How can I explain to white “friends” that dressing up as caricatures of people from Mexico is hurtful?

Q: I have family members/friends who feels differently from me about an issue.  This week for Cinco de Mayo, the Anaheim Angels (baseball team) had a promotion for their game which was to hand out sombreros and giant fake black mustaches to their fans.  I found this really upsetting.  Most of my friends/POC agreed, but some were utterly offended that I would call them out on this.  How can I explain to white “friends” that dressing up as caricatures of people from Mexico is hurtful?  I need help translating this.  Ideas? This is a great question. As white people in the US many of us are raised to to think that freedom means the option to wear and say whatever we want to.  Just because we have the “freedom” to do so doesn’t mean that we should. Your example of sombreros and mustaches is a great example of cultural appropriation. A description/definition of cultural appropriation that I often use comes from Nadra Kareem Nittle from about.com

The United States has long been known as a melting pot and, more recently, as a salad bowl. Because people from hundreds of different ethnic backgrounds make up the nation’s population, it’s not surprising that at times cultural groups rub off on each other. Americans who grow up in diverse communities may pick up the dialect, customs and religious traditions of the cultural groups that surround them.

Cultural appropriation is an entirely different matter. It has little to do with one’s exposure to and familiarity with different cultures. Instead, cultural appropriation typically involves members of a dominant group exploiting the culture of less privileged groups — often with little understanding of the latter’s history, experience and traditions.

Costumes that reduce cultures to humorous and simplified stereotypes are hurtful to the less privileged group. Additionally, Lauren Duca adds to our above definition by saying, “Cultural appropriation refers to picking and choosing elements of a culture by a member of another culture without permission. This includes traditional knowledge, religious symbols, artifacts or any other unauthorized use of cultural practice or ideation.” Continue reading

Struggling with the tensions of centering Black voices and leadership and the slogan “white silence is compliance?”

Posted with permission from Chris Crass

All over the country I’m talking with white anti-racists who are struggling with the tensions of centering Black voices and leadership and the slogan “white silence is compliance.”

I’m talking with experienced white anti-racists all over the country who only want to take action if a Black activist personally asks them to do it. I’m talking with white anti-racists all over the country who both feel the enormity of this heart breaking and powerful Black Lives Matter movement time, and are blocked from moving forward out of fear of becoming part of the problem. Here are five reflections shared with the goal of helping us step up and bring other white people with us. Continue reading

Struggling to find a place to speak out, because you don’t want to be speaking for POC

Posted with permission from Chris Crass

Notes to a white anti-racist on struggling to find her place to speak out, because she doesn’t want to be speaking for POC:

For me it’s not about speaking for POC communities, but when it comes to racism, I’m speaking primarily for white communities, for white kids who I don’t want to see grow up in this evil white supremacist system, for white people, many of us working class who have been screwed over generationally by ruling classes who have stoked the flames and encouraged white hatred, fear, resentment of POC communities and mobilized white racism to both keep POC communities down as well as white working class and poor communities down. Speaking out for white communities robbed of the humanity of POC, while having our own humanity twisted and distorted in the service of mobilizing wealth and power to the 1%.

So I bring in the leadership, voices, experiences of POC, not to speak for them, but to bring lessons, vision, insight, and history from POC (as well as white anti-racist history and insight) into white society, with the goal of freeing white people from the death grip of supremacy systems, and joining as many white people as possible to multiracial movements for collective liberation (which includes all or mostly white groups/institutions/communities doing justice work with a racial justice vision/culture in alliance/solidarity with POC efforts). We need tens of thousands of white people, courageously and passionately, winning over the hearts and minds of white people, so we can all get free. Continue reading

How can white media write about the oppression of black and brown communities?

Q: “How can white media write about the oppression of black and brown communities without further exploiting those communities? I am not asking for a critique of language or a discussion on how the way frames might reflect an inherent bias or even an unconscious, underlying racism–those discussions have been had. I am concerned that I might be taking my white privilege for granted every time I write about the black/brown struggle for liberation. I’m worried that I am turning the human beings in my stories into consumable commodities, into soundbites and headlines, thus dehumanizing the people who are fighting for their lives.”

White media professionals have the obligation to give voices to communities of color to tell their stories. Often times in media, you’re right- the soundbites and headlines do steamroll the full story. Most notably recently is the image of Toya Graham, physically beating her son during the Baltimore protests. The media quickly made her a hero, and that image went viral almost instanteously. Graham’s actions were lauded as the best example of a parent during an exceptionally tense moment in the Baltimore direct actions by the majority of the (white) media. But only later did they give Graham the opportunity to tell her story, her fear of her son becoming the next Freddie Grey… or allow other parents within that community express their reactions to the direct actions of their teenagers. Instead, Graham was simply lauded for what the media read as her dissaproval of her son participating in rioting actions. It was presented as an approval or her aggressive reaction–while simultaneously shaming a communities’ aggressive reaction to police violence.

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Do white people need to be voicing their opinions at all anymore?

Q:”Do white people need to be voicing their opinions at all anymore? Should we just back off and ask, ‘where do you want me/how can I serve your movement?'”

This is a great question. White opinions can be tricky. I think the question is what do we have opinions on?

One thing I know is that we should not be telling communities of color how to process their anger, how to run their protests, what to do in their communities. White people do this all the time and it is super problematic.

Your statement of where do you want me/how can I serve your movement? is spot on!  That said, we, as white folks, also need to take some initiative. I have seen this be a cop out for many people. If we continuously ask, “how can we serve?” that is putting the pressure back on people of color to tell us what to do. I kinda think of it like the kid who sees the dirty dishes and asks their parent to tell them how they can be of service. The parent is like, “you fool, do the dishes!”

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