White murderer wasn’t killed, did I say something wrong?

Q: A POC friend posted about a scumbag murdering 9 people, police knowing he murdered 9 people, police apprehend scumbag, and do not feel their lives were threatened so scumbag lives because the scumbag had “the complexion for the protection.” I know police brutality is racially biased, but its too much across the board and in this particular case the police did it right and my POC friend was coming across as resentful that this white man didn’t end up dead like he would have been much more likely to have if he had been white. So I called my POC friend out, saying I don’t see how they would have been satisfied unless this white scumbag had been hurt or killed. My POC friend called my comments foolish and then referred me to this website. What did I do wrong?

A: Seeing another incident where a white person was treated drastically different than a person of color is very painful to watch. Not only did the terrorist live, but he was not handcuffed on his way to the police car, given a bulletproof vest and come to find out later, taken to Burger King for some food. This is just another incident of white supremacy. White supremacy is a system that privileges whiteness over darker skin. Elizabeth Martínez defines it as, “White Supremacy is an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege.” The prison industrial complex, including the police, is a system based on white supremacy. Continue reading

How to support your black friends at this moment.

After the terrorist massacre at the AME church in Charleston, SC, many white people are wondering how to support their black friends. The question is “how do you offer support?” One of my black friends summed up what many people are saying and feeling right now, saying the following *:

I know that there are many of you who care deeply for me and who are also white. I know you don’t really know what to say and that you want to say something to let me know you care. I know my sadness, rage and terror frighten you and make you uncomfortable.

Right now, I need to leave you to deal with that without my acknowledgement of how hard all of this is for you. I need to wrap myself up in my own skin and texture, to gather my kin close and then even closer.

I know you’re not used to feeling shut out of my often visible process, but I can’t worry about that or you right now.

Please know that I’ll be as safe as I can be in the embraces of my people, yes even those with whom I fight for parts of my existence.

While I’m doing this healing work, take this opportunity to talk to other white people about why this is hard and what y’all can do to make it safer for me and others that you love. Hold them close and speak truth to them. Say a prayer and then get up and do something more to undo that which benefits you, but is killing me. I know you didn’t ask for it, but here it is and wishing it weren’t so doesn’t make it go away.

I don’t care for you less because I need this time to love me more. It is my hope that we can sit and share something other than trauma and responses to it in the future.

White people, we need to address and dismantle white supremacy, the system that privileges whiteness in all aspects of life! One of the many ways we can do that right now is to talk to our white friends. We need to call this massacre what it is. It is NOT an isolated incident, this is the reality that black people face in the United States and around the world. The violence comes from police, from corporations, from the health care system, from individual white people. The root is a system that privileges white skin in all aspects of our society. Black people encounter violence on the streets, in stores, when driving, when applying for jobs, at the pool, in the church. We need to stand up and say NO. We need to call this terrorism, we need to call out the hate.

Listen to your black friends, hear what they need right now. Give them space. Don’t tell your friends how to mourn. Don’t tell your black friends how to rage. Not all people process things the same way, your friends might feel differently than my friend above does. That is ok. Listen.

*Note: my friend gave me permission to post their words here with or without their name. I chose to not use their name because this sums up what so many folks are saying right now. Posting the words of people of color without their permission is NOT OK! White folks have a long history of stealing the words of people of color. In today’s world it is also not ok to share your friends personal thoughts without permission, especially if it is clear that you, the white person, are the one who ends up benefiting from sharing. Think first!

Do POC have a leg up in the world just for being minorities?

Q: Lately when speaking about race with My white friends I hear again and again how they believe POC have a leg up in the world just for being minorities and how they have more chances in life because of our bleeding heart government who give them all handouts all the time.  I always become really upset and feel like I get derailed in these discussions.  Is there some factual information I can spout back at them instead of getting red in the face and screaming you are so wrong!?

A: Yes, this is a tiring and exhausting issue to discuss. It is difficult to address these issues without screaming or just walking away. This is why the discussion is so important. The more our white friends hear other white people discussing white supremacy the more we can change the discussion. This question of having a “leg up” is an important one to discuss. What we really need to look at here is systemic privileging of white skin and white sounding names, etc. over others.

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Can white people use the term “Two Spirit”?

Q: I’m a white gender non-conforming person and I feel like the term two spirit is the best to describe myself. A friend said that using the term was cultural appropriation but it is the best word to describe my gender and spirituality and I use it with utmost respect for indigenous and first nations people. Is that ok?

A: Thank you for asking. Questioning your use of terms is an important step. The term two spirit is described by Sandra Laframboise and Michael Anhorn on Dancing to Eagle Spirit Society’s website as:

The two-spirited person is a native tradition that researchers have identified in some of the earliest discoveries of Native artifacts. Much evidence indicates that Native people, prior to colonization, believed in the existence of cross-gender roles, the male-female, the female-male, what we now call the two-spirited person.

In Native American culture, before the Europeans came to the America’s, “two-spirit” referred to an ancient teaching. This type of cross-gender identity has been documented in over 155 tribes across Native North America (Roscoe 1988).

Our Elders tell us of people who were gifted among all beings because they carried two spirits, that of male and female. It is told that women engaged in tribal warfare and married other women, as there were men who married other men. These individuals were looked upon as a third and fourth gender in many cases and in almost all cultures they were honoured and revered. Two-spirit people were often the visionaries, the healers, the medicine people, the nannies of orphans, the care givers (Roscoe 1988). They were respected as fundamental components of our ancient culture and societies. This is our guiding force as well as our source of strength. This is the heart of Two-Spirited People of the 1st Nations (2 Spirit Nation of Ontario) This paper explores what we know of the past of two-spirit people, compares that to the present experience and looks forward to the role that two-spirit people could play in the future of First Nation’s people in Canada and across North America.

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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 do I explain that just because I’m white and dating a cop doesn’t mean I support police brutality?

Q:I have a friend, or unfortunately now an ex-friend, who recently told me she no longer wants to be friends because of my views on police brutality (we are both white). However, we have never even talked about my views, though I am dating a CHP officer. I tried to get her to talk to me about it but she refused and deleted me from all social media. How do I explain that just because I’m white and dating a cop doesn’t mean I support police brutality? It may be too late for her and I, but the question is posed to me a lot and I often feel like no matter what I answer it’s not taken seriously.

I think it’s important to put negative feelings about the justice system into historical and contemporary context. We can look to the NAACP for a strong list of facts about the current status of imprisonment in the US, and we can turn to the last 40 years of news for instances of police brutality- but I think maybe this James Baldwin interview has a quote that could help us unpack your question a bit.

“BALDWIN: Look, we live in Harlem, let’s say, or we live in Watts. The mother who comes down there with his cap and his own gun in his holster, he doesn’t know what my day is like. He doesn’t know why I get drunk when I do. He doesn’t know anything about me at all. He’s scared shitless of me. Now, what— the—fuck is he doing there? All he can do id shoot me. He’s a hired concentration-camp keeper. I can police my own community far better than you ever will. Because you can’t. It’s not in you to do it. I know why somebody there is upset when he is upset. The cats were right when they were told by somebody, some cop, some leader, some mayor to go home. They said you go home, we are home, baby. We can take care of ourselves. This is the message we’re trying to get across; we don’t need you to take care of us. Good Lord, we can’t afford to have you take care of us any longer! Look what you’ve done. To us. And to yourselves in taking care of us. No. I think the black people in this country should run their own schools, and run their own police force. Because you can’t do it. All you can do I bring in tanks and tear gas… and call the National Guard when it gets too tight. And think you can fight a civil war and a global war at the same time.”

I think when we open up conversations about police brutality, we can’t just say we are against it. The effects of police brutality are profound– children are dying in our streets, millions are locked up indefinitely, there is a real terror of any interaction with those in uniform for so many citizens. Baldwins’ words ring true still today, 47 years later. We do not have a justice system accountable to the communities it most affects. We have to acknowledge that the police have been used as a weapon against minority communities, and that the justice system is skewed to be discriminatory at best, oppressive and violent at worst. We can’t view critiques of the criminal justice system as direct attacks of those officers we know (and love)- but as necessary conversations addressing the broken system that perpetuates inequality and injustice.

It’s important to ‘come out’ as an ally. It may be that you haven’t said anything to anyone on social media, or posted any articles regarding your position. But in order for us to be effective in communicating our opposition of the abuses by the justice system we need to voice that support, often and clearly. Silence, in this case, is complacency.  We have to acknowledge that the justice system has been used to unfairly police (often violently) minority peoples for decades, and that change isn’t an option-it’s a necessity to protect all of our citizens. It’s possible that your friend is seeking to distance herself from any association with folks within the law enforcement system. But I think it’s crucial for law enforcement officers, their partners, their friends etc to come together and discuss the failures of the justice system, and admit and face the abuses and then lend their hands and voices to end the cycles. You have an immense power here as someone in a relationship with an officer– your voice as an ally to ending justice system abuses could make a huge impact on folks within your community! Who knows how many more allies you could bring forth though efforts to fully understand the depth of law enforcement system corruption and communicate your support for change.

How do I explain that it’s important to me to speak up for something that can’t speak for itself?

Q: I got into an argument with a friend of mine who is a person of color. They were mad at me because I feel very passionately about protecting the ocean and they said that made me a bad person because I should only care about is social justice. I do care about social justice and I stand up to racism where I can, but how do I reply to that? How do I explain that it’s important to me to speak up for something that can’t speak for itself?

So, I’ve been thinking about this a lot since your question was submitted. I’m not sure that this is the complete, or the best answer but Ill take a go at it. I encourage others to join in the discussion through the comment section.

I just posted an article that I found on Salon.com about white people respecting what black people in america are feeling right now. This is very important!

It sounds like your friend is expressing their pain right now. Hearing their pain is important. Listen to what your friend is saying. Are they saying that the ocean isn’t important? I kinda doubt it. It sounds to me like they are saying that right now they are suffering (undergoing pain, distress, or hardship) and that they don’t feel that you are hearing them.

The best thing to do right now is to listen.

Continue reading

Dear white Facebook friends: I need you to respect what Black America is feeling right now

Julia Blount, born and raised in Washington, D.C. An alumna of Princeton University, and currently a middle school teacher wrote a great message on her facebook timeline, it appeared the otherday on Salon.com

“If you are not listening, not exposing yourself to unfamiliar perspectives, not watching videos, not engaging in conversation, then you are perpetuating white privilege and white supremacy. It is exactly your ability to not hear, to ignore the situation, that is a mark of your privilege. People of color cannot turn away. Race affects our lives every day. We must consider it all the time, not just when it is convenient.”

“I don’t need you to validate anyone’s actions, but I need you to validate what black America is feeling. If you cannot understand how experiences like mine or my students’ would lead to hopelessness, pain, anger, and internalized oppression, you are still not listening. So listen. Listen with your heart.”

Read it here (http://www.salon.com/2015/04/29/dear_white_facebook_friends_i_need_you_to_respect_what_black_america_is_feeling_right_now)