Discussing white supremacy at the dinner table

I will keep this intro brief. My intention for this post is to share resources for white and non-black folks who are interested in having conversations about dismantling white supremacy and anti-black racism. I will primarily be linking to black authors, with some exceptions as appropriate (e.g. people explaining how their experiences of class/race-based oppression doesn’t negate their complicity in/ability to benefit from anti-blackness).

Context (feel free to skip):

I flew home to San Jose on Monday and landed just as Bob McCulloch was beginning his nonsense. I realized I’ve been having a hard time navigating in-person conversations with family and 長輩 (zhǎng bèi, elders) about Ferguson, white supremacy, and anti-blackness.

I originally wrote this: “There are a ton of links circulating on Facebook right now. Information is available. Please do your part in actively seeking out media that has already been created, instead of putting the burden on people of color to explain it to you.” (n.b. In general, yes, if you want to be an ally, put in the work. I don’t think POC owe it to white folks to explain racism, and I don’t think black folks owe it to non-black folks to explain anti-blackness or how to dismantle whiteness. However, I have some time and have been doing some light reading lately, so here is a resource post.)

tl;dr It’s not black people’s responsibility to educate people on white supremacy. It’s hard to confront elders/family/ourselves about racism. I thought a study guide/cheat sheet might help.

Glossary:

  • anti-blackness/anti-black racism — racism specifically targeting black people, including within POC and inter-ethnic communities (see also: “Riding with Death: Defining Anti-Blackness” by Nicholas Brady)
  • microaggression — a brief exchange that dehumanizes a member of an oppressed group; intent is irrelevant. Think about a bunch of strangers, friends, classmates, etc. all flicking you in the same spot on your arm, several times a day. Each individual flick may not cause harm or hurt at first, but over time, you’ll develop a bruise in that spot, and each ensuing flick will bring out that same pain. (People also commonly use the example of Chinese water torture, but I have also seen people use that metaphor in a racist way, so … )
  • POC — people of color, non-white people (btw, people self-identifying as POC does not give you permission to use the expression “colored people”)
  • white supremacy — “White supremacy is a low-level assumption about characteristics that white people allegedly have which transforms inequality between them and everyone else into something natural. It often masks itself as fairness and goes unquestioned as a result.” (H/T Imara Jones, here)

Breaking down white privilege

Resources for non-black POC

  • Understand that there is a time and place for using the “people of color” umbrella. (Now is not one of them.) Yes, other communities of color experience racism and policing. That is not an invitation to co-opt the work and words of black authors, artists, and academics to apply them to our struggles. Erasing anti-black violence and anti-black racism is anti-blackness, and it is an act of violence.
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  • Also. ALSO. You better not be responding to #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter. Don’t do that.
  • APIs: “So why do I expend so much effort on lifting up the oppression of black people? Because anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy.” — Scot Nakagawa, “Blackness is the Fulcrum” (short article)
  • APIs: Soya Jung “The Racial Justice Movement Needs a Model Minority Mutiny” (medium-length article, some academic jargon, but fairly accessible)
  • Latinx: “Four Person-to-Person Things I Do to Address Anti-Blackness con Mi Gente” by CarmenLeah Ascencio (intro + listicle, strategies also relevant to other folks)

Other conversation starters

Responding to “Violence never solved anything!”

First of all, for those of you who are quoting MLK and calling for nonviolence (a popular choice is “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”), please keep in mind that just before his assassination (which the U.S. government wanted and helped along), MLK said “We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house.” He also spoke specifically on riots during a speech on March 4, 1968:

I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, nonviolence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view… But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

Maneuvering through derailing tactics

  • Try calling in instead of calling out. It’s hard to know how to respond when someone you love says or does something hateful. First of all, it’s your choice if and how you want to respond, and you should do so in a way that makes you feel safe. (Note, that’s safe, not “not uncomfortable.”) Calling someone out treats them like they’re disposable; Ngọc Loan Trần discusses how to engage with someone who made a mistake and keep building.
  • “People of color are being oversensitive! We’re caving to political correctness!” This is tone policing. You shut that down. Tone policing is a tool used to maintain oppression. Read this: “The Revolution Will Not Be Polite: The Issue of Nice versus Good” on Social Justice League.
  • “But why doesn’t anyone talk about black-on-black crime?” First of all, that’s just wrong, the community is and has been talking about it. Also, most murders are intraracial (within racial groups). And also, that’s changing the subject from police violence and appropriate use of force.
  • “But not all white people are terrible!”/”I didn’t choose to be born white!” Pro-tip: If you feel the need to write a dissertation on “not all white allies,” not only are you derailing the conversation you are proving the point.
  • (And while we’re at it, can everyone stop sharing that quote from To Kill A Mockingbird that only children are crying? Quote a black person, not a white savior text, and not something that ignores the real pain and fear of adults.)
  • “Talking about race makes you the racist!” No. Race is a social construct, you say? So is having seven days in a week. A week is socially constructed and socially real, and it has tangible impacts on your life.

Other resources/articles:

Ways to Support Ferguson:

  • The Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) legal fund is collecting funds for protestors’ bail and legal fees. Police have been violating protestors’ first amendment rights, as well as setting punitively high bail (ave. $1,000). Donate to the legal fund here (URL is for a donation processing portal).
  • Operation Help or Hush has been providing food and shelter for protestors. Donate here.
  • The Ferguson Municipal Public Library is staying open as late as possible, since local schools are closed. (They were open from 9-4 on Tuesday.) Donate here. (They’re also accepting BitCoin … )

Other action steps:

  • Read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations.” The subhead is a pretty good break down: “Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”
  • Keep pushing for body cameras on all police officers (link to petition).
  • Dismantle the prison-industrial complex.

OK, so I was going to start a short list and then wake up early and finish, but now it’s 3:43 a.m. and I think I’ll just hit publish.

I want to acknowledge that this post assumes that people will be spending the next few days with family and parents specifically, which is definitely not financially/emotionally/physically possible and/or safe for everyone. I also want to recognize that the Thanksgiving holiday has its own genocidal legacy and is an ongoing site of the erasure of Native Americans and that folks may want to have those conversations as well/before/alongside.

I am open to comments to fix mistakes and/or add resources. I will most likely delete troll comments, or I will screencap them and blog about you later. Haven’t decided.

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blog inertia + random list of thoughts

I have three different drafts of blog posts about different things, many of them heavy, and because I haven’t written a blog post for so long, I feel the need to write about everything, and to do it well, and instead I have spent large chunks of the last few days scowling and/or frowning at my laptop with WordPress open. So instead of a full blog post, here is a random list of thoughts:

  • I talked to my parents about Vincent Chin for the first time today, and until then I never realized they’d never brought him up before. I asked my dad if he was scared at the time, and he replied simply, “There were just some places we knew not to go.” He mentioned being on a business trip with a black co-worker in the South a while back, and he remembers that co-worker telling him how nervous he got when he got lost on the way to a presentation. “You just couldn’t be sure, so you knew not to go some places.”
  • We talked a lot about happiness and what that looks like, and values and work ethic and what it meant to grow up in the community we did. I asked my mother what lessons she hoped she imparted on her children, and she started to answer, then asked, “Isn’t this kind of cheating? Shouldn’t you know?” In a way, it does feel like cheating, as a writer — why bother with metaphors and signs and allegories and trying to figure out the subtext, I’ll just ask her.
  • The Poets for Ferguson cypher was amazing, and powerful, and so heavy. I talked to my friend Ami about it today, and we are both working our way through the hours we didn’t see live. I feel an absence, almost, now that it has wrapped up, and I realize how much I crave space that is centered on and exclusively for people of color.
  • I am grateful to have a friend I can Skype with for three hours about everything we are thinking and fears and feeling stuck and not being sure what lessons our parents wanted to teach us and what we should be doing next.
  • I am thinking a lot about inertia in general, and about living up to one of the poems I performed — one of its conclusions is that the road to progress is long, but that it’s important to keep moving. So often over this past month and a half (and in other stretches before), I have wondered how we are supposed to keep moving forward, and whether we will be able to. And I keep reminding myself to balance the need for self-care against the knowledge that my ability to turn away — and the instinct to do so — both of these are rooted in privilege.
  • Today was my mother’s birthday. Her 33-year-anniversary with my father is coming up soon. They went to get Thai food to celebrate. This morning on the phone, my mother misheard me say I would call her back and thought I’d said I’d be at the house at noon. “My heart jumped for a second,” she told me in disappointment.
  • I have been sitting on a post about “The Giving Tree” and motherhood, and I wanted to talk to my mom about it first. She said she doesn’t find it sad, just accurate. I texted my brother about it later, as he got ready to head to the Thai restaurant to surprise my mother.
    (does the boy come back? / As an old man he returns and sits on her stump / oh, happy book then!)
  • What is a sad story about motherhood, then? Is it a tree that keeps waiting, having given away all of its fruit to show how deeply and unconditionally she loves? Will she continue to wait, forever, unable to move past the spot of her last and most painful sacrifice? How can we ever begin to heal the wounds of boys who never return and trees who will always be kept waiting?