Tag Archives: white privilege

Reflections on Sandy Hook: Violent Masculinity and the Mental Illness of white Privilege

Whenever major stories hit the news, there are seismic waves of instant coverage and facebook opinions that collide in a perfect internet storm that keeps me distracted and somewhat furious for hours. Countless people compete for the most profound commentary, the most controversial analyses, and the most hard-hitting opinions as quickly as possible whether they are directly connected to the story or not. After watching this go down for several days, I wanted to take some time to reflect on the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. This is not a post about gun control, the breakdown of social services, or “bad parenting.” This post will not contribute to the very valid discourses that interrogate the excessive media attention given to violence in privileged white spaces where events like this “just don’t happen.” This is a not post that is specifically limited to the exact details of what happened in Connecticut. This post is about two of the ugliest social diseases ever created in the history of humankind: male and white supremacy.

What I find to be suspect about so many of the reports I’ve read is the tendency to bury, or otherwise ignore altogether, the highly significant fact that the Sandy Hook shooter also murdered his own mother during the killings. In fact, most of the victims were women and, yes, most of the victims where white. I don’t personally think this warrants a scathing critique of President Obama’s tearful hypocrisy, nor do I think this warrants the argument that mental illness should be the real focus of Sandy Hook discussions–even if racism can be dismissed as the killer’s motivation in this case. I think because the victims of this shooting were mostly white and mostly women, evaluating and complicating the identity of white male killers becomes all the more important despite how counter-intuitive this may seem. Men with white skin have been killing POC for centuries, true, but when their victims share their skin color it doesn’t make the killers any less privileged as male or any less privileged as white.

I am not a parent and that much should be made clear, but this does not prevent me from sympathizing with the parents who brutally lost their children and the father who lost a son and a wife in the same day. I read a blog entry on the Huffington Post a friend of mine had shared on facebook, making a plea for understanding and forgiveness when it comes to the often repeated desire to holistically blame parents for the violence of their children. Written by a mother as a contribution to mental illness discussions that inevitably saturate the nation after mass killings committed by white men, she speaks extensively about the fear of her own son, then offers this bit of information:

According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.

What I find most interesting about this admittedly heartfelt and complicated entry is the mother’s admission that no doctors have officially diagnosed her son, but he is on heavy duty anti-psychotics to control his “rage.” Once again, I am not a parent, nor am I a medical professional. The only “scientist” I can somewhat claim to be is a “social” one. But this is where I get skeptical: when atrocities and/or crimes perpetrated largely by white men become subject to a consequential rush to create a crisis around mental illness and isolate the solution as an exclusively medical one. If it is legitimate to suggest that rage and mother-hating from white male teenagers is a basis for the widespread prescribing of serious narcotics, then why is it illegitimate to suggest this same rage and mother-hating is a basis for honest and critical examinations of white and male supremacy? The former will make pharmaceutical companies a fortune, the latter will not.

When whites have been conditioned to equate violence with communities and people of color, we are quick to respond with disbelief when this same violence not only occurs in our communities, but is perpetrated by one of our own. The white male (TM) is a constructed model of power, success, and–most of all–rational thought. As a result, it is not a stretch to imagine that an exception to this rule must be diagnosed as defective, pathological, and most certainly abnormal. Forget about the individual that is President Obama, and wonder more at the broader social hypocrisy that sympathizes with white killers and immediately demonizes killers and/or victims of color. But this is especially painful because it involves children, right? Remember when an 11 year-old Black girl (name still under protection of anonymity) was gang-raped by several men in Texas in 2010? Was the media trend one of overwhelming sympathy and understanding? Or did a major news publication get itself embroiled in a shit storm for indicting the character of the young girl based on her tendency to “dress beyond her age”? It is acceptable to question the racial and gender identities of people and women of color in the US, but it is wholly unacceptable to subject white male killers to the same critical lens.

In a recent essay on the Sandy Hook shootings, Tim Wise denied that there was something about whiteness that causes homicide. No, I don’t think there is some kind of whiteness gene that makes certain white men lose their shit and kill people, but is it really that ridiculous to make a connection between whiteness and violence? How high on white supremacy were the Nazis, the KKK, and any other white male vigilante militias who intentionally carried out lynchings, bombings, and, yes, mass murders? Maybe whiteness is the illness here–not the genetic pigmentation that decides skin tone, but the social and structural environments that dictate how sympathetic and privileged white folks will be. Maybe white privilege and patriarchy (cultural & structural, domestic & private) is what teaches white men insane levels of entitlement and inconsolable rage as a logical reaction whenever they are denied what they think they deserve or are treated in a way they think they don’t deserve to be treated?

There is always something more reasonable to blame than whiteness.

Although I don’t deny the legitimacy of mental health issues, I’m not buying that as the only explanation in multiple cases of distinct and premeditated patterns (some might say histories) of behavior. I wonder whose definition of mental illness is being used when these mass killers are revealed to be white men with little or no anger management who are otherwise coherent, calculating, and aware of what they are doing. As fucked up and far-fetched as they are, manifestos and detailed plans are often left behind after these killers take their own lives. A repeated mental illness defense, in my opinion, makes it easier to dismiss violence as the work of “crazy” individuals instead of understanding it as something that has always pervaded cultures of whiteness in the US. Why is mental illness a national crisis that desperately needs to be remedied only when white men murder? After colonization, after Indigenous genocide, after chattel slavery, after lynching, after Oklahoma City, after Columbine, after Oak Creek… why is anyone still surprised when white men murder?

When something like this happens, I think of all the privilege not only white folks maintain, but also the massive amounts of privilege US citizens (and Westerners in general) continue to enjoy. I remember the times I have been cussed out by wealthy white women while working as a cashier after making some small error with their purchase. I think of the screaming matches I have witnessed over material goods and political opinions in retail stores, the irate tantrums white folks have thrown over long lines, missed orders at coffee shops, and the wrong burritos on their plates.  I think of how ego-driven and hyper-masculine mainstream US culture is, where violent white males are routinely celebrated as heroic outlaws and gun-toting badasses. Sure, I appreciate the humor from folks like David Sirota who wonders why it isn’t time to racially profile white men in this country, but I wonder what might happen if white society decided it was time to try something like this instead…

What if we stopped teaching each other how special and superior whiteness is–children and adults alike. What if we dismantled and discontinued the idea that we are the best people who deserve nothing but the best while living in the best country on Earth. What if we stopped giving lenient or abbreviated punishments to white collar criminals and white criminals in general. What if we abolished policies and practices in employment, education, and housing that perpetuate social inequities and oppression. What if we used a humane sense of limits to re-frame the “rights” and “freedom” that entitle us to do whatever we want and express our rage however we want. What if we educated our men to have unconditional respect for women and people of all gender identities whether they are relatives, strangers, next door, down the street, or in another country. What if we refused to see violence as something that exists only in communities of color, and made it completely unglamorous and unsympathetic at the hands of white men.

What if.

–DD

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Let’s Talk About: the Comments Made by Morgan Freeman

Before I even get into this: If Black followers would like to comment on internalized oppression or POC practicing whiteness, then I wholeheartedly welcome it. I, however, as a white person do not have the right, reason, need, or lived experience to speak on such matters. Personally, I see a crucial distinction between acknowledging this phenomenon and actively battling it. I’m not taking Morgan Freeman to task directly because this is not my battle and it is not my job, nor is it the job of any white person to school POC on their ideas of race. I cringe every time I see Tim Wise on twitter going after POC for practicing white supremacy, because, quite frankly, he just comes off as racist. I firmly believe these specific discussions and confrontations belong in the communities they directly involve.

A dear Brazilian friend of mine who I met through political organizing last year messaged me this morning and told me this video of Morgan Freeman’s comments was going around on Brazilian facebook pages in response to a “Black Consciousness Week” held at the end of November in Brazil. Aside from making some excellent criticisms about the white middle class reception to this video, he also said he’d like to see a discussion on this topic engaged on the blog. I was inclined to agree, but I was more so skeptical and cautious as to how I would approach this issue. I personally believe silence is not a solution to race and racism, but I can only speak to this belief through my experience of white privilege. These comments have been circulating for some time, and as much as I think they serve as one good example of exactly what happens when people refuse to talk about race, I think there is more danger in terms of white folks righteously savoring the reflection of their own ideas in the spoken words of POC.

Everyone knows Morgan Freeman is not the only Black person on the planet, right? More importantly, everyone knows that he isn’t the only person of color on the planet, nor was he unanimously appointed to speak for all Black people… right?

I think whites might want to hesitate before we uphold the idea that dialogues on race and racism should stop because a single individual says they should, especially if we think this then gives us the license to say “a Black person said it should stop. SO THERE.” As my friend put it, there is no reason for whites (wherever they are) to defend this kind of argument as being universally valid simply because it was “authorized” by a single Black person. Racism is not an issue that is limited to Black vs white. When there are numerous and diverse ethnic identities that contend with numerous and diverse racial oppressions, whites need to take a long look at our “I don’t see race” mantles and the token POC we may have stacked there as our personal opinion trophies. I sense a double standard of whiteness at work when Morgan Freeman’s comments are privileged as incontrovertible truth, but the words of Malcolm X are dismissed as extremist ramblings that pose a “threat to homeland security.” Why would whites have either the interest or the investment in one position over the other? Because one position works to our advantage and reinforces our privilege while the other does not.

I have no disrespect for Mr. Freeman, but with the undeniable reality that I would still be a dumb white motherfucker had I not been exposed to discourses on race and racism, I have to respectfully disagree. I cannot discuss why this kind of thinking might be damaging to POC because I am not a person of color. What I can do, is use my stories to explain why this kind of thinking is ultimately beneficial to and in the interest of white supremacy.

I vividly remember what I’m going to call the ‘white awakening’ I had my first quarter of college in the Ethnic Studies department. Prompts for our midterm papers were being handed around in class, and I was sitting comfortably with my usual expectations of academic exercises. In other words, I was going to breeze through whatever 5-6 pages this would be while remaining as neutral as I’d always been as a student. This white arrogance had no idea what the fuck to do with itself once I actually read the prompt. “Tell your personal migration narratives of contact with the United States and explain how this has shaped your ethnic identity.” I am still perfectly ignorant of many things, but in this particular context, this is how ignorant I was at the time: I went home in crisis. I had a self-indulgent meltdown where I unleashed white panic and stared at the prompt for who knows what amount of time. This isn’t an assignment for white people, I kept telling myself, how unfair. My first serious paper, and the first one ever that had asked me to examine my own ethnic identity, left me dumbfounded, directionless, and questioning my major.

It shocked me when, the next day in class, our TA revealed that my fellow desperate white students in crisis had collectively and immediately crowded her office to say to her what I wouldn’t say out loud. I will never forget what she said to the *entire class,* how she said it, and how this changed my thinking forever:

“I have news for you, white folks. YOU HAVE RACE. Understand that white is a race too and it’s socially constructed too. Yall are related to European immigrants, so don’t give me this shit about how you can’t talk about your migration patterns and ethnic identities.”

For me, this was the single card an important person pulled to bring the whole house of cards down. I have made mistakes and I have been wrong, I will continue to make mistakes and I will continue to be wrong. But had this moment not happened, had the radical power of words not existed, I would have remained locked into the great white ignorance that still controls this country and most of the planet. This state of mind would not have been good just for me; it’s good for whites in general.

At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I would say it’s not really Morgan Freeman who whites are agreeing with. When we use comments like these to defend colorblind thinking while we simultaneously reject or attack the ideas of radical POC, we are ultimately validating our own ideas and agreeing with ourselves. When we are at this point, it doesn’t matter that Morgan Freeman is Black; what matters is that his words are not threatening to our whiteness, while the words of Malcolm X or Angela Davis are perceived as highly threatening in this regard. The suggestion that we stop talking about race and racism prevents us from staring white supremacy in the eye behind its white hood, which means we must stare into a mirror, rather than look away and assume we were right all along. It is always easier to never speak of something again than it is to face its ugliness every day.

–DD

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Let’s Talk About: Intersections of whiteness, Masculinity, and Queers

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So this afternoon on facebook…

After a debate with a Zionist I clicked over to my dash to find this image being used by a local gay bar to advertise their thxgiving day festivities. “Come get your turkey stuffed,” said the promotional material. Here we have an example of the most popular time of year to use white stereotypes of Indigenous peoples as marketing strategies. Furthermore, this is yet another example of whiteness in communities who, although they might understand the oppression of homophobia, have the racial privilege to dismiss the oppression of racism and cultural appropriation. This image reminds me of two things: not to assume that white supremacy exists exclusively in conservative heterosexual spaces, and to remember that even though there are queer whites, we have still been conditioned by white supremacy and continue to benefit from it. Being queer does not preclude us from being racist or participating in racist behavior.

I’m assuming a buckled hat or turkey feathers weren’t erotic enough, so they decided to go with a… war bonnet. Not only does this image use white stereotypes to objectify Native masculinity, it also exploits cultural dress by packaging it as a sexualized costume that will, ideally, appeal to potential consumers and stimulate their genitals. The common and frighteningly overused argument that cultural appropriation is a demonstration of appreciation and respect cannot, even remotely, be applied in this case. I fail to see how using war bonnets to sell sex to mostly white gay men would qualify as appreciative or respectful. If there are any questions about this, consider the fact that the war bonnet (in combination with the promotional material quoted above) is only serving the purpose of a sexualized costume precisely because it’s the only thing the model is wearing—the picture being tantalizingly cropped right before the pubic hair territory gets more graphic.

With turkey basters being as phallic as they are and ovens being as orifice related as they are, the use of a sexualized racist trope becomes less of a random association and more of a conscious decision. This hypersexual photo is designed to appeal to a decidedly non-Native demographic for a decidedly non-Native event.. which is based on a whitewashed holiday that celebrates legacies of ignored Native genocide in the US. Selling distorted Native images to sell thxgiving could only be the product of a white supremacy blind spot. Nontraditional war bonnet wearing already plays on white fantasies of Native peoples constructed as universally similar in appearance and customs, but this version gives it a hot shirtless twist to attract gay men and compel them to buy $9 cocktails. This version turns cultural appropriation into a gay male fantasy.

Why is this desirable? A naked white dude (who can go ahead and skip the spray tan) with a turkey leg in his mouth and an oven mitt on his dick wouldn’t fit with the “get stuffed” theme? Doesn’t that send the same message? The point being that eroticism is a good thing until it manifests at the non-consensual expense of oppressed peoples. I am unconvinced the decision to go with a war bonnet has nothing to do with a sentimental attachment to the whiteness of thxgiving, and the privilege to exploit, stereotype, or dismiss Indigenous peoples and their cultural traditions. I still can’t get over the fact that thxgiving is being celebrated at a gay bar in the first place. How is that progress—for anyone?

—DD

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Politics and white Privilege: Reflections on Why I Voted for Obama

Several months ago I came to the conclusion that I would never vote again, and decided it was some kind of meaningful decision aligned perfectly with my radical politics. I thought I would ignore the Presidential election entirely, assuming this would allow me to exist outside the US system of government. If this sounds similar to the white fantasy that we can exist outside the system of white privilege when we “think differently,” that’s because it’s almost identical. I am implicated in both systems whether I am a willing or unwilling participant, aware or unaware, and I don’t know of any cancer patients that became immune to the disease simply by ignoring it. As I’ve watched this election cycle unfold (by far one of the most appalling examples of wasted money that “modern” humans have ever known), I have reflected on what it says about my white privilege to even assume the freedom I have to abstain from voting is a “moral” freedom and to assume this decision is a “radical” one.

Full disclosure from the very beginning: I agree with several highly respected friends of color that voting is a colonial franchise. It reinforces the structural power of a neocolonial system (the US government), the foundation for which was formal European colonialism. It’s a uniquely white privilege to reflect on US national heritage with pride and nostalgia, and the “pioneering” ideas behind the creation of the US nation-state that never applied to Indigenous and ethnic “others.” I agree that voting is essentially an act of supporting this history and its influence on the contemporary moment. As per usual with a white person, however, my political position is completely different, and because of my privilege the stakes are not as high for me in any given election.

What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen to the majority of white folks if Obama is re-elected? The wealthiest of us might have to pay higher taxes? I don’t really need to think about the few unfortunate consequences I might personally suffer if Romney is elected, which means I have the white privilege to vote for myself and satisfy my own politics.. or not. I can dislike both candidates—one significantly more so than the other—and I could’ve spent this election as a “radical conscientious objector” instead of a voter, but my white privilege is unaltered either way. So I also agree with many respected POC bloggers and writers who argue that no vote for President Obama could amount to the election of Mitt Romney, which would mean worse conditions for many POC in this country.

I have no illusions that I achieved political oneness with “democracy” today because I decided, after all, to vote for Obama. What does the idea of “democracy” really mean when states like Ohio and Florida could decide an entire election? I recently had a discussion with a white feminist about electoral politics, one in which she claimed a certain group of people should “get their shit together and vote” if they wanted certain rights in the US. Not only was she perpetuating the white liberal fantasy that anyone can completely overhaul their social problems with democratic agency, but she was also suggesting that voting is the ultimate solution to any given issue. I could be wrong, but I have to seriously doubt that anti-colonial ideas have ever been viable voting measures. Folks with white skin can simultaneously be aware that the region called the “Southwest” was stolen from Mexico and Indigenous peoples, then claim voting will somehow effectively address this situation. When has “give Mexico back to Mexican and Indigenous people” ever been on a ballot anywhere in the US?

A revolution is not going to happen in the US at a ballot box, and I’m not a fan of every single Obama policy—particularly not the one that effectively means voting for him amounts to voting for more deportations of Latin@ immigrants. But Romney’s ideas on immigration? “Hey, pull yourselves up by your boot straps and self-deport.” Hear ye, hear ye, the colonizer proclaims the Natives shall leave voluntarily from their own land. It’s not better that I voted for Obama, but it would have been worse had I voted for that. Not voting for the alternative gives the worst case scenario a much better chance. I don’t think Obama is the “lesser of two evils,” I think Mitt Romney is yet another financially elite, racially privileged, homophobic, patriarchal, and white supremacist politician that does not deserve to be given more power than he has already enjoyed. Simply put: Romney is worse, and, if elected, would be much worse for communities of color. He wants to dissolve Indigenous sovereignty, which is enough of a reason to vote against him, whether you’re drinking the “democracy” koolaid or not.

Although there are political struggles aimed at disrupting and deconstructing the two-party binary system that dominates US campaigns for office, I don’t know that there will ever be such a thing as a “good vote” or a “good politician” within a corrupt system. Even my vote for President Obama was not a “good vote,” it was a vote against Romney. There have been countless moment’s in Obama’s Presidency that I have imagined how different he might be if he was not forced to operate within the confines of a necolonial and white supremacist system. I think of all the moments he could not be the candidate so many voters wanted him to be in 2008 precisely because of this system. I imagine maybe there are days when he goes to work as Bill Clinton and goes home as Malcolm X. Perhaps the problem is not so much the politician, but the faith voters have in a corrupt government and the promise that this institution, if run by the “right person,” will create the social welfare and “equality” it was supposedly designed to deliver.

I might prefer abolishing the system altogether to find a different way of life, but, as long as it is still in place, I will vote against the worst and most horrifying candidates competing to control it. This is not a heroic, ethical, or revolutionary stance—it is being the lesser of two evils as a white person.

Assuming Romney does get elected, I wonder what will be said about a “post-racial America” then. Will folks say the country is still “post-racial” just because half of its population once elected a Black male? Will they reflect fondly and say, “Remember that Black President we had.. that one time?”

—DD

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Colonialism 101: white Privilege in a “Nation of Immigrants”

In last night’s second Presidential debate, Mitt Romney used the phrase “We are a nation of immigrants” as his opening line to a voter’s question on immigration policy. This romantic idea, dripping with political correctness, manages to erase history, ignore social stigma, and homogenize the category of “immigrants” in a single sentence. The statement is horizontal; immigration is not. It suggests that the US has been a nebulous collection of travelers (which it hasn’t), all of them coming and going willfully and with agency (which they haven’t). It makes it seem as if there are no walls crossed and no lives risked, there is no degrading bureaucracy to contend with and no uniformed mercenaries waiting to harass, profile, and deport certain immigrants. It pretends as though there are not human beings designated as “legal” and “illegal.” It fails to recognize the sovereign territories of Indigenous peoples—the original inhabitants of this land—that exist within this “nation of immigrants.” The fact that Indigenous cultures are still thriving and still present in the US today invalidates that idea altogether.

Before we even get into this, let’s clear the air about Mitt Romney’s “roots.” His Mormon relatives fled to Chihuahua to escape anti-polygamy laws and his father returned to the US before Romney was born. Does that make him an immigrant? No. Do white people born to white people living in Mexico make them Mexican? No. Are US citizens living in Mexico who decide to return to the US immigrants? No.

First and foremost, the US Nation-State was created by European colonizers, and their descendents are now citizens enjoying privileged positions within the dominant culture of white supremacy. Then there were white settlers who either occupied stolen land or forcibly seized it from Indigenous peoples, and their descendants are privileged citizens also. The slaves on whose backs the US economy was built did not willfully migrate to the thirteen colonies. As a WOC professor of mine once said: “No one stood around on the shores of African countries and said ‘I wonder which slave ship I’ll take to the ‘New World’ today.’” Slave labor from Africa, imported labor from China, victims of human trafficking, and refugees don’t qualify as immigrants. Even the Bracero Program that imported laborers from Mexico, followed by a policy (“Operation Wetback”) designed to hunt down and deport disposable laborers of color… still not a “nation of immigrants.” Territories of the present-day Southwest were stolen from Mexico and colonized in the midst of violent Westward Expansionism, which means the US-Mexico border fence, US immigration policy, and white nativism are the only factors that construct folks from south of the border as “immigrants” in their homeland.

So let’s talk about US immigration policy and the creation of the US as a Nation-State direct from Mae M. Ngai, author of Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Fast forward to neocolonialism in the 20th century with the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 codifying the exclusion of Chinese, Japanese, and API folks in general, and establishing a system of allowing/disallowing immigrants from certain countries by numbers (national quotas) based on their “National origin.” With the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act (McCarran-Walter Act of 1952), quotas were replaced with numerical “caps” on immigration and, for the first time, it somewhat limited previously unhindered immigration from the “Western hemisphere.” This law, still in use today, established a legal preference for “skilled professional labor” as well, creating a hierarchy of ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ immigrants in the US. When immigrants have been divided along lines of race, and when race continues to determine inclusion and exclusion within immigration politics, there is no cohesive or equitable “nation of immigrants.”

But hold up—isn’t that a good a thing to say? Not if you’re white, and here’s why: Which immigrants are we? Are we the immigrants who have been excluded by law from entering the country? Are we the immigrants who live in fear of racial profiling? Are we the immigrants who get deported with our children left behind? Can we really claim to be immigrants when we are still colonizing and occupying Indigenous land?

Recent white immigrants have automatic racial belonging to the national body, and white colonizers of the past created the national body, giving whites tremendous privilege in migration power dynamics. As Toni Morrison said, “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” Immigrants with white skin have the privilege and physical safety of being read as American simply according to their color, which is a privilege immigrants of color do not have. When white politicians like Mitt Romney use the “nation of immigrants” phrase, he is pandering to reformist attitudes about immigration while supporting racist immigration policies like E-verify, secure communities, and “self-deportation.” He is also making it possible for whites to benignly say we came from “immigrants” rather than admit our ancestors were Native slaughtering slave owners responsible for colonialism and genocide. “Immigrants” sounds a lot nicer, doesn’t it?

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The Learning Curve of Fake Queers and Why I am Not Inspired

I have more than a few beefs with Tim Wise, so they don’t start and/or stop with this. I will openly admit that I was once a member of the uncritical fuck-yeah-TW crowd, but I have been re-thinking this position for a number of months for a number of reasons. I’ve come to the conclusion that white anti-racists (such as myself) have a responsibility to be critically engaged with one another rather than unyieldingly supportive. It’s my personal stance that white privilege inevitably dictates that we will be wrong, misguided, confused, mistaken, or all of the above more than once when we attempt to educate and inform. There is never any guarantee (or possibility) that we will know everything, and the above screen shot of a recent Tim Wise tweet happens to be a particularly good example of this reality.

From one queer whitey to one straight whitey, here’s a five-point list of why this kind of story is not and should never be “inspiring”:

  1. First and foremost, someone who has a temporary adventure in fake queerness comfortably resumes their straight privileged life once they unpack their I-learned-so-much-from-this baggage. If you want to know what “straight supremacy” is like, then you need a lifetime of enduring it—not a one year trip to its main attractions. Actual queers do not have the luxury to return to safety and comfort because at no point are we done with being queer. We don’t go home from being queer, we are home. Queers know all about straight supremacy, so why would a straight white male ever need to teach anyone about it?
  2. For someone who does as much scholarly and professional work in critical race theory and anti-racism, you would have to know that a privileged person inhabiting or “pretending” to be an oppressed identity is an act of violence. Non-Muslim white women shouldn’t be wearing hijabs so they can learn about Islamophobia and pretend to experience oppression for a minute. How quickly would you tweet “racist dumbass” if some white guy pretended to be Black for a year to learn about white supremacy? You should have been quick to tweet “homophobic dumbass,” which is what this story is about—not an inspirational figure.
  3. Oppressed identities do not need to be invented by non-oppressed identities just so they or the uninformed can have an epiphany and gain knowledge. Oppressed folks tell their own stories and produce their own knowledge, and any prevention, derailing, or intervention of this process is in line with white supremacy. Once again, I don’t understand how you could have missed this very explicit example of appropriating a struggle and an identity that is not one’s own in order to learn about the “other.” I question why you would even give attention to something like this when queer voices rarely, if ever, speak for themselves in mainstream media.
  4. Being inspired by this homophobic farce exposes straight privilege without skipping a beat. Since I am not straight, this story triggers the fuck out of me. I can’t decide whether I’m more disgusted by the story, or more disgusted by the fact that someone/anyone would be inspired by it. How can you celebrate a straight white male for pulling offensive shit like this? Sexuality is not an experiment or an intellectual exercise; it’s not a road trip. Something as deeply personal and complex as sexuality can’t be packaged into a quick learning guide. And no one needs to learn about homophobia from a straight person in a gay costume.
  5. The experience of homophobia is not just an external one: it has social and public manifestations as much as it has deeply personal and private consequences. Being queer isn’t limited to how people treat you when your sexuality becomes known to them. Regardless of this highly offensive exercise, I will never be convinced that a straight person pretending to be queer will even remotely experience the shame, guilt, and fear that is equally involved with this identity on an internal level for many queers. The obvious fact is this: queer people don’t pretend to be queer, you don’t momentarily become queer when you’re straight, and straight people who pretend to be queer can fuck off.

—DD

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“The House I Live In”: New Documentary about the War on Drugs

This is the official trailer for a documentary being released today called The House I Live In, billed as a scathingly critical analysis of the failed US War on Drugs and consequential mass incarceration. A brief clip of Michelle Alexander (legal scholar and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness) reveals her as one of the interviewees, which bodes well, but I can’t attest to how substantive and/or thorough any racial justice discourses will be in the film. There is a pretty comprehensive review on Forbes which can be read here, and a review from Sundance that can be read here. One of the more interesting pieces of carefully guarded information I’ve found is about an interview with Abraham Lincoln scholar, Richard Lawrence Miller, who argues that “legal substances were frequently demonized only when it became clear that making them illegal could help keep a threatening minority in check. (For example, Miller cites opium laws on the West Coast directed at Chinese immigrants.)” He may have just described the whole motivation for the War on Drugs in one sentence. This should be interesting.

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Allies 101: Good Intentions, Bad Behaviors

To be an ally is a privilege in and of itself. It automatically means you do not personally share the experiences or oppressions of the group to which you are allied. An ally can support a struggle, but an ally does not live a struggle. As well-intentioned as white allies might be, we are limited to being intellectually or morally opposed to racism. As much as allies might understand the injustice behind the oppression they have chosen to rally against, they are not existentially implicated in suffering. There is a personal investment in ally-ship that tends to derail the goals of social movements—one of the many hazards of privileged folks re-centering issues around their character when they can’t be too vocal about their identities. Theoretically, there is nothing wrong with solidarity. When the practice of solidarity becomes a spectacle, that’s another story.

A recent phenomenon in public ally-ship begs the question: when are gay pride weeks and/or parades going to start happening on high school campuses in the US? Although folks may not be ready for that, they can handle a subliminal message about queerness sent through a very ambiguously named week-long event for straight folks. Be nice to queers: all the heterosexuals are doing it. “Gay pride week” is not going to receive the same controversial reaction as “Ally Week.” The problem isn’t the individuals who participate that may be very well-intentioned, it’s the sliver of visibility queers are given only after we are processed through a lens of heterosexual ally-ship. Both the name and the concept bring those with privilege to the forefront while relegating those without privilege to the background.

The rhetoric of “Ally Week” seems intentionally misleading; there are different identities, so there are different types of allies. Research revealed that “Ally Week” in this context is code for “Heterosexual Week.” Many good arguments have been made about the failure of heteros to recognize how they are invading a queer struggle from a place of straight privilege, but heteros are also demonstrating the privilege of charity. They are creating a charitable movement for the queer community to make us feel better, safer, and more comfortable—around them. This is where ally-ship often fails: it becomes more about making folks with privilege feel better about having it and less about meeting the needs of those without the same privilege(s).

On the white supremacist calendar in the US, there are months and holidays designated for specific non-white/cultural/gender identities because every other month is already a celebration of whiteness, white men, and white history. The same goes for heterosexuals. Heterosexism and hetero privilege is glorified, enforced, perpetuated, and generally normalized in major institutions, structures, and social attitudes on a daily basis. So why would these “allies” need a week out of the year to focus more attention on themselves than they already receive? A week for heterosexuals who identify as “allies” to queers is like a week for white folks who identify as “allies” to POC: yet another week where folks with tremendous social privilege take center stage and/or co-opt a struggle that isn’t about them. Being heterosexual and being white are positives, so there really doesn’t seem to be a need to make these experiences even better.

Here’s the thing: if you’re an ally, why aren’t you an ally every day? Allies shouldn’t need a special moment in time explicitly dedicated to kindness and charity. Allies should confront their friends whenever they detect homophobia, transphobia, ableism, sexism, or racism, not when there is a temporary spotlight promising recognition. Allies should engage in important conversations about social issues without a special occasion. Allies should understand this process is difficult and complicated, and will potentially involve many people dismissing them as insane rather than congratulating them as progressive. Allies shouldn’t take up space with their pride, take away attention from actual struggles, or expect praise for their decisions. Allies need self-criticism, not self-esteem.

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The white Logic of “Reverse” Racism

Let’s examine the white logic of this homemade image from a Hitler quoting, white supremacist website. If “anti-racist is a code word for anti-white” (which seems to be their patented catchphrase), then logically that would mean only racists are white. Because if you’re against racist people, and that means you’re against white people, then only white people are racist. See how that works?

There are so many whites out there trying to make the case that POC are also racist, yet they consistently draw the equation between white people and racism. This is what happens when we forget and/or willfully ignore our histories of racist oppression: we think the world started at best with our birth, at worst yesterday, and we think we have legitimately “discovered” anti-white racism. The problem is that centuries of white violence, white power, and institutional racism are imagined to be the same as resistance to these phenomena. Then we think we can appropriate racism and imagine ourselves as equal victims.

No.

Because white supremacists reveal whites as the only perpetrators of racism, the argument is never that whites are not racist—it’s that whites cannot be exclusively guilty of racism. Why is proving this inaccuracy so important to us? It means we never have to change our behavior, we never have to change our systemic inequality, and, most importantly, it means we never have to relinquish the power and privilege of whiteness. If we can invent racism elsewhere then we never have to change and/or take responsibility for actual racism.

If you are a white supremacist, then please explain how whites are somehow simultaneously all-powerful, superior racists and powerless, inferior victims of racism. You can’t have it both ways.

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Racism 101: Prejudice vs. Power

Any time a white person uses their own personal experience of prejudice (or a fabricated one) to demonstrate how whites suffer from racism, there is an underlying tendency to believe individual experience reflects broader social and structural realities. This is not the case. Just as one white person who was harassed by a person of color does not prove “reverse” racism, one Black president does not prove the end of racism. For the few white folks with hurt pride, there are thousands more with staggering social comfort who make hurt pride an exception to the status quo; for the few POC with class/political privilege, there are thousands more with staggering social oppression who make this privilege an exception to the status quo. How much white privilege does it require to think one painful confrontation is equally damaging as living with the daily reality of racism? And how much white privilege does it require to think one isolated incident, or even several isolated incidents, are equivalent to the constant violence of racism?

Part of the problem in this case is the assumption that individuals are representative of entire groups, whether they are white or of color. Malcolm X attacked as an “extremist” and depicted/blamed as the symbol of Black “violence” ignores and erases the diverse complexities of identity and thought within Black communities. Making a case for reverse racism based on that one white girl down the street who got called a “cracker b*tch” or a “gringa” that one time ignores and erases the systemic and social power of having white skin. The fact that our whiteness protects us from racial violence and hatred 99% of the time facilitates our unjustified outrage when POC don’t value us for being white. We are so used to being valued for being white that we are quick to cry ‘injustice’ when anyone challenges the longstanding positive construction of whiteness. But don’t get it twisted: prejudice does not equal power. When white folks have legacies of social, structural, and racial power in our favor, prejudice against us is completely inconsequential and certainly not identical. Interpersonal conflict does not threaten the power of whiteness or render the suffering of racism equal along lines of race.

Until the majority of white folks have been retroactively written out of the US constitution, enslaved on the basis of being less than human, imported to work in agribusiness and industry then deported as disposable labor, and have been overwhelmingly colonized, displaced, raped, and tortured, then maybe we can talk about racism against whites. Once the majority of white folks are segregated to neighborhoods next to industrial plants and sewage refineries, have their social and political opportunities limited because of their racial identity, are discriminated against in employment and education, and have to live with constant dehumanization based on their race, then maybe we can talk about racism against whites. Stereotyping and lumping all POC under one identity by misinterpreting individual actions is racist; white folks losing their privilege because individual white people have hurt feelings is impossible.

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