims deals with this occurrence. We also see an unfair and disproportionate policing and incidents of police brutality towards black people compared to white people. We’ve got white people running up into schools and movie theaters with automatic assault rifles, shooting people up, then given due process. We’ve got white serial killers―self-admitted, guilty―sitting in jail and you’re telling me street execution over stolen cigars is justified? Here is a story of a man who was wanted for burglary, and the police were actually actively looking for him. When they finally found him, he resisted arrest and assaulted a police officer. He was not shot 6 times, or even once. He “was arrested and is facing charges of felony assault and trespassing.” He is white. And yes, that matters.

When a white man kills a young black person in America…

Presumptions of guilt of the young black victims are immediately assumed and accepted, whilst presumptions of innocence of their white male killers are also assumed and accepted.

Though deceased, and unjustly unable to give their accounts, young black victims are “guilty until proven innocent,” despite the fact that they were already dealt the predetermined and final sentence of on-site execution.

In the days that follow their deaths, the young black victims’ names are ruthlessly and disparagingly drug through the mud, “incriminating” pictures and background information are dug-up, and the justification of their deaths through politics of respectability ensue, whilst efforts to canonize the white male murderers materialize in simultaneity.

After that, during the trials of their killers (if the trials ever happen), most of these young black victims are found guilty of their own deaths, while their murderers are found innocent―even to the extent that we see incidents like the George Zimmerman Trial being called the “Trayvon Martin Trial.” 

From start to finish, from the devastating murder of the young black victim to the final outcome of the murderer’s court case, we see how the dehumanization of the victim, systemic racism, and white supremacy play major roles in the course of events. It is sickening. It makes an already horrendous and tragic event even more devastating, heartbreaking, and infuriating.

As for the “looters” and “rioters,” I don’t think the mainstream media has portrayed what’s going on fairly, as is often the case. I know this, because I have been watching every day and night on Twitter, people on the ground in Ferguson, tweeting what is actually going on through firsthand accounts, pictures, videos, and live streams. There has definitely been looting. But there are also masses of people who merely want to practice their First Amendment Right to organize and protest for justice for Mike Brown. Militarized police have shot rubber bullets at, teargassed, and arrested innocent, peaceful protesters. Also, there are positive stories that are not being widely shared, that I have seen are more the norm than the atrocities the media likes to focus on, like when protesters tried to stop looters from getting into stores (they have done this on several nights).

4. The author leaves out a category: White people who don’t think America is post-racial, but who do believe that it’s getting better.

As I said, the categories were not meant to cover every type of white person. And for what reason would that person not fit in the Conscious White People category?

5. Some people had problems with this line, “Gladly admitting the danger in rash generalizations, I can generally determine the approximate quantity and quality of relationships with people of color a white person has based on their reactions to incidents like Michael Brown’s killing.”

This, of course, is an insane sentence when taken out of context. However, my point in saying it is, almost every single time a white person I know has denied racism or white privilege, it was a person who does not have quality relationships outside their homogeneous race group. Likewise, the white people I have actual personal, relationships with and know, who say the most racist and ridiculous things in response to situations like the killing of Mike Brown, just so happen to not have any friends outside of their race group. And yes, I think this does play a part in their opinions, experiences, and responses to racialized media stories. Racism thrives off of dehumanization of “the other” and generalizations of “the other” based in that dehumanization, and yes, I know it’s problematic to generalize and that I did it with this sentence, but I did start the sentence with, “Gladly admitting the danger in rash generalizations…”

The point is, no matter who “the other” is, when we have authentic, loving, personal relationships with people of that group, we are more likely to empathize with their plight and understand their situation and pain. It is a totally “normal” occurrence for people to be unsympathetic to something they don’t understand. It also also normal to hear a white person who has few quality relationships with black people say things like, “All black people look alike.” Black people with few quality relationships with white people say the same thing, “All white people look alike.” Without personal relationship, it’s easy to clump everyone together in one big group, which make dehumanization even easier.  But true understanding comes from personal experience, when we no longer dehumanize “the other.” Take the example of a homophobic parent who learns his child is gay, and because he knows and loves his child, suddenly his thoughts and opinions on homosexuality change. It is not as easy for him to generalize or hate because the plight of “the other” is no longer “the other,” but his son, who he knows and loves.

6. GOVT vs AMERICANS….skin color has nothing to do with it…but it helps divide the AMERICANS don’t it?

Well, we can just agree to disagree on this one.

I will say though, the only people I have ever heard say, “Skin has nothing to do with it,” were white people.

7. I know I fit into the white-ignorant-people who comment box somewhere, but where does compassion fit in?

I mean, I don’t think this person even read the piece. I think she just saw “Types of White People Who Comment on Black Experience and Pain” and jumped to conclusions.

I would ask where is the compassion for Mike Brown, though.

8. Your face looks stupid.

There’s nothing I can do about that.

 

Here are some other perspectives about whiteness related to Mike Brown’s killing:

Why are white people scared of black people’s rage at Mike Brown’s death?

12 things white people can do now because Ferguson

A MOTHER’S WHITE PRIVILEGE

EXPLAINING WHITE PRIVILEGE TO A BROKE WHITE PERSON…


White America’s Response to the Killing of Mike Brown…

August 17, 2014

Last night, I made the abominable mistake of reading the comments under Fox News’ Facebook page’s post of the alleged Mike Brown “strong-arm robbery” video. What I read was altogether infuriating and heartbreaking, yet I could not stop reading. Many of the comments, by what appeared to be “average white Americans,” were seething, sarcastic, racist, and steeped in hate. They called Mike Brown a “thug” and spoke about his killing in a bizarre celebratory way―some implicitly and others explicitly expressing how the video justifies his murder. Some of the comments even unnecessarily brought up Trayvon Martin, also speaking about him in the most derogatory and disparagingly of ways. These white Facebook users were so quick to dehumanize, demonize, generalize, speak hatefully, and justify the death of a young black man―in rhetoric oozing with racism, white supremacy, and white privilege―that I began to wonder if they were able to acknowledge that Mike Brown was a human. How and why do they hate him so much?

It made me sick to my stomach.

I think the part that was most troubling to me was the fact that most of these white people making these horrendous comments were not the anonymous, faceless, cowardly, racist internet trolls that I often encounter on Twitter―though enraging, I can somehow shrug them off as “fake.” These people had faces, rather. These folks were seemingly real people, behind seemingly real Facebook accounts―some of their profile pictures were family pictures or pictures of them with their kids, even lovingly embracing them. I imagine they are people who have authentic, caring relationships with individuals who they choose to love deeply―friends, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins, grandmothers, grandfathers. But the hatred they verbally spewed for a dead black teenager they do not even know, and the dehumanizing nature of their discourse, led me to begin to see them void of humanity―their dehumanization of Mike Brown was the cause of my dehumanization of them. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s truly ugly.

Of course, those types of comments aren’t representative of the feelings of every white American, yet, at the same time, those types of comments are not unique to that one Facebook post―I am, unfortunately, confronted by them more often than not. Racist, right-wing, conservative, white Americans’ responses to incidents like the murder of Mike Brown, others like him, and all related events, can be overwhelmingly disheartening, but at the same time, they serve as an important reminder. Those types of racist responses to tragic situations like this are perfect examples of the racism and implicit bias within individuals that ends up causing these very situations to happen in the very first place. And in the aftermath of these tragic events, instead of acknowledging the role that white supremacy, implicit bias, and systemic racism played, those people opposingly retort with the attempted denial of those systems and come with other biased comments intended to detract from the reality of the situation.

Ferguson-Fallout-Riots-school-cancellations-and-unrest-in-wake-of-police-shooting

“What about Chicago? Why aren’t you angry about that?”

“What about black-on-black violence?”

“We have a black president! We live in Post-racial America.”

“Speaking about racism is what perpetuates racism.”

“This is not about race. I’ve been a victim of police brutality too.”

“Black, white, brown, purple, green, blue, yellow―I don’t see color. We all bleed red.”

“Well, he shouldn’t have fought with a police officer if he didn’t want to die.”

“He shouldn’t have [dressed that way, walked that way, talked that way, listened to that music]!”

“White people are murder victims too!”

“Black people kill white people!”

YOU’RE the racist one!” 

“You hate white people!”

Now, these also are certainly not the only types of responses of white Americans, but they do, in fact, tend to fall into two of the four theoretical, generalized categories I created of “Types of White People Who Comment on Black Experience and Pain.” 

But before I get into that, I feel it is important to explain what I mean when I reference “white supremacy.”

Many people see white supremacy as something that is exclusive to white extremist groups like the KKK and Skinheads, but it is much more than that. White supremacy is defined as “the belief that white people are superior to those of all other races, especially the black race, and should therefore dominate society.” Some people are conscious of this belief, whilst others are unaware that it subconsciously guides their interactions with others and the world at large. White supremacy is an institutionalized system of domination, and America was founded on its principles. It is weaved into the very fabric of American society―it’s as American as apple pie. White supremacy still greatly controls much of the way our country works, both inwardly and outwardly, in thoughts, attitudes, biases, prejudices, and policies, and in societal structures, social interactions, hierarchies, speech, and action.

Many white people become defensive and angered when I say that, but this is not up for dispute. It is a fact that America, as we know it, was established on the slaughter of indigenous people, and built on the backs of black slaves―both groups who were, by definition of the law, not seen as equal, not seen as human. Neither the deep-rooted indoctrination of white supremacy―within all races of people―nor the social ills connected to white supremacist structures, laws, policies, geographic communities, poverty, inequalities and other injustices have been completely eradicated. They most definitely did not “end with slavery,” as some would like to believe. Bryan Stevenson, founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative, speaks about the legacy of slavery and the connection to current social injustices and inequalities,

“The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Much of that has been achieved through targeted prosecutions of people of color. The Bureau of Justice reports that 1 in 3 black male babies born in 2001 are expected to go to jail or prison. There are states and communities where 50, 60% of young men of color are in jail, in prison, on probation, or parole. Many of these young people have not committed violent crimes or done anything serious. They’re there for drug crimes or for property crimes. And many are innocent there because of what I call this ‘presumption of guilt.’

And I think we have to understand that these phenomena reflect a larger failure in American society to deal with the history of racial inequality and racial injustice. I mean, this country is burdened with the legacy of slavery―we enslaved Africans for over two centuries. From the end of Reconstruction to World War II, we terrorized and traumatized black people in America with lynchings and violence and racial hatred. Then we legalized racial subordination through our laws and created Jim Crow―segregation that was deeply humiliating and demonizing. And because we never told the truth about all of those problems and all of the difficulties that created, we’ve never had the moment of truth and reconciliation that every country requires if it is going to deal with decades of human rights abuses.”

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

Some white people are aware of white supremacy and its impacts on us individually and socially. They can see that we do not live in isolation―from each other or our shared history. However, there are other white people who seem to not feel any sense of responsibility for the atrocities that happened in the past, even if those very atrocities are what have afforded them the privilege in which they now live. The latter group continues to deny systemic racism and the role it plays in the black American experience; which brings me back to the four categories of “Types of White People Who Comment on Black Experience and Pain.” These four categories are: Overtly Racist White People, White-Privilege Apologists, “Well-Meaning” White People, and Conscious White People. These categories are neither an exhaustive list of every representation of white people who comment on black pain and experience, nor are they static, as some people fluidly move in and out of categories, and some categories share characteristics. They are merely my observations in watching white America’s spectrum of different responses to the killings of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, Emmett Till, and the list unfortunately goes on.

“Types of White People Who Comment on Black Experience and Pain.”

Overtly Racist White People are, at the very least, the easiest to deal with, in the sense that they are completely transparent and upfront about their racism―you know exactly where they stand. These white people range from members of openly racist extremist groups like the KKK, to “average” individuals who say and act in explicit racism. In situations like the death of Mike Brown, Overtly Racist White People are known to use blatantly racist rhetoric (including, but not limited to the use of race-based derogatory terminology and racial slurs), speak about the death in a way that seems celebratory, speak hatefully about the black victim and black people in general, speak with an heir of superiority, possess the idea that they truly are better than black people and people of other races, deny that racism played a role in his death or that racism even exists, and/or claim “reverse racism” (which shows white supremacist indoctrination with the ignorant insinuation, embedded within the term, that white people have the monopoly on racism, and racism is white against another race by default), among other terrible things. Some of the more cowardly individuals of this group―known as Internet trolls―hide behind the anonymity of fake social media accounts, harassing, baiting, and insulting people opposed to their white supremacist beliefs.

White-Privilege Apologists seem less aware of their racism and white supremacist indoctrination, and, unlike Overtly Racist White People, they rarely own-up to their racist beliefs and actions. They would not consider themselves racist. When I say, “White-Privilege Apologists,” I’m referring to people who epitomize and embody white privilege whilst denying that it exists, and therefore, in turn, they unintentionally defend and perpetuate its very existence. These individuals are so blinded by their own privilege, they find it difficult to see or hear the experience, pain, and plight of people from other races. They are known to use the phrase, “I’m not racist, but…” prefacing an extremely racist statement, and to tell racist jokes when they find themselves within racially homogeneous groups, which is very often. In situations like the death of Mike Brown, White-Privilege Apologists are some of the first to mention Chicago, “black-on-black violence,” and the fact that “we have a black president” (though Overtly Racist White People also use that rhetoric), they refuse to admit racism played a role in his death, they express ideals of “colorblindness” and a pseudo-equality (“we are all the same”) discourse that is far-removed from reality, and they often become defensive when racism is mentioned, whether on the broader societal level or narrower individual level. Though they might not openly say it, it seems that this category of white people see themselves as superior to people of color, whether it is on a conscious or subconscious level.

“Well-Meaning” White People have seemingly good intentions and try very hard to be “down.” This, unfortunately, often comes off as awkward and they are unaware of the covert, and sometimes overt, racism that they display. Most “Well-Meaning” White People will admit that racism and white privilege exists and is a problem, but maybe aren’t fully aware of how to address the topic or reality. One cause of the disconnect might be because this category of white people often get their information about black people and the black experience through books, music, movies, television shows, and stereotypes, rather than from genuine relationships with people of color that go beyond tokenism―not including a black acquaintance, coworker, employee,  or someone who works in their home. They are known to gawkily force evidence of their “knowledge of black culture” into conversations with black people and reference “my black friend.” Some of these individuals feel it is acceptable for them to use the n-word, “ebonics” (now referred to as American Black English), and other words and phrases popular in the black colloquial vernacular.

Some “Well-Meaning” White People embody what Teju Cole termed the White Savior Industrial Complex, which, whether intentional or not, positions them in the place to be the “savior” of (often poor) black people (this is frequently found in and amongst the white church, missionaries, some white teachers in “urban” schools, etc). In situations like the death of Mike Brown, “Well-Meaning” White People usually try to speak out against the injustice but sometimes overstep their bounds, they speak as “experts on black experience” without the actual experience, they awkwardly share times when they were confronted with police brutality as an effort of solidarity (unable to see how their stories do not compare with the consistent, and disproportionate number of accounts of police brutality experienced by people of color, not to mention other forms and experiences of discrimination they face on a daily basis), and sometimes they (possibly unintentionally) hijack the narratives of people of color and voice them as their own experiences and/or thoughts. It would seem that the intentions of “Well-Meaning” White People are good, but their execution is often suspect and inappropriate.

Conscious White People actually “get it,” as much as a white person is able to. They are aware of the various degrees of white supremacy and racism within us all, and within our society. They have committed to going through the continuous process of acknowledging their own privilege (and, for some, intersections of it), checking their own prejudices and biases, and are dedicated to fighting white supremacy within and around them. Most of this category’s knowledge of the black experience is based in authentic, loving relationships with people of color, spending their time listening to and learning from the actual voices living the black experience―also aware that no one individual represents an entire race of people. Conscious White People usually know when to listen, and when to speak. Though they might not fully understand the experience and pain of people of color, they, at the very least, try to. In situations like the death of Mike Brown, Conscious White People are committed to seeking justice, actively call out systemic racism, white supremacy, and white privilege, value and validate (in a way that is not patronizing) the voices of people of color and allow them to determine the trajectory of the narrative, realize that white-on-black racism is not a “black problem” but rather it is a white problem and see responsibility in combating it, and commit to calling out racism and white supremacy in other white people around them. These white people are, of course, not perfect, but they are also usually open to the constructive criticism and feedback of others.

At various points in life, I have been in and out of several of those categories. If you find yourself becoming angry about “finding yourself” in a category you feel is unfair, I ask you to take a step back and really challenge why it bothers you. Is it because it’s true?

Moving Forward

Gladly admitting the danger in rash generalizations, I can generally determine the approximate quantity and quality of relationships with people of color a white person has based on their reactions to incidents like Michael Brown’s killing. And I’m referring to relationships that go beyond tokenism―not “my black friend,” or a coworker, or a domestic worker. Despite the fact that it is 2014, we still live extremely, racially segregated―both geographically and socially―for the most part. This segregation allows the perpetuation of racism and othering. Author, feminist, and activist bell hooks pointed out, “The world we grew up in has changed little when it comes to race. Segregation is still the norm in social relationships.” How can we truly understand the experience of other races of we don’t move outside of our homogeneous racial groups? This might not be the will of some who seek more diversity in their social relationships, but often they merely surrender to the lack of heterogeneity in their circles, and succumb to what bell hooks refers to as the “accident of circumstances,” of everyone around them looking the exact same.

Racial segregation in our geographic residential areas and social relationships enables the perpetuation of ignorant views of “the other.” Racial segregation in our geographic residential areas and social relationships enables the dehumanization that is necessary for racism. The average white people I have seen who deny the existence of white privilege or racism in America move exclusively in racially homogeneous circles. It is easy to deny something that in no way, shape, or form inconveniences your life. However, when we build quality relationships with people from another race, they can no longer be a generalized stereotype of a race. They are human, a human we care about deeply. The moment an issue negatively affects someone we care about, someone we truly love, that is when we are fully throttled into activism to seek change. 

Unfortunately, there will be more Mike Browns, and there will be more Darren Wilsons. This is not an isolated incident―it’s a systemic problem. We can’t run and stop these individual tragedies from happening, but we can do our part to be aware and begin to affect broader social change. We have to find out where we fit into the equation, how we are either fighting against it or enabling it. White supremacy, white privilege, and systemic racism have led to the dehumanization of black people in America. Dehumanization allows a young black man to be a “suspect” or “thug” by default. Dehumanization allows a young black victim to be the cause of his or her own death. Dehumanization allows a group of―predominantly black―peaceful protesters to be seen as an “angry mob” or “rioters.” Dehumanization does not allow authentic, loving relationships to form. It’s time we see genuine, interracial relationship-building as a form of activism. It’s time we recognize the humanity within one another. And as it has been said, yes, we all bleed red, but it’s important to note whose blood is being spilled on the streets. 

Rest in Peace, Mike Brown.


My Consolidated Tweets About #MikeBrown #Ferguson ― August 9-16, 2014

August 17, 2014

Skin Deep Conversations…

August 9, 2012

Lately, many thoughts on skin pigment have weighed heavy on my mind, mostly sparked by several related conversations and incidents, most of which were with young people who have been indoctrinated to despise their own skin, if only on a subconscious level. Their young, malleable minds have been proselytized by the socially constructed lies within the messages that bombard them every single day, whether subliminal or out right aggressive. It’s heartbreaking.

And I’m just a white dude. What words of weight do I have to offer in this situation? I tip-toe around the taboo-ness of the topic in my mind, knowing that I was born into a race that was unfairly and ignorantly set as the “standard”. It disgusts me to even write that. Yet, I remember growing up, having several teachers who referred to the peach colored crayon as Flesh. Flesh?

The audacity of naming one color (yes, indeed the color matching the skin of Caucasians) Flesh is sickening and absurd (The Crayola color now known as Peach was officially changed to that from Flesh in 1962); an entire box of crayons could not contain the many various flesh tones in this world. However, little white kids could hold that “Flesh” colored crayon up to their little arms and see the match, cruelly confirming that sense of deeply instilled white superiority, “Yes, flesh,” whilst the little darker brown kids could hold up the very same crayon to their little arms, and rather than telling them something about the color of the crayon, they are told something about the color of their flesh, “Not flesh.” They’re stuck with Burnt Sienna, whatever that is.

Sure, things have changed since I was in elementary school. I was born in 1980. It’s 2012. But as much as things have changed, they have also just stayed the same, stagnated. Why is the standard-color of a Bandaid still the color of that crayon that was labelled as Flesh? Bandaids are meant to cover up a wound, but also blend in with the skin to conceal it. (I am aware that Bandaids for darker complexions are sold, but they are not as openly available, and definitely not the “norm”.) Have you ever seen a standard-color Bandaid on the skin of a dark brown person?

It doesn’t really blend in.

I have spoken to many people, of many shades of brown, about the topic of Bandaids, as a more subtle and accepted form of systemic racism in our society. A large amount of them feel that I am looking into it too deeply; admittedly, most of those people were people whose flesh conveniently conceals a standard-color Bandaid. To me, the fact that this is the “norm”, that it is “acceptable”, that it is “no big deal”, that we are completely calloused to it, shows me just how deep the indoctrination of the skin pigment heiarchy goes in all of us.

Way deeper than skin deep, to say the least.

My eleven-year-old neighbor Carl was sitting beside me the other day. He was born in Trinidad, but has lived in America most of his life. He has rich brown skin, and his head is covered with a thick offering of jet-black hair. Carl stroked my arm, and seemingly out of the blue said, “I wish I had white skin.”

I was surprised by his statement, “Why?”

Carl, “It’s more beautiful than black skin.”

Me, “That’s not true. Why do you say that?”

Carl, “Black skin is ugly.”

Me, “Not true. Who told you that?”

Carl, “I see it.”

I touched his arm, “I see it too. And dark brown skin looks beautiful to me.”

Unconsolable, Carl shifted the conversation slightly, “Black people are bad.”

At this point, I would have thought he was just saying things to say things and get answers, if I had not heard the seriousness in his voice, felt it in his eyes.

“Carl, that is untrue and a huge generalization. Some black people do bad things, but some white people do bad things too. People of all races do.”

Carl, “But white people are all good!”

Me, “Also very untrue, and another generalization. White people are the ones who brought black people over to America as slaves, Carl. That’s not good.”

Carl, “But that’s not now.”

We spoke about how the “then” impacts the “now”, and about generalizations. Carl tried to convince me he was not generalizing, “But all I see is black people doing bad things!”

Me, “Where?”

Carl, “In our neighborhood, on the movies! Shooting, killing, doing bad things!”

I gently reminded him that we live in a neighborhood that is populated predominantly by black people, and that is why it is “all he sees”, but if he were to go to neighborhoods where other races are the majority, he would also see them doing “bad things”. I assured him that where I am from, and elsewhere all over the world, there are many, many white people who do bad things.

Carl seemed unconvinced, so I did a Google Image search for “Caucasian mugshot” and we scrolled through the hundreds of white people who had done “bad things”. Slightly more persuaded, I then got him to admit that most of the “good” he experiences in his life is also done by black people, seeing that the vast majority of his interactions are in his neighborhood.

Carl quickly switched over to his movies anecdote, and I quickly rebutted by saying that movies are not real life. I wasn’t sure if he was ready for the conversation about who controls Hollywood in the first place, and what their agenda is. I rather asked him what race the majority of the killers are in the horror films that he loves to watch: Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, the dude from Saw, all the ghosts in pretty much every movie ever…Caucasian. All of them. He got the picture.

Our conversation moved on to why people have different color skin, slavery, why Carl wants to marry a white lady, white people getting sunburned, hair that grows on arms, and eventually men with mustaches and at what point a boy can expect to be able to grow one. It was all downhill from there.

That conversation with Carl validated that his perceptions and attitudes towards skin are no different to the findings of the Doll Study conducted by the Clarks in the 1940s, the same attitudes and perceptions found amongst young people of color in Kiri Davis’s short documentary A Girl Like Me; the terrible idea that “white is good, black is bad,” or “white is beautiful, black is ugly”. Truly tragic.

And little dark-skinned girls bleach their skin to make it lighter, and relax their hair to make it more “acceptable”, all to fit into this image they are told is “ideal”. Ironically, on the other side of the spectrum, white women pay for expensive products, get spray-on tans, and bake in the sun for hours, all so their skin will be a darker shade of brown, a color that will only last as long as their products do, or as long as the sun decides it is his season to shine. This makes me think that white supremacist views were probably founded in the idolization of beautiful dark brown skin, the lustful desire to have deep, colored, flawless skin with no visible blemishes, with no beginning and no end. Hatred is often rooted in jealousy.

That discussion with Carl was direct and to the point, but I witness the same conversation taking more of a meta-communicative form in many of the exchanges and interactions I hear and see the neighborhood kids have with each other on a daily basis. James gets dogged-on every single day for how dark his skin is. The jokes are way beyond endearing, and are usually just plain mean, not to mention unprovoked.

James is fourteen. He’s originally from Guyana but has lived in America most of his life. His skin is a beautiful, perfect, deep, dark brown. Fortunately for James, he seems to be proud of his complexion, and therefore shrugs off the jeering comments as “ignorant”. But that’s just James.

Who taught these kids to loathe dark skin? Who taught Carl that “white is good, and black is bad”? I’m sure no one sat them down and taught them these things directly. More likely, it is in the messages the media pummels them with daily, in the dialogue of their elders, in the “history” they learn in school, in the sickening pop culture that continues to worship “all that is white” whether admitted or not, in their interactions with police and other authority figures, and in the subtleties of their day-to-day interactions with the world.

Subtleties that tell us that “white lies” are acceptable, but “dark secrets” are not.

Subtleties beneath a certain color being called “flesh”.

Subtleties of a dark-skinned child falling down, getting a cut on his knee, and covering it with a Bandaid whose color and form stand out exaggeratedly, because it was made for a person of a lighter complexion, a complexion that has unfairly, unjustly, and wrongly been set as the “ideal” complexion, the “standard”.

These subtleties can only remain subtle if we continue to allow them to. We can, indeed, call them out, exposing the lies that have guided our social interactions for so long. And I feel it is our responsibility to do just that. Carl needs to know that all shades of brown are beautiful, and it is not our skin that determines how “good” or “bad” we are, but contrarily our motives, thoughts and intentions on the inside, which lead to our outward actions.

I’m going to need Grace Jones to to run around shouting, “Black is beautiful,” with a boombox blaring India Arie’s Brown Skin, stat!