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

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

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

Or we can choose to divest from Whiteness.

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

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

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

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

Whiteness and White supremacy dehumanize everyone.

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A Sign Held by a Protester in Ferguson, MO

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

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

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

Without those things, are we still human?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Time to Choose

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

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

And this movement demands that we as White people choose.

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

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

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

But we have to choose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Marriage is Not the Movement: An Unconventional Wedding Announcement

Ashley Horan is a Unitarian Universalist minister and the Executive Director of MUUSJA: The Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance. She lives in Minneapolis with her partner Karen, their 14-year-old daughter Elizabeth, a very bad cat called Bodhi, and a soon-to-be-born tiny human being.

Hutt-Horan

October 20, 2014

Two years ago today, my beloved and I made promises to one another in front of many of the people we love best in the world. In the language of our faith, we made a covenant—a deep, binding promise between the two of us, held and reinforced by our community, and sustained by that holy and sacred power of creativity that gives us life, known by many as God. With our family and friends as witnesses, we named all that we aspire to together, with word and symbol and ritual… and then, we celebrated at the best party we’ve ever been to.

Our commitment ceremony was a very important threshold for us and our relationship. It made public all that we had known to be true between us, and it linked us with the millennia of ancestors who have ritually recognized the creation of families of many kinds throughout the ages.

Our commitment ceremony was NOT, however, a wedding. We very intentionally avoided words like “marriage” and “wedding” and “spouse.” Some of our community thought we were being ridiculous—a rose by any other name, right? But for us, this was an essential distinction: people can commit to one another in a lot of different ways, and build lots of different kinds of families and relationships, but marriage is a very specific term.

Traditionally, it refers to the binding of a union between two people—usually a man and a woman—which is recognized by a civil or governmental authority as the marker of kinship ties and legitimacy. While most religious and spiritual traditions have ceremonies to recognize committed relationships, and civil and religious marriage are often conflated, there are very clear benefits associated with state-recognized marriage that are generally not conferred upon committed people who have not chosen to have their union affirmed by a civil authority. These include spousal visitation rights, death benefits, powers of decision making and inheritance, property rights, parental recognition, joint health coverage, and many more.

In short, civil/legal marriage is the gateway to many benefits that are generally NOT available to non-married people, both single and partnered.

Why didn’t we want to get married, you might ask?

First, we understood our commitment to each other as primarily covenantal, rather than legal: we were making promises to each other, to our community, and to the Holy… not to the State.

Second, we are a part of a long line of queer folks (and in Karen’s case, communities of Color) who have insisted that WE—not the State, not the church, not societal convention—decide what our families look like, what kind of promises we make to one another, and how we want to be in relationship with each other. WE get to say to each other, “You are my family,” and thereby make it true, whether or not it is affirmed by the capricious whims of the reigning regime.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, we deeply believe that all humans deserve basic care and protection from the state, whether or not they choose to shape their lives and their relationships in a particular way. We believe all of us deserve health care… the right to be recognized as parents to the children we raise, regardless of our biological relationships… access to our partners when they are ill… the opportunity to help our partners qualify for citizenship… the ability to care for one another beyond death by passing along property and money to those we leave behind.

And, we believe that any fight that aims to expand access to these rights to some, but not ALL people, is not enough.

We know that for many LGBTQ people, the recent wave of same-sex marriage legalization has been hugely important and deeply emotionally significant. It has made many among us feel visible and affirmed for the first time. It has granted access to important rights to many couples and their families. It will, quite literally, save some lives, and make life easier for many, many more.

The movement to make these victories possible brought many, many people who had never been activists before into the public fray; it brought disparate groups together in common struggle.

But the marriage equality fight has also been, in some ways, a huge distraction. It has taken billions of dollars (from all sides of the issue) and diverted them from other, less funded Queer causes. It has been led largely by White, educated, middle and upper-class Gays and Lesbians, and has often not included the leadership, perspectives, and needs of other Queers, gender non-conforming people, and communities of Color.

It has even used divisive identity politics to suggest that certain communities are the “enemy” of Gay marriage, thereby insulting, ignoring, and delegitimizing the lived experiences of Queer members of those communities. It has more often than not lacked an intersectional lens, and has failed to examine elements of racism, transphobia, classism, ableism, misogyny, and capitalism have tainted the marriage equality movement’s ability to represent a broad swath of people with diverse identities.

In short, while we are genuinely happy for those among our community who have so long awaited access to legal marriage, and all that it entails, we don’t believe that “we’ve won” the fight for Gay rights yet. And we don’t see civilly-recognized marriage as something we yearn for in our own relationship, for both religious and political reasons.

So, last week, when we were informed that Karen’s employer was eliminating “domestic partners” as a category of family relationship that qualifies people for insurance coverage under their plan, we were upset.

As of January 1, 2015, our relationship—whose legitimacy we had to prove already with a stack of documents and legal affidavits when we first applied for coverage—will no longer be considered valid unless we also present a marriage certificate. Without one, I will be dropped from Karen’s insurance, she will not be legally recognized as our soon-to-be-born child’s parent, and the baby won’t be insured, either.

In order to get married, we will also pay all the fees associated with applying for a license, paying a civil officiant, filing the signed marriage certificate, and hiring a lawyer to guide us through the complicated processes of merging our finances, documenting legal parenthood of our child, creating married versions of our wills and advance directives, and more.

This will not be a hardship for us. We have generous family and friends to help us cover costs, and in the end, we will be more legally secure and protected than we are now. This is, in many ways, what I have taken to referring to this week as a “‪#‎FirstWorldGayProblem‬.”

But make no bones about it, we feel as if we are being forced to get married. The passage of same-sex marriage legislation in our state has actually disqualified us from benefits for which we were previously deemed eligible, and is making it necessary for us to choose between our principled, deeply thought-out desire to define our relationship religiously and not civilly, and our need for healthcare and legal protection and recognition as family.

We know we are lucky, personally, to be able to access a pathway to all the rights that get conferred upon you when you’re married. But we’re also keenly aware that this option still isn’t available to many, many people for a variety of reasons, and that the two-people-who-are-romantically-involved-and-committed style of partnership is not one that works for or is accessible to everyone who needs healthcare, parental rights, immigration access, and so many other things.

So, friends and comrades, consider this our unofficial wedding announcement. Sometime over the next six weeks, before the new life I’m carrying emerges from my body, we will go down to city hall and get legally married. Don’t be offended if you’re not invited; we’re not really doing much of a celebration for this particular milestone.

But, since everyone knows when you get married, you get to create a wedding registry and expect the gifts to pour in, we do want some things from you! You can give us one or more of them, or—even better—you can work with someone else to collaborate on any of the following items:

1. If you donated money to a marriage equality fight over the last few years, commit to giving equal dollars to another organization working for trans* rights, or fighting queer youth homelessness, or elevating the voices of black and brown queer folks, etc.

Some suggestions include Tysn MNSoutherners on New Ground, Brown Boi Project, Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), Center on Halsted, Howard Brown Health Center, and many more. Even if you didn’t give money to marriage equality the first time around, consider donating to these organizations now.

2. If you volunteered your time in canvassing, phone banking, having one-to-one conversations, attending rallies, or getting out the vote for marriage equality, commit to donating an equal or greater number of hours to another queer cause, or intersectional social justice campaign.

Show up to protest mass incarceration and police brutality; work with your local affordable housing coalition; volunteer to support the agenda of small organizations led by the communities most directly affected by injustice.

3.  If you supported marriage equality because it gives a wider swath of people access to various rights, commit to working for campaigns that expand those rights to ALL people.

Support work for universal and/or single-payer health care, comprehensive immigration reform, tax reform, prison abolition, and racial and economic justice.

4. Read more about why a lot of queer folks and people of color resist legal marriage as the pathway toward rights and benefits many of us consider to be basic human rights.

Start with this article by Dean Spade and Craig Willse: Marriage Will Never Set Us Free.

———-

We’ll get married and probably be glad for the things it brings us. We’ll put on our best clothes and look seriously cute and come to your wedding, if you choose to get married, and we’ll dance our butts off and rejoice in the fact that you have access to an institution that protects you and your family.

And, then, when it’s all over and the DJ packs up her turntables and the appetizers are all gone, we’ll all grab each other’s hands, we’ll look at one another in the eyes, and we’ll ask, “Do you take this life, this struggle for collective liberation, for better or for worse, as long as we all shall live?”

And then we’ll all laugh, and each say, “Yes. I do.”