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

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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.

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Check Your Privilege: Calling In Princeton’s Privilege-Denying First Year

Tal Fortgang, courtesy of The College Fix

It seems the Right in the United States has a new hero, a first year student at Princeton named Tal Fortgang.  What did this young man do that earned him the accolades of Rightwing sites like The Blaze and the Independent Journal Review?

He published an article in The Princeton Tory explaining that when people tell him to “check his privilege,” they’re all wrong because what they are calling privilege is actually his really awesome “character.”

Fortgang explains at length the struggles that his family has endured, escaping Nazi Germany and eventually making their way to the U.S. where they have been able to thrive thanks to strong character and hard work.  His point, then, is that systems of privilege and oppression are “imaginary” and that we are all simply products of our (and our parents) own hard work and character.

And so he closes, “I have checked my privilege. And I apologize for nothing.”

In response, White people and men all over the country are crying out “Hallelujah!”  They’ve found their prophet who can, once and for all, shut down those Liberals that are “arguing like everything was handed to white families on a silver platter, and imply that no one had to work hard for what they got” (despite that this is not what people advancing privilege discourse are, in fact, arguing).

And those of us who are working hard to expose systems of White supremacy and privilege (as well as other systems of oppression) are shaking our heads in frustration.

After all, his arguments are not new.  I have heard these exact arguments from White people and men and cis people and Christians and  Straight people and legal citizens and on and on . . .

“Privilege isn’t a thing. My family worked hard for everything we have. You’re the bigot for claiming that my appearance privileges me in society.”

And in response, we can provide him with endless evidence of how the idea of the U.S. being a meritocracy is, despite his protestations, a myth.

We can explain the ways that the “equal protection” promised in our constitution and that he claims grants everyone equal opportunity is, in fact, a myth.

We can talk about how, even though his family came relatively late to the Whiteness game, they still had countless forms of White affirmative action available to them that gave them legs up not available to people of Color.

We can go into the ways that his assumption that “hard work” and “character” are what alone led to his family’s successes implies that all of the low-wealth people in the U.S. (who are disproportionately people of Color) simply don’t have good enough “character” and simply don’t work hard enough to realize the American dream that he so proudly can boast (an argument which is blatantly classist and racist once you sort through the coded language).

But it seems to me that he is writing this letter because people have tried to show him these things and that people have called him out for these uninterrogated privileges, but he still is convinced that he and his family are simply products of their own design.

So we need a new tack.

Getting Beyond “Check Your Privilege”

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True Solidarity: Moving Past Privilege Guilt

As I prepare to head to the White Privilege Conference in Madison, WI this weekend, here’s my latest piece published at Everyday Feminism.  As I have been helping plan some of the parts of the conference meant to inspire people to take action during and after the three-day event, this post seems particularly relevant, as those of us with privilege must find ways to move past guilt and toward accountable action.

***

I remember well when I was first confronted with my privilege.

I had just started college, and some activists called me out on the ways in which my class and race privilege were showing up in the classroom as well as in activist spaces.

Of course I was indignant. “I’m not privileged! I work hard for everything I have!”

And while I did indeed work hard, that assertion is obviously laughable.

There are all sorts of aspects of my identity that afford me privilege: my race, my gender, my religious upbringing, my intergenerational wealth, my ability, and on and on.

But that didn’t make it any easier for me to hear, and as I realized they were right, I fell into a bit of depression, carrying tremendous guilt and struggling to understand how this could be true.

I felt as if I was a bad person simply for being who I am, and I was trapped in shame.

I’m a racist, classist, sexist, ableist homophobe who is ruining everything everywhere.” Yeah, it’s a little dramatic, but it’s honestly reflective of how I felt.

In the midst of my wrestling with this guilt and inertia, I noticed a quote on the dorm room wall of a girl I was totes crushing on:

QuotePic1

I didn’t think much of it the first time I saw it. Or the second time. But since I was hanging around in her room a lot, the quote kept showing up for me, and after a while, it really hit me.

I had to find a way to move out of guilt if I wanted to make a difference.

In time I came to realize that if privilege guilt prevents me from acting against oppression, then it is simply another tool of oppression, and sitting in guilt means further colluding with the system that is making me feel shame.

In turn, we have to find a way to move through or past guilt and toward action against oppression.

And though the process of overcoming privilege guilt must inevitably be intensely personal, there are approaches to ending feelings of guilt that all people of privilege can take.

Approaches to Moving Through or Past Privilege Guilt

1. Self-Reflect

If you’re struggling with shame about your identity and your privilege, that guilt is rooted somewhere, and understanding those roots is important.

Is your guilt coming from your active collusion in oppression? Is it rooted in past action? Is it rooted in feelings of powerlessness about the big-picture problems of oppression?

Without a strong understanding of where our guilt comes from, it is impossible to overcome guilt and accountably act for social justice.

After all, if our guilt is rooted in past oppressive actions, knowing so allows us to forgive ourselves and, perhaps, apologize to others for our hurtful behavior so that we can move forward.

If our guilt stems from our own collusion with oppression, lacking such awareness will only lead to “White knighting,” a term I use as a catchall for acting for or on behalf of those we wish to help. Having knowledge of our own collusion, then, allows us to begin to take steps toward solidarity.

2. Understand and Accept Your Role in Oppression

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

Note the use of the Gaelic Cross to encourage White Pride

Holding the Tension: Whiteness vs. European Cultural Identity

I recently attended a fundraiser event for Oyate Nipi Kte, an organization dedicated to the recovery of “Dakota traditional knowledge, including Dakota language, spirituality, ecology, oral tradition and life ways.”  At the event, Waziyatawin, Ph.D, called on White settlers who live on occupied Indigenous land to consider what it means to participate in resistance to White supremacy and continued colonization.

During a small group conversation, my friend Lex said something that has stuck with me, running through my mind daily since: “As White people, it’s important that we do the work to figure out who our people were before we were colonizers.”

It’s notable that Lex said this the day before St. Patrick’s day, during a weekend when countless people of all ethnic backgrounds donned green and drank green beer until they puked a verdant mess.

For me, reclaiming who my people were before we were colonizers means understanding my Irish, German, and Dutch heritage, yet I know next to nothing about my people and the cultures from whence they came.  Why?  Well, because they became White.

Whiteness as a Construct

Despite the way it’s often discussed, race is not a biological concept, and it sure as hell isn’t static.  First, “Whiteness” didn’t exist when Europeans first came to North and South America.  There were simply European landholders who held tight to power.  Over time, though, these European landowners needed a way to stave off slave and proletariat rebellions, so they invented this common “race” for some Europeans.

As laid out in Nell Irvin Painter’s “The History of White People,” at first, only certain Europeans (read wealthy men from north-western Europe) were considered worthy of being in the club.  In the early-to-mid 19th century, though, the wealthy “White” folks realized they needed more allies who could serve in slave patrols and in menial labor positions, so groups like the Irish were slowly allowed to become “White” in order to offer these European immigrants/colonizers a pittance that would keep them from uniting with enslaved African people and Indigenous people.

From there, Whiteness was expanded again in the early-to-mid-20th century to include most Europeans and even to include Jews who, no matter where in Europe they were from, had been traditionally excluded from the “White” label.

The Wages of Whiteness

What this label offered was access: access to land (through things like the Land Grant Acts which was almost totally denied to anyone not considered White), access to education (both through better-funded public schools and the G.I. Bill, which was systematically denied to soldiers of Color), access to jobs (though anti-Irish and anti-Italian job discrimination did exist, it didn’t have the widespread impact that policies like Jim Crow did), and access to countless other little and big legs up in American life.

IrishNeedNotApply

Despite common refrains from modern White people of Irish descent, these signs were rare.

But Whiteness came with a cost.  Becoming White meant leaving behind the cultural heritage of our people so that we could access the economic benefits, sometimes ones desperately needed, of the “American Dream” (aka the “Dream of White Supremacy”).

There’s a reason that I don’t speak a word of Gaelic, Dutch, or German.  There’s a reason that I know next to nothing about the cultures from which my people came.  There’s a reason that I don’t know the true reasons for why my people fled the land they always knew to see opportunities as colonizers in North America.

That reason is Whiteness.

When we look at race through this context, it is easier to understand Whiteness as more than a racial identity: it’s a system of privilege and oppression better known and understood as White Supremacy.

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n-word

4 Reasons White People Can’t Use the N-Word (No Matter What Black Folks are Doing) [UPDATE]

A few years back, I published a post titled “4 Reasons White People Can’t Use the N-Word.”  Since it’s publication, it’s been one of my most popular posts.

Well,  I gave it a bit of a reboot over at Everyday Feminism.  Check it out below…

New debates are springing up in a long-contentious dialogue about reclamation of oppressive language.

During the recent ESPN “Outside the Lines” special discussion of a proposed NFL rule to penalize the n-word, Twitter erupted in critique, criticism, and debate.

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In the midst of this debate, though, there is generally one rule when it comes to the n-word on which there is almost total consensus among Black people:

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Yet White people don’t seem to get it.

I’d likely be a wealthy man if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a White person ask “If Black people can just throw the n-word around all the time, why is it not okay for White people to use that word?”

I can only imagine the number of dimes Black people would have. Innumerable.

And despite how important listening to the voices of marginalized and oppressed people is to social justice work on the part of those with privilege, White people on the whole really seem to have hard time with this one.

Perhaps this is because we don’t like being told that anything is off limits to us.

Or perhaps we just have trouble hearing the voices of those we consider, at some basic level, to be lesser, not fully human.

Regardless of the reason, maybe it’s time for a different tact.

Perhaps you can hear it better or differently if a White person explains why exactly we don’t get to use the n-word, regardless of what Black folks are doing.

So here is my message to you.

Dear White Folks,

We have to stop using the n-word.

Like really, really.

And I know what you’re thinking, “But—But—‘They’ get to say it all the time!”

Well, tough cookies.

Here’s why it’s not okay for us to say it, no matter what Black folks are doing:

1.  We Lost the Privilege

You know that whole 600 year time period when White Europeans were buying and selling Black Africans as chattel?

And remember how that whole system was enforced by a violent system of repression whereby Black slaves who did not act the way the White folks wanted them to were beaten and murdered?

Oh, and remember that time after slavery when Black people were locked in a system called Jim Crow that used a similar fear of violence and repression to keep Black people in “their place?”

Well, in the midst of all that shit, there was a word invented by White people as a pejorative for Black folks. And it was used just about every time a Black person was whipped, chained, beaten, insulted, spat upon, raped, lynched, or otherwise humiliated and mistreated by White folks.

Thus, I really don’t care how much White folks want to use that word.

I don’t care how unfair you think it is that someone else gets to use it when we don’t.

Our people gave up the privilege to use that word the moment we invented it as a tool of oppression.

2.  Why Should We Get a Say in the Conversation about That Word?

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.