10 Ways Well-Meaning White Teachers Bring Racism Into Our Schools


This post was originally published at Everyday Feminism.

Teachers are some of my favorite people in the world. I mean I really love teachers! They tend to be enthusiastic about changing society, and more often than not, they care so deeply about their work and their students. What’s not to like?

As a former teacher myself, I feel so very fortunate to meet teachers from all over the United States in my work. Despite all of the BS that teachers have to deal with in our political climate, they remain optimistic about the state of education, which honestly blows my mind.

It is from this place of love that I work with teachers to help them improve their practice. And with the realities of the “education debt” and considering that 80% of our teachers are Whitewhile nearly half (and growing) of our students are youth of Color, part of improving teaching practice means paying more critical attention to race in our schools.

Though I know there are actively racist teachers out there, most White teachers mean well and have no intention of being racist. Yet as people who are inscribed with Whiteness, it is possible for us to act in racist ways no matter our intentions. Uprooting racism from our daily actions takes a lifetime of work.

Thus, as we head into the first weeks of school all over the US, here are 10 ways that White teachers introduce racism into our schools paired with things we can do instead.

1. Lowering or Raising Achievement Expectations Based on Race/Ethnicity

It’s probably best to start with one of the more common and obvious ways that racism can enter teaching practice: our expectations of student ability and achievement.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are constantly inundated with racist messaging about what students can and can’t achieve.

Whether we see media narratives about the math prodigy Asian students or the “ghetto” Black students who are reading 5 grade levels behind, we end up getting pretty clear messages long before we start teaching about what our student can handle.

In my own teaching, I know that I had a hard time actually teaching my students within theirZPDs because I was told from before I even started teaching that they simply weren’t capable of writing complex papers about world events. But they could! All it took was coordinated effort from multiple teachers pushing them as hard as we could!

We know that the expectations students are held to often correlate less to their ability than their race and class, so what should we do about it?

What to Do Instead

First, we need to spend some serious time reflecting about our own internalized biases. We all have them (not sure about yours? Consider taking this test!). And if we are working to understand our biases, then we can begin to mitigate their effects.

Second, we need to be sure that we are using effective, non-culturally-biased measures to determine student ability and to push them to their zones of proximal development. By making sure we are basing the ways we push our students in data drawn from legitimate (if limiting)measures, we can hopefully use that data to check some of our own biases.

2.  Being ‘Race Neutral’ Rather than Culturally Responsive

In my work with teachers, I sometimes meet teachers who claim that they “don’t see Color,” both in naïve attempts to be “progressive” but also in an ill-advised attempt to avoid tracking students based on race/ethnicity.

But our students don’t need a “race neutral” approach to their education.

There is endless research about how students of all races need a culturally responsive education; it’s just that White students who have White teachers are far more likely to receive one.

Culturally responsive teaching is not just a box that we can check with simple changes to curriculum. Instead, it is a pedagogical shift that all teachers must work to cultivate over the course of a career, one that works its way into every aspect of how we teach.

Part of culturally responsive teaching also demands that we not simply focus on the races of our students but, instead, turn the lens on our own racial identity.

Race neutrality lends itself to defensiveness to the ways Whiteness and racism are problematic in our teaching.

Cultural responsiveness demands that we do the difficult work of exploring a different way of being White, one where we see our liberation as bound up with that of our students and their families.

What to Do Instead

Start by reading the amazing literature on culturally responsive teaching, looking to Geneva Gay, Beverly Daniel Tatum, and Gary Howard for starters.

And get creative! One of the most amazing things I see in teachers is the wonderful imagination that so many use to reach students.

Apply that creativity to a race-conscious classroom, and we could see some powerful (and innovative) results.

Then share! Blog about them or publish them in educational publications (while being open to critical feedback) so that we can all learn together.

3. Using Racially Coded Language

With how common racially coded language in the US, there are surely words that enter our common vocab that can do damage to our efforts to build racially just schools.

Whether we’re referring to our students as “ghetto” or to their parents as “tiger moms” or saying “if only the parents cared about their kids education,” there are many overt ways that we can introduce racially coded language that devalues and/or otherizes our students and their families.

Perhaps even more common (particularly for White teachers in poorer, often urban areas) is treating our students as inspiration or poverty porn when talking to other White people.

This is one I know I have done many times. There is no need for me to include details about the harrowing life experiences of my students when talking to friends, yet I do so anyway to express just how “tough” things are for “those kids.”

While we may be able to argue that this is to help our White peers empathize, rarely is this done in any sort of humanizing way.

Rather, we are usually just trying to prove our credentials as a teacher who taught in the “inner city” or “the barrio.”

What to Do Instead

We as educators know the power of language, so we must be extra careful and precise with ours. We need to be hyper vigilant about how we talk about our students and their families/communities.

When we do the work to build relationships and to partner in the areas where we teach, then we see our students and their families as fully-realized human beings, and as a result, we can talk about our students in more humanizing ways.

Thus, we have a responsibility to do more than to just connect with our students. We have a responsibility to act in solidarity toward collective liberation!

4. Intentionally or Unintentionally Mispronouncing Names

One of the more subtle but powerful ways that White teachers inject racism into our schools is in how we engage with names that are different than those we grew up knowing.

Sometimes it shows up in simply not taking the time to learn how to properly pronounce a student’s name – but other times, it’s active resistance.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard of teachers saying, “Their names are just too hard for me to pronounce,” so they settle for assigning nicknames.

What we communicate with this microaggression is that the student’s identity ought to conform to the world we know, not that we ought to be responsive to the student.

What to Do Instead

Take the time to learn names. Apologize when you get names wrong, and work really hard to learn names the right way.

Sometimes students who are used to White teachers mispronouncing their name will settle for you doing it “good enough.”

Stress that you don’t want “good enough.” You want to call them by the name they want to be called!

5. Enforcing Harsh Discipline Practices That Disproportionately Impact Students of Color

In virtually every school in the country, from the most mono-racial to the most diverse, discipline practices are set up to fail students of Color, both in design and implementation, and there are dire consequences for students who “struggle with discipline problems” in our world of hyper-criminalization.

Ta-Nehisi Coates demonstrated well in a recent interview how a lack of cultural awareness on the part of White teachers can lead to serious consequences for Black students who grow up in violent neighborhoods.

Describing an incident where he was suspended for threatening a teacher who yelled at him in class, he noted how when “you don’t have anything else to lean on” except the basic respect of others, it means something wholly different than for students from a wholly different cultural context to have a teacher scream in their face.

What to Do Instead

In our own classrooms, we have to be willing to carefully investigate how we dole out discipline and work to change our practices.

Do our management procedures reward students whose cultural backgrounds and expressions of, say, showing excitement reflect our own while punishing those who express these things differently?

Perhaps more importantly, though, this is a problem that must be addressed in community.

If you are great about mitigating racial bias in your management but your school has a zero-tolerance discipline system that sees kids leaving in handcuffs for acting out in school, then we must organize together as educators.

It’s time to get cops out of our schools and to demand discipline policies that are based on principles of nonviolence and restorative justice.

6. (Inadvertently) Valuing Whiteness

One of the more insidious ways that White teachers bring racism into schools is in how we (often inadvertently) value Whiteness and European ways of being above all others.

Whether we are strictly teaching the “canon” that is almost exclusively White or using examples in math or science problems that are more accessible to White and/or wealthy students than others, White teachers inject Whiteness into our classrooms all the time.

In my own teaching, I found that I was calling my lightest-skinned students (in an almost all-Black classroom) by name when I couldn’t remember the names as readily of darker-skinned students.

What to Do Instead

We need to do obvious things like diversifying our curriculum and our materials, but beyond that, we must look inside for the more insidious ways that we value Whiteness.

By questioning all aspects of how we teach to consider whether we are devaluing some people and valuing others, we are taking important steps toward racially just pedagogy.

7. Tokenizing Students’ Cultures to Connect with Them

The other side of the coin that comes with diversifying our curriculum and materials is that it can be done in a tremendously tokenizing way.

If we don’t get to know our students first, then we might assume that our Dominican students and our students from northeastern Mexico all are the same and that they all could relate to a book about the migrant farm struggle in the southwestern US.

Thus, we have to be careful not to tokenize students’ identities in our efforts to connect with them.

What to Do Instead

It’s a lot more work, but we ought to consider waiting to decide on the books we teach or the curricular examples until we’ve had some time to listen to our students and their families.

Ask questions about what they want to learn about, and listen and respond accordingly!

Unfortunately that means that we can’t just teach the same exact ways every year, but there are all sorts of resources to help!

8. Culturally Appropriate in an Effort to Connect with Students

For many of us White teachers who grew up with little-to-know exposure to people and cultures of Color and who don’t have a connection to our own ethnic cultural identities outside of Whiteness (notably, a lack of cultural identity), it can be hard to know how to connect with students.

Unfortunately, this often means appropriating other cultures, particularly those of our students, to try to connect with them.

A friend, mentor, and my co-author in an upcoming piece about White teachers who wish to develop anti-racist ways of being, Shelly Tochluk, cites a time when she wore a lappa (African skirt), an ankh around her neck, and carried a djembe to class in a misguided effort to connect.

Reflecting on the experience, Shelly notes that it would have been far better to “include more African American voices into the curriculum.”

If you’re not sure exactly why this is a problem, perhaps look here and here.


What to Do Instead

Invest in understanding your own ethnic, religious, and cultural heritage (particularly that from before your people became White) through an anti-racist lens.

Then work hard to create space for authentic and accountable cultural exchange in your classroom!

9. Devaluing What Non-Teachers Contribute to the School Community

Everyone is trying to tell teachers how to do their job, and teachers are sick of hearing it from non-teachers.

But from some White teachers, I hear the “if you haven’t taught, don’t tell me how to do my job” mantra used as a blanket for everyone from Bill Gates to the parents and community advocates where they teach.

When we decide that teachers are the gatekeepers to what works in education and when the vast majority of teachers are White, we end up devaluing the insights and knowledge that many people of Color offer.

What to Do Instead

From parents to community leaders to other non-White staff in your building, there’s a lot we can learn if we are willing to humbly listen to people of Color and implement what we learn about race in education.

Actively seek to build relationships across difference and seek input in your classroom.

Hell, invite folks into your classroom to observe and share and teach!

10. Doing Little or Nothing to Advocate for More Teachers and Staff of Color

Finally, and probably most importantly, there’s simply no substitute to teachers of Color teaching students who share their race (see here, here, here, and here).

Unfortunately, many progressive White teachers note that it would be great to have more teachers of Color, but at the end of the day, what are we doing about it?

What to Do Instead

Organize! It’s what teachers do so well! Pressure our unions to make hiring teachers of Color the top priority.

Advocate for alternative licensing options for paraprofessionals and teaching aides (who are disproportionately people of Color, especially in cities). Get on hiring committees at your school and ask hard questions about what we consider “qualified candidates.”

This is somewhere that well-meaning White teachers can have a profound impact if we’re willing to invest our energy.


Regardless of what it looks like, we need more White teachers who are willing to do the hard work of combatting the subtle racism we bring into our schools while working vociferously to change our own pedagogies and make our schools more racially just places!

If not now, when? If not us, who?

Rally organizer Robby Stern, center, yells over Marissa Johnson, left, and Mara Jacqueline Willaford, right, as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders looks on from behind after stepping away from the microphone. ELAINE THOMPSON/AP

The “Appropriate Time” is Now: White Liberals and the Politics of Solidarity

By David J. Leonard

Rally organizer Robby Stern, center, yells over Marissa Johnson, left, and Mara Jacqueline Willaford, right, as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders looks on from behind after stepping away from the microphone. ELAINE THOMPSON/AP

Over the last year (and of course over many decades and centuries), there have been reoccurring (& always condemning) questions from white liberals regarding protests from black activists: is it effective; does it alienate; will it facilitate change? One of the common themes continues to be white policing (so much policing of black bodies from the state and from those who claim to have marched with King, against Apartheid, for civil rights) of when and where it is appropriate to protest:

  • Football games, off-limits;
  • On the basketball floor, not OK;
  • From black women scholars on twitter, unprofessional and counter productive.
  • At Netroots and now at a Bernie Sanders rally, counter productive and inappropriate.

Bernie’s Respectability Police

Look no further than a recent piece from Hamilton Nolan, who called the protest in Seattle “stupid,” admonishing Black Lives Matters activists not to “Don’t Piss on Your Best Friend.” Questioning their motives and tactics, Nolan takes aim that the “appropriateness” of “targeting” Sanders given his “progressive” politics. Never mind the legitimate questions about his racial politics, and whether his work is progressive and transformative, which remains unclear for now:

Many on the left find it hard to come out and say “this was stupid,” because they support both Bernie Sanders and the Black Lives Matter movement. That is a misperception of the political landscape. Believing that a small group of angry young protesters did something that was not well thought out need not make you feel guilty or racist; rash and counterproductive things are what young people do. Screaming Bernie Sanders offstage is dumb because you support Black Lives Matter. For those perceptive enough to separate pretty slogans from actual policy prescriptions, it is clear that Bernie Sanders is the candidate most aligned with the group’s values. Stifling his voice only helps his opponents. Go shout at someone who deserves it.

First, he should read Aliza Garza’s recent statements on what whites can do to support the BlackLivesMatter. Second, the paternalism and patronizing tone is only matched by Nolan’s never ending rhetoric about appropriateness.

He’s not alone. Twitter, Facebook, and the comment section is filled with “Why Sanders” and “Shouldn’t allies be embraced not rejected.” Imani Gandy, in a brilliant piece, summarizes the reactionary Bernie white populism in the aftermath of the rally in Seattle.

“Why are you alienating allies?”

“Don’t you know how much Bernie cares for you?”

“What’s wrong with you people?”

“Hillary would be worse!”

“What are you going to do, vote for Donald Trump?”

“Why won’t you ever be satisfied?”

“You’re doing it all wrong!”

“You’re going to make us quit caring about Black lives if you don’t shape up and act the way we want you to.”

Most Black voters want the answer to one question: What is Sanders’ plan to address the police brutality crisis in the Black community?

And the answer to that question is never: “Bernie marched with Dr. King.

Yet that seems to be the answer given by many of Sanders’ supporters on social media.

As she makes clear, accountability is not rejection. Expecting answers is neither intrusive nor rude, especially in a moment of white supremacist violence and police terror (yes, that is every moment of America’s history). The retort to “blame the victim” to focus on “tone” and “tactics” is not just “disrespectful” to Black Lives Matters and organizers working on the ground but is what racism looks like.

Even the defenders of the protests that note, sure “they were “aggressive, intrusive, inconsiderate, rude and indiscriminate” and “disrespectful” but “that black people deal with must be like every day, everywhere from history textbooks to courtrooms, job interviews to pop culture” rely on false equivalences.

Rightful Rage

Confronting racist violence, white supremacist terror – whether on stage, at the ballot box, in the streets – is not “disrespectful” or “rude.” The rage is righteous, a fact that cannot be said of those angered that they didn’t get to hear Bernie speak or that didn’t get to shop in “peace.” As Audre Lorde (HT Kimberly Foster) notes, “Anger is loaded with information and energy.”

And to describe these moments as a lesson to white liberals, as to what communities of color have endured for centuries, is white privilege personified in that anti-black racism is violence not “rude”; it is dehumanizing not “intrusive;” it is entrenched and systemic not “indiscriminate.”

Claims about the inconvenience and rudeness of Black protest have extended into many spaces. Shutting down freeways and bridges has been deemed unacceptable. Protests during Christmas shopping, at the theater, at the Opera, on colleges campuses and universities, and any other place where white lives are inconvenienced are deemed not only inappropriate but ineffective since the “strategies” are alienating “allies.”

History Ain’t Just the Past, But The Present

This is, of course, is nothing new and is the personification of white entitlement and white privilege. The history of white populism (check out Robert Allen’s book Reluctant Reformers) is one of white “progressives” using the black community, for its intellectual and protest labor, to advance their own causes, all while preserving a system of racial inequality and violence. The history of the civil rights movement is rife with examples where white “liberals” from Kennedy to white members of SNCC questioned the appropriateness and utility of tactics. Never mind, those who questioned why “protest” in Nashville given that it is not like Montgomery, or those who challenged black youth for embracing tactics of direct action at lunch counters, libraries, pools, beaches, department stores, and wherever Jim Crow showed its violence face.

Maybe it’s time for a collective reading group that starts with King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Given white America’s adoration of Dr. King (minus his position on affirmative action, war, reparations and countless more), maybe his words will prompt a reality check.

“I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say ‘wait.’”

The message is clear: wait for the right moment, for the right location, for the right audience, for the right tactic, for the right city, for the time when _________ (the action doesn’t make white America uncomfortable or force white progressives to look in mirror).

The Problems with Allies

The totality of reactions demonstrate the problems with “ally discourse” which focuses on an “identity” rather than doing the work (ht @prisonculture). It becomes less about risks and engaging in transformative action and more about one’s progressive card that can be neither taken away nor challenged. “I won’t settle for allies that scold us for opinions or ‘tone’ they don’t like,” writes Kimberly Foster. “Allies who bristle at earnest criticism from the members of the community they desire to serve hurt us more than they help.” As Dante Berry notes,

I don’t like the term ally. It’s too passive and doesn’t provide a sense of risk equal to the level of risks black folks experience every single day. Black folks are never safe, so it’s important for white co-conspirators or comrades to think about the level of comfort — safety — that is assumed to them by sitting on the sidelines and not actively engaging in the movement for black lives because it seems “too risky.” I want comrades who will show up when I’m most vulnerable and be in active solidarity with my struggle as a person in a black body and take some risks, because I’m putting my life out on the line every single day.

The defensiveness and policing concerning protests of Sanders, Netroots and elsewhere highlights how discussions of “allies” are not merely academic exercises but rather ones that impact organization, movements, and the individuals involved.

Being an accomplice means putting justice first. It means being, as noted by Mervyn Marcano, “complicit in dismantling racist structures by taking risks.”

If your support for a movement begins and ends with whether or not YOU approve of the tactics, whether or not YOU are inconvenienced by the protests, YOU are part of the problem. Such actions are not those of “allies,” “accomplices” or “comrades.”

If YOU demand “respectability” and that Black activists do everything to make sure YOU are not “offended, alienated, frightened or overtly challenged” YOU are not only an obstacle to racial justice but living and breathing the ideologies of white privilege and anti-black racism.

If YOUR LIFE, YOUR white bubble of football games and political rallies, Christmas shopping and rush hour, takes precedent over Black Lives, over justice, over accountability, and over movements for change, YOU are not just part of the problem, indicative of the system of white supremacist violence, but YOU ARE the problem.

To be an accomplice requires putting oneself in the street; if you are griping that you didn’t get to hear Bernie and didn’t get home in time to watch Rachel Maddow because protestors blocked the freeway, YOU need to have several seats on the ground. Maybe you can then join the protests and put BlackLives in front of your own for ONCE. That is what we must do as accomplices.


DavidLeonardDavid J. Leonard is Associate Professor and chair in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender and Race Studies at Washington State University, Pullman.  With a BA in Black Studies from University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Master’s and Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley, he has dedicated his career to interdisciplinary scholarship, transformative teaching, and research that underscores the continued significance of race within popular culture, the structures of politics, and society at large. Dr. Leonard’s work explores, documents, and illustrates the various manifestations of the narrative, ideological, and financial commodification of black bodies within popular media all while highlighting the dominant frames that facilitate, fuel, and in turn generated through the broader discursive field

He is the author of Screens Fade to Black: Contemporary African American Cinema and  After Artest: Race and the assault on blackness . Leonard is a regular contributor to NewBlackMan, Chronicle of Higher Education, Feminist Wire, Huffington Post, and Urban Cusp.  He is a past contributor to EbonySlam, Loop21, The Nation, and The Starting Five.  He is a regular contributor to Huffington Post Live

Follow him on twitter drdavidjleonard

He blogs at drdavidjleonard.com

Marissa Johnson, left, speaks as Mara Jacqueline Willaford holds her fist overhead and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., stands nearby as the two women take over the microphone at a rally Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in downtown Seattle. The women, co-founders of the Seattle chapter of Black Lives Matter, took over the microphone and refused to relinquish it. Sanders eventually left the stage without speaking and instead waded into the crowd to greet supporters. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Interrupting Bernie: Exposing the White Supremacy of the American Left

Marissa Johnson, left, speaks as Mara Jacqueline Willaford holds her fist overhead and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., stands nearby as the two women take over the microphone at a rally Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in downtown Seattle. The women, co-founders of the Seattle chapter of Black Lives Matter, took over the microphone and refused to relinquish it. Sanders eventually left the stage without speaking and instead waded into the crowd to greet supporters. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Marissa Johnson, left, speaks as Mara Jacqueline Willaford holds her fist overhead and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., stands nearby as the two women take over the microphone at a rally Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in downtown Seattle. The women, co-founders of the Seattle chapter of Black Lives Matter, took over the microphone and refused to relinquish it. Sanders eventually left the stage without speaking and instead waded into the crowd to greet supporters. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

You know, I’ve always liked Bernie Sanders. I appreciate that as a U.S. Senator, he has been willing to speak the truth about many important social issues, but he’s also a U.S. Senator, which means that he is only going to be as progressive as his electorate allows him to be.

That said, I’d generally been pretty disappointed with the lack of racial justice analysis in his economic inequality platform as a candidate for president. That is, until a few weeks ago when some phenomenal Black activists at the Netroots Nation Presidential Town Hall forced his hand.

For all of the “this is not the way” sentiment we’re hearing from White progressives, it was the interruption at Netroots (alongside other direct pressure) that led to Bernie’s explicit platform on racial justice.

Notably, Black Lives Matter activists haven’t been successful (though I am sure not for lack of trying) in interrupting Hillary Clinton in the same way (that secret service protection and massive campaign budget for private security sure is handy), but even she has had little choice but to pay attention to Black Lives Matter as a movement.

And there is a great deal of disagreement within Black communities (we as White folks would do well to remember that people and Black organizations aren’t monoliths) about whether the action was strategic and whether targeting Bernie was the right move. And that dialogue should continue to take place within Black liberation spaces, but White folks – that’s not our business.

Because here’s the thing – what’s powerful about these interruptions from Black women is less how it has changed the tone of the Democratic campaigns and more about what they have exposed in the White left.

I see these protests as less about the individual candidates themselves and more about how their White base refuses to center Black lives and Black issues. It’s notable that White Bernie supporters, who consider themselves the most progressive of us all, shouted down and booed Black women who dared to force Blackness into the center of White space.

Because let’s be honest, every Bernie rally is White space.

In watching the over-the-top angry response from White liberals about Bernie being interrupted in Seattle, I can’t help but think of the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on White moderates:

Image of Dr. King pointing with quote: “I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

What was true in King’s time is true in ours: the greatest stumbling block to racial justice is not the KKK; it’s well-meaning White people who would rather maintain injustice than risk the decentering of our Whiteness and White comfort.

And when I watch and hear the reaction of a mostly White Seattle crowd to a Black woman naming that the event is taking place in the context of Indigenous genocide, the new Jim Crow, and the everyday violence that Black, Brown, and Indigenous people face in Seattle, I’m ashamed.

Two Black women called for a moment of silence for Mike Brown a year after he was gunned down, left bleeding in the street for 4.5 hours, and White “progressives” shouted, booed, and chanted the name of a White man throughout that moment.

How much more committed to a “negative peace” can we get than literally shouting down the memory of a Black youth whose murder helped to spark this movement?

And how much more “devoted to ‘order'” can we be than to lecture Black people about what direct actions are and are not “hurting your cause”? (Notably, this language I’ve seen from countless White folks shows that we do not see the cause of racial justice as OUR cause – it’s that cause over there that we will tolerate so long as it doesn’t disrupt our Bernie rally.)

And how much more of a “stumbling block” can our self-proclaimed “allyship” be to racial justice when it’s so feeble as to proclaim, “I am a strong ally of the Black Lives Matter movement, but I’m not sure how to be an ally when they are this disrespectful to the only candidate that has actually done anything for minorities” (actual quote from one of the 15 or so social media threads I’m following as I write this article)?

Notably, it wasn’t two Black women who kept Bernie from speaking in Seattle. It was a White man, a Bernie supporter, who organized the event who shut it down, said the event was over, and informed the crowd that Sanders would not be speaking because he couldn’t agree with the “methods of direct action” of the Black women in front of him.

We are so resistant to the decentering of Whiteness and the centering of Blackness that we cut off our own nose to spite our face.

White solidarity toward racial justice must look like more than pointing to the fact that Bernie Sanders was a supporter of Civil Rights in the 60s. White solidarity toward racial justice must look like more than a Facebook share of a Ta-Nehisi Coates article (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Coates). White solidarity toward racial justice must even look like more than showing up to the occasional rally that is organized and led by people of Color (though this is a good start – please show up).

White solidarity begins with our willingness to decenter ourselves and to divest from Whiteness, our privileges and power, and to support the centering of progressive leadership of Color.

White solidarity continues when we work with our own people to dismantle the deep-seated White supremacy that would cause us to boo during a moment of silence for a Black boy murdered by a White police officer.


Related and Highly Recommended

In Her Own Words: The Political Beliefs of the Protester Who Interrupted Bernie Sanders

A lot has been suggested (mostly be defensive White people) about Marissa Johnson’s beliefs and intentions (including that she’s a Sarah Palin plant – ha!). Just read from her own words.

Why Saturday’s Bernie Sanders Rally Left Me Feeling Heartbroken by WA state Senator Pramila Jayapal

#BlackLivesMatter embraces Seattle activists, deny they demanded an apology to Bernie Sanders

Marissa Janae Johnson Speaks: #BLM, Sanders & White Progressives™ | #TWIBnation

Black Lives Matter Protesters Are Not the Problem by Jamil Smith

Empathy Won’t Save Us in the Fight Against Oppression. Here’s Why. by Hari Ziyad

Huffpost Live Segment on Interrupting Bernie Sanders and the Response from White Progressives with guests Jamil Smith, Aleidra Allen, Ben Cohen, and myself

The “Appropriate Time” is Now: White Liberals and the Politics of Solidarity by David J. Leonard

One Year Later – Reflections on Privilege, Fragility, and White Solidarity by Elyse Gordon


Here Are the Real Reasons Why We White People Struggle to Admit That Racism Still Exists

Originally published at Everyday Feminism.

When I was 18 years old, I listened to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill on repeat.

My girlfriend and I would just sit in silence, listening to Lauryn unpack her brilliance, taking away something new each time.

So I was devastated when I heard the (now disproven) rumor that she told an MTV interviewer, “If I’d known White people were going to buy my last album, I never would have recorded it.”

I stopped listening to her because as a young, passionate liberal who “stood up to racism in all its forms,” I couldn’t in good conscience continue to support a “racist.”

Then, when a Latina woman I greatly admired suggested that it’s impossible for people of Color to be racist against White people, I lost it, furious at the perceived double standard.

And now, as debates about racism and a “post racial America” rage in my social media, I see these same frustrations in my fellow White people over and over.

We, as White folks, are upset that “everything is made to be about race these days!” We regularly claim that the “most racist people in the world are [insert group of people of Color].”

Many White people perceive that we’re under attack because people of Color and their White allies are angry with systems of racial oppression – and at us for our complicity in maintaining those systems. We get called names and told that our “White tears” don’t matter.

So we respond with how the dictionary defines racism as “poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race.”

And by that logic, we’re the real victims of racism! Right?

And if that’s our only context for understanding racism, then surely someone thinking I’m racist just because I’m White is racism!

Yet it seems that we’ve come to a place where the single worst thing that we can be called, the single insult that most enrages us, is suggestion that we might actually be racist.

And I get it – because I have said and thought every single one of those things.

But what troubles me most in all of this is that we are so invested in proving that people of Color are “more racist” than we are or that we’re not racist, we are more upset by allegations that we might be racist than about the very real ways that racism plays out in the society around us.

I see my fellow White people so wrapped up in defending the idea that systemic racism doesn’t exist that we are unable to empathize with the real pain caused to people of Color by racism, both interpersonal and systemic.

For goodness sake, even the McKinney police admitted Eric Casebolt was out of line in assaulting a young Black girl for legally observing his actions, yet White people in my life were trying so hard to explain how the officer was in the right and how this “isn’t racial.”

All of this leaves me wondering about the roots of our defensiveness to admitting that racism is alive and well.

Why are we so resistant to acknowledging the countless examples of our racial privilege?

What do we risk by actually empathizing with people of Color and acknowledging how racial oppression plays out in our society?

Almost every White person I know at least claims to live by a strong set of values, and I rarely meet people whose core values say that it’s good for people of Color to be treated as second class citizens.

I don’t think I personally know anyone who believes that their core values sanction their participation in the hurting of other people.

And yet both systemic and interpersonal racism hurt people. Racism destroys lives.

So how is it that we can live more fully into the values that so many of us claim to hold when we’re defensive about whether we might be benefitting from racism?

1. White People Must Choose to Extend Our Personal Values towards Racial Issues

Because otherwise, we continue to contribute to White supremacy.

When someone calls us as White people out for racist behavior or language, we are almost never being accused of being card-carrying members of the KKK.

Yet so many of us are stuck in a surface level, 1950s conception of racism where we can clearly identify it as wearing White hoods and burning crosses.

But even then, racism was far more complex and insidious.

The reason that so many people claim that people of Color can’t be racist is that racism is about more than individual attitudes that we hold.

Racism is about the ways that virtually all of the systems in which we live (economic,educational, judicial, medical, and so on) were created to serve White people (particularly White, cisgender, straight men) while oppressing people of Color.

And even with major reforms over time, this is still true.

So if we only see racism as flying the Confederate battle flag over a state capitol or as an individual racist gunman, it makes sense that we get so damn defensive when the topic of race and racism comes up. Few of us want to be associated with that blatant hate.

But to understand the issues of race and racism that are being tackled by anti-racist movements like #BlackLivesMatter, we White folks need to make sure we’re being clear about the difference between Whiteness (also sometimes called White supremacy) and White people.

One of my favorite authors on the topic, Dr. Zeus Leonardo, lays out this distinction well, noting that Whiteness is something created by wealthy Europeans that subsumes all light-skinned European ethnicities into one identity.

Why was Whiteness created? For social control: to allow wealthy White elites to unite poor and middle class Whites against people of Color.

Whiteness, then, refers to that system of social control and its institutions that were built to serve White wealth and power concentration.

White people, on the other hand, are individuals who have been caste into this racial hierarchy. We are not Whiteness, but we are inscribed with it from birth. As such, we face a choice.

Just as men can choose whether to align with feminism and work for gender equity, White people can choose whether to turn away from defending systems that are literally killing people of Color while we benefit.

And instead, we can choose to invest in racial justice.

To me, that is such an incredibly empowering and liberating realization!

As White people, we have agency about how we will engage with the racial world around us.

And yet so many of us, as I described above, do all we can to convince ourselves, and others, that racism cannot be real (except in the rare cases of a KKK rally). Why?

Well, because there are damn good reasons for us as White people to invest in Whiteness, to invest in those systems that tell us that racism isn’t real and that we aren’t privileged.

Some of those reasons are tangible, as we have real political and economic stakes in being defensive to racial justice movements. Others of those reasons are emotional, and as such, are far more terrifying to actually grapple with.

2. White People Benefit Materially from Racism

Therefore, most of us have an unacknowledged political and economic stake in maintaining White supremacy.

It can be really hard sometimes to feel like we get any sort of political or economic benefit from our racial identity when our lives feel pretty shitty.

I remember once when I had written an article about White privilege, my friend’s dad called him and railed about what I had to say, asking my buddy who works really hard at a carpet cleaning and installation company, “Do you feel privileged right now while you’re busting your ass to feed your family?”

We’re struggling with our mortgages. We’re struggling with relationship problems or divorce. We’re struggling with the other aspects of our identity that are marginalized or oppressed. So it’s hard to believe that there could be any sort of racialized wind at our back.

And I get that!

But benefitting from racist systems doesn’t mean that everything is magically easy for us. It just means that as hard as things are, they could always be worse.

We could face the daily onslaught of overt and covert racism that impedes people of Color on top of all of our struggles.

I could lay out statistic after statistic, article after article, book after book about how White people are privileged in almost every place on Earth that Europeans colonized (all but a handful of countries), but that will do no good if we’re not simply willing to listen.

It’s our defensiveness to understanding the racialized world around us that we must understand if we want to live in a way that better aligns with our values, the values of justice and equity so many of us hold.

After all, those values are in direct competition with our material realities.

If our children are more likely to go to college because they grew up surrounded by Whiteness, wouldn’t we want them to have that opportunity?

Or if we will be more likely to have a comfortable retirement enjoying state and federal parks if we ignore calls from Indigenous people to return land (both public and private), why would we join that movement?

Divesting from Whiteness means divesting from material realities that make our lives better at the expense of other people’s lives – and also  at the expense of solidarity that could, eventually, raise the standard of living for all people, including us.

And that’s really scary to consider!

So to even consider divesting from those systems, we have to dig a little deeper.

3. White People Have an Emotional Stake in Denying White Supremacy 

Because that way, we can avoid dealing with how we’re complicit in its pervasiveness.

Admitting that we’re acting in racist ways or supporting racist systems is terrifying. And it hurts.

Scarier still is doing the deep emotional reflection to understand the ways that we may be truly racist deep down.

And if you’re anything like me, I don’t like doing things that terrify me or that hurt.

So I have an emotional stake in coasting along with the status quo.

I have an emotional stake in reacting defensively to allegations that I have hurt a person of Color with my privileged actions.

I have an emotional stake in pretending that my equitable values are in alignment with the world I create for myself.

Because to admit that racism is real means that the world around me isn’t as I thought it was, and it means that I am living out of alignment with my values.

And that hurts deeply.

So is it any wonder that we fight tooth and nail to deny that racism could be at play in police killings?

Or that we disproportionately vote in ways that actually are against our self-interests (in an interesting contradiction to our economic and political stake) in order to enact policies that hurt people of Color?

Or that we are far more outraged by allegations of our own racism than by the everyday racism that destroys people’s lives?

We are living in a “culture of make believe.”

But living in this fantasy also comes at a tremendous emotional cost.

One of the most powerful of human capacities is our ability to empathize, to see ourselves in another human being even when we may have next to nothing in common outside of our humanity.

And when we defend racist systems and refuse to be self reflective about our complicity in them, we turn our back on that core, connecting aspect of what makes us human.

By investing in Whiteness, we turn our backs on our own humanity.

4. Working towards Racial Solidarity Means Being Vulnerable

Because that’s the only way for us to transform ourselves for the better.

My own investment in working for racial justice didn’t come from being presented with lists or statistics about my privilege. It came from being called upon by mentors, both people of Color and White people, to live more fully into my values.

They asked me to quiet myself and listen to the voice of people of Color who described devastation caused by the everyday interpersonal and systemic racism.

They challenged me to get in touch with my human capacity for empathy.

When I opened my heart to this empathy, it hurt tremendously, and it inspired me to change myself in hopes of transforming my community.

But even further, some of my most powerful transformation came when I was asked to frame my investment in justice not only through empathic concern (how racism hurts people I love) but also through recognizing what I lose by investing in Whiteness (how racism hurts me).

And I’m still answering that question.

But in my journey to understand what Whiteness costs me paired with my ever-evolving desire to be in more accountable solidarity, I’ve found that I am living a more spiritually-fulfilling life than I ever did before.

And that’s because I’ve chosen to live into my values.

All of us as White people are offered a choice, then. Will we choose to live into our values and into our human capacity for empathic concern? Or will we invest in the alluring benefits of Whiteness?

If we choose the former, then we have to resist our inclination to be defensive when talking about racism and our own complicity in its systems. We can’t pretend that we are simply “post racial.”

We have to commit to finding a third way, a way characterized by building accountable relationships across difference and striving for anti-racist solidarity.

And that solidarity is powerful and important. Over and over, we can hear people of Color asking us to set down our shields of defensiveness and call in our own people to change.

But we should also recognize that by allowing ourselves to get in touch with why we are defensive, we open the door to something more than solidarity.

We open the door to powerful self-transformation and to growth as people.

Because by investing in what makes us human and by working to live more fully into values of justice and equity, we invite positive change into our lives.

And in doing so, we set a powerful standard for other White people in our lives: our families, our friends, our colleagues, and, most importantly, the next generation of White people to inherit this flawed world in which we live.


Can Men Be Feminists? And 9 Other FAQs We Often Get from Men

This piece is co-authored by Jamie Utt and Jenika McCrayer.

Here at Everyday Feminism, we’ve covered a wide range of topics exploring the nuances of patriarchal oppression. But once in a while, it’s nice to step back from the complexities of feminist thought to help people better access, understand, and hopefully embrace feminism.

As two people working in feminist movements for justice, we get a lot of questions from cisgendermen about what their place in feminism can and should be.

And considering that we find a lot of well-intentioned men are terribly confused about the basic tenets of feminist movements, we thought we’d take some time to answer a few of those questions.

Notably, though, we come to this analysis with very different places – a Black woman and a White man. Also, we think it’s important to note that we both are cisgender, and as such, our perspectives are limiting.

We worked hard to be inclusive of how feminism serves trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people, but we hope to demystify the feminist movement for cis men and make it easier to open up for a dialogue in your community about this and whatever we missed!

With that said, then, here’s our take on the questions we get so often from men.

1. What Is Feminism? And Can Men Be Feminists?

To understand whether or not men can be feminist, men really need to understand what feminism actually is.

But the tricky part is that feminism isn’t just one thing!

Depending on who you’re in community with, feminism can be totally and completely different.

Thus, it’s important to be clear what we’re talking about when we say “feminism.”

Though there are innumerable ways that people understand and express their feminism, we see the meaning of the term falling into two general concepts:

Option A: Feminism is a movement for and about women.

To some, feminists are women striving to better the lives of women. Feminism is a movement for gender equality socially, politically, and economically.

Each wave of feminism has expanded to include multiple groups of marginalized people in society, but its basis remains as a movement for and by women (including trans women).

Men can surely have a role in this understanding of feminism, but men’s relationship to feminism would be better understood as an ally/solidarity relationship built on accountable work.

Option B: Feminism is a movement about gender justice.

Patriarchy hurts everyone, even if it hurts women and non-binary people more and in profoundly different ways than cisgender men.

Feminism, then, is a movement to combat systemic and institutional oppression that disproportionately affects disenfranchised groups in our society with the main focus on women.

Thus, in this concept, feminism is a movement where people of all genders can be feminists if they’re willing to do the work to dismantle patriarchal oppression.

So where men fit in feminism depends a lot on who they’re in community with and how communities understand the role of feminism in working for justice!

2. Hold the Phone – What’s This Patriarchy Stuff You Keep Mentioning?

The term patriarchy generally is referring to systems and social norms that are, by in large, created by cisgender men for cisgender men and that, as a result, marginalize and oppress those who are not cis men (or those passing for cis men).

3. Okay, But Who Is Feminism For?

In some ways, it depends on who you ask.

To us, feminism is for everyone (so long as we’re all accountable to those marginalized people who ought to be in leadership).

There are different types of gender equality movements that also focus on intersections of race, ethnicity, and class, like womanism or Third World Feminism, but the current wave of feminism we participate in  is seen as an intersectional and inclusive umbrella movement.

To some people, feminism is an inclusive, intersectional movement for social justice that centers marginalized and oppressed people in the work for freedom.

To others, it’s strictly aims to serve cisgender women, particularly focusing on the issues that affect White women.

To those people, feminism isn’t meant to be inclusive at all.

For example, TERFs consider themselves feminists, but that’s not exactly an inclusive and intersectional anti-oppressive feminism when it seeks to actively advance the oppression of our transgender and gender non-conforming family.

At Everyday Feminism, we work to inform the wider struggle for intersectional feminist justice, so our feminism centers women, trans folks, and non-binary people, particularly those most marginalized and oppressed in our society because of race, class, ability, religion, sexual identity, citizenship experience, or body size.

4. But Isn’t Feminism About Hating Men?

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

Rear view of two men walking with their arms around each other

If White People Really Want to Help End Racism, We Need to Invest in Other White People (Yeah, I Know It Sounds Counterintuitive)

As I sit here writing this after learning of the brutal murder of Natasha McKenna while in police custody, a death local authorities ruled an “accident,” a familiar feeling rises inside of me. I recognize this anger and this sadness.

Sadly, this is a feeling that comes up for me nearly every single day as I work not to allow myself to numb to the brutality Black, Brown, and Indigenous people experience at the hands of the police. And frankly, I have little patience at the moment for talking to White people.

Similarly, after the grand jury decided against indicting Darren Wilson, I found myself lashing out at those who share my race and who were defending the decision. I was incredibly snarky, and I was looking for the best thing to say to sound right, not to actually help them understand the roots issues of systemic racism at play.

Seeing these gruesome images is something all too common in our age of cell phone cameras and social media – not that the violence is happening more, only that we as White people are privy to this racist violence in a way we never were before.

Yet I’m watching my fellow White people do mental backflips to justify this violence and to deny that this is in any way connected to a wider system of racism in the United States.

And I should feel angry.

If we as White people striving to be in solidarity to people of Color don’t feel anger, then we seriously ought to question our motives and wonder whether our investment is solely intellectual.

But how that anger and hurt and frustration gets expressed will go a long way in determining how effective I am in working with White people – my people – for racial justice.

In thinking about that anger, I can’t help but remember this brilliant piece from Spektra Speaks that came out after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson – White People, Stop Unfriending Other White People Over Ferguson (seriously, if you’re White, you need to read this piece).

After all, if you’re anything like me, being told to “f*ck off” or being berated doesn’t exactly inspire me to self-reflect, to consider how I can be better and do better – and cutting White people out of my life doesn’t advance racial justice.

Far too much of what I have justified as “calling someone out on their privilege” was little more than a dismissive slight aimed at boosting my ego and making me look like the “best anti-racist White person.” How does that actually help anything?

Thus, the more that I think about it, I realize that White people who wish to work in racial justice solidarity and who strive for allyship need to realize our fundamental responsibility to do more than simply “call out” other White people.

We must take up the long, difficult, often emotionally-exhausting work of calling them in to change.

The Need for Tools

Changing ourselves and other White people is exhausting, but to be honest, our privilege does not afford us the luxury of lost patience if we truly want to do the work to realize racial justice.

We have a responsibility to cultivate a deep well of patience and compassion for working to change the hearts and minds of our people, just as our hearts and minds were changed somewhere along our own journey.

As my dear friend and mentor Carla reminded me recently, I have a responsibility to cultivate a deep well of agapic love for my people, the agapic love that Dr. King wrote so prolifically about, noting that agape doesn’t ask of us that we “like” those with whom we’re in conflict, only that we work for a love based in an “understanding, redemptive goodwill for all.”

Compassion alone, though, is not enough. We need skills.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.


Originally posted on Emiliano C. Diaz de Leon:

Now that you’re well into another busy school year of working with men on college campuses, military bases, athletic teams, places of worship, etc., I thought it would be a great time to share my collection of videos that I use on a regular basis in my work to train prevention workers on strategies to engage men in gender-based violence prevention work.

The Ladder of Manhood presented by Jeff Perera

Masks Off – A Challenge to Men by Jeremy Loveday

A Call to Men presented by Tony Porter of A Call to Men

 When by Breakthrough

Violence Against Women – It’s A Men’s Issue presented by Jackson Katz

Porque by National Latino Network

It Ends Where it Begins by White Buffalo Calf Women

Shit Men Say to Men Who Say Shit to Women on the Street by Stop Street Harassment

Be That Guy by Breakthrough

It’s On Us: Sexual…

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