From Truth Telling to Land Return: 4 Ways White People Can Work for Indigenous Justice

It’s important that when talking about Indigenous justice, we talk in specifics because of how colonization has impacted different Indigenous people in varied ways.

Waziyatawin

Waziyatawin, Ph.D.

This article will focus on the context of colonization in what we now refer to as the United States, and it is informed by the activism and expertise of one Dakota person, Waziyatawin, Ph.D.

Thus, while there are surely ways that this article can inform activism outside of this context, it should be understood to be limited in this way.

In their seminal work linking Critical Race Theory to education entitledToward a Critical Race Theory of Education, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and Dr. William F. Tate, IV explain how the United States is founded fundamentally on property rights rather than human rights.

If human rights were central to the constitution (rather than property rights), it would have been far more difficult for European colonists to continually legally justify slavery, genocide, and the theft of virtually every acre of land in North America.

Thus, the mark of success in the US constitutional system is ownership of property. Whether we’re talking abstract “assets” like stock, the ownership of people, or ownership of land, the longest-running “smart investment” for those legally and financially able to access it, property, drives wealth and prosperity in the US and most Western, capitalist societies.

As a result, any conversation about Indigenous justice threatens the positionality of all settlers — non-Indigenous people — because, in the words of Dr. Wazayatawin, “[W]ithin Indigenous worldviews, land is life. Colonization, in its fundamental sense, involved disconnecting [Indigenous people] from our homelands (so our homelands could be occupied by settlers instead).”

And in my experience, any time we start talking about land return or reparations, White folks (those settlers like myself for whom this property-based system was built) collectively freak out.

If we’re going to talk about what justice actually can and must look like, we have to start talking about the decentering of settler identities and people and about the recentering of Indigenous people and struggle — no matter how uncomfortable that may make us.

So Who Are Settlers?

If we’re going to have a conversation about what justice can actually look like, though, we need to be precise with our language.

One of the countless things I appreciate about Dr. Waziyatawin in her scholarship and activism is that she reminds us of an important distinction within very language.

Indigenous people are notably different from other oppressed people in the United States in that they are simultaneously colonized andoppressed.

As Dr. Waziyatawin puts it, “Colonization is always a form of oppression, but oppression is not always colonization… a population must have a land-base before it can be colonized.”

And that distinction is vital.

It’s not to take anything away from the distinct oppressions of settlers of Color, and surely those stolen from their lands and sold into slavery come from colonized lands and have lost their land-base in that process. But this distinction makes one thing clear: The system of colonization in which we live was built for White people, and White people are privileged above all and benefit form that system.

To understand positionality, though, is to understand, in Dr. Waziyatawin’s words, that “there are certainly varying degrees of culpability and poor, landless, oppressed people of Color have not benefitted to the same extent that White, wealthy landowners have. And, those who have come as slaves, through sex-trafficking, etc. cannot be held responsible for their presence on Indigenous lands. But free populations, even oppressed ones, are settlers on someone else’s land.”

Thus, if we are ever going to realize true anti-colonial racial and class justice,we have to understand our positionality and collaborate accountably across difference toward Indigenous liberation.

What Can White Settlers Do to Help Realize Indigenous Justice?

Notably, as the author of this piece, I am a White settler. It is not, nor should it be, my position to tell Indigenous people or settlers of Color how to engage in work for justice.

Thus, while that conversation can and should take place in coalitions of people of Color, from here forward, I will be offering suggestions, as informed by Dr. Waziyatawin, for how White settlers can work for justice.

For those of us who consider ourselves progressive, it’s not enough to, as Andrea Smith puts it in Conquest, “bemoan the genocide of Native peoples” while “implicitly [sanctioning] it by refusing to question the legitimacy of the settler nation responsible for this genocide.”

We have to act — and in doing so, we have to risk something.

1. Listen To and Call Other White Settlers to Listen to Indigenous Truth Telling

In her book What Does Justice Look Like? The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland, Dr. Waziyatawin devotes an entire chapter to the importance of Indigenous truth telling, noting “for those of us who believe in the transformative potential of education, our hope derives from the expectation that once people understand the truth, they will be compelled to act more justly.”

Sadly, though, both research and the lived experience of many marginalized and oppressed people tells us this is not quite the way things work.

In our interview, Dr. Waziyatawin even noted how her views on the role of truth telling have evolved. Particularly when people are vehemently opposed to learning a truth, truth telling can simply leave oppressed people open, vulnerable, and hurting while those of us with privilege can walk away, more resolved in our ignorance.

But that does not mean that truth telling has no place in working for justice.

For those of us striving for an accountable solidarity as settlers,acknowledging, reflecting upon, and then acting from the truths of Indigenous people are vital first steps in working for justice.

As Dr. Waziyatawin puts it, “There is righteousness and strength to be found in truth telling, as well as guidance and direction.”

2. Support and Donate Money or Land to Indigenous Land Return Efforts

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

Why Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional (And 3 Ways to Practice It)

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When Annie Lennox, legendary Scottish singer from the Eurythmics, recently declared that Beyoncé is not feminist with the statement “Listen, twerking is not feminism,” she firmly established herself as a representative for White feminism.

What is “White feminism?” We’ll let Cate fromBattyMamzelle define it for you:

“White feminism is a set of beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of color. It is ‘one size-fits all’ feminism, where middle class White women are the mold that others must fit. It is a method of practicing feminism, not an indictment of every individual White feminist, everywhere, always.”

Now, Lennox likely doesn’t think of herself as a White feminist, but by referring to Beyoncé’s feminism and expression as “disturbing,” “exploitative,” and “troubling,” she expressed the politic many White feminists are known for advancing: “Feminism must look like we want it to look, or it’s not feminism.”

It’s usually not that overt, and most White feminists would deny that this is what’s being said or done, but you notice it in more subtle comments like “Why do you have to divide us by bringing up race?” or “Are Trans women really women? There should be a distinction.”

In the face of calls for a more intersectional feminism, there are even White feminists who claim the whole concept of intersectionality is just academic jargon that doesn’t connect with the real world.

Yet the irony seems lost on some feminists who make these claims while staunchly opposingthe language of “humanism” in place of “feminism.”

Source: Rosalarian

Simply put, it’s not those who are calling for a feminism that is responsive to the specific issues they face that are being divisive. It’s those of us who refuse to acknowledge the need for an intersectional ethic in feminism.

What Is Intersectionality?

It makes sense in many ways that those of us with identity privilege would have a harder time including in our feminism those who are oppressed. Privilege conceals itself from those who have it, and it’s a lot easier to focus on the ways that we are marginalized or oppressed.

But without an intersectional lens, our movements cannot be truly anti-oppressive because it is not, in fact, possible to tease apart the oppressions that people are experiencing. Racism for women of color cannot be separated from their gendered oppression. A Trans person with a disability cannot choose which part of their identity is most in need of liberation.

Yet there is regularly confusion about what intersectionality really is.

Renowned law scholar and critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced the term in 1989 in her paper “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics.”

She noted that “problems of exclusion” of Black women from both mainstream anti-racist politics and feminist theory “cannot be solved simply by including Black women in an already established analytical structure. Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.”

While her immediate focus was on the intersections of race and gender, Crenshaw highlights in “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color” that her “focus on the intersections of race and gender only highlight the need to account for multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed.”

In short, intersectionality is a framework that must be applied to all social justice work, a frame that recognizes the multiple aspects of identity that enrich our lives and experiences and that compound and complicate oppressions and marginalizations.

We cannot separate multiple oppressions, for they are experienced and enacted intersectionally.

Thus, in the words of Flavia Dzodan, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”

Understanding Intersectionality in Context

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

cosby

On Cosby, Rape Culture, and Accountability: Change Is My Responsibility

anacronAnacron is a singer, rapper, and multi-instrumentalist with two decades professional experience in the recording industry. When he’s not performing on tour or delivering University-level music business lectures, he’s an experiential educator in his hometown of Los Angeles, specializing in facilitating progressions for team building and leadership programming. http://anacron.LA

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TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL VIOLENCE

A few days ago, several of my closest homies and I were conversing and clowning as we typically do, delving through discussion of recent news and happenings as it relates to and affects us; a group of almost-young, artistic, educated, cultured, and employed Black-American men.

After an in-depth and deeply involved interaction on the unsurprising indictment dismissals for police that murder men like us, we then tap-danced hurriedly through a brief discussion around the other “hot button” issue concerning and creating an uninvited and often counter-productive buzz around people of Color in the media right now.
cosbyWe hit the topic with vigor, via the naturally obvious segue of differential treatment and judgement from both media and public. We noted that as with those lost indictment opportunities, blatant racism was an obvious source for the unfair treatment of, and response to allegations made against, the popular Black figurehead at the center of this traveling media circus.  We spoke, of course, of the Bill Cosby rape scandal.

Back In The Day

I grew up in a Black middle-class home during the 80’s. My father was a superstar sociologist at one of the top universities in the country, while my mother was the director of public health for an entire city, inciting progress in leaps and bounds. I had two beautiful, intelligent, and charismatic sisters, and I was the artsy and outgoing baby of our socially atypical Black family.

For all intents and purposes, we were the real-life Huxtables, a fact that many of my friends from single parent homes would jokingly poke fun at by calling my mom “Claire” at any chance they could. My experience, in many ways, brought me much closer than the casual viewer to the Huxtable family and their clever, funny-face making father.

Maybe it was the nostalgic memories of this reality that prompted my own initial and immediate “yeah, right” upon hearing about the resurfacing and new accusations of rape made against Bill Cosby. Maybe it was the image of a frozen-treat loving funny guy that had been established and developed over the course of 5 decades that sparked insensitive comments like “those chicks weren’t even cute” from voices in conversation with my pals.

Maybe it was the impending media-wide attack on one of Hollywood’s limited representations of intelligent and successful Black men that cued the colorful conspiracy theory one of my buddies offered up, which was too far-fetched for me to even consider. Maybe.

Then again, maybe it was something more, something rooted in the rape culture deeply ingrained into the American society that I am regularly, regrettably, influenced by and contributing to.

Not more than several days following that inappropriately humorous group chat, something caught my eye while surfing the web. Beverly Johnson’s first-hand account of her encounter with Cosby had apparently become the rage of the day, and suddenly I was interested. Why in the world would this successful celebrity, someone who had nothing to gain by becoming a part of this media whirlwind, forgo her privacy at risk of judgment and scrutiny?

I stopped everything and took the time to read her account, linking through accordingly to a related article detailing Janice Dickinson’s similar brush with Bill. I marveled at the fact that these women, with whom I was only connected through their appearances as guest judges on America’s Next Top Model, had instantly validated the collective attempted/completed rape claims for me.

A Shared Moment of Shame

It took no more that a moment to realize that I’d just participated in something that I generally pride myself on being well removed from: the great American pastime of succumbing to celebrity influence. A spark of clarity flashed somewhere in my mind, and I regrettably recognized that I’d also leaned into something far worse; the pattern of dismissal, disbelief, and victim-blaming that perpetuate and enable the cycle of rape culture that exists in our society.

As any well-behaved and civilized social networker would do, I promptly emblazoned my artist pages with this moment of self-critique, in hopes that it might cue similar realization for others:

Not sure what to say about this #BillCosby drama… Other than I’m terribly ashamed I didn’t pay attention and doubted there was any validity to any of the stories until “relevant” or “familiar” celebrities like Beverly Johnson and Janice Dickinson got involved. How embarrassingly pathetic and terribly pop-culture-consumer-American of me.

It sucks to come to an internal realization that my own reaction to these accusations mirrors the typical response that most abuse victims face; “whatever,” “you’re just looking for attention,” or “she’s just making it up.” Normally, I speak out against this type of persecution and vilification of a potential victim; but today, it’s been both confusing and disappointing to find myself falling into the exact same pattern of behavior that not only perpetuates, but enables the rape culture that exists within our modern society.

This has been for me what my good friend & amazing experiential education facilitator Michelle would refer to as a “learning opportunity”, and I’m only sharing in hopes that my own experience might serve as such for others as well.

When Rape Hits Close To Home

Only a couple days after this moment of introspection, I became absolutely infuriated as one of my closest, strongest female friends revealed to me that she had recently been raped. It was painfully obvious through our discussion that the emotional and psychological scars left behind from her horrifying experience with a man she was dating, a man she had trusted, were rightfully still very fresh.

As the society defined and assigned “Man” in me wanted to vindicate her, seek revenge, be the aggressor and protector; I found myself almost on autopilot, asking why she hadn’t told me about it sooner. The reasoning in her answer, much like my ultimately unimportant question, was almost textbook in relation to the patterns that we’ve established as a norm in our society when dealing with rape.

She was afraid. She was confused. She blamed herself. She didn’t want to create a “scene” in the circle to which she and this predator both belonged. All of these things that had seemed so unrealistic when expressed by complete strangers in regards to a rich and famous man became autonomously valid when coming from a directly valued and loved personal connection.

My experiences and relationships have inserted a constant state of hypocrisy into my life, an ongoing internal battle to find balance between right and wrong, fair or unjust. My parents raised me to be respectful and understanding towards women, no matter what. The hip hop and gang cultures that I chose to be a part of while growing up taught me that it’s okay to disregard and dehumanize women.

As my daughter has matured, I’ve become increasingly aware of and intent on changing the messages regarding women that I convey through my own music. I’m a man that can admit to having objectified, womanized, disrespected, and otherwise abused the rights and liberties of women. I’m the son, brother, father, and friend that desperately hopes the women in my life will never have and/or have had to experience what those at the center of the Cosby saga have been challenged to endure, both at the hands of a predator and the public.

Ending Rape Culture is Up to Me

I’m not proud of the ways I’ve mistreated women and overlooked their rights over the course of my life, nor do I seek to justify my actions by rattling off a list of societal and environmental influences as to why I’ve made the choices to do so. At the same time, I refuse to beat myself up for my transgressions against the fair and just treatment of women, because I don’t see that as either constructive or productive.

The question then, is simple: How do I become more understanding of and empathetic to the experience of female rape victims?

How will I help to write the guidelines that lead current and future generations of men and boys to dispel the stigmas associated with rape survivors and victims?

How can I, a man, proactively fight the patterns that normalize misogynistic practices and desensitize all of us to the horror and severity of rape?

The notion of even asking these questions aloud makes me scoff, reminding me too much of the ironic absurdity behind a White liberal asking Blacks what they can do to help fight racism.

I believe that as with many of the major changes that need to happen in our modern society, the change needs to begin within each individual. It has nothing to do with creating awareness, blogging, posting, sharing, or tweeting. It has nothing to do with protesting, fighting, marching, or inciting revolutions.

I Am A Work In Progress

Sometimes the answer is as simple as saying, “I am responsible for ME.” I don’t identify myself as a male feminist, a female rights activist, or some kind of superhero here to save all women. I’m an imperfect guy with many of the same faults and flaws as the next man struggling to live within the bounds of what’s fair and good. However, instead of making excuses, self-deprecating, or asking questions, I try my best to focus on making progress, initiating self-realization and improvement, and sharing the answers and insights that I discover through my own journey towards getting right.

I continually try to make conscious efforts to identify and acknowledge the moments at which I fail to give women the equal and appropriate respect that they deserve. I often strive to consider the impact of my actions, and attempt to appropriately assume responsibility for the ideas that my choices might relay to others. I regularly work to reassess, learn, change, and grow every day. First and above all else, and possibly the most effective step that every man can make towards abolishing our global culture of sexual violence and the victimization, objectification, domination, and oppression of women and their bodies: I don’t rape.

Everyday Feminism

Abusive ‘Feminist’ Men Exist – Here Are 6 Things Men Can Do to Stop Them

The first time a woman told me she distrusted me because I’m a man, she tried to explain that it wasn’t personal, that she’s not been given many reasons to trust me (or any man for that matter). She said she’s especially skeptical of me because I called myself a feminist.

That last part really threw me for a loop. She didn’t even really know me! And I’m a good guy!

Fast-forward a few years and how can I blame her? Male “feminist” allies have a history of abusing women’s trust.

For fear of making the movement look bad, the male “allies” of the Occupy Wall Street movement stood silent when multiple women came forward after having been sexually assaulted by other “Occupiers.”

After being lauded and defended by many (including myself) as a model for how to be a better man, Hugo Schwyzer was exposed to be a racist, abusive liar (as if many women of Color hadn’t been saying so all along).

Charles Clymer has been exposed as abusive and self-serving as he attempts to brand himself a “feminist” hero of some kind.

And this is nothing new!

There are stories going back to every era of the feminist movement — stories of men talking the talk of feminism, gaining trust, and using that trust to hurt, abuse, and act in profoundly anti-feminist ways.

It’s easy to criticize the misogyny of the MRAs or the PUAs. But how often do we turn the lens around?

When considering how often people like me (cisgender men who call ourselves “pro-feminist” or “feminist”) act in anti-feminist ways, I finally understand the distrust. After all, if those of us who fashion ourselves “allies” are unwilling to expose abusers, why should we be trusted?

Our role is not to be out front in the movement.

Our role needs to be to work with other male-identified people to uproot male supremacy and to transform what it means to be a man. And the place where we need to start is with other feminist/pro-feminist men.

Here are six simple (though often incredibly difficult) things we need to do starting right now.

1. Listen to Women, Trans, and Gender Non-Conforming People

Sometimes I feel like a broken record in my writing, as I cannot say often enough how important it is for privileged people to listen. But I will say it again.

One of the foundations of effective ally work is listening to those who are impacted by oppression.

By starting with listening more and believing those impacted by oppression in what they’re telling us, we center the truths that we cannot every fully know.

And listening will go a long way in understanding what behaviors we need to expose and talk about with other men, particularly those behaviors so subtle and subconscious that we miss or ignore them.

2. Pay Attention to Intersectionality

In order to actually understand the harm done by male abusers, let alone male abusers who carry the feminist flag, we need to understand others and ourselves intersectionally.

If we’re going to call in other men, we need to recognize our positionality as informed by race, sexual identity, wealth, and other aspects of identity.

I once tweeted, “God, can he just go away forever!?” in response to something misogynistic Chris Brown had done. My friend Emiliano, a man I greatly admire and from whom I’ve learned a lot, tweeted something to the effect of “Jamie, I hear you, but please consider the implications of a White man calling for the disappearance of a Black man in the US.”

He was absolutely right. As a man striving to be an ally to women, I have a responsibility to call out male violence against women. But if I do so in ways that reinforce racism, I’m no intersectional ally.

Similarly, it’s a wholly different thing for me to call out a transgender person (regardless of how they identify) than it is for me to call out another cisgender man.

Does this mean that I cannot call in/out a transgender person? Absolutely not. After all, I know a few trans people who toe the MRA line.

I just need to consider my privilege and positionality in how I call someone to do better.

3. Start with Yourself

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

Whites Talking to Whites: moving beyond anti-racism and privilege

Jamie Utt:

Powerful reflections on race, Whiteness, privilege, and anti-racism from my friend Ryan.

Originally posted on Form Follows Function:

* this is a section of a larger work which will be published in 2015.

download

I think it was my junior year in college. I was already hot over something, I can’t remember what exactly now, but I know it was not a good time for me to be taught anything about privilege. I remember my voice being horse from all the yelling. I was on the phone with my girlfriend who was a junior at the University of Minnesota and she was explaining white privilege and systems of domination to me. I was clearly not trying to hear it. I went to Hamline University with a bunch of wealthy bougie people that constantly judged me for being working class; they were privileged, not me. How could I be privileged when I was being laughed at for having to use a bungee cord to hold my trunk down? How could…

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“We Can’t Breathe!” SD Senate Candidate’s Super Racist Appropriation of Black Struggle

So . . . This morning a friend forwarded me the following email from recently-defeated Democratic South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland‘s senate campaign, subject line reading “We can’t breathe!!!!

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Did you get that? A wealthy, White man from South Dakota is appropriating the language of the current Black struggle for liberation to raise money to pay off the debt from his recent senate campaign.

Let me just highlight a few lines for you:

“Men of color are not the only ones they have in a choke-hold — now they’ve got all of us — and its way past time to tell them none of us can breathe!” (bolded emphasis theirs)

“Emboldened by the Obama-haters they just elected, Wall Street is readying the nooses for Obamacare and Dodd-Frank.” (emphasis mine)

Seriously?

SERIOUSLY!?

Now I would hope I don’t need to explain why this is so, so messed up, but just in case someone reading this is thinking, “What’s the problem! It’s an apt metaphor! Police are killing people of Color in this country just like Republicans are trying to kill Obamacare,” let me break this down a bit.

We as White people don’t get to appropriate the struggles of people of Color, struggles that for them are literally life or death, to serve our personal or political agendas! We don’t get to conjure images of lynching nooses to scare our fellow White people into giving us money!

This is a lot like changing “Black Lives Matter” to “All Lives Matter,” except perhaps this is worse because a White person is appropriating the language of this struggle struggle to raise money!

The “I Can’t Breathe!” language refers to a Black man having the life choked out of him by a racist police officer backed by a racist system, and we’re going to use that language to serve our political agendas?

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Rick Weiland

Rick, the thing is that you and I CAN breathe. We aren’t facing the daily threat to our existence. In fact, we benefit daily from the systems that endanger Black, Brown, and Indigenous lives in this country. So we don’t get to say, “now they’ve got all of us” because that’s a flat-out lie!

White Democrats, you may have noticed that this anger is non-partisan. The governor of Missouri who did everything in his power to protect Darren Wilson from prosecution is a Democrat. This Rick Weiland character is a Democrat!

The investment in Whiteness at the expense of the lives of people of Color that these examples belie is a non-partisan investment.

And enough is enough.

This is White privilege on display, thinking that everything is ours for the taking, even the language a struggle for freedom from the racist systems that WE created and maintain. And we as White folks have to let our fellow White people know that this is unacceptable.

Take Action

So please. Take a minute to use Twitter or Facebook or email info@rickweiland.com to let Rick Weiland and his campaign know that this is not just an irresponsible use of language. This is racist appropriation, and it has to stop.

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The Wages of Whiteness: How Ferguson Calls On White People to Regain Our Humanity

11/24/14
White people, we face a choice.

We can choose to continue to invest in White supremacy and in doing so, surrender our humanity.

Or we can choose to divest from Whiteness.

You see, Whiteness is not our skin color. Whiteness is not “stuff White people like.” Whiteness is not our families or our culture. Whiteness is a system that was created by people who look like us for the sole purpose of consolidating power in the hands of a few.

Whiteness is the system that has, for hundreds of years, instilled in us the ideology of White supremacy to keep our people from investing in common struggle with people of Color.

Whiteness and White supremacy are at the same time not real, total social constructions, and completely real, as they inspire us to take up for a system that dehumanizes everyone.

Whiteness is the system that ensures when a White man guns down an unarmed Black teen in the street, there won’t even be a trial, and we will defend it behind keyboards and white sheets.

Whiteness and White supremacy dehumanize everyone.

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A Sign Held by a Protester in Ferguson, MO

Of course, Whiteness and White supremacy do not dehumanize me in the ways that they dehumanize people of Color. That is a dehumanization we can never understand.

But as I look at the vile racism and White supremacy splashed across my social media feeds tonight, I hurt out of empathy for the parents of every Black child in this country. But my hurt is also more than that. I hurt because I also see what racism does to us, what it does to me and those White people I love.

Racism robs us of our ability to feel, to empathize, to hurt in the face of injustice.

Without those things, are we still human?

Whiteness dehumanizes us as it demands that we give up that part of ourselves that should have said, “This is wrong” when the “no indictment” verdict came back.

I posted a tweet last night that made a lot of White people mad:

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But it’s true. This is not hyperbole. Maybe you don’t consider yourself a White supremacist. Maybe you even believe you’re “colorblind” (excuse the too-common, ableist term).

But in the words of W.E.B. Du Bois, “A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.

So when you defend this system and its decision that so blatantly devalues Black life and protects the interests of Whiteness, you defend White supremacy. And in doing so, you sacrifice part of your humanity.

We face a choice: continue to invest in that which dehumanizes everyone or stand on the side of justice, and in doing so, risk regaining our humanity.

What are you willing to give? What are you willing to give up?

When I was in Ferguson and St. Louis last month, the refrain about White people’s role in this movement was clear.

One Black elder put it this way, “It’s great that you’re in the streets and all. There are a lot of White people here at this march. But at the end of the day, what are you saying to engage the person wearing the ‘I am Darren Wilson’ t-shirt? What are you doing to engage White people who would never come out here? That’s what we need you to do.”

This sentiment was expressed by nearly every person of Color I talked to: White people, get your people.

In by far the most powerful of these conversations that I had while in Ferguson, my friend Arielle from the brilliant Black Millennial Musings stressed that White people have to be willing to sacrifice by divesting from Whiteness and by calling in our own people if we are going to ever truly act in solidarity.

In short, we have to ask ourselves this: What am I willing to give? What am I willing to give up?

Are we willing to give of our energy, our time, our heartfelt passion to engage other White people in ending White supremacy?

Are we willing to give up our silence that so protects us and shields us and showers on us the privileges of Whiteness? Are we willing to stop paying the wages of Whiteness and regain our humanity?

What are we willing to give? What are we willing to give up?

It’s Time to Choose

The movement in Ferguson stands as but one iteration of a movement, one that is not going away. This movement is led by young Black, Brown, Asian, Arab, and Indigenous youth from Palestine to Tibet to Paris, New York, and Ferguson. This movement is led by the youth that our economy and its “recovery” were never built for.

This movement is led by young cisgender and Transgender men and women and gender non-conforming people. This movement is led by Queer youth, and it’s led by youth with every ability and disability in this human experience.

And this movement demands that we as White people choose.

We are no longer offered the choice of silence. In fact, we never were. Silence is consent in a system of White supremacy. We simply fooled ourselves into thinking our silence protected us from complicity.

We can choose to continue investing in the systems of Whiteness and White supremacy.

Or we can choose to divest from Whiteness and its poisonous ideology.

But we have to choose.

4 Ways We Can Choose to Divest from Whiteness and White Supremacy

1. We choose to divest from White supremacy when we lend our support, financial or otherwise, to those leading this movement. Do it right now. Send a paypal donation in whatever amount you can afford to MillennialAU@gmail.com, or donate to Lost Voices through their website.

2. We choose to divest from Whiteness when we show up. As a dear friend Lex recently pointed out, if we show up to the tune of 10,000 for an internet cat video festival, we surely can show up in the streets for justice. Lex put it this way this morning on social media:

“If you don’t usually go to rallies or protests, and your body is able to, I invite you to call up some courage today and join a beautiful crowd of people calling for justice. Being in the streets together is powerful, it’s healing, and it’s what we have to do in response to racism, injustice and violence.”

3. We choose to divest from White Supremacy when we act, when we engage in systems change that holds police accountable for racist violence. For those of us with access (as a result of wealth or connections), there is a need to press mayors, city council members, alderman, police chiefs, public prosecutors, and other local power holders for change.  When they ignore you (and they likely will), keep contacting them. Set up meetings, and email them regularly.

When you reach out, here are a few specific, measurable things you can call for:

  • Demand Police Body Cameras – We live in an age that allows incredible surveillance of police behavior for accountability purposes, but only a small minority of police forces prioritize the technology for this accountability. Body cameras, a simple and inexpensive addition to the police uniform, have been found to reduce incidents of excessive police force by as much as 50% where used. Costing as little as $199 per officer (plus hosting and transmission costs), this not only can reduce the violence committed and protect citizens from violence, but it can protect police who are doing their jobs legitimately.  Plus, limiting police brutality also ensures that cities don’t need to pay out millions in settlements in civil suits, so if you’re talking to someone who values tax savings over considerations of human life (yes, they exist), you can show how cameras actually save tax payers money.
  • Demand Accountable Civilian Review – Having cameras and accountability procedures is ineffective unless there is a legitimate and empowered civilian review authority with actual teeth to hold police accountable. After all, when footage from body cameras or dash cameras is held and stored by police, it’s far too easy for footage to conveniently disappear (“Oh, that camera was malfunctioning that day”) when there’s an incident of police violence. Thus, if your city doesn’t have a civilian review authority with actual teeth, demand one. The local police union will fight to ensure it is ineffective, but civilian review from members of the community most affected is a powerful tool for change.
  • Demand Independent Police Liability Insurance – Currently city governments are on the hook financially when their police officers brutalize citizens, yet police unions are powerful enough that local politicians rarely hold police accountable.  However, insurance companies that care about their bottom line would have no problem holding police accountable when they abuse their authority.  Thus, a simple thing to demand in your municipality is for police to be required to pay for their own liability insurance as a condition of employment in the police department. If they brutalize citizens and end up losing a suit, the insurance companies will make it quite expensive to hold insurance or will drop the officer completely, thus ensuring that the person can no longer be employed as a police officer in your city. Simply put, hit them in the pocket book to hold police accountable. Learn about the movement in Minneapolis to require police to purchase their own insurance.

4. Lastly, we choose to divest from Whiteness when we break the cycle of socialization that passes White supremacy down throughout our generations. When you gather for a meal, call your family in to discuss the ways we are complicit in racism. And engage them in talking about what we can do about it.

This means that we can’t just act like we’re the “best White person” and callously call out those White folks in our families who say racist stuff (no matter how good that may feel). We have to choose the “less disposable way of holding each other accountable” by calling one another in to realize change.

Whatever it looks like, we have to choose to divest.

For if we don’t, we risk further distancing ourselves from our own humanity in order to gain the simple privileges of this system that benefits us in so many other ways.