A is for Anti-Racism

Post date: Nov 25, 2015 11:45:56 PM

This past Saturday marked the one year anniversary of the murder of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy murdered by Cleveland Police. On November 22, 2014, Tamir Rice was shot within two seconds of the police’s sudden arrival and died the next day. He was playing with a plastic toy gun outside a Rec Center. Tamir’s family has lost faith in the grand jury proceedings and is calling for a new special prosecutor and the arrest and firing of the officers involved.Over the weekend here in Portland, Oregon, a Black student at Lewis and Clark College was attacked by three unknown white men, following demonstrations by students and the Black Student Union in response to racist posts on the school’s social media website.

In the previous two weeks, neighborhoods in the Oregon towns of Mollalla, Oregon City, and Gresham outside of Portland were flyered by supporters of the infamous white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan.

Students are outraged and stunned, and communities are appalled, but many Oregonians recall similar racist incidents and hate crimes and remember that there is a well documented history of white supremacy, sundown laws, redlining and reasons why there aren’t more Black people in Oregon.

On Sunday, Donald Trump, Republican candidate for President, suggested a protester, well known local activist, Mercutio Southall Jr., who interrupted his rally in Birmingham with shouts of “Black lives matter!” "should have been roughed up." At one point, Southall fell to the ground and was surrounded by several white men who appeared to be kicking and punching him. While Trump may seem like a joke of a candidate to many of us, the way that his message of xenophobia and anti-immigrant racism is resonating across the country is dangerous.

On Tuesday morning I woke to the news that five Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Minneapolis were shot by three men at an ongoing protest of the murder of 24 year old Jamar Clark by police.

As Monica Simpson wrote recently in her article Considering Motherhood and Murdered Black Children, “To be a mother is to worry about your child’s future and their safety. It is sleepless nights hoping they will succeed and find a place in the world. It is wanting the best for them. But to be a Black woman in the United States it is also to worry if your child will make it home from school, from work, from the store or from a friend’s house without being killed.”

This reality is not new for African Americans. But for many white people in the US, we are still waking up to this nightmare. (Yes, I know, how long can we hold our eyes squeezed shut? This is the power of white privilege and seduction of white amnesia.)

As with the civil rights movement before, it is the exposure of this extreme and pervasive violence that is sending a wake up call into white America. This exposure is born from the refusal of People of Color, and the Black Lives Matter movement, to allow this violence to continue without accountability.

It is also these brave organizers and activists, families and students, whose courage and resistance are not only are forcing white people to open our eyes, but also evoking responses from institutions comfortable in their dominant, white supremacist culture like police departments, local governments, schools and universities and backlash from more blatant white supremacist groups including the KKK.

As a white mother of two young white children, part of raising my family up well is supporting them as white people on the side of racial justice. I have been reading the amazing book Rad American Women A - Z by Kate Schatz with my children. It is beautiful, and super intentional about telling stories of movement leaders, athletes, musicians, pioneers in everything from science to gender identity over the last decades, including many women of color and queer women, in an accessible way that is not watered down. Each letter turns the spotlight on a hero. A is for Angela Davis. Her story begins in Birmingham, Alabama in a neighborhood called “Dynamite Hill” so called because of frequent bombings of African American homes by the KKK.

My daughter asked me. “Why were they bombed?”

I told her, “Some white people are afraid that when people of color are treated fairly, and their rights are respected, that will mean less for white people. And so they tried to stop Black people organizing for their rights.”

I pause while I wonder if she gets what I am saying, and whether I’m sharing the best, most important information for her to take away...and then I ask, “Do you think it worked? Did people give up?”

“No.” She says. She knows by now that no is always the answer to questions about giving up.

“That’s right,” I say. “Even though people died and were afraid, they keep fighting for justice, to make the world more fair. Black people led the way, and some people with white skin also helped because they cared about justice too and knew that our whole world is better when it is more fair for everyone.”

I want my white children to understand that they too need to stand up for fairness and racial justice. That they can choose solidarity and courage and compassion over fear and hate. I was intentional in talking about fear as the motivator of hate when I introduced my children to white supremacy in Angela Davis’s story.

White supremacy certainly has roots in colonialism and capitalism - there is a long legacy that we are working to uproot when we seek to address systems of oppression, and that is righteous work that our organizing should focus on. But as I look in my children’s faces and think about what it takes to move towards action for racial justice as white people, I am thinking as a parent about individual choices we make towards silence, or towards resistance.

More than hate itself, or ignorance, or even greed, I believe fear is at the root of individual manifestations of white supremacy. Fear in so many iterations - fear of difference, fear of change, fear of scarcity, fear of connection. All of which as white people fuels this system of domination and internalized white supremacy that keeps us divided, isolated, and plugged into a dehumanizing experience that harms us while destroying families of color and devastating communities around the world.

Civil rights leaders in Alabama were afraid, and they organized anyway. Black Lives Matter demonstrators hold their fears alongside their passions and hopes for justice. As Monica Simpson concludes her article, “to be a revolutionary Black woman in this country it is to know that we have the power to create a world where we have the human right to live self-determined lives free from violence, fear and all forms of reproductive oppression.”

On this eve of celebrations of family and gratitude, and honoring of the struggles for survival and self-determination by Native people in the face of genocide and ongoing violence to indigenous nations and communities, I want to uplift these organizers of color who are in the struggle now and who have come before us. I want to thank them for choosing courage over fear.

As white people, I want to encourage us to have the courage to choose connection over isolation, humility over denial, to face the pain of white supremacy, to open ourselves up to more self-aware and accountable challenges to our own undeserved and unearned white skin privileges, and to move past denial and guilt, and into action.

There is a place for us in the world that is coming, but each of us need to choose to do the work to grow and educate ourselves and stand with our own two feet on the side of justice.

When we fight to end white supremacy, we are fighting for a world where we are all free! Don’t be afraid of this new world, be transformed by a deeper connection to our collective humanity. Let’s get free together!