We white liberals need to face our internalized racism

As a white liberal/progressive, my racism is complicated. Everything in my background has always been about being not-racist. I’ve asked former high school classmates if they remember ever hearing the N-word or overtly racist things, and as far as anyone can remember, we didn’t. I certainly never heard such things in my family. Our cultural norms were built on the certainty that racism was bad, racists were bad, and we were not going to be racist.

In hindsight, I suspect I probably did come across overtly racist talk in social settings but I imagine I would’ve felt so uncomfortable that I would’ve wanted to ignore it. My racism was passive and has required intense denial. Mostly, though, I think it’s likely that hearing overtly racist talk among my white peers from my childhood into my adult years was very rare.

Part of that was probably that in my circles (especially my family), we spent time actively trying to assist in social justice work. My father’s church in the 1980s was in Hartford, Conn., in a mostly Black and Latinx neighborhood with devastating poverty and one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. He was involved in community organizing, helping to found the Asylum Hill Organizing Project. As a child and as a teen, I participated in community organizing events. We marched and we boycotted. I’m not mentioning this to say we deserve a pat on the back. What I’m saying is that being not-racist was absolutely essential to my identity. Being racist was not who we were, in my mind. That was the other people. The bad white people.

So many white people I know now have similar backgrounds. So many of us spent a lot of energy focusing on how bad being racist is rather than on the impact racism has. In fact, to be “not racist” in our liberal/progressive way, I believe we have had to pretend things weren’t actually as bad as they were or are. As soon as we start seeing that the racism we live with—I’m talking about the systemic and institutionalized racism, not personal bigotry—benefitted us tremendously, it gets really complicated. We needed to look away, or we’d have to see that we aren’t who we thought we were.

Some of the harms we white liberal/progressives cause are so deep because we want to be not racist. It’s ironic, maybe, that because in our hearts we so honestly and desperately want equality and even authentic equity for all people, that we avoid our own part in racism. I can’t be sure that my own experience would be similar for you, my fellow white liberals/progressives, but my gut tells me it might be. I want to tell you there is freedom on the other side of facing what might exist in you as it has existed in me.

I have not shed my own personal racism entirely, and I absolutely still benefit from whiteness and from the many institutions in our society that assume the worst of Black and brown-bodied people. As I practice facing and cleaning away my racism—the personal bigotry I thought I didn’t have when I was focused on being “not racist”—I’ve found the truth of sincerely wanting equality and equity for all people remains.

It takes effort, but I regularly clear out racist garbage. For example, to this day when I hear “arrest rates are higher for Black and brown people” I have flashes of the thought “they must commit more crime” despite knowing that’s a lie. I have to check myself frequently to see if I’m filtering things to make them seem less racist. I use meditation/mindfulness and other spiritual tools to face my internalized racism that I had been denying and, though it regularly tries to sneak back in, I usually catch it and get it out of me. Now, my desire for racial justice is stronger and clearer and includes more actions and is, therefore, more effective. It’s better this way. It’s better for everyone. I’m still a part of the problem, but I’m also actively working to be a part of the solutions.

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Guns and white supremacy: Regulating one won’t end the other

Right quick:

If you are looking to end white supremacy, regulating guns is not the answer. Yes, obviously, guns should be highly regulated, but white supremacy is not contingent on the legality of guns. If you could go back in time and erase guns from this country’s history, Black Wall Street would still be gone. Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Heather Heyer and countless victims before, in between and since would all still have been murdered. Hate will find a way.

Guns and white supremacy are intertwined, but two different issues. Just look at Switzerland. That country has a whole lot of guns, but nowhere near the level of gun violence that we have here in America. That’s because there is a deep cultural difference between Switzerland and the USA: white supremacy. I’m not saying that Switzerland doesn’t have racism. It absolutely does, but unlike the USA, white supremacy is not the foundation, cornerstone, and lead paint under the cheap vinyl siding of Switzerland. The Swiss essentially view themselves as one people. That view combined with their general sense of patriotism means that they look at their guns as a means to protect each other from outside forces, whereas we Americans look at our guns as a means to protect ourselves from each other—or most often as a means to protect whiteness from the rest of us.

What makes this so confusing is that white supremacy is the spider’s web that links almost every other social issue. For example, white supremacy was the means by which a private citizen unprecedentedly forced a sitting president to publicly display his birth certificate. It was white supremacy that (in one way and another) then appointed that white supremacist, private citizen to the presidency. Because of that white supremacist appointment, the rights of women and trans people and gay people and literally everyone (and I mean everyone) in the country are now being dismantled if not absolutely shredded.

That white supremacist web is growing, being weaved faster than ever as the president’s words inspire killings, his policies spread oppression, and his administration deliberately disregards white supremacy in its entirety. And it’s blocking even the most common-sense gun legislation.

So, again, if you are looking to end white supremacy, regulating guns is not the answer. But if you’re looking to stop the violence in this country, ending white supremacy will go a long way.

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Photo by Max Kleinen on Unsplash

From ‘Where are you from’ to ‘Go back where you came from’

White America has always been very good about telling people they don’t belong, since before there was even a United States of America. Let’s face it: This country started with colonists and then expansionists telling the Indigenous People who had been here for millennia forming societies and mastering agriculture and art and more that they weren’t as worthy of the land and its resources as the white people who had just “discovered” that land.

And now we live in a time when people who have been living in this country since they were very young children or even babies are rounded up and kicked out because they aren’t “officially” citizens, even though they’ve been everything and done everything a citizen does and don’t know any other home. When brown people who are citizens and have birth certificates and driver’s licenses to prove it are rounded up and threatened with deportation to countries they don’t come from and sometimes held in concentration camps for weeks. When other brown people who haven’t been here as long but do the jobs we need done that white people won’t do (like pick all those fruits and vegetables and process those chickens we need to live) are also rounded up because they aren’t citizens—never mind that we rely on them and they are every bit the productive American regardless of citizenship.

And if I’m going to keep it real, it’s not just about all those “suspicious” maybe-not-really-citizens-because-they’re-Latinx folks either. It’s about people like me, too—Black people—who have been part of this country since our ancestors were dragged here as enslaved people. Even if we couldn’t rise from “property” to “citizen” until a relatively short number of generations ago. We are part and parcel of this messed-up country. We were forced to help build it and here in 2019 we are still pushed down and held back so that white people can have someone to look down on and abuse.

But somehow we still don’t belong.

This has all been on my mind a bit more heavily than usual since some incidents recently that I tweeted about in venting mode last week. Fortunately, no local media types decided to turn it into an article like they did with that other recent story of mine that I was just venting about on Twitter but wasn’t even sure I’d blog about because it’s so common in my life and other Black people’s lives.

But honestly, in Trump’s America, our increasingly fascist nation, it does need to be addressed, so let me go on about addressing it, shall I?

In the span of just a few days, here’s what I’ve dealt with as a Black woman in America:

  • I go to my favorite local breakfast spot alone. Like I always do when I’m solo, I sit at the counter. Next to me is a white woman, who visibly and dramatically turns up her nose at the sight of me, like she’s a damn character in a melodrama, and very quickly leaves without finishing her food.
  • I’m out having drinks with a friend I haven’t seen in a while, and I notice a white woman giving me dirty looks. My friend, who has the white male jackpot of privilege, even notices it, to the point of commenting that “yeah, she is mad-mugging you” and proceeds to mad-mug right back at her, until the escalation of dirty looks finally makes her back down.
  • I’m at the same watering hole where I got confronted by that Florida racist a few weeks ago, and some Gen-X or earlier white dude asks where I’m from. When I say “here” he insists on asking, “No, where were you born?” to which I respond “The South Side of Chicago” not only to be honest but in the hopes that he knows that song about bad, bad Leroy Brown and backs off before he catches hands from me or someone else.

OK, sure, these things aren’t as dramatic as being one of dozens of little Hispanic children who come home to find your parents have been rounded up and disappeared by ICE like some re-enactment of Nazi Germany, like happened just this past week too. But they are important to note and to bring to your attention if you’re a white person who doesn’t realize how bad things are getting.

I’ve always had to deal with micro-aggressions like this (and they often don’t feel very “micro” when they happen among a lot of white people and you’re the only Black person and you might actually be in danger), but the flavor is different now.

Since moving to Maine, I am accustomed to (NOT immune to or unaffected by it, mind ya) having people treat me like I don’t belong. This is one of the two whitest states in the nation. And especially during tourist season, I notice an increase in people glancing at me funny as though to say, “Why are you here; they told me there would only be white people here during my vacation.”

Even the famously and supposedly polite Canadians who like to visit during the summer do this to me and to other Black people here.

But with these three so-obvious incidents in the span of a couple days—which follow shortly after that incident with the guy from Florida—I can tell things are different. It’s not just that it is happening more frequently. People are more bold about it.

In the atmosphere that Trump has created, white people who weren’t all that fond of people of color (POC) in “their” spaces are feeling emboldened. They are very direct, very confrontational now and very threatening—menacing even. Actually dangerous in more cases now. They don’t feel like they have to hold their racism in anymore—not that they’d tolerate you calling them racist as they do racist things.

Make no mistake: White people overall, even the well-meaning ones, tend to think of all spaces as theirs. They feel entitled to access (over and above the needs/wants of POC). They feel entitled to dictate the rules of engagement (especially to POC). They feel entitled to challenge you (if you are POC and dare to mention any of these things as being problematic).

The very idea of turning up your nose as if I am vermin is awful. The idea of trying to stare me down in a public place while I am minding my own business with a friend is awful. The idea of questioning whether I am from America just because I’m not white when you not only don’t know me but these are your very first words to me—and then insisting even when I say I’m from here that I must originally be from somewhere else—is awful.

These are the things white people do to tell you that if you are Black or Brown, you don’t belong here. Even if you were born here, you really don’t have the same entitlement to rights and freedom here. No matter how successful you are, you are beneath me. You are OTHER.

White nationalist violence against people of color picked up in response to Barack Obama’s presidency because blackness suddenly was seen as a major threat to many Americans. It picked up even more when Donald Trump starting campaigning on a platform of racism and then turned the White House into white supremacy HQ. The hatred that is condoned from on high and that is enforced so violently, evilly and publicly with the ever-expanding powers of ICE and other law enforcement agencies gone wild makes the rank-and-file racist white people feel like they can dictate to me and challenge me. And other Black and Brown people.

It’s not right. And even if you want to say they have a right to express their feelings, however wrong…or if you want to say, “Why should they have to bottle up their feelings if you complain about having to bottle up yours to fit in”…well let me tell you something. People of color spend their whole lives mostly having to deal with white people all around them, at work and teaching them in school and policing their neighborhoods and doing what they want with communities of color. We have to bottle stuff up constantly just to survive and not be persecuted. White people occasionally have to deal with a little color in their white spaces and might feel some kind of way, but it passes quickly and they end up back in safe and controlled spaces often enough.

White people sometimes have to push down their feelings of racism and not let them show. Black people and other POC always have to think about what they are doing and resist saying things they want to say just to keep the peace. Which do you think is harder? Why do you think so many Black people die earlier than white people because of stress-related illness?

No, it’s time for pushing back. It’s time for racist white people to get some dirty looks in return. Some nasty comments. It’s time for some of them to maybe catch some hands and get bruised for their behavior. It’s time for those white people to stuff the racism back down and pretend they don’t have a problem with me because I do belong here. Whether I always love this country and what it does or not, I belong here. This is my place too. And don’t you forget it.

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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