Racism, solidarity, and COVID19

“Capitalism and poverty have killed more people,” a friend of mine said, when I told her I was scared by the realities of the coronavirus. I knew what she meant. (I also know her well enough to know she included racism in with capitalism and poverty). So, while it’s certainly true that capitalism, racism, and poverty have killed more people than the coronavirus has or even will, it’s also true that the people who have already been held down by oppressive systems are most likely to suffer the worst of this pandemic.

The response of those of us who have financially benefited most from the systems of oppression bear the greatest responsibility for flattening the curve.

Who do I mean when I talk about who has benefited most from the systems of oppression? I mean white, middle, managerial, and/or ownership class people. Our relatives held people prisoner, brutalized them, and forced them to work for no pay, and/or our relatives stole land from Indigenous people and murdered them by the thousands. Even if our ancestors didn’t directly participate in these actions, the economy of our country was set up using the wealth created by those crimes. Even though it was generations ago, many of us (white people) have at least some generational wealth that has been impossible for most Black people to accumulate, for example.

I’m bringing up this historical aspect of our current situation not to say we white people should “feel guilty,” but because it is worthwhile to notice who has the kind of resources required to do the social distancing that will help slow the spread of the deadly virus. So many people don’t have the luxury of “social distancing” without serious negative consequences. These socioeconomic differences have been built into our racist economic systems from the beginning.

Those of us who can stay home, should be staying home. We do this not for ourselves, but for all of the people who have no choice. And this is where I feel being an anti-racist comes into play. Just like when we white people take directly anti-racist actions, making changes in our lives to stop the speed of the spread of COVID-19 is mostly because it benefits the wider community. When we take anti-racist actions, we do this not only because it “helps” someone else, but because it helps everyone (including white people).

We white people, through our “whiteness,” are too often stuck in the concept of the “individual” and less about the wider community. If we practice seeing the world in solidarity, rather than as individuals who “help” people “in need” then we will recognize that our individual actions are a part of the greater whole. We are all in this together: access to healthcare for everyone (not only those who can afford it) benefits everyone; plenty of paid sick leave for everyone (not only for those who have fancier jobs) benefits everyone; free public universities and trade schools and wiping away college debt benefits everyone; humane treatment for people who want to come to this country from other places across the globe benefits everyone; living wages for everyone benefits everyone!

As we all do our best to create social distance wherever possible, washing our hands, not touching our faces, checking in on our higher-risk neighbors who live alone, following the CDC guidelines for safe and cautious living, the reality that we are all interconnected is vivid. This is a scary time, but I’m also struck by how much we are coming together in this.

As the coronavirus crisis goes on, we are also still in a presidential election cycle. I hope everyone will consider the policies that would best address this crisis when you make your choice at the upcoming primaries. In particular, healthcare without copays, deductibles, or limits on care decided by greedy, profit-driven companies. It’s strikingly clear as we try to flatten the curve of the spread of this virus that healthcare for everyone benefits everyone. We are all in this together.


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Ignoring the Sanders movement supports white supremacy

As I watch the corporate media—I’m talking CNN and MSNBC, not FOX—play down the Bernie Sanders movement, it’s clear to me that white people with money are trying to keep white supremacy in place. The corporate media’s coverage of the Sanders campaign’s successes has been bizarre. “Flatlined at first place,” is an oddly phrased take that a cable news pundit used (is there something higher or better than first place?). Or this:

We’ve seen racism throughout the election so far. Most glaring is how white people didn’t fund the candidates of color when they were in the race at the same rates they funded white candidates. The argument that white people just didn’t like Booker, Castro or Harris doesn’t ring true when their qualifications were more than Buttigieg’s and their policies were right in line with the other white candidates and Democratic voters.

Then there’s the fact that none of the candidates in the race for the Democratic nomination were or are problem-free when it comes to racism as individuals (with the exception of maybe Julián Castro but he wasn’t all-in for Medicare for All so I’d argue even Castro supported some racist policies). Some of the current candidates support more overtly racist policies like Bloomberg and Buttigieg and Klobuchar. Even Sanders, whom I support, has a racist history of trying to be “colorblind” (which is itself racist because it dismisses people’s identities and pretends race doesn’t matter) with claims that economic injustice was something that could be addressed while putting aside “identity politics.”*

So when a candidate proposes policies that would turn our current structures on their heads—healthcare for everyone, a Green New Deal, college for everyone, housing for everyone, and more—we see an absurd response from the mainstream corporate media and their political pundits. The idea of a more caring community rather than one driven by greed and a “protect mine” mentality makes lots of white people in power freak out.

Even though I support Sanders precisely because he envisions radical changes toward a caring economy, I include myself in this group of white people freaking out. I feel in my body the anxiety of wondering if my place in society might be lost. Right now, white cis women are inherently valued, especially white professional- and owning-class cis women. What will it be like if people “like me” aren’t the most protected group?

Honestly, I welcome the anxious feelings because I know I’m finding truth. I get to then move into trusting and relying on God (other white people might use meditation or deep breathing or intellectual techniques to calm themselves) and see that radically changing the structures of our systems will save the world. Literally. It can save the world if we turn into a caring place. Following the lead of many Indigenous people when it comes to being in community with the non-human world, for example.

The fact that I’m a wayyy “left” liberal and I feel nervous about changing the racist system tells me that white people more comfortable with “moderate” options are probably fighting nerves they may not even know they have, especially in the corporate media. Almost all of the news coverage is about people’s worries about the Sanders campaign rather than the extraordinary momentum of support across all socioeconomic and racial lines. The fact that the corporate media isn’t covering the Sanders supporters who are Black and Latinx, for example, but instead are telling us about people who are worried he’s “not electable,” shows where the white-owned media’s priorities lie: They don’t want much to change. They mostly want things to stay the same. They want the same “safe” options of tepid Klobuchar or Buttigieg. Even Warren was apparently too radical for them—and it’s true she’s closer to Sanders’ vision of changing the structures of our government—so they have played up her losses and ignored her support.

People of color are supporting Sanders (and Warren, still, despite her ongoing harm of Indigenous  people and losses of Black staffers in her Nevada offices). Rich and poor people of all flavors are working together to get him elected. The leadership in his campaign is full of Black and brown people of all genders. Most of all, he’s started trying to make it clear that we can’t separate racism and economic injustice. This post isn’t meant to be an advertisement for Sanders’ campaign, believe me, but as I watch the corporate media tell stories that don’t reflect the reality of his campaign I know it’s because they want to keep their power.

* Feminist Scholar Barbara Smith clarified that when she and the other women of the Combahee River Collective http://circuitous.org/scraps/combahee.html coined the phrase “identity politics” they simply meant, “Black women have a right to determine their own political agendas.” That’s it.


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I’m tired of white women writing about racism

The research has been done. We know the facts. We know that the social construct called “whiteness” was created to make sure that the richest white men stayed rich and got richer and the rest of us would be beat down by their greed. We know that living in a brown-skinned body in the United States means you are in danger of violence on personal, emotional and state-sanctioned levels every single day.

We also know that we white people will come to some new awarenesses about structural racism, and then we will rename it and it will morph into something we can tolerate and nothing will really change. That is the history we have repeated since the first white abolitionists did the good work of helping slaves get some semblance of freedom. Periods of “ah-ha!” for some white people that fades away as soon as we can find a way to make ourselves feel better.

We don’t need more research. What we need is change; not only “difficult conversations” or book clubs. (We white people educating ourselves is good and important, but it is not enough.) We don’t need to find new language for the same discussions (see white privilege morph into white fragility, etc.).

I’ll be honest. Writing for this blog has been a challenge. I believe strongly in the idea that we white people should take up less space when it comes to racial justice work, including sharing information on the Internet. I’m annoyed by and tired of white women like me publishing essays and posts about our experiences related to racism.

How can I write about racism without centering on whiteness? What does that even mean? How can I be white and not center on whiteness? How can I write in public about racism without asking for the spotlight (the spotlight I don’t want, and think white people shouldn’t have)? There must be some use for my words on this blog, or I wouldn’t be asked to write here.

Changing the systems. What does that mean? I return again and again to this document Tema Okun’s “White Supremacy Culture.” Not only did it help me recognize how much of everything around us and within us—my culture, my family’s culture, my family history, the institutions we participate in—are ruled by white supremacy culture, but it also has “antidotes” under each description. This document is one of my touchstones. When I feel helpless to change the behemoth systems, I remember that on a personal level and within the organizations where I work and worship we are changing. Without a road map, we are trying to break out of and destroy whiteness. [BGIM note: At this time, Rhea Boyd, M.D.’s tweets are in protected mode so there’s a good chance you probably won’t be able to use the link immediately to the left effectively except to locate Dr. Boyd’s account and perhaps request access so that you can read the very excellent thread Heather links to. In the meantime, you could also read The Social Construction of Whiteness: Racism by Intent,Racism by Consequence or Abolish the White Race for some related thoughts]

Changing the systems also means building a caring society instead of a society built on greed. Healthcare, housing, education and employment for all; workplace regulations that provide sufficient wages and family leave policies; protection and expansion of voting rights; abolishing all prisons and police; moving from a me/them to an “us” way of life; saving the Earth from the environmental crisis (I suspect a sufficient “Green New Deal” could address all of these issues).

But I’m still stuck, writing this blog post. I’m still writing about me and my experience. And, yes, offline I think it’s fine that I do that when I’m with other white people. But online? How can I be useful in our shared struggle for liberation? How can I not be just another white woman who thinks she’s got something to say about racism? As I said to Shay (using the most popular metaphor in white women writing about racism circles these days), I feel like a kindergartner trying to write about calculus. I’m tired of listening to (people like me) try to tell us what to do, taking up space. Black and Indigenous people of color are the experts, and I’d rather listen to them.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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