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3 Examples That Show Even White Privilege Needs to be Viewed Intersectionally

istock_000056951292_mediumOriginally published at Everyday Feminism.


“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” —Lilla Watson, Australian Aboriginal activist 

A few years ago, I attended a workshop facilitated by Peggy McIntosh at the annual White Privilege Conference. In the workshop, McIntosh explained that she wished she could go back and rewrite the introduction of “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” her seminal piece on White privilege.

The problem, she explained, is that people tend to treat her piece as a checklist of privileges that every White person experiences – but it’s not. The piece describes the context of herWhite privilege as a White woman with wealth privilege in an institution of higher education.

But privilege doesn’t function as a monolith; White privilege isn’t the same for every White individual and doesn’t function in the same way, to the same degree, for all White people.

However, all White people experience racial privilege. Full stop.

Our privileges, though, are complicated by other aspects of our identity that intersect with our Whiteness.

Intersectionality is a complex idea, but part of it means that when we are discussing someone’s class or ableist oppression, we must consider those things in the context of other areas where they might be marginalized as well as where they might be privileged.

Almost forty years ago, Derrick Bell wrote of the “interest convergence dilemma,” whereby institutional change toward ending racial oppression doesn’t often take place until White people see it in their best interest despite the incredible work of activists of Color.

As a White activist who sees the liberation of those I love, as well as my own liberation, as tied up in realizing intersectional racial justice, what Bell’s work says to me is that I have a responsibility to find new ways of engaging White people, of helping White people understand our own interests in realizing racial justice and in divesting from Whiteness.

And that’s the idea of collective liberation! Everyone with privilege has a choice to divest from systems of privilege and to join movements led by oppressed and marginalized people.

When those movements are intersectional, then working in concert with others means that we are also working for our own liberation.

So toward that end, I want to complicate some of the items from McIntosh’s list, highlighting how those items exist at intersections of identity that mean different things to different White people.

Hopefully this can help us break through some of the defensiveness that comes up in conversations about privilege. Namely, when White folks deflect to aspects of our identity that are marginalized rather than being accountable to our privilege.

Before proceeding, though, I want to briefly note the irony of White people (myself and McIntosh) being centered in conversations about the privileges that are the result of oppression.

If we as White people listened to people of Color, articles like this one simply wouldn’t be necessary. Unfortunately, though, often we as White folks aren’t the best at listening to people of Color, but maybe we will hear things differently from a fellow White person.

Thus, if you’re White, I can’t stress enough how important it is for us to diversify our media consumption to learn from people of Color. But if it helps you to hear me complicate our conversation about privilege, then I hope it inspires you to continue along the path toward more anti-racist ways of being.

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4 Ways the American Dream Is Actually Just Affirmative Action for White People

screen-shot-2015-11-12-at-3-10-59-pmOriginally published at Everyday Feminism.


I once wrote an article on how affirmative action doesn’t actually disadvantage White people – despite how many of us believe the opposite.

And a few members of my family weren’t happy about that article. Quite sure that affirmative action for people of Color is “reverse racism,” they gave me an earful.

In their reaction lies the tremendous irony that hangs over most White opposition to programs designed to help people of Color access the schools and jobs from which they’ve been historically excluded.

After all, while affirmative action programs, which have been shown to help White women more than anyone, are a recent creation, there have been systems and structures designed to benefit White people at the expense of everyone else for hundreds of years.

In fact, that which we often call the “American Dream” is built fundamentally upon violent affirmative action programs for White people.

And I’m not just talking about the overt (though coded) forms of affirmative action that we White folks benefit from today.

The entire history of European settlement in North America is a story of unearned benefit that comes at the expense of people of Color.

This notably sets it apart from formal affirmative action programs for people of Color, such as those in admissions to universities, as they haven’t been proven to systemically disadvantage White people in any way.

To understand the White “American Dream,” though, we need to understand the history of Whiteness and its ever-changing and evolving nature.

As highlighted by scholars like Dr. Jacqueline Battalora and Dr. Nell Irvin Painter, Whiteness didn’t always exist.

In fact, prior to the 1690s, “White” people were unheard of.

Wealthy, land-owning Europeans created the category of Whiteness as a tool to divide poor, light-skinned Europeans from enslaved African people and Indigenous people in North America.

Since that time, it has taken on a life of its own and been embedded in every single structure of the US.

This club, known as Whiteness, was designed to offer advantages, some small and some large, to light-skinned Europeans in exchange for their complicity in the theft of Indigenous land and the enslavement and exploitation of non-White people.

Notably, not all light-skinned Europeans were initially considered White (Italians and the Irish didn’t join the club until well into the 20th century, and European Jews have only recently been able to join).

Whiteness has evolved over time, but its singular aim has been to ensure that certain people (wealthy, White men mostly) hold power built upon the exploitation of people of Color and, to a lesser degree, poor White people.

It’s important, then, that we as White people understand this identity creation story because in this history lies an understanding of the privileges so many of us call the “American Dream” – something disproportionately available to people considered White.

Does this mean that people of Color haven’t realized this “Dream?” No. It just means that this “Dream” has been a nightmare for most people of Color built upon genocide, exclusion, and slavery.

1. White Wealth Is Tied to Land – So White Wealth Is Bound Up in Genocide

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Here’s What Is (And Isn’t) Working in Men’s Work on College Campuses

istock_000037932394_mediumOriginally published at Everyday Feminism.


As a kid, I secretly loved to dress up in my sister’s dresses and wear makeup, and even though I pretended to hate it, I loved playing Barbies. In time, though, bullying and intimidation taught me how I was “supposed to act.”

By high school, I tried to exude the stereotypes of what a man is supposed to be: I acted like a tough guy (once punching my best friend and nearly ruining a friendship simply because I didn’t want to show emotional vulnerability), and I constantly expressed toxic heteronormativity, objectifying and treating women like garbage.

Once I got to college, though, two important things changed the way I think about masculinity and my relationship to it.

First, women in my life shared with me the ways they’d been directly hurt by toxic masculinitythough sexual violence. Second, male mentors in my life reached out to me and helped me understand different ways of being a man.

These revelations were important for helping me find a path toward cultivating a different kind of masculinity. And it’s important for me to think of this as a path – because I’m still very much traveling in the direction of healthier masculinity while often losing my way, screwing up, and needing to do better moving forward.

As I reflect on my own learning, though, it’s notable that it took leaving my home environment and immersing myself in different ways of thinking to shift my reality.

This isn’t true for every man who embarks on the path toward healthier masculinity, but for those men who go to college, we find a unique opportunity to engage men.

Hence, “men’s work” and male-engagement programming are becoming more and more common on college campuses. Full-time positions are being created to focus on men’s engagement in creating positive community and ending sexual violence, and some schools are going as far as to create Men’s Centers (more on that later).

Unfortunately, though, while men’s engagement programs and positions offer unique opportunities for reducing sexual violence and promoting healthier ways of being men, there are a lot of dangers and pitfalls in doing this work as well.

As a result, I’ve compiled five dangers to consider and four suggestions for effectively engaging men on college campuses in hopes of offering some important considerations for students and professionals on college and university campuses who are taking up “men’s work.”

1. Men’s Work Lacking Intersectional Anti-Oppression Analysis Reinforces Oppression

Probably the single most significant issue with work on men and masculinities is also somewhat of an umbrella for the other four dangers: When we do men’s work without careful attention to intersectional feminism, we can recreate the very problems we’re working against.

A perfect example of this is the movement to create “Men’s Centers” on college campuses because of declines in net enrollment among men.

It’s notable that the cesspool of Men’s Rights Activism known as A Voice for Men has published content lauding the movement to create more “Men’s Centers” on college campuses. Historically, identity-based centers have been spaces for marginalized and oppressed people to find community and safe space in otherwise hostile college environments. But men are neither oppressed nor marginalized for their gender on college campuses.

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To End Racism, White People Must Invest in Other White People

gay-coupleOriginally Published at Everyday Feminism.


 

As I sit here writing this after learning of the brutal murder of Natasha McKenna while in police custody, a death local authorities ruled an “accident,” a familiar feeling rises inside of me. I recognize this anger and this sadness.

Sadly, this is a feeling that comes up for me nearly every single day as I work not to allow myself to numb to the brutality Black, Brown, and Indigenous people experience at the hands of the police. And frankly, I have little patience at the moment for talking to White people.

Similarly, after the grand jury decided against indicting Darren Wilson, I found myself lashing out at those who share my race and who were defending the decision. I was incredibly snarky, and I was looking for the best thing to say to sound right, not to actually help them understand the roots issues of systemic racism at play.

Seeing these gruesome images is something all too common in our age of cell phone cameras and social media – not that the violence is happening more, only that we as White people are privy to this racist violence in a way we never were before.

Yet I’m watching my fellow White people do mental backflips to justify this violence and to deny that this is in any way connected to a wider system of racism in the United States.

And I should feel angry.

If we as White people striving to be in solidarity to people of Color don’t feel anger, then we seriously ought to question our motives and wonder whether our investment is solely intellectual.

But how that anger and hurt and frustration gets expressed will go a long way in determining how effective I am in working with White people – my people – for racial justice.

In thinking about that anger, I can’t help but remember this brilliant piece from Spektra Speaks that came out after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson – White People, Stop Unfriending Other White People Over Ferguson (seriously, if you’re White, you need to read this piece).

After all, if you’re anything like me, being told to “f*ck off” or being berated doesn’t exactly inspire me to self-reflect, to consider how I can be better and do better – and cutting White people out of my life doesn’t advance racial justice.

Far too much of what I have justified as “calling someone out on their privilege” was little more than a dismissive slight aimed at boosting my ego and making me look like the “best anti-racist White person.” How does that actually help anything?

Thus, the more that I think about it, I realize that White people who wish to work in racial justice solidarity and who strive for allyship need to realize our fundamental responsibility to do more than simply “call out” other White people.

We must take up the long, difficult, often emotionally-exhausting work of calling them in to change.

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Rally organizer Robby Stern, center, yells over Marissa Johnson, left, and Mara Jacqueline Willaford, right, as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders looks on from behind after stepping away from the microphone. ELAINE THOMPSON/AP

The “Appropriate Time” is Now: White Liberals and the Politics of Solidarity

By David J. Leonard

Rally organizer Robby Stern, center, yells over Marissa Johnson, left, and Mara Jacqueline Willaford, right, as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders looks on from behind after stepping away from the microphone. ELAINE THOMPSON/AP

Over the last year (and of course over many decades and centuries), there have been reoccurring (& always condemning) questions from white liberals regarding protests from black activists: is it effective; does it alienate; will it facilitate change? One of the common themes continues to be white policing (so much policing of black bodies from the state and from those who claim to have marched with King, against Apartheid, for civil rights) of when and where it is appropriate to protest:

  • Football games, off-limits;
  • On the basketball floor, not OK;
  • From black women scholars on twitter, unprofessional and counter productive.
  • At Netroots and now at a Bernie Sanders rally, counter productive and inappropriate.

Bernie’s Respectability Police

Look no further than a recent piece from Hamilton Nolan, who called the protest in Seattle “stupid,” admonishing Black Lives Matters activists not to “Don’t Piss on Your Best Friend.” Questioning their motives and tactics, Nolan takes aim that the “appropriateness” of “targeting” Sanders given his “progressive” politics. Never mind the legitimate questions about his racial politics, and whether his work is progressive and transformative, which remains unclear for now:

Many on the left find it hard to come out and say “this was stupid,” because they support both Bernie Sanders and the Black Lives Matter movement. That is a misperception of the political landscape. Believing that a small group of angry young protesters did something that was not well thought out need not make you feel guilty or racist; rash and counterproductive things are what young people do. Screaming Bernie Sanders offstage is dumb because you support Black Lives Matter. For those perceptive enough to separate pretty slogans from actual policy prescriptions, it is clear that Bernie Sanders is the candidate most aligned with the group’s values. Stifling his voice only helps his opponents. Go shout at someone who deserves it.

First, he should read Aliza Garza’s recent statements on what whites can do to support the BlackLivesMatter. Second, the paternalism and patronizing tone is only matched by Nolan’s never ending rhetoric about appropriateness.

He’s not alone. Twitter, Facebook, and the comment section is filled with “Why Sanders” and “Shouldn’t allies be embraced not rejected.” Imani Gandy, in a brilliant piece, summarizes the reactionary Bernie white populism in the aftermath of the rally in Seattle.

“Why are you alienating allies?”

“Don’t you know how much Bernie cares for you?”

“What’s wrong with you people?”

“Hillary would be worse!”

“What are you going to do, vote for Donald Trump?”

“Why won’t you ever be satisfied?”

“You’re doing it all wrong!”

“You’re going to make us quit caring about Black lives if you don’t shape up and act the way we want you to.”

Most Black voters want the answer to one question: What is Sanders’ plan to address the police brutality crisis in the Black community?

And the answer to that question is never: “Bernie marched with Dr. King.

Yet that seems to be the answer given by many of Sanders’ supporters on social media.

As she makes clear, accountability is not rejection. Expecting answers is neither intrusive nor rude, especially in a moment of white supremacist violence and police terror (yes, that is every moment of America’s history). The retort to “blame the victim” to focus on “tone” and “tactics” is not just “disrespectful” to Black Lives Matters and organizers working on the ground but is what racism looks like.

Even the defenders of the protests that note, sure “they were “aggressive, intrusive, inconsiderate, rude and indiscriminate” and “disrespectful” but “that black people deal with must be like every day, everywhere from history textbooks to courtrooms, job interviews to pop culture” rely on false equivalences.

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Marissa Johnson, left, speaks as Mara Jacqueline Willaford holds her fist overhead and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., stands nearby as the two women take over the microphone at a rally Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in downtown Seattle. The women, co-founders of the Seattle chapter of Black Lives Matter, took over the microphone and refused to relinquish it. Sanders eventually left the stage without speaking and instead waded into the crowd to greet supporters. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Interrupting Bernie: Exposing the White Supremacy of the American Left

Marissa Johnson, left, speaks as Mara Jacqueline Willaford holds her fist overhead and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., stands nearby as the two women take over the microphone at a rally Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in downtown Seattle. The women, co-founders of the Seattle chapter of Black Lives Matter, took over the microphone and refused to relinquish it. Sanders eventually left the stage without speaking and instead waded into the crowd to greet supporters. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Marissa Johnson, left, speaks as Mara Jacqueline Willaford holds her fist overhead and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., stands nearby as the two women take over the microphone at a rally Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in downtown Seattle. The women, co-founders of the Seattle chapter of Black Lives Matter, took over the microphone and refused to relinquish it. Sanders eventually left the stage without speaking and instead waded into the crowd to greet supporters. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

You know, I’ve always liked Bernie Sanders. I appreciate that as a U.S. Senator, he has been willing to speak the truth about many important social issues, but he’s also a U.S. Senator, which means that he is only going to be as progressive as his electorate allows him to be.

That said, I’d generally been pretty disappointed with the lack of racial justice analysis in his economic inequality platform as a candidate for president. That is, until a few weeks ago when some phenomenal Black activists at the Netroots Nation Presidential Town Hall forced his hand.

For all of the “this is not the way” sentiment we’re hearing from White progressives, it was the interruption at Netroots (alongside other direct pressure) that led to Bernie’s explicit platform on racial justice.

Notably, Black Lives Matter activists haven’t been successful (though I am sure not for lack of trying) in interrupting Hillary Clinton in the same way (that secret service protection and massive campaign budget for private security sure is handy), but even she has had little choice but to pay attention to Black Lives Matter as a movement.

And there is a great deal of disagreement within Black communities (we as White folks would do well to remember that people and Black organizations aren’t monoliths) about whether the action was strategic and whether targeting Bernie was the right move. And that dialogue should continue to take place within Black liberation spaces, but White folks – that’s not our business.

Because here’s the thing – what’s powerful about these interruptions from Black women is less how it has changed the tone of the Democratic campaigns and more about what they have exposed in the White left.

I see these protests as less about the individual candidates themselves and more about how their White base refuses to center Black lives and Black issues. It’s notable that White Bernie supporters, who consider themselves the most progressive of us all, shouted down and booed Black women who dared to force Blackness into the center of White space.

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Here Are the Real Reasons Why We White People Struggle to Admit That Racism Still Exists

Originally published at Everyday Feminism.

When I was 18 years old, I listened to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill on repeat.

My girlfriend and I would just sit in silence, listening to Lauryn unpack her brilliance, taking away something new each time.

So I was devastated when I heard the (now disproven) rumor that she told an MTV interviewer, “If I’d known White people were going to buy my last album, I never would have recorded it.”

I stopped listening to her because as a young, passionate liberal who “stood up to racism in all its forms,” I couldn’t in good conscience continue to support a “racist.”

Then, when a Latina woman I greatly admired suggested that it’s impossible for people of Color to be racist against White people, I lost it, furious at the perceived double standard.

And now, as debates about racism and a “post racial America” rage in my social media, I see these same frustrations in my fellow White people over and over.

We, as White folks, are upset that “everything is made to be about race these days!” We regularly claim that the “most racist people in the world are [insert group of people of Color].”

Many White people perceive that we’re under attack because people of Color and their White allies are angry with systems of racial oppression – and at us for our complicity in maintaining those systems. We get called names and told that our “White tears” don’t matter.

So we respond with how the dictionary defines racism as “poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race.”

And by that logic, we’re the real victims of racism! Right?

And if that’s our only context for understanding racism, then surely someone thinking I’m racist just because I’m White is racism!

Yet it seems that we’ve come to a place where the single worst thing that we can be called, the single insult that most enrages us, is suggestion that we might actually be racist.

And I get it – because I have said and thought every single one of those things.

But what troubles me most in all of this is that we are so invested in proving that people of Color are “more racist” than we are or that we’re not racist, we are more upset by allegations that we might be racist than about the very real ways that racism plays out in the society around us.

I see my fellow White people so wrapped up in defending the idea that systemic racism doesn’t exist that we are unable to empathize with the real pain caused to people of Color by racism, both interpersonal and systemic.

For goodness sake, even the McKinney police admitted Eric Casebolt was out of line in assaulting a young Black girl for legally observing his actions, yet White people in my life were trying so hard to explain how the officer was in the right and how this “isn’t racial.”

All of this leaves me wondering about the roots of our defensiveness to admitting that racism is alive and well.

Why are we so resistant to acknowledging the countless examples of our racial privilege?

What do we risk by actually empathizing with people of Color and acknowledging how racial oppression plays out in our society?

Almost every White person I know at least claims to live by a strong set of values, and I rarely meet people whose core values say that it’s good for people of Color to be treated as second class citizens.

I don’t think I personally know anyone who believes that their core values sanction their participation in the hurting of other people.

And yet both systemic and interpersonal racism hurt people. Racism destroys lives.

So how is it that we can live more fully into the values that so many of us claim to hold when we’re defensive about whether we might be benefitting from racism?

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