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Posts Tagged ‘white privilege’

speak the truth

If I hold a room the way the sparkling statue lady does tonight, book-touring her paleo-pedicure-CrossFit happy meal of neoliberal feminism, how will I use my voice?

I too could propitiate the gods of privilege. I might tug loose one rough thread of the story and call it struggle. Might forget to notice who inhabits the room. And the design of it. How thick the walls. Who cannot breach them.

Will I preen?

Or will I speak truth to power?

(more…)

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dance trilogy

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

– Audre Lorde

I buy the house for the future. Political variables do not enter into the equation. Of course the system will stay healthy enough to sustain my son and me. Housing markets rise and fall. Financial markets swing from bear to bull. Social security may last or disappear. Through all this, my house is insurance. The same is true of my education, my work experience, my retirement savings, my kid’s college fund. The road will have its bumps but we’ll be okay, more or less.

(But for how long?)

My decision fails take into consideration that truth is only assumption and that nothing is fixed.

Now a fear takes root, a fear bigger and more eclipsing than any I’ve ever experienced. Inside this fear swim all the possibilities of a much darker future. Inside this fear dawns a recognition of the fragility of my security.

Privilege, as it happens, will not protect me.

(more…)

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SURJ note

In February 2015, Natasha McKenna, a 37-year old neighbor and mother, called 911.  The help she expected was not what showed up.  Instead, she was herself arrested on an outstanding warrant.  In custody, she suffered a mental health crisis.  She was restrained while naked and put into leg shackles and handcuffs.  Six Fairfax County police officers in hazmat suits put a bag over her face and tazed her four times.  She stopped breathing.  Natasha McKenna died a few days later.  The deputies responsible for her death faced no charges and continue to work in law enforcement.

Today, SURJ Northern Virginia gathered at the Fairfax County courthouse in front of the detention center where Natasha McKenna was held and brutalized.  The protest found its way to Route 123, a narrow and busy corridor through downtown Fairfax.  At 9:00am right during rush hour, we stepped out into the street and stopped traffic.  Coverage of the story is here and here and here.

The primary objective of this action was to focus enough attention to Natasha McKenna’s case that county Sheriff Stacey Kincaid will bring charges against the six officers.   The protest is also part of a larger goal: to stand with Black Lives Matter.  We need our neighbors and leaders to hear that racism and brutality are not problems somewhere out there, in Memphis or St. Louis or Ferguson.  They exist right here in our own community.

As a white person at her first racial justice action since protesting the death sentence of Mumia Abu Jamal at the 1995 governor’s convention (that’s 21 years ago, people!), I’ve got some catching up to do.

This work is about Natasha McKenna.  It is about changing structures of law enforcement and governance that dehumanize and destroy People of Color.  This work is decidedly not about me.  Yet when stepping out today, I woke up to a few things — food for thought for other allies who are considering their involvement? — about being white while working for racial justice.

Like how stark the difference between our treatment today and that of Black protestors using the same tactics in other cities.  The police who came on the scene took their time to congregate.  They kept a safe distance.  They gave us three clear warnings and articulated exactly what would happen if we refused to move.  No one touched a weapon.  No one hid under helmets or riot gear.  When they handcuffed the folks who blocked traffic, they asked if the cuffs were comfortable.  The ones under arrest were booked and released in less than an hour.  Everyone had time to get to work.

White privilege at a racial justice action means knowing that my job is safe even if I show up late, or show up on TV.  I can take personal leave or just stay after 5:00 to make up the lost hours.  Many of my co-workers, my supervisor, and even the students I serve will be supportive of my involvement in political protest.  My livelihood is secure.  I have no criminal record and I’m not on probation for any of the thousand tiny infractions that can land a Black person in jail.  Even if I get arrested, even if my name is in the news, the consequences are negligible.

White privilege at a racial justice action means I can choose whether or not to be arrested.   Both the cops and the activists know the script and the parts they play in it.  We move through the choreography.  The certainty is near total:  I’ll block traffic at 8:00 a.m. and be heading to the office by 10:00.

Being white at a racial justice action means that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the armored truck trying to turn right into me is not going to run me over.  I can plant the giant image of Natasha McKenna in front of me.  I can refuse to budge.  The driver is welcome to be as pissed off as he wants.  He can rev his engine, nudge up to me, come within 10 inches of my body, and I’m going to be safe.  The cops standing there will not let him hurt me.  There are laws in this country that protect me.  And I’m secure in the knowledge that those laws will do exactly that.

And guess what?  The Loomis truck driver growled and cussed, then backed up and shot an illegal U-turn to find an alternate way around us.

Being white at a racial justice action means that when the gal with the bullhorn clicks off the mic to confer with the cops and everyone is standing there waiting for guidance, I get to hide.  It’s a white sort of hiding.  I can stand there silent and anonymous and surrounded by 20 other silent white folks in front of double lines of cars stretching a mile in either direction.  My privilege — and the expectation of decorum and conformity — allow me to gaze off vaguely and wait until our leader is done.

Awareness of white privilege at a racial justice action is something altogether different.  It means reaffirming the commitments that brought me out.  It means calling to mind the simultaneous actions going on around the country, and remembering that the People of Color leading this work are tired.  They are always the ones on the front lines or in the line of fire.  Arrest is no joke.  Law applies differently or not at all.  They don’t have time for my timidity, my uncertainty, my need for a perfect plan.

They are why I showed up.

Ending the racism that permits the white privilege that keeps our little group of protestors safe — and its dehumanizing corollary for everyone else — means that I get to check myself.  Confusion and embarrassment are thick veins running right through the heart of the white culture I carry, particularly in the affluent, educated whiteness that is my native land.   This need to know what I’m doing before I do it, this fear of looking stupid or screwing things up, these are all part of a crippling anxiety that has no part to play in the work of liberation.

So I say to myself, you know what, Smirk?  No one knows what the hell to do. No ONE. 

No one knows how to build this thing.  No ONE. 

But you are not one today.  You are many, you are a force, you are part of an improvisation and a collaboration and a movement.

Go.

Being white at a racial justice action means stepping through the silence, opening up my  out-of-practice voice, and shouting out the call:

Black Lives Matter.  Black Lives Matter.

Black women matter.  Black women matter.

Say her name.  Natasha McKenna.

Say her name.  Natasha McKenna.

No justice.  No peace.

No racist.  Police.

Black Lives Matter.  Black Lives Matter.

Say her name.  Natasha McKenna.

A final note:  Putting down my sign at 10:00 and heading to the office, I realize with stunning clarity how goddamned much I have to learn.  Becoming more skilled, knowledgeable, and effective will take some work.  For this, I take the lead from activists and authors of color on all these fronts.  This week, I dive into this excellent Black Lives Matter reading list which curates and categorizes a number of recent pieces from folks working on racial justice.  It and others are available on Longreads.


Image:  Note from a morning commuter sent to the SURJ organizers today.

 

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People are getting live-killed on Facebook, y’all.  If we aren’t showing up now, then when?  It’s time to get out there.


SURJ Organizer, 7/10/2016

Over 70 folks came out for the SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) meeting.  They had to bring in more chairs.  After last week in America, despair and outrage have combusted into something that refuses to stay contained.

The meeting was two hours of focused, efficient movement.  We engaged in small group discussions about concrete things we’ve seen white allies do to disrupt racism and cultivate justice in our communities.  We heard from the organizers about activities that have gained traction in the first year of this young organization’s life: immigration reform, police accountability, renaming buildings that celebrate the Confederacy, and coordinating a region-wide canvas in majority white neighborhoods in the run-up to the presidential election.  We then split into breakout sessions for a deep dive into each of these areas.  Finally, we learned about the next public action planned for this coming week.

Around the country, ally organizations are stepping up to make a stand for Black Lives.  The focus is on police departments, sheriff’s offices, and Fraternal Orders of Police.  Affiliated organizations led by People of Color have put out the call to SURJ and other white allies to take bolder action on issues of police brutality.  Facing our white privilege means more than talking about it on social media.

It means showing up.

It’s time to take our horror at what happened to Philando Castile and turn it into a movement.

And what happened to Alton Sterling.

And Natasha McKenna.

And Freddie Gray.  And Trayvon Martin.  And Michael Brown.  And Eric Garner.  And Tanisha Anderson.  And Tamir Rice.  And Zamiel Crawford.  And Dominick Wise.  And Frank Shephard.  And Vincent Valenzuela III.  And the 5 Dallas police officers, some of whom had stood with the protestors before the shooting began.

And so many more, each a story.  Each a neighbor.  Each a life blown short by a force whose call to protect has gone haywire.

The organizers asked who would be there for the coming action.

At a public protest, my skin and income lower the risk of abuse to negligible.  This fact does not make me proud.

It makes me raise my hand.

It’s time to show up.


 

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