Monthly Archives: August 2012

Tumblr Q & A: white Guilt

Q: You give so many problems on your blog, but no solutions on how they can be prevented. It makes me feel like a bad person by reading your blog, but I don’t want to be like that. I’m not sure how I sound to you, seeing as you tend to be very critical, and I really don’t want to sound like I’m complaining or whining. Honestly, it just makes me feel kind of helpless, when I see all these issues, and have no idea what I can personally do to help prevent them in the future.

A: What the common stereotype of ‘critical’ means: “This reaction is some annoying ass white guilt bullshit.”

What ‘critical’ actually means: I’m going to work through this reaction with you using a critical lens.

The first thing I want you to see is that asking white folks for solutions on racism and white supremacy is like asking a murderer for solutions on lowering the amount of dead bodies. Audre Lorde once said “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” which I really think suits this discussion. We will never completely abolish our power and privilege on our own. We can educate ourselves and each other as contributions to racial justice, but when it comes to serious social change, POC are the only ones qualified to develop solutions and lead the way.  Whites don’t struggle against oppression, so it is not our struggle to solve. We have power, not solutions. And, unfortunately, there is no simple ‘apply ointment A to wound B’ formula for solving racism.

The second thing I want you to see is white guilt. When our reaction to education on white supremacy is to “feel bad” about how terrible we are, this shifts the focus from the situation to ourselves. White guilt is making the pain of racism about us; it’s feeling sad instead of being responsible by accepting who we are and the nature of the inequality around us. It’s a huge part of white privilege to just “feel bad” about racism when the alternative is actually suffering from it. Shame is extremely unfamiliar to us when we have been constantly taught to feel pride in our whiteness. It required a serious amount of personal work to understand that resentment over the privilege of being white was in and of itself a privilege: even if I resent the privilege, I still have it and I still benefit. If POC learn from an early age to resent the color of their skin, then they will see that reflected in the larger US society. White folks do not have this experience no matter what we feel inside.

If you want to make any progress, then be prepared for white guilt to be your first obstacle. Look beyond yourself when this happens and see the larger structure of whiteness, see the people who are actually hurt by whiteness, because our pain is so small in comparison and simply doesn’t matter. Then be prepared to be uncomfortable with your whiteness, which is gonna be one huge and necessary change after having been comfortable with whiteness to the point of never really needing to think about it. What our ancestors have done should horrify and sicken you, you should be disgusted by white supremacy, you should feel every disturbing inch of injustice that connects your white skin with systems of power and oppression.  This doesn’t mean you feel bad for yourself, because this isn’t just about you.

White supremacy is a system of brutality and power that has caused and continues to cause irreversible damage to life, atrocious amounts of violence, and unspeakable injustice. Facing this reality is not meant to be easy, comforting, or even helpful. When you understand that you are reading a blog or reading a book but not contending with hatred, when you understand you have the freedom to think about something else and not inescapably live with hatred every day, hopefully you will see why guilt is pointless. Remember that white supremacy was designed to make us feel good about whiteness, and has been doing so for centuries, so if we get to a point where it makes us feel bad about whiteness—not ourselves—then perhaps this is long overdue.

If you are going to face the graveyards of history, if you are going to face the blood on our hands, then you have to leave the white comfort blanket behind. Once you become more aware of the horrible nature of what you were born into, POC are already centuries ahead of you in knowing exactly how horrible it is. So keep reading this blog, continue educating yourself, then possibly educate your friends and family, and embrace what is true about white supremacy whether you like it or not, whether it helps you personally or not. If you get lost on a trip about ‘poor me,’ then that—I can guarantee you—is no solution at all.


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White Guilt 101: No Sympathy for the (white) Devil

Here are two ways to break this down.

Tears, or what happens when those of us who are anti-racist witness racism:

Being disgusted by racism might mean our racial politics are in the right place, but the attitude that whites and racism are so offensive they can’t be dealt with means we cry about racism when it isn’t happening to us. We find it so unbearable that we shut down and retreat. We forget that whites defending racism, or practicing it, is normal–meaning we shouldn’t be shocked to the point of breakdown. Letting racist comments go, resisting education, or giving up on arguments about white supremacy because we’re too upset benefits whiteness. Whites expecting sympathy because they can’t deal with other whites completely ignores the fact that POC have to deal with that shit all the time. One tough conversation, one ugly (but fleeting) moment of awareness, shouldn’t hurt us. We have the social safety to cause a scene and not be in danger, we have the freedom to walk away and not be dehumanized in doing so, we have the privilege to move on and forget about it.

Emotions, or what happens inside us when we deal with the subject of racism:

If legacies of white supremacy cause us to feel bad for ourselves, we are co-opting pain from an experience that isn’t ours. Whites don’t experience racism, so we don’t feel the same pain a person of color feels; our emotions don’t matter when it comes to white supremacy because this pain is not about us. White privilege in this context is believing our hurt feelings take precedence over the subject at hand and feeling justified when the subject is derailed. Making an issue, or even a spectacle, of our pain makes it seem as if we suffer equally with POC because “it hurts all of us.” Consider these questions: Is hearing a white person use the N word the same as being called the N word? Is a rude comment about white Christians the same as demonizing the entire religion of Islam and the POC who practice it (Islamophobia)? Is dealing with a nasty friend or relative the same as dealing with histories and cultures of oppression? Is philosophical confrontation of personal whiteness the same as lived struggle against institutional racism? We might all “bleed red,” but a pin piercing a finger tip that draws blood is not the same as decapitation. Wounds are not created equally.

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Racism: It’s How We Sleep at Night

The New York Times recently published a report on new findings linking race to quality of sleep (or lack thereof) called “How Well You Sleep May Hinge on Race.” The ‘you’ in this sentence refers specifically to white folks, and how well our white privilege allows us to sleep. There is extensive investigation into race in this article, but only in terms of POC. There is no mention of white privilege, or the racial meaning behind the solid sleep the majority of white folks enjoy. The largest mystery remains the reasons for sleep inequality along lines of race, which simply demonstrates how the mainstream media is well prepared and armed with “facts” when it comes to race while being conveniently clueless and mystified when it comes to racism.

Beginning with a big booming knowledge drop, the article introduces one individual under study, Moleendo Stewart, by saying “Sleep experts would point to another factor working against Mr. Stewart: He is a black man.” Oh.. so it sounds like this is his problem. It sounds like the claim is: he’s Black so he doesn’t sleep well, not he’s a Black man struggling in a racist society so he doesn’t sleep well. While this team of tireless professionals has come to the conclusion that “sleep is not colorblind,” they have not discovered why. With all of their “unique” material on the correlation between race and sleep, they still can’t understand their findings and are without explanation. Well, team of professionals, fret no further. We don’t need to spend years in a lab with our white coats to find the answer. It comes down to one simple word: RACISM.

Although researches haven’t yet “unlocked the secret” behind this phenomenon, they have a promising lead: freeway noise. Yes, they actually site this shit as legitimate data in potentially harming sleep for POC. The NYT doesn’t get a big pat on the back for initially giving mention to segregated neighborhoods, because there is no in-depth analysis of the white supremacy and institutional racism behind housing segregation that follows. There is no context, no historical perspective, and no social understanding. First of all, segregated neighborhoods don’t spring up under freeways, freeways are built over and through them. And second of all, even though it is common for this kind of noise to be in low-income neighborhoods, it’s an extremely small factor compared to the much bigger reasons why POC are losing sleep. Despite how inconclusive this article claims to be, it desperately wants to make class the ideal source of sleep deprivation.

“The idea that differences in work and living conditions can explain the racial sleep disparities is a popular one among sleep experts.” Any guess as to why this might be? It is completely unsurprising that “science” would favor a class analysis over a racial one. It is much easier for white folks to blame class status as the reason for social inequality because it allows us to pretend racism does not exist.  It is a comforting idea to believe socioeconomics are more relevant than race–an idea that suits and exposes white privilege–because it means we are no longer accountable for racial inequality in this equation. This shifts the focus of our reality as oppressors to the myth of POC as poor workers, thereby making it easier to argue that POC are responsible for their own class status and we are not responsible for the material consequences of racism.  Clearly racism is the cause, but nobody in this article wants to explicitly say so.

“We had no way to control for stress, and there are social stresses an African-American man might feel that a white man with the same income and education level wouldn’t.” In this instance, the word ‘stress’ is a euphemism for racism. Here we are with a perfect comparative example that throws class out the window, and we still can’t say: IT’S RACISM, STUPID.  Even with this kind of evidence, two men with different racial identities who possess the same shit, we can’t admit what is actually going on. We can’t admit that class doesn’t matter and racism doesn’t sleep. How about investigating that, team of professionals? When class status fails to fit their scientific model, another false culprit must be uncovered.

“It may also be the culture. Black and [Latin@] children in America are far less likely to have regularly enforced bedtimes than white children, according to a 2010 study conducted by Dr. Hale for the National Institutes of Health.” This argument is otherwise known as something called cultural racism, where “culture” is scapegoated for any number of bogus claims about POC instead of skin color. Once again, this article is suggesting the problem is with POC, not with institutional racism or white supremacy. The whole corporate time model, whip cracking schedule, and “properly enforced” timing for every behavior is very much a thing of whiteness. POC are not losing sleep because they don’t act like white folks or have an identical approach to their lives. Furthermore, they aren’t all children, so that piece of trivia isn’t worth much.

And now, a laughable closing statement: “In order to break the cycle, researchers say, patients need to make sleep a priority.” Well that’s a helluva lot easier than dismantling racism isn’t it? And it’s a much nicer white fantasy to educate POC about their “priorities” instead of educating white folks about their racism. White folks don’t sleep better because we make it a priority, we sleep better because we are safe from racial violence and oppression, because we are racially privileged, and because we never deal with racism of any kind. POC don’t need different priorities, we do.


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The “Race Card” and the white Privilege Coin

If POC supposedly have a “race card” they play to “invent” issues about race, then I’d like to officially introduce the white privilege coin.  It has two sides and, for many white folks, it’s used to buy their way out of arguments about racism and white supremacy.

Here’s how the two sides work:

*One side is used to dismiss what POC say about their experiences with racism on the basis of white folks never having this experience themselves. We don’t find any evidence in our own lives of racism (because we don’t experience it), so POC must be making shit up. This is the privileged attitude that nothing matters until it happens to us. Most of us don’t give a flying fuck about racism until we think it happens in “reverse,” which leads us to believe we are victims of racism when we’re actually dealing with prejudice.

*The other side is used to dismiss what white anti-racists say on the basis of these whites “hating” themselves. Calling white anti-racism “self-hate” derails the larger discussion/perspective of systemic hatred against POC, outsources hatred to individuals, and completely misses the point. If white folks can accuse white anti-racists of being self-hating (and therefore full of shit), then this buys them total immunity from any criticism, self-reflection, and responsibility. Effectively, this coin allows whites to never listen to anyone.

Race isn’t a card in a deck conveniently “played” to offend white sensibilities. Unlike the white privilege coin that rests in many of our pockets to pay our ass-saving toll, race and racism are social constants that are present everywhere and in all things. Zionists can dismiss Jewish folks who are critical of “Israel” as “self-hating Jews” and thereby shift the focus from genocide, ethnic cleansing, and colonial occupation of Palestinians to a bunch of crazy religion traitors. White supremacists and nationalists can call white anti-racists “self-hating whites” and thereby shift the focus of racial oppression in the US to a bunch of crazy race traitors. But race, racism, and white supremacy exist whether POC talk about it or not. There is no card, there is no deck, but there is a white privilege coin.


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Woody Guthrie RE-WRITTEN

This land is not your land This land is not my land
From California to theNew York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was never made for you and Me.

As I was colonizing that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was never made for you and me.

I’ve stolen and settled and charted my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me white folks were sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was occupying,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting white folks were chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw private property
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
Both sides were stolen for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw white people,
By the relief office I seen white people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land enough for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go colonizing that white freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was stolen for you and me.

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Tone Policing 101: The white Privilege of “Free” Speech

There’s no denying that it takes a shit load of white privilege to safely say everything that is said on this blog. There’s also no denying that PoC do not have the same freedom from harassment and ridicule when they discuss white supremacy as openly as it is discussed on this blog. Folks with white skin can say racist things or participate in racism without much backlash from other white folks, and the ACLU can protect the “free speech” of the KKK without similar controversy. But when PoC speak critically of these practices, there’s a big fucking problem. When white folks patronize PoC by instructing them on how they should discuss racism, this is tone policing, which only serves to reinforce racism.

So who is it exactly that truly has and enjoys “free” speech? Who has the freedom to find racist attitudes acceptable and criticism of these attitudes unacceptable? Who has the freedom to speak without being policed? White anti-racists can talk about white supremacy and be largely received with praise and nobility; we can speak candidly and profanely without being dismissed as “emotional” or “extreme.” White folks will not turn around and police our tone by telling us to be “nicer” when we talk about racism. Most importantly, when we educate or speak out when it comes to racism, we still benefit from the system and maintain our white privilege.

Self-criticism, self-refection, and the willingness to accept criticism from PoC are crucial to the process of understanding white privilege. If we read something that makes us uncomfortable, if we hear something that makes us uncomfortable, the best reaction is to question our discomfort, not the speaker. Historical precedent, lived experience, social violence, and systemic injustice are enough supporting evidence for what PoC have to say; our “hurt feelings” are not enough supporting evidence to reject or attack what PoC have to say. Since we benefit from racism, it doesn’t make any sense to find ourselves hurt when racism is called out.

Discourses on race are not meant to comfort us, they are meant to challenge us. We do not contend with racism, so it is not our job nor our responsibility to prescribe the “right” approach to dealing with it or discussing it. It’s important to understand that when those of us with white skin speak critically of racism and white supremacy, we will receive more credibility and praise even though we do not deserve it. White privilege allows us to speak freely no matter what we are saying, which means going against the “status quo” is relatively safe—not extremely dangerous.

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No Comment Necessary: When whites Cry Hate Mail

One of the stellar blogs we follow and learn from on Tumblr, this-is-not-native, exposes the cultural appropriation of white hipsters with their headdresses, war paint, and “indian” tattoos. A Tumblr user recently wrote to them after several lengthy exchanges, asking why they were “perpetuating the same hatred” and proceeded to cry about how these poor racist white folks were receiving so much “hate mail” because this-is-not-native reblogs their pictures and calls them on their shit. I want to be clear that the mods at this-is-not-native did an excellent job of deconstructing and debunking as always, and they have informed everything written below. This particular mod felt the need to critically engage this argument on our blog because it demonstrates white supremacy, white ignorance, and racism so infuriatingly well. If you’re a white person and you want to go after Indigenous bloggers, here’s ten reasons why you shouldn’t do it:

  1. The assumption that we’re about to make an argument a person of color has never heard, thought of, or previously dealt with. If we want to make matters worse, then it’s the assumption that we’re going to enlighten an Indigenous person about their own culture, or their methods of defending it—and themselves—against racism. Not our culture, not our experience, not our business.
  2. The attitude that suggests we are experts when it comes to dealing with racism and we know the “right” way to do it. We don’t experience racism, so how the fuck would we know? We have no business doling out unsolicited social advice to Indigenous people, or to people of color in general. Never do this. Seriously. It’s not our place.
  3. The self-righteous conviction that we are entitled to educate an Indigenous person about “proper” etiquette when dealing with racists. White privilege allows us to think we have answers, we have knowledge, and we are qualified to tell PoC how to conduct themselves. PoC are the only ones qualified to tell us what’s up when it comes to racists and racism, not the other way around.
  4. The misconception that our opinion in the context of cultural appropriation is more important than the demands of Indigenous people that we stop doing it. Not only are our opinions less important, they are also completely irrelevant. If Indigenous people don’t want us stealing from their culture, then it doesn’t matter how nice we are or how much we think we’re showing “appreciation.” One simple NO is all we need. End of discussion.
  5. The delusion that racists feeling a backlash for their racism is the same as actual racism. Come on people, really? Get the fuck out of here with that argument. The racist act of cultural appropriation deserves all the backlash, “hate” mail, and calling out it’s going to potentially get. When we’re desecrating cultural practices and refusing to stop when Indigenous people tell us to do so (that is racism), we don’t get to cry about people being “mean” to us (that isn’t racism).
  6. The derailing of specific conflicts to talk romantically about all of us as just “human beings.” Um no. When cultural appropriation is committed (like the crime that it is), the same historical/current power dynamics between white colonizers and colonized Indigenous peoples is being played out once again. It is fundamentally dehumanizing for white folks to steal from Indigenous cultures, so we can’t make that bogus claim about human beings when Indigenous peoples are not being respected as human beings.
  7. The confused idea that all people deserve respect, therefore racists should be left alone. Don’t forget that white folks appropriating Native culture are the ones on trial for heinous amounts of disrespect.  So unless we’re advocating for hypocrisy, don’t act like hipsters appropriating Native culture is OK while Indigenous people calling them out is “disrespectful.”
  8. The crazy accusation that Indigenous people are “perpetuating hatred” by refusing to tolerate cultural appropriation. This completely ignores the fact that a white person stealing Native culture is already an act of hatred and racism—especially when Indigenous people have explained repeatedly that they do not approve. Hatred is not the criticism you invite upon yourself after you do something wrong.
  9. The ignorance that compels us to think we have every right to comment on something we don’t understand. There’s a big difference between having an opinion and acting on it; there’s also a big difference between an educated opinion and an ignorant one. Learn something about Indigenous peoples and why stealing from their cultures isn’t harmless, instead of getting in their faces.
  10. The failure to check white privilege when intervening in Indigenous arguments as moderators on the behalves of racists. Defending racists and their behavior is not a community service or a good deed, it is helping the cause of racism and uplifting our own white privilege. Furthermore, remember the cardinal rule of checking whiteness: if it’s not about you, no matter what it is, don’t make it about you.


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Language 101: Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Mind

Racism inhabits language as much as it inhabits systems, institutions, practices, and ideas. Although there are racial slurs that explicitly demonstrate this reality, there are other words, phrases, and forms of speech that operate on a much subtler level and might appear to be “harmless.” There is speech that homogenizes experiences or people, suggesting they and their struggles are all the same. There are words that are racialized, meaning they have a symbolic racial content behind them that might not be immediately obvious—especially to white folks. As much as we white folks like to talk about “the human race” or how “we are all human beings,” there is a false message of equality in these ideas that ignores the differences and inequalities in social experience. It is important to understand how racism and racist ideas in language have specific meanings and affect specific people; if we think we as whites have the freedom to create our own meanings and remove words from their original context so we can do whatever the fuck we want with them, this is also racist. So let’s look at some racialized phrases.

—“We should have a powwow about this” or “I’m going to powwow with my colleagues”

*Powwows are ritualistic gatherings of Indigenous peoples that involve their culture and heritage, they are not board meetings or casual check-ins. Using this phrase to describe an intellectual or professional gathering outside of Indigenous spaces is cultural appropriation—yes, this happens in language also. White people do not have powwows in any context. Ever. Although the use might seem “harmless,” powwows are still very much alive in the contemporary moment and, like Indigenous peoples themselves, they are not “things” of the past. We do not get to decide what this word means, and use it accordingly, when it already has a historical and current meaning.

—“Don’t get me started on welfare queens”

*Who could this phrase refer to exactly? As many white women as there are on welfare (YEP), the idea of the “welfare queen” is distinctly racialized and based on racial stereotypes of Black women being “lazy” and living on “charity.” If we look at the facts, more white women receive welfare than Black women—according to US Census statistics. So when we use this phrase, it is not about numbers, it is about race. When white folks say this, it creates the illusion that we are being “politically correct” in our language without directly talking about Black Women… even though that’s exactly who we’re talking about.

—“That’s so ghetto”

*One time I heard a white girl say “people don’t like the word ghetto because its negative and there’s something beautiful about living in the ghetto.” NOPE. Since none of us here are Black or Brown, we can’t speak for why these folks personally don’t like the word/phrase (and neither should any other white folks), but we do understand how this word/phrase is used to refer to something “dirty,” “trashy,” or “low-class.” Since white folks in the US don’t live in ghettos, when we use the word we are attaching it to the PoC who do live in ghettos. We equate things we think are “ghetto” with the specific people who live in them by using this language. It is dehumanizing.

—“You’re badass and stealthy like a ninja”

*This might seem like a compliment… but it isn’t. Ninjas have specific histories in Japan and Japanese culture, they aren’t teenage mutant turtles or white guys with black belts and black masks. Because their legacy in Japan can be situated in much earlier centuries, this is not a reason to describe anything covert or “stealthy” as similar or identical to being a ninja. This word is often equated with very general and confused ideas of “Asian” culture, meaning white folks who say this or make this representation in forms of media are combining stereotypes from multiple cultures on the continent of Asia. Either that, or they are appropriating Japanese culture to make it seem cool that they got away with stealing a candy bar.

—“I don’t want illegals in my neighborhood”

*The word “illegals” or any of its variations (“illegal alien” “illegal immigrant”) are perfect ways to disguise racist language, because these words enable white folks to pretend like they’re talking about undocumented immigrants in general and not a specific group of Brown folks from Mexico, Central America, and South America. Many anti-immigrant platforms are inextricably linked to the “protection” of the US-Mexico border, which says everything about the kind of immigrants they target. There are no ferocious and widespread campaigns that directly target, demonize, or attack immigrants with white skin. The argument that Jewish and Irish immigrants once faced similar threats ignores the fact that these folks were not considered to be “white” back then.

—“Terrorists are security threats to our nation”

*Like the KKK? Even though this claim seems neutral and seems to refer to anyone who commits acts of violence against the US, it is a claim that does not commonly refer to the KKK or any white terrorists who bomb buildings, create racial conspiracies, or commit mass shootings within the US. There is no billion-dollar war or campaign that invades multiple countries to end white terrorism. This claim racially lumps all Muslims, Arabs, and Muslim Arabs into a single category, and similarly implicates the religion of Islam as “threatening” to US “security.” If being secure means living without the fear of violence, then white folks need to understand that PoC in the US have not known this privilege for centuries because of white terrorists.

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Whiteness 101: There’s no Get-out-of-Privilege-Free Card

Several times before on separate occasions, we have heard white anti-racists use this argument: “This isn’t about white people, this is about whiteness.” It’s not that only white anti-racists use this argument, but this post will only address those who do. The phenomenon of PoC making this argument or practicing whiteness does exist, but this is not something for white folks to fully expose or comment on. Our responsibility is to address the problematic actions, thoughts, and states of privilege of white folks, not to call out PoC. In terms of white folks who use the argument that white privilege or white supremacy is not about white people, but is exclusively about the concept of whiteness… we disagree. It is not the abstract concept of whiteness that benefits from white privilege, it is white people who benefit. It is not whiteness that commits lynchings, hate crimes, or shootings, it is white people who concretely carry out these acts of violence. Because white people and folks with white skin privilege are writing this blog, we won’t get the backlash PoC would get for “hating white people” with this entry. Even if we are speaking critically of whiteness, we maintain our privilege as people with white skin. Whiteness exists in us and in our skin color as much as it exists beyond these things. Owning this privilege and admitting its existence can’t be equated with “hating” ourselves or other white people.

Whiteness is a combination of social ideas, forces, systems, and actors—all of them inseparable and interconnected. Whiteness is where we have grown up, the privileges we have enjoyed, our media representation, our social and public security, our racial politics, wealth and comfort from prior generations, and it is all of us as people who can only truthfully identify as white or identify as biracial but have white skin privilege. When white anti-racists, or white folks in general, distance themselves from being white they place whiteness in an abstract state and make it seem as though, with enough education, we can escape it. This is not so. It is ridiculous for white folks to say things like “Ugh I HATE white people” or “This is only about whiteness,” because both statements suggest the speaker has somehow “moved on” and is no longer white. Our minds and hearts can change, we as people can change, but regardless of these possibilities, our skin will always be white and we will therefore always benefit from white supremacy/privilege as long as this system is still in tact.

This particular debate is why we said in a previous post on white privilege that Peggy McIntosh’s idea of the Invisible Knapsack isn’t a good place to stop in terms of critically examining whiteness. While her list is accurate and overall holds true in the contemporary moment, its central focus is on individual privilege and freedom, not on networks of oppression and the brutality of power. Whiteness is not just an experience, a social state, or a system of advantages, it is also an expression of violence. White folks thinking of and/or seeing PoC as less than human is violent, denying the experiences PoC have with racism and oppression is violent, refusing to admit we have privilege over PoC is violent, housing segregation is violent, hate crimes are violent, racial language is violent. Why are these events and structures violent? Because they cause material harm and damage to PoC. White folks might disagree or disapprove, but we aren’t any less powerful and we can’t claim to be victims.

The point is not to take every argument about white privilege personally, meaning finding ourselves individually guilty for every white aggression/atrocity ever committed, but to understand how we can’t logically claim to be completely separate from whiteness. White anti-racists should not feel the need to comfort white folks (and possibly themselves) by saying “this isn’t about us as people,” when whiteness undoubtedly involves white people and our actions—we are comforted enough by white privilege anyway. If a white person calls an Arab person a “sand n*gger,” do they get to turn around and say “oh, that wasn’t me it was just my whiteness”? If we’re being real about the situation, it’s both. It’s the person and the privilege, the racist and the racism, that are equally accountable. What about the white folks that marched and organized during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s? Sure they did good work with their politics in the right place, but their freedom to eat in segregated restaurants, their safety in going home to white neighborhoods, their ability to escape harassment outside of protest scenes, demonstrated the continued existence of their skin privilege. The system can’t exist without people to run it, people to reap rewards, and people to oppress.

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Racism 101: This Shit Doesn’t Go in Reverse

There are multiple misguided, and straight up wrong, ways white folks decide to interpret racism. Racism can be best understood in this way: it is a current and historical system of power relations, meaning one race has social, political, and economic power over another. This system exists in institutions, social divisions, access to opportunity, lived experience, and the actions/thoughts of individuals. Simple dictionary definitions (written by white folks) are exactly that: simple, and therefore insufficient. Racism is not judging any person based on their race, it is one race having dominance over another and limiting social opportunities of members of the dominated race by classifying them as inferior. If white folks question which race has maintained dominance in the US, we only need to consider how many white male presidents we have had, how many white male Supreme Court justices we have had, how the constitution was written by white men at the exclusion of people and women of color, and how federal and state legislation continues to work to our benefit. The legacy lives on, even if the historical moment is “over.”

So let’s think about this contradiction in terms called “reverse racism.” There have been no laws segregating or exiling white folks, no laws against white men marrying white women, no laws preventing white men from voting (preventing white women from voting was sexism, not racism), no laws that expressly state white folks cannot become citizens, no laws banning the social and cultural histories of white folks in school, no laws that have forcibly removed us from our land (which was never ours to begin with), no laws supporting discrimination against white folks on the basis that they are less than human, and the list of US laws white folks have never been governed by could go on and on.  What does this legal privilege say about how accurate our ideas are about experiencing racism? It says they are not accurate at all. Ever. White power is not just a bunch of white hoods and burning crosses, it is the power we have in government, law, housing, education, employment, policing, social status, citizenship status, and our ability to define race in ways that have uplifted our whiteness. Racism is not just a few insulting words or conflict between individuals, it is an inescapable reality of oppression that white folks never experience.

A professor of color once explained to one of our classes that the word “cracker” came from the slave master cracking his whip in the fields, which meant that even if a slave master was called a “cracker” he was still in a position of power as a slave master.  Today this remains true, although the circumstances have changed—even when white folks are called this word, we are not stripped of our long-held power and privilege as white people. If white folks think racism can be reversed, then we have to think about what is being reversed: we would have to reverse history, colonialism, systems of oppression, every racial theory ever published, every racial law ever passed, and a whole host of social, political, and geographic events. To get a basic handle on what this would look like, here is some historical satire written by one of the mods several months ago. The point is to understand that this never actually happened.

Five hundred years ago colonialism emerged in South America, the Caribbean, and Africa, resulting in the invasion, conquering, raping, and enslavement of Europeans. The Mexica (the Aztecs) brought their guns, canons, blades, and Indigenous cosmologies to dominate and convert the European “natives,” and to extract their human labor and natural resources for capital gain.  All East coast American Indian tribes of what is currently called the US expelled their “radicals” to begin colonies in England, decimating entire villages with their imported diseases as they “discovered” the territory of this “new world” before they displaced and/or massacred most of the remaining population. Indigenous Africans scouted for Spaniards to work their plantations as chattel slaves while trading them as property, raping Spanish women to produce more bodies to sell, earning the name “cracker” for their ruthless whip cracking in the fields. At the same time, an entire ideological justification, which produced volumes of hateful literature and doctrines of invented science, was developed in order to prove the inhumanity of the colonized and the racial superiority of the colonizer. For Europeans and any other white “natives” from the “Global North,” their fate would include genocide and the theft of land, generations of legal and social segregation, disproportionate imprisonment, forced sterilization, political repression, continued poverty and state abandonment, increased subjection to violence and hate crimes, unpunished homicides committed by law enforcement, employment discrimination, cultural genocide, higher mortality rates, education almost entirely representative of colonizing cultures, and so much more. Essentially, that is what “reversing” racism would mean.

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