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.

Ferguson

In Solidarity with Ferguson, Act Locally: 5 Things White People Can Do to Combat Racist Police Violence

Scott Olson/Getty Images, Found Here

Like countless others around the country, I have been wrapped up in pain, anger, and concern over the killing of Michael Brown, the police cover up, the protests, and violent police response to those protests.  It’s been concerning (though perhaps not surprising) to see the state-sanctioned displays of White supremacy and utter contempt for the constitutional rights of poor Black people (especially with recent restraint used by institutional power when White protestors were pointing weapons at federal agents).

Perhaps what’s most concerning, though, is how this situation is described by White acquaintances, friends, and family who are not actively engaged in anti-racist action.

Some responses blame the victim: “Michael Brown was a criminal.” “If the protestors would just be civil, the police wouldn’t react the way they have.”

Other responses express naive shock and outrage: “How could this happen in America?” “Clearly the police in Ferguson are corrupt.”

But what seems to be missed in many of these reactions is that this is not a problem of Ferguson, MO. This is a problem of every single city and municipality in the United States of America.

As a result, there is a need to take action.  If you are able and are called to do so, consider joining the Black Lives Matter Ride to Ferguson on Labor Day weekend.  If you can’t head to Ferguson, consider financially supporting those who are taking part in this historic ride  (link takes you to Darnell Moore‘s fundraiser, but there are others linked below his to support as well).

However, those of us who cannot travel to Ferguson might feel like there’s nothing more we can do. Yet when we understand this as an interconnected problem of power and oppression, we immediately open up a world of action locally.

After all, when we as White people see Ferguson as an isolated problem, we actually contribute to the wider problem of White supremacy in our systems because we forever treat the problem as “over there” rather than right here on our home cities.

As a result, there is a need for us as White people (particularly since we often easily move from issue to issue and cause to cause) to see protests in Ferguson as part of a wider movement against the state-sanctioned extra-judicial murder and brutalization of people of Color by police and their proxies.

And when we realize that Ferguson is part of a history and a movement against police brutality that disproportionately affects communities of Color, we empower ourselves to act locally for justice.

5 Ways to Act Locally Against Racist Police Violence

1. Know Their Names, Say Their Names

Every 28 hours, a Black person is killed by police or those protected by police in the United States. That doesn’t even account for the Latino, Asian or Pacific Islander, Indigenous, or (most often low-income) White victims of police extra-judicial killing.  Nor does this number account for all of those victims of police brutality who survive but must live with the trauma and injuries from this violence.

Thus, no matter where you live, people locally are being impacted by police (and proxy) violence.

An important place for you to start, then, is to do the research to find the names and stories of those locally impacted by police violence.

Alonzo Ashley, Source

When I lived in Denver, activists were organizing to hold police accountable for the murder of Alonzo Ashley.

In Minneapolis, activists are working to hold the police accountable for the murder of

Terrance Franklin, Source

Terrance Franklin and for the beating of Al Flowers for demanding to see a warrant when police invaded his home.

By knowing the names and stories of those locally impacted by police violence, you ground this movement in your community and you open the door to local action.

2. Raise Awareness Locally

Once you’re aware of the police violence affecting local communities, you can help raise the consciousness of those around you. Local awareness and engagement is vital for changing policy, police training, and civic practice in your community.

More often than not, White folks are totally oblivious to this violence and/or blame the victims for the violence taking place. Thus, there is a particular need for us to call other White folks into the conversation about police brutality.

Whether through social media or over a dinner with a friend, look for ways that you can help those who are unaware understand the problem of police (and proxy) violence in our cities and towns.

3. Pressure Local Power Holders

Once we are aware of the problem, we have to do more than bemoan the issue within the comfort of our homes.  We have to hold local power holders accountable to creating change.

Particularly for those of us with access (as a result of wealth or connections), there is a need to press mayors, city council members, alderman, police chiefs, public prosecutors, and other local power holders for change.  When they ignore you (and they likely will), keep contacting them. Set up meetings, and email them regularly.

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

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

4. Join The Movement Against Police Brutality Locally

Everywhere that police are brutalizing citizens, people are organizing to hold police accountable. If you live in even a medium-sized city, there’s a good chance that your city has an organized group working against police brutality. Connect with the local organizers and organizations that are demanding change. Not sure who those folks are? Show up to local protests against police brutality and ask about who the organizers were, or connect with local activists via social media and ask how you can help.  Then work to build trust and volunteer your time and energy to help!

Keep in mind, though, that as White folks, it’s not our job to be in charge.  Offer your support, but recognize that you don’t need to be in the limelight or in a leadership role. There are powerful activists in every community with the lived experience and history in activism to lead. If we’re just coming to the movement, it’s our job to listen, learn, and support.

5. Connect and Collaborate with Nearby Movements

Knowing that this is a problem in pretty much every community in the country and knowing that there are seasoned activists who’ve been standing up to this problem for generations, connecting with multiple organizations in an area can help build a wider movement.  Maybe they are already connected and learning from one another, but if they’re not, a simple way to help is to network and learn from others nearby who are doing the work to hold police forces accountable.  The more we connect our efforts in the age of digital media and communication, the more effective we can be in ensuring that violent, racist police forces (and the powers above them) cannot act with impunity.

———–

Regardless of how we engage, we have to engage. As we are far less likely to be impacted by police violence directly, but police violence hurts everyone as it tears apart any hope for true democracy.

Sure, there are White people who are beaten or killed by cops, and they are more likely to be low-wealth White folks.  We need to understand, though, that while fearing state-sanctioned violence is a daily reality for most people of Color in the United States (but particularly for Black, Indigenous, and Brown people), it’s just not something most White folks ever consider.

And finally, to those who immediately jump into the #NotAllCops defense upon hearing criticisms like those in this piece, stop. No, not all cops are actively participating in the murder and brutalization of citizens, but this is about more than the racism of individual cops. That’s why there are plenty of police of Color who contribute to the problem.

This is about a system of oppression that since its inception has used the implied or active violence of police forces for everything from slave patrols to re-enslaving escaped slaves to beating civil rights marchers to brutalizing people of Color in order to crush the hopes and dreams of those for whom this country was not made.

Simply put, “America is not for Black people,” and one of the most foundational roles of the police is to protect and maintain the status quo in a system of oppression.

Other resources:

Donate Supplies to Protestors and Organizers in Ferguson

Stay up to date with the Black Lives Matter Ride and Donate to Riders like Darnell Moore

Showing Up for Racial Justice – Police Brutality Action Kit

12 Things White People Can Do Now Because of Ferguson – By Janee Woods

12 Things White People Can Do About Ferguson Besides Tweet – By Kate Hardin

WealthDisparity

Income vs. Wealth: How Privilege Is Passed Down from Generation to Generation

Not too long ago, I got an angry e-mail from someone in the town where I grew up.

The author of the e-mail is someone who knows my parents pretty well, and he had somehow stumbled across something I had written about privilege.

“How disrespectful can you be!? It’s like your spitting in the face of everything your parents have worked for,” he wrote. “Writing about this White privilege makes it look like your father, one of the harder working men I know, just had everything handed to him. You know that’s not the case!”

I did my best to respond by explaining that privilege doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve had everything handed to you, and I know that my father has worked hard. To say that we have privilege doesn’t discredit any of his hard work. It simply puts that hard work in context.

I recently heard privilege described as a tailwind,” taking your effort and energy and propelling you further forward than those who must fly against the winds of our society’s constructs of power and privilege.

My father didn’t grow up with incredible wealth privilege. He is the son of a truck driver and stay-at-home mom who also worked at a local school cafeteria to earn extra cash. My grandfather grew up in the “holler” in West Virginia in an area well familiar with intergenerational poverty.

Part of what set our family apart, though, was our ownership of land.

Similarly, on my mom’s side of the family, go back a few generations and you’ll find some poor, hardworking farmers from Ireland and Belgium who settled on stolen indigenous land in South Dakota. Again, they were able to buy a plot of land upon which they could start to build their familial wealth legacy.

Fast forward a few generations, and I am the son of a doctor and a nurse.

Wealth and the Context of History

There are really a few ways to look at my family’s history.

Some might say that it’s the perfect example of “The American Dream,” as defined by the ability of a people to build something (read: wealth) for themselves that is passed down to ensure the next generation’s life is a little better than the last.

Others might note that my family’s story perfectly illustrates the trappings of privilege.

Sure, my family gave up most of our cultural identity to become White in the United States, but doing so gave us access to a system that privileged us in countless ways.

Simply put, we traded culture for a tailwind.

After all, one of the key markers of access to wealth in the United States for much of its history has been the ability to own land. There’s a reason that for a good, long while in this country, a man couldn’t vote unless he owned land, and you couldn’t own land unless you were White and Christian.

And land-ownership has been systematically denied to those not considered “White” (through the ever-changing construction of Whiteness) for most if not all of this country’s history.

From the Land Grant Acts to the Homesteading Acts to redlining policies toWhite flight, we see how owning land, but particularly land considered “desirable” or worthy (whether because of access to resources or proximity to jobs or simply status) allows for wealth mobility.

And this access to wealth mobility is relates directly to intersectional identity politics.

This does not mean that all White people are wealthy or that poor White folks somehow are failures for not better working the system that privileges us.

It simply means that the limited access to wealth that has always been a staple in this country has just been more limited for people of Color and women and disabled/differently-abled people and non-Christians and really anyone who isn’t part of the smaller, privileged few that are most granted access to wealth in this country.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know

As happens every time that I read something from Black Girl Dangerous, I recently found myself snapping, nodding, and yelling out “YES!” while reading a piece from Mia McKenzie.

Her article “No More ‘Allies’” made me profoundly uncomfortable – which is a good thing.

I was uncomfortable because it was a call to reflection about my own “ally”identifications and my own work.

To start, read her piece. Seriously. It is awesome.

Beyond that, though, it’s time for those of us who fashion ourselves “allies” or as “currently operating in solidarity with” to have a conversation.

More and more, I am seeing precisely what McKenzie is describing – people of identity privilege who are identifying as “allies” almost as if it is a core part of their identity.

What’s worse, I keep seeing people respond to criticism about their oppressive language or problematic humor with, “But I’m an ally!”

For instance, I recently saw an acquaintance (who notably identifies as Straight)post a pretty problematic joke about Gay men on Twitter.

Aside from expressing my discontent in a tweet, I reached out to her in a private message to explain why I took issue with her joke.

Her response, though, was to say, “Jamie, you know that I’m an LGBT ally! I speak out for Gay rights all the time! This was clearly just a joke.”

And therein lies the problem.

The identification of “ally” was so prominent in this person’s mind that she couldn’t even hear criticism of how her actions were out of alignment with her professed desire to be an “ally!”

So “allies,” let’s talk.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Before I say anything else, though, I should note something important about this article.

None of what I am writing here are my ideas.

They are drawn from Mia McKenzie’s piece, from conversations I’ve had with people of many different marginalized identities, from theorists, novelists, bloggers – but none of them are inherently mine.

They are the ideas of the People of Color, Queer-identified people, women, differently-abled people, poor folks, Jewish people, Muslim people, Atheists, undocumented citizens, and others.

And noting this is important.

Because part of being an ally means giving credit where credit is due and never taking credit for the anti-oppressive thinking, writing, theorizing, and action of the marginalized and oppressed.

Which I guess leads me to my point.

10 Things Every ‘Ally’ Needs to Remember

There are lots of ways to be a great “ally” – and innumerable ways to be a terrible one.

But it’s not rocket science.

There are simple things you can keep in mind and do in order to be a better person “currently operating in solidarity with” the marginalized or oppressed.

And while this list is not comprehensive, it’s definitely somewhere to start.

1. Being an Ally is About Listening

As McKenzie puts it, “Shut up and listen.”

As someone striving to be an ally, the most important thing we can do is listen to as many voices of those we’re allying ourselves with as possible. 

Now, does this mean that we should assume that just because, say, one Person of Color said it that it’s the absolutely truth that we should parrot? Absolutely not.

If that were the case, then Don Lemon would clearly speak for all Black people.

But listening to a diversity of marginalized voices can help you understand the core of any given issue.

And it also can help you understand why the opinion of your one Lesbian friend is not necessarily the best defense of your use of heterosexist language.

2.  Stop Thinking of ‘Ally’ as a Noun

Being an ally isn’t a status.

The moment that we decide “I’m an ally,” we’re in trouble.

As Mia McKenzie puts it:

“’Currently operating in solidarity with’ is undeniably an action. It describes what a person is doing in the moment. It does not give credit for past acts of solidarity without regard for current behavior. It does not assume future acts of solidarity. It speaks only to the actions of the present.”

3.  ‘Ally’ is Not a Self-Proclaimed Identity

Really, being an ally is not an identity at all, but it’s vitally important that we understand that we cannot simply decide we are allies.

Being in solidarity is something we can strive for, but in the end, it is the choice of those we are attempting to ally ourselves to as to whether they trust us enough to call us an ally.

Additionally, just because one person considers me an ally, that does not mean that every person of that marginalized identity considers me an ally or should!

Trust is something earned through concerted action, not given simply because of our actions in a particular arena or context.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

Are We Your Wallpaper? An Open Letter to the “New Neighbors” – On Gentrification and White Privilege

This week’s post comes from a friend and a powerful, transformative consultant and counselor, Sherryl Weston.

Sherryl WestonSherryl holds a Master’s in Special Education with a focus on Emotional and Behavioral Disorders and a Master’s in Social Work. Her specialty is biracial/bicultural identity, especially as it relates to U.S. born people of color, new immigrants and refugees. Her clinical focus is on outreach, integration, parenting, maintaining sober relationships, teen sexuality and domestic violence. In her social justice and inclusiveness work, the issues of non-profit outreach, black-brown unity and the effects of internalized oppression are of greatest focus.

Sherryl is the founder of Westcloud Arts and Consulting, a dynamic, culturally-responsive arts, counseling, and consulting firm based in Denver, CO.  Learn more here and read Sherryl’s blog, More Than Cultural Competency, here.

—————————–

A White man named Christian Lander has written two books that spoof on (especially well-to-do) White liberals. The most recent is called Whiter Shades of Pale. The one I’ve read was on the NY Times Best Seller lists, called, The Definitive Guide to What White People Like: The Unique Taste of Millions. It was snarky and hilarious. And sad.

#7 Diversity

“White people love ethnic diversity, but only as it relates to restaurants…they send their kids to school with other rich White kids…If you run an ethnic restaurant you can be guaranteed repeat business and huge tips if you act like your White customers are adventurous and cultured for eating food that is not sandwiches or pasta.”

There are many others in Landers’ list that relate to this topic, and I related to the culture ones most. All of them seem to relate to what’s happening in my community.

Now, this is not intended to toss every White person in the same basket, but to highlight the range of issues with a certain segment of White society that seem to be getting in the way of some of the progress we need to make.

And it is the segment that is mislabeled. This group is called “progressive.”  This tends to be the group that is invisible in discussions of the various nuances regarding racism. It tends to be the group that is considered exonerated from participation in privilege and racism. It is the group that is often far ahead of the norm with regard to cross cultural relationships and positive political involvement.

There is a developmental process to becoming the best White ally. Everyone starts in their unique place, but that stepping forward is the virtual peeling of the onion. It’s a stop and go process. It’s a process that some people don’t know that they are on because they think they don’t have any more work to do. Certain segments of the communities of Color hold some of them up as shining examples of how far things have come. Some of them are married to people of color or have transracially adopted. Some segments of the communities of Color don’t realize they exist at all.

This is the group for whom this essay was written.

Sometimes getting where one wants to go is tearful, no fun at all. Is it possible to go to that tough place, then move through without completely dismissing what feels quite painful? Can there be a grain of useful truth in that messiness, held ‘til its proper place is revealed? I ask for self-reflection and patience with that fragile place.

My Experience

I live in a neighborhood that is gentrifying. Other areas of my city have gone through this same process. And many other places in the U.S. have gone through this. But for me it is the first time to see it happening from the “inside.” I don’t like it. For the White gentrifiers, we people of Color appear to be no more than so much colorful wallpaper, the backdrop for their privileged lives, so conveniently separated from the “true bigots,” the “unenlightened” who overtly hate people of color.

So What’s Gentrification? Merriam-Webster defines it this way: the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.

But is where you live some version of a political badge of honor with other White people?

The interesting part of what’s happening in my area is that it’s not just the poorer homes going away, replaced by more elegance. It’s so obvious that the culture is being replaced by a group of people who appear to have no investment in what is already present.

In a university-level Multiculturalism in the U.S. class I was teaching, a student argued that gentrification is good because it adds things to communities where there isn’t anything valuable.  Which speaks volumes to the mindset of gentrification.

Theoretically, other liberal White people move to neighborhoods that have been historically home to the communities of Color, in part, because they want the “more interesting and vibrant scene,” plus the convenience of the city. In my area there still is a political perspective that is generally liberal. It is still is Democratic Party-dominant.

And therein lies the danger.

Changes

Some changes I’ve noticed since the neighborhood has started to shift:

An interesting example of changes that are hard to nail down: Our sweet little post office has always felt to me like something from a small town. The generally easygoing air has a few times now been replaced by what appears to be a White female patron, dressed in that understated expensive way, who is public and sometimes overtly nasty with their entitled impatience for things not moving fast enough. One woman swore because an elderly lady was taking a long time with her questions. I asked her to stop. So did a moderate-looking White lady with her little children, who looked more like the kind of person who has always lived around here. Ms. Privilege swore some more and stormed out. She could have been someone who has lived around here for a long time, but it just didn’t seem like it. She had the “new neighbor air” about her.

Who are the “new neighbors?” What ambiance do they bring? What constitutes an “up and coming” neighborhood?

Generalities:

  • When there is a public event focused at the traditional community, White people are generally not present.
  • Go in the newer establishments and there are generally very few people of Color as patrons. (Look in the kitchen, though.) They are generally packed with customers within the first few days of being open. The prices are higher. The menu has “Americanized” versions of ethnic food or none at all. People are most often wearing plain muted colors, flip flops and sandals – those brands of athletic wear that reveal the price tag. They have designer dogs. They have a couple of smaller kids and super expensive strollers. They don’t go in the couple of people of Color-owned operations that are left.
  • Businesses that remain and are people of Color-owned are doing okay if they are of a certain sort. Seems that they most fit into the categories that Lander has in his list, like “good” coffee and “ethnic” food. But many businesses have left with the Brown neighbors. Some new business owners are of Color but seem so imbedded in what I call the “new neighbor value system” that they are, well, just new neighbors.
  • School district fights involve whether charter schools serve the community as a whole or not. It doesn’t seem to be an accident that charters open as fast as local schools close. The closing of local schools seem to hit families of Color hardest. It doesn’t seem to be an accident that the populations of the neighborhood public schools appear to be getting Browner, not representing the “new neighbor” influx.

A funny one: In my area, new businesses are named after the neighborhood that is actually on the OTHER side of a major roadway. They don’t know the difference? Don’t care?

Even though this particular example was about a neighborhood close by, it makes the point. At a community event I once heard a local standup comic say, “That’s not West Highlands! It’s just the other side of Federal [Boulevard.]”

It is to say, “You folks came here and formalized/renamed/reconfigured things, but WE know what it IS!”

So if this class of White people move to our neighborhoods but don’t want much to do with us, bringing in all of “their own stuff,” then we ARE just so many decorations, nice wallpaper and paintings, the backdrop for the enjoyment of all that money that shifted under the last couple of Presidential administrations.

But I think there are also White people moving in, thinking “the diversity” is one of the things they actually want. But what does that mean?

So, what’s the core issue?

Again, a feature of White privilege is in not having to worry about such matters. And the immediate consequences of such a housing decision can easily go completely unseen or unfelt. It’s the fish-in-water phenomenon: Why should you be able to see what is literally in the air you breathe? But if you truly care about evolving as a member of our multiracial society, you MUST look. Where is that oxygen mask?

Progressive White ally Joe Zemek encapsulated this issue well: “…I think the first critical & immeasurable ingredient is the number of people moving into a neighborhood who value multiculturalism & are geared toward full neighborhood participation & transcultural interaction. Knowledge/availability of resources is key…Where are the places in a neighborhood where we ALL interact–the places that aren’t cultural cocoons… What fosters the initial positive neighbor interaction that sparks discussion & following shared multicultural activities that recreate the neighborhood’s ‘quilt?’…”

What to do about it

Giving some White people the benefit of the doubt, I can point to some issues to start with. (It’s been pointed out to me by White allies that gentrifiers are not good at being honest about their racial/ethnic attitudes. Let’s pretend for a moment that’s not always true):

DO:

1) When you look at a house for purchase OR rent, don’t just research the crime rate and the “conveniences.” Spend some time looking into the history of the neighborhood: its “original” settlers; who most recently has had the largest presence; the Native tribe that might still have a presence; the cultural celebrations that may not be what you will find in the mainstream entertainment guides and newspapers.

2) Drive around the neighborhood, searching for what might be locally-owned businesses. Go in. Buy something, even if it’s a pack of gum. Strike up a general conversation with the clerk about their history with the neighborhood. Listen more than talk.

3) Be honest about what you are afraid of and then spend some time talking with allies about their origin, and what is real and not real about those things;

4) If you have friends of Color, think about how much they are (or are not) attached to their birth cultures. Then ask yourself if you are only comfortable with people of Color who mirror yourself. If that’s true, then asking them what they think will not give you additional insight and you need to think about how else to get clarity about the related issues.

5) Compare where you grew up to the new neighborhood and be honest with yourself about what’s behind why you care (or don’t) about inclusiveness in your intimate life.

6) Spend money at local businesses. Every month. Stay in touch with community organizations and attend their events. The non-profit organizations could especially use your financial support and volunteer hours.

7) Where are the concerts, museums, and cultural offerings where people of Color congregate? Can you be a minority in a group without (however silently) panicking?

8) Look into what you might be taking for granted, like the specific ways you benefit from White privilege or how culturally imbedded norms are about things like work behavior or how to raise children.

And if you are thinking, “Why should I have to do any of that?” or “That’s sounds like too much trouble” or “That makes me mad,” then there is much work to do on yourself.

9) If you are under age 30, it’s pretty common to believe that this is an “old people’s problem.” I’m suggesting that you accept that the problem is actually NOT solved. The issues unresolved by the generation before you has created several issues that I don’t see infrastructure or much language for. Please look at how you can examine this differently.

DON’T:

1) Mislead yourself about affordability of a home being the primary issue. It is a key feature of White privilege not to have to think about the global consequences of the choices you make, so even if this isn’t the first time for your consideration of these issues, then a fuller examination of your liberal-ness is due. If the larger house and/or more convenience are more important than how diverse your intimate world is, it is material possessions that hold more value for you, not being a full participant in an egalitarian multicultural world. People DO forego certain “conveniences” in order to deepen their relational connection to that “better” world or protect their children. You absolutely do have a choice, but be honest with yourself about what it’s really based on.

2) Limit your interest to “everything but the burden,” when it comes to people of Color. Regardless of recent pronouncements, this is not a “post racial” society. And please don’t dismiss this as “one more example of people-of-Color-bitching, when [we] actually have had it pretty good in recent years.”

The existence of the 2003 book Everything But the Burden: What White People are Taking from Black Culture by Greg Tate and the 1957 essay by Norman Mailer The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster prove that the issues related to what I’m describing are hardly new. Those two readings might be places to start on your way to deeper examination about where you are coming from as opposed to where you THINK you’ve been coming from.

3) Avoid examining what you’ve accepted as “acting cool.” Be careful of how you use the black vernacular. The supposedly benign use of the “N” word is an obvious one. The clunky mimicking of the improvisation you’ve seen Latinos do when dancing salsa can be another. It’s annoying for us to hear/see parodies of ourselves. There’s a difference between respectful cultural interest and what looks like shoddy, careless stealing.

4) Assume that your international travel or study, missionary work, or service in the Peace Corps is much of a substitute for intentional involvement in the communities of Color in the U.S. One possible element in your role as an “American” abroad is preferential treatment, based on being the world citizen that many worship. The infrastructures of some organizations are not built around addressing topics like Colorism and classism the in their staff training. And as a tourist, depending on how you plan your vacation, you may not actually be getting much more than a “Browner,” U.S. version of life in that country, a setting designed not to disturb your “American” entitlement.

An “I wonder” moment

On the street, during a sunny day, I heard that heart-shaking, thumping bass that makes one wonder if the people in the car can hear themselves think. I turned to see a sleek blue vintage convertible carrying what appeared to be four White guys in conservative grey and blue business suits, crisp White shirts and dark ties. And they, in gleeful unison, were belting out the lyrics to the rap song that was shaking the doors. I couldn’t help but smile.

And my next thought was, “Do they have black friends?” I wonder what points of view have proliferated since these men have become fans of gangsta rap? Research suggests that there are positive and negative outcomes from non-Blacks’ constant exposure. In my view, one of those negatives is that White people learn reinforced stereotypes at the same time they think they are being enlightened. That results in the mindless choices and behaviors among us that have direct and indirect impact on our relationships with you in our neighborhoods and workplaces. A section of an article from the Journal of Broadcasting and Electric Media (March 2009) speaks to this.

So, don’t be a part of perpetuating a problem that, for many years, has been getting in the way of honest and egalitarian cross-cultural relationships. I’m guessing that most of us people of Color really would like to be more than your colorful wallpaper.

5)  Participate in the superficial cultural appropriation that comes with things like White-led sweat lodges, Western (White) Buddhist sanghas, poorly choreographed and executed Zumba classes, the Harlem Shake, or that Blues that is really White rock and roll.

6) Let White guilt immobilize you. Find a therapist who knows these issues and has a clean bill of cross-cultural health.

7) Shoot the messenger.

And it’s going to help us all if we have patience with each other and ourselves as we struggle to coexist.

50 Years Later, A Dream Deferred

As I read through the text of his iconic speech given 50 years ago today, I can’t help but note the ways in which Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream remains deferred.  While many of the formal structures of segregation have been abolished, we have simply replaced them with the far more insidious shackles of colorblind ideology that masks inequality to those of us with racial and economic privilege.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

50 years ago, King described the reasons for marching 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

One hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.

Sadly today we know that people of Color still face the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.  Our communities are becoming ever more economically segregated, and so long as people of Color remain disproportionately poor, we ensure that King’s dream remains deferred.

It’s sad to see the ways in which the horrors king described are still alive and well in the United States today:

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. (Today, 1 in 3 Black men are wrapped up in the criminal injustice system of the New Jim Crow).

Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. (Today, a Black person is killed by police officers every 40 hours, and extra-judicial killings of Latinos by police are on the rise).

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. (Yet 50 years later, not much has changed for those living in these slums and ghettos, whether in the north, the south, or anywhere).

There is much work to do to realize King’s radical dream, yet we do his agency disservice with constant conjecture about what he would or would not support today, and his words, “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” have been hijacked by those who wish to maintain the unjust status quo.

Sadly, the legacy of racial justice in the United States since the March on Washington has been precisely what King warned against:

This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

Gradualism is precisely the drug we’ve taken, and as such, little progress has been made.  We are still fighting to ensure that this republic makes good on its “promissory note to which every American was to fall heir . . . that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But we must not lose hope.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” . . . We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one . . . No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” 

The legacy of King’s words in this speech of the March on Washington in general is to remind us of what work we still must do.

Let us not forsake the dream any longer, and let us no longer enforce the passive “peace” of injustice he spoke so powerfully against.

50 years later, let us not forget that King was a radical, a revolutionary, and the March on Washington was a cry for revolution.

#FitchTheHomeless – Hearing the Voices of Skid Row

#FitchTheHomeless

#FitchTheHomeless

In the last week, my piece on #FitchTheHomeless has gotten a lot of attention.  It inspired the second-most single-day hits that my blog has seen, and it was republished at The Good Men Project and on the Huffington Post.  With that kind of traffic, though, comes a lot of criticism.  Lots of people said things like, “So what you’re saying is that we should just never attempt to serve other people?  We should just sit on our asses?”

Others claimed that the ends justify the means, saying that it doesn’t matter if homeless people are being dehumanized because they’re being given something they need: clothes.

But absent from those criticisms is an understanding of the very voices that are inherently left out of most any conversation that takes place online: people experiencing homelessness.

In her brilliant response to #FitchTheHomeless published at Relevant Magazine, Rachel Karman, a social worker who works daily with the people who live in Skid Row, decided to do something that the creator of #FitchTheHomeless never thought to do: Talk to the people the campaign purports to help!

I cannot encourage you enough to read her entire article, but in case you don’t do so, at least read this excerpt:

And acknowledging how emotionally invested I am in this situation, I thought it might be best for me and for us all to hear and learn from the people whose opinion on this really matters. I decided to show some of the people I work with the video and write down—unfiltered—what was said. Here’s what I heard:

“Wow, that CEO guy is a bad dude.”

“Why the h*** would he pass out clothes to us that he said date rapists wear?”

“I’ve seen my nephew wear that brand of clothing and he’s not a date rapist.”

“It doesn’t look like he is explaining what he is doing to anyone he is giving clothes to. That’s not right.”

“Why isn’t he talking to people when he gives them the clothes? I hate it when people who think they are do-gooders act like that.”

“Why did he just give that large man those tiny pants? I thought he just said they don’t make those sizes? That doesn’t seem very helpful at all.”

“He’s not even asking if he can film them, does he think this is a zoo?”

“Why would we want our ‘own brand of clothing?’ Especially clothing he said ‘douche bags’ wear.”

“I’m not interested in being this guys billboard or social cause, unless it’s to get people homes.”

“We may be homeless, but that doesn’t mean we want to wear ‘douchey’ clothes to prove a point—what purpose would that serve, to dehumanize us even more than we already have been?”

“If someone walked up to me to take a picture of me to put on the Internet, I would be really pissed off.”

But the comment that I think sums up everything that needs to be said, was made by a woman who sat quietly through the whole video, before simply stating, “Well, that sort of hurt my feelings.

So before we go justifying our paternalistic “charity,” let’s at least take some time to listen to those who are being affected by campaigns like #FitchTheHomeless.

And for the opportunity to do so in this case, I am endlessly thankful to the powerful voices from Skid Row who spoke up and to Rachel Karman for sharing them.