So . . . This morning a friend forwarded me the following email from recently-defeated Democratic South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland‘s senate campaign, subject line reading “We can’t breathe!!!!”
Did you get that? A wealthy, White man from South Dakota is appropriating the language of the current Black struggle for liberation to raise money to pay off the debt from his recent senate campaign.
Let me just highlight a few lines for you:
“Men of color are not the only ones they have in a choke-hold — now they’ve got all of us — and its way past time to tell them none of us can breathe!” (bolded emphasis theirs)
“Emboldened by the Obama-haters they just elected, Wall Street is readying the nooses for Obamacare and Dodd-Frank.” (emphasis mine)
Now I would hope I don’t need to explain why this is so, so messed up, but just in case someone reading this is thinking, “What’s the problem! It’s an apt metaphor! Police are killing people of Color in this country just like Republicans are trying to kill Obamacare,” let me break this down a bit.
We as White people don’t get to appropriate the struggles of people of Color, struggles that for them are literally life or death, to serve our personal or political agendas! We don’t get to conjure images of lynching nooses to scare our fellow White people into giving us money!
This is a lot like changing “Black Lives Matter” to “All Lives Matter,” except perhaps this is worse because a White person is appropriating the language of this struggle struggle to raise money!
The “I Can’t Breathe!” language refers to a Black man having the life choked out of him by a racist police officer backed by a racist system, and we’re going to use that language to serve our political agendas?
Rick, the thing is that you and I CAN breathe. We aren’t facing the daily threat to our existence. In fact, we benefit daily from the systems that endanger Black, Brown, and Indigenous lives in this country. So we don’t get to say, “now they’ve got all of us” because that’s a flat-out lie!
White Democrats, you may have noticed that this anger is non-partisan. The governor of Missouri who did everything in his power to protect Darren Wilson from prosecution is a Democrat. This Rick Weiland character is a Democrat!
The investment in Whiteness at the expense of the lives of people of Color that these examples belie is a non-partisan investment.
And enough is enough.
This is White privilege on display, thinking that everything is ours for the taking, even the language a struggle for freedom from the racist systems that WE created and maintain. And we as White folks have to let our fellow White people know that this is unacceptable.
So please. Take a minute to use Twitter or Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org to let Rick Weiland and his campaign know that this is not just an irresponsible use of language. This is racist appropriation, and it has to stop.