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.

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.


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



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.


“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!!!!

Screen shot 2014-12-12 at 1.10.36 PM

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)



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?


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.

BGD Editor in Training Program

Challenge to White Folks: Take The Black Girl Dangerous White Privilege Bucket Challenge

I was recently challenged by a dear friend to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Coming from this friend, the challenge was particularly poignant considering that her father was recently diagnosed with ALS, and just watching the video where she challenged me brought me to tears.

However, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do the challenge.  It’s not that I have a problem with the ALS Foundation or with people’s participation in the challenge.  It more had to do with what I saw on my social media at the height of the challenge.

When most people were participating in the challenge corresponded to a pivotal moment in our nation’s history: the protests in Ferguson, MO after the extra-judicial killing of Michael Brown. Virtually every person of Color I knew (and some White folks acting in solidarity) were posting about Ferguson, offering analysis and updates of what was happening on the ground.

But from the mostly-White youth that make up the vast majority of my Facebook fam, silence on Ferguson and a whole bunch of Ice Bucket Challenge videos.

This is not to say that there should not be young White youth participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge. It was just wholly indicative of a problem of perception in the U.S. right now:

According to a Pew Research Center poll released Monday, 80 percent of African-American adults answered that the shooting and killing of the 18-year-old Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, raises important issues about race, while 18 percent answered that the topic of race is “getting more attention than it deserves.” White adults polled held very different opinions: Thirty-seven percent answered that the case is raising important issues while a plurality, 47 percent, said the topic is receiving too much attention.” – Source

There’s no question in my mind why 80% of African Americans knew Michael Brown’s killing raised important issue about race: Black and Brown people in the United States live the reality of state-sanctioned police violence against their lives, bodies, and communities every day in the U.S.

That’s simply not a problem very many White folks face. Yes, in the lowest wealth White communities, the problem of police brutality is understood, but by-in-large in the U.S., we as White folks have no idea unless we’re choosing to step back from our privilege and to listen to people of Color who must live with this violence.

So when I say this lack of attention among young White folks to Ferguson was a problem of perception, what I really mean was a that it is a problem of White privilege: the privilege to close our eyes to the truths of endemic racism in the United States (of which police violence is but one iteration).

Thus, my hesitation to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket challenge stemmed from my desire to see a different social media landscape among the White folks in my network.

The Black Girl Dangerous White Privilege Bucket Challenge

That’s why I was delighted to see my friend Sarah participate in and challenge me to join the Black Girl Dangerous White Privilege Bucket Challenge.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you likely have read at least one post from the brilliant Black Girl Dangerous, as I love the work done there and tend to link to them fairly often.

But Black Girl Dangerous does more than host a platform for Queer and Trans People of Color to offer their voices, analysis, truths, stories.  Black Girl Dangerous is a revolutionary organization that challenges the Cis-, Straight-, and White-dominated media landscape.

That’s why the Black Girl Dangerous Editor in Training program is so important, and it’s why I accepted Sara’s challenge in the White Privilege Bucket Challenge.

From the BGD website:

The mission of the Black Girl Dangerous Editor-In-Training Program is to educate more queer and trans people of color in writing and editing specifically for online independent media. Online indie media sites have specific needs with regard to writing and editing. This program will focus on gaining those specific skills.

Many of us who have the most to contribute to important conversations happening in indie media, including conversations on race, gender, queerness, economic injustice, disability justice, issues affecting youth, etc., have the least amount of access to the training, education and experience needed to be successful in contributing to and leading independent media movements. Continuing our commitment to amplifying the voices of queer and trans people of color from all walks of life, BGD will train queer and/or trans people of color in online media editing and writing over 6 months. Participants will learn the skills necessary to write well for the web while also learning to effectively edit the work of other writers, to contribute to and build quality platforms. Participants will have the opportunity to write and edit for BGD, and to carry those skills into their own future indie media projects.”

So having taken the challenge and made my donation, here’s my video:

Why Challenge White Folks (Particularly White Men)?

Since releasing the video a couple of days ago, I have had a few White people ask me why I’m challenging White people (but particularly White men) to take the challenge.  One person asked, “If this is an issue that affects people of Color, why don’t they fund it?”

My response to that is two-fold:

1. This does not just affect people of Color. Being shielded through our privilege and our media from the lives voices of people of Color hurts us, as it ensures we live in a painfully isolated echo chamber. When we change the structures that deny Queer and Trans People of Color access to mediums for having their voices heard, we all benefit.

2. Simply put, White people need to be willing to redistribute our wealth.

In the United States, White privilege doesn’t just mean benefitting from little advantages throughout our day. For most of us, being White has meant that we have access to economic opportunity that ensures, as Ta-Nehisi Coates made so clear in this brilliant piece, that White poverty and Black poverty in the United States are not differences of “degree” but are poverties of a wholly “different kind.”

In turn, part of being accountable to our privilege means being willing to give as much as we’re able to people of Color-led efforts at realizing justice.

If we say we stand for justice, we have to put our money where our mouths are.  And a great way to do that is to give to the Black Girl Dangerous Editor in Training Program.

Thus, White folks, you should give.  Now.

White men in my life, I am particularly challenging you to give.  If all you can afford is $5, give $5.  If you can afford to put them up over their goal with a huge donation, do so.  But give.

As of the time I publish this piece, the fundraiser is a little more than halfway to its goal, with $11,673 left to raise.

Black Girl Dangerous Editor in Training Program

If (I’m sure mostly White) people can fundraise more than $55,000 for some damn potato salad, we should be able to get BGD at least that much.  If not, let’s get them to $25k.