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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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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“We Can’t Breathe!” SD Senate Candidate’s Super Racist Appropriation of Black Struggle

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!!!!

Screen shot 2014-12-12 at 1.10.36 PM

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 Weiland

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.

Take Action

So please. Take a minute to use Twitter or Facebook or email 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.

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.