When Other White People Attack You

When Other White People Attack You

Note to my white self…

Today another white person verbally attacked you for supporting black people and their concerns.

I’m glad.

In our present white supremacist society, being attacked for supporting black people and their concerns is a requirement for a racially-conscious white person.  Those who avoid challenging racial stereotypes, racist narratives and acts give tacit approval to such ugliness.  Silence is not politeness or peacemaking.  If you have not been attacked for your support of black people, you are no better than the white bystanders at a lynching.

Today another white person called you a racist for supporting black people and their concerns.

Good.

In our present white supremacist society, being accused of being racist by another white person is the best evidence of your abandonment of white supremacy.  Those calling you racist are accusing you of disloyalty and betrayal.  Your solidarity with black people is a threat to the white solidarity that under-girds a white supremacist society.  Remember, in the Jim Crow South, the only person hated more than an “uppity” black person was a white “n***er lover.”

Today another white person criticized you for making everything about race.

Wonderful.

In our present white supremacist society, everything is about race.  You did not make it that way.  That was established and institutionalized hundreds of years ago.  What they are critiquing is your willingness to see and acknowledge this reality.  White supremacist society is most effective when it is invisible; when accepted as normative.  Your identification of all the ways in which society is racist forces other white people to face the ugliness.

Today another white person accused you of self-loathing, of hating your identity as a white person, of living a guilt-ridden life.

Untrue.

In our present white supremacist society, the ones who should feel guilty are NOT those who are advocating for black people and their concerns.  It is those who don’t.  You know one of the benefits of advocating for black people and their concerns has been your own emancipation from a system built on the loathing and hatred of others.  Freed of the necessity of sustaining your privilege and the system which upholds it, you can interact with others more authentically, acknowledging your shared humanity.

Today another white person warned you that your advocacy for black people and their concerns inspires other white people to be more racist.

Ignore them.

In our present white supremacist society, black people and those who advocate for them will always be blamed for the violence and abuse they experience.  Always challenge this narrative.  It is no different than the wife abuser who claims he wouldn’t have to hit his wife if she didn’t provoke him.  The violence and abuse of a white supremacist society is intended to suppress and punish all those who challenge its power.  Your advocacy does not inspire this violence.  It does force the white supremacist system to apply this violence to white people and creates a dissonance in that system.  If enough white people create this dissonance, the white supremacist system will begin to disintegrate.

Today another white person accused you – when it comes to race – of being the problem.

You are.

In our present white supremacist society, the problem is not black people advocating for their own concerns.  The system has successfully ignored, suppressed and silenced black people for four hundred years.  What the system fears most is what happened in 1860 and 1960, when black and white people united to dismantle significant aspects of a white supremacist society.  The biggest problem for a white supremacist society is when whites abandon it.

Today another white person heard or read your advocacy for black people and their concerns.

Don’t stop.

In our present white supremacist society, white people are most likely to be moved by the words of another white person.  Your advocacy calls into question their apathy.  Your voiced concerns highlight their silence.  Your honesty exposes their timidity.  Don’t focus on those who attack you.  Focus on those who are quietly listening and watching you.  You may be the inspiration for them to finally abandon their complicity and help create a multi-cultural society in all of its beauty and complexity.

Today another white person attacked you.

Be glad

In our present white supremacist society, this means they didn’t spend that same time and effort attacking a black person.  These attacks will also help you appreciate what black people experience every day.  Your experience of abuse is a brief glimpse from a speeding train.  The abuse black people experience is like being tied to the tracks and being crushed by that same train again and again and again.  Your solidarity with black people will require some pain.

It’s the least you can do.

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Anything But Racism

Anything But Racism

Note to my white self…

You did it again.

You made a racist assumption and then tried to justify it.

You assumed the black man who came to your hotel room was a member of the cleaning crew and not the manager.  That you did so is understandable. You’ve been enculturated to assume white people are managers and black people are service workers.  This bias is so ingrained that it would have taken a great deal of self-awareness to avoid that racist assumption.

However, my frustration is not with your mistake.  You may never be free of that prejudice.  My irritation is with how quickly and easily you tried to justify your behavior as “anything but racism.”  You told your wife you made that assumption because the cleaning personnel were scheduled to arrive, but that isn’t the truth and you know it.  It took you several days to finally admit your assumption was racist.  You saw a black face and assumed the person was there to serve you.  Though you immediately realized your error, you didn’t acknowledge it or apologize.  You pretended it didn’t happen.

You should know better.

How many times have you pointed out some obvious racial abuse, discrimination or bias and had your white peers offer an explanation other than racism?  This has been frustrating to you and is doubly frustrating to people of color.  In a nation where black people were considered property for over 200 years and where for another 100 years politicians, scientists and priests joined forces to propagate theories of black inferiority, we can assume the most likely explanation for any negative experience of a person of color in the United States is racism.  Logically, in such a cultural milieu, we should ALWAYS assume racism until the evidence proves otherwise.

Unfortunately, that is not how it works in America.  Totally ignoring hundreds of years of societal and cultural evidence, you and so many other white Americans quickly and effortlessly credit the negative experiences and outcomes of people of color as “anything but racism.”  What you did to this black hotel manager is repeated millions of times every day in the United States. This knee jerk response permeates white culture, allowing white people to deny, defend and obscure countless acts of racial bias.  Racism is always the explanation of last resort.

When the black man is killed by the white police officer at a traffic stop, society and the legal system bend over backwards to credit every possible explanation other than racism.  When blacks are in prison at much higher percentages than whites, we examine every other social factor – school attendance, single parent household, income disparity, lead paint exposure – before we conclude racism might explain the disparity.  When we make unfair assumptions about black people, white people inevitably blame the victim and suggest their behavior rather than our prejudice caused our response.  You thought, “If the manager of the hotel had worn a name tag, I wouldn’t have assumed he was the cleaning crew” rather than “If the man had been white, I would have assumed he was the manager.”

It is this unwillingness of white people to confront and address our often blatant racism that is at the core of our lack of progress on racial reconciliation.  It is impossible to address assumptions we refuse to acknowledge.  We cannot eliminate prejudices we pretend don’t exist.  We cannot focus on treating people equitably when our chief concern is defending our lack of bias.

Racial reconciliation begins with white Americans acknowledging racism as the MOST LIKELY explanation for the negative experiences of the people of color in our communities and lives.  Of course, life is complicated and most situations are multi-faceted.  Obviously, racism is seldom the only factor in any given situation.  Now that we’ve demonstrated our capacity for reasoned discernment, we need to commit to thoroughly examining the racial dimensions of everything that happens in our society BEFORE moving on to other possible explanations.

I know it is hard work.  I know it is embarrassing.

None of us like to admit our innate racism.

However, once we do, we can more quickly name our responses for what they are – racist – and move on to the more important work of changing our behavior and our world.  We can catch ourselves quickly enough to do what I wish I’d done at that hotel and apologized.

It was not his fault I assumed he was the cleaning crew.

It was mine.

Ugly White History Month

Ugly White History Month

Note to my white self…

Black History Month isn’t primarily for black people.

They know most of their history, of the myriad of ways they were exploited and oppressed by white people and systems over the past 400 years.  They know their heroes, of those who overcame slavery and discrimination to excel and succeed.  When you attend a Black History Month event, the black people aren’t the ones being educated.  They’re the ones nodding their heads in remembrance of the historic events or individuals being mentioned.  You are the ignorant one.

Some white people complain there should be a White History Month.  While the common response to this complaint – that the other eleven months are largely white history – is valid; it misses an important point.  Black history is always white history.  For every story of a black man or woman who succeeded, there are several subplots about the white individuals and systems they had to overcome.  For every historic event that negatively impacted black people, there is a parallel history of white racism, hate and injustice. I know you don’t like to think about this, but Black History Month could just as easily be titled, Ugly White History Month.

Consider the last lynching in Indiana, an event sometimes mentioned during Black History Month.  This lynching took place in Marion, Indiana on August 7th, 1930.  During Black History Month, the deaths of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith are often remembered and mourned.  However, this event is not solely about two black men.  It is also a story about a dozen white men who participated in their torture and lynching.  It is about the thousands of white Marion residents who are said to have attended and watched the ugliness. Sadly, in making this lynching a Black History story, we’ve allowed white people to pretend this isn’t part of our history.  Indeed, to this day, blacks in Marion, Indiana have been unable to get even a historic plaque acknowledging the events of 1930.

White history has been whitewashed.

People of color know white history is less history and more propaganda. It is false narrative about the American story, intended to ennoble white people and obscure people of color. Until very recently, most white history selectively celebrated white achievement while ignoring how often those accomplishments involved massacring Native American families, whipping black backs, exploiting Chinese workers and Latino immigrants. It is disturbing that President Trump has a picture of President Andrew Jackson, who initiated the Trail of Tears in order to free land for industrial slavery, in the Oval Office.  That most white Americans don’t realize why that might be offensive to people of color is telling.

Black History Month is primarily for white people.

Even most progressive white people don’t understand this.  Progressives may not complain about Black History Month, but we ignore it.  We consider our support of such a month as proof of our tolerance and enlightenment.  Look at us.  We’ve created a whole month for black people to be center stage, even if it is a performance we don’t plan to attend.  Unfortunately, this attitude makes Black History Month into a ghetto, a place for black people to exist and interact out of white sight and mind.

You know this is true. When you’ve attended Black History events this month, you’ve looked around. You’ve counted the white faces present; often on one hand.  Where are all those who give lip service to supporting black people and their causes?  Where are those who think Black Lives Matter?  One of the ways to prove that is to value their history and to confront the uglier side of your own.

Maybe that’s the problem. We are still uncomfortable with hearing the ugliness of white history, especially in the presence of those who’ve experienced this ugliness.  We, if we are supportive, are more interested in supporting black people from afar than interacting with them face to face.  To attend a Black History event is to be in the minority, to be confronted with black nobility and white savagery, to be the ignorant one and to become incredibly aware of the whiteness of our skin.  Our hostility toward or absence from Black History Month is simply more evidence of how deeply racism is embedded in the white psyche.

You can do better. You can make Black History a priority and not just for a single month. You can make understanding our shared history a commitment. You can do so with the understanding that the black people at Black History events do not see you as one of the villains.  They see your presence as a sign of hope.  If enough white people finally know our ugly history, maybe we won’t repeat it.  Maybe the story of black people today can be different than of those in the past.

Black History Month isn’t primarily about the past.

It is one means to a different future.

You Are Not Faster Than Usain Bolt

You Are Not Faster Than Usain Bolt

Note to my white self…

You are not faster than Usain Bolt.

Usain Bolt is the fastest person in the world.  He has the fastest time in the 100 meters in recorded history, with a time of 9.58 seconds, or about 23 mph.

You are not faster than Usain Bolt.

If – in a race between you and Usain Belt – you started at the 95 meter mark, you would beat Usain Bolt across the finish line.  This does not make you the fastest person in the world.  This simply means you were able to rig the race in your favor.  Celebrating your victory and mocking Usain Bolt would be ridiculous.

You are not faster than Usain Bolt.

If you won that rigged race, this would not give you the right to give Usain Bolt advice on running. Telling him he needed to work harder would be laughable.  Telling him he needs to accept the rules of the race would be absurd.  Rejecting his complaints about your incredible head start as sour grapes would be ugly.  Refusing to change the rules would be unjust.

There is no world, regardless of how you rig the rules and celebrate your victory, where you are faster than Usain Bolt.  Such an assertion is insane.  Yet white people make such assertions about black people every day.

You are not superior, smarter, more hard working, or more deserving than a black person.

Indeed, many black people are superior to you in various ways.  Some are smarter.  Others are more hard working.  Many are more deserving of success and accolade.

You are not superior, smarter, more hard working, or more deserving than a black person.

Historic oppression has allowed you to accumulate $100 of wealth for every $5 of black wealth.  In society, you always have a 95% head start.  Therefore, you will always be more successful and affluent than a black person of equal intelligence, work ethic and character.  This does not make you better than that black person.  This simply means the race was rigged in your favor.  Celebrating your unfair advantage and critiquing black people is ridiculous.

You are not superior, smarter, more hard working, or more deserving than a black person.

When you win the rigged race, this does not give you the right to give black people advice. Telling them they need to work harder is laughable.  Telling them they need to accept the rules of the race is absurd.  Rejecting their complaints about your advantage as sour grapes is ugly. Refusing to change the rules is unjust.

You are not superior, smarter, more hard working, or more deserving than a black person.

There is no world, regardless of how the system has been rigged in your favor, where you are more deserving than a black person.

You are not faster than Usain Bolt.

The primary reason you refuse to address historic and systemic inequities is not because changing the rules is impossible.  You resist because you are afraid.  You are afraid of what would happen if the race were fair.  You are afraid of how much harder you would have to work without your advantage.  You are afraid of rules that truly level the playing field.  You are afraid of acknowledging the ugliness of the game you’ve been playing.

You are not superior, smarter, more hard working, or more deserving than a black person.

Standing at the finish line with your self-awarded gold medal is not impressive.

It is oppressive.

It is racist.

It is insane.

Beating Up On Black People

Beating Up On Black People

Note to my white self…

You know the rule.

You can say nearly anything about your siblings, but – if anyone else says those same things – those are fighting words.

Remember this rule in your Facebook posts, observations and general conversation about black people. Your opinions on black on black crime, rap music, marriage rates, black people using the N word, teenage pregnancy, the work ethic, entitlement or a host of other alleged issues in the black community are unwelcome.  Keep them to yourself.  You are not part of their family.  You have not earned the right to critique them.  Black people are right to be suspicious and hostile when you do so.

Your insistence on your right to critique black people is an example of white privilege and not of objectivity. When it comes to black people and their behavior, you are not objective. You bring your racist assumptions, indoctrination and prejudices to any encounter with black people and culture. When it comes to the lives of black people and the issues within black culture, YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.  Your opinions are uninformed and therefore evidence of your racism rather than any expertise.

Don’t pretend your critique of black people and culture is out of some deep concern for the black community when you largely avoid authentic interactions with black people and their culture.  When was the last time you attended an event where you were the minority?  What was the last book you read by a black author?  When have you ever had a deep conversation with a black person about their life and experience?  Be honest. Your opinions about black people are not the result of thoughtful reflection and solidarity.  They are often racially motivated, intended to diminish white culpability and blame black people for past and present social ills.

Yes, I know you read an article about some problem in the black community. I know you have statistics and statistics don’t lie.  They can, however, be manipulated.  When it comes to race, the statistics you emphasize say more about you than what those statistics conclude. Even – if by some lucky coincidence – your secondhand analysis of an issue happens to be correct, you are not in a position to effect change and are far more likely to reinforce negative opinions of black people.  Indeed, in most circumstances, you are more part of the problem than the solution.  Black people are completely capable of identifying issues within their community. They do not need your help.

Nor do they need your affirmation. Quoting a black person to corroborate your opinion does not make you less racist.  The opinions of black people vary on nearly every issue.  Choosing one black person – especially one who shares your negative critique of black culture – as your officially sanctioned black spokesperson is a classic white supremacist tactic.  If you’re really striving for objectivity, you will carefully listen to as many black voices as possible.  You will seek some consensus in their dialogue.  You will respect their most common conclusions in forming your opinion.  Even when you do all of this, your opinion is still irrelevant.

This is true of progressives as well as of conservatives.  The rule still applies.  If you are an ally or accomplice, this makes you a family friend and not part of the family.  Being supportive of black resistance and empowerment does not give you the right to critique Kanye West, Ben Carson, Larry Elder, Coleman Hughes or black people wearing MAGA hats, even when other black people do.  Even applauding their critiques is suspect.  If you need to quote black people, look for those who are critiquing white behavior. Though most white people know little about black culture and experience, every black person thoroughly understands white culture.  They must to survive.  They are experts on white behavior and culture.

I know you think it unfair that they can critique you, but you can’t critique them. Let me explain the difference again.  Power corrupts. Those in power must therefore be critiqued.  White people are still in power. Any white critique of black people is suspect in the context of these inequities in power. Such critique always tends toward victim blaming.  Whether you realize it or not, your critiques will always be tainted by your need – conscious or unconscious – to sustain your power and dominance.

Progressives critiquing the Blacks Lives Matter movement is a good example of this dynamic.  Many say they want black empowerment, but reject all forms of resistance that do not play by the very rules designed to protect white supremacy.  If you love Dr. King, but reject Black Lives Matter, you don’t know much about Dr. King.  If the societal systems and rules worked for black people, they wouldn’t be protesting.  The Black Lives Matter movement should not merely make conservative whites uncomfortable.  It should make all whites uncomfortable.  Embrace you discomfort instead of becoming a critic.

I know you’re concerned about who will hold black people and culture accountable.  Your commitment to accountability is noble.  It is simply misdirected.  You have far too much work to do in holding your white peers, your white dominated institutions and your white culture accountable for their continued oppression of people of color.  Don’t get distracted.  You can’t waste valuable energy critiquing black people.  Let them hold each other accountable.  They’ve been doing this for hundreds of years without your help.  They can handle it.

Let me say this as simply as I can – verbally beating up on a black person is not a good look on you.

Instead of critiquing someone’s else’s family, examine your own.  Who in your family is still telling racist jokes?  Who is your family is sharing racist memes?  Who in your family continues to repeat racist opinions and rhetoric?  Who in your family is most likely to act out of unconscious bias?  Who in your family refuses to acknowledge white privilege and systemic racism?

If you need to be critical, start there.

 

 

When Compliments Are Racist

When Compliments Are Racist

Note to My White Self…

I did it again.

I offered one of those back handed, racist compliments that expose how much work I still have to do as a recovering racist. Even worse, I did it during a panel discussion at a cross-racial dialogue conference where I allegedly represented a “woke” white person. Here is what happened.

In describing a recent conversation with a black woman, I said, “I was talking with a very articulate black woman…”

Sigh.  I should know better.  I’ve read and even written about this peculiar racist habit.  I’ve explained it to many white people who don’t get it. Describing a black person as “articulate” implies this attribute is unusual and requires comment. Such compliments subtly support the racist trope that black people aren’t articulate.  Fortunately, someone almost immediately called me out on my use of the qualifier “articulate” and I acknowledged and apologized for my racist rhetoric.

I suppose I’ve made some progress. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have understood what I did wrong.  Five years ago, I would have been defensive and objected to any critique.  Today, I’m slightly embarrassed and thankful that someone called me out.  I am also due for a refresher on when the qualifiers and compliments of white people are racist.

Rule #1

Unless a reference to the skin color of a person is relevant to the story, a white person referring to someone as black is usually racist. 

In the situation above, describing the woman as black was necessary. My story was about her experience as a black woman dealing with racism.  The story wouldn’t have made any sense unless people understood she was black.

However, in most situations, noting the race of someone is unnecessary and often motivated by unconscious racist bias.  For example, telling my wife that a black salesman knocked on our door is racist. Informing her of the salesman’s skin color only makes sense if I think she needs to know that specific information.  Though I didn’t do this consciously, I may have been warning her that black men – whom I’ve been indoctrinated to associate with danger and violence – were in our neighborhood.

Often, in my experience, the use of the descriptor “black” by white people is completely irrelevant to the story.  The real motive in describing the person as black is to affirm some racial stereotype.  If you want to read more about this dynamic, I’ve discussed this rule at length in the post – “I Say Racist Things.

Rule #2

Unless the adjective used to describe a black person is pertinent to the story, the adjective used by a white person probably reflects their unconscious prejudice and is not actually complimentary.

Many compliments of black people by white people share a common theme – the black person being complimented is an exception to the rule.  Suggesting a black person is “articulate, hardworking, intelligent, studious, respectful, competent, beautiful, level headed, etc.” is often said with the unstated “for a black person.”  White people compliment the black person because they have had one of their racist stereotypes challenged.  Unfortunately, rather than examining their own prejudice, the white person’s compliment actually serves as a means of reinforcing the racist stereotype – “My opinion of black people is still correct.  You are the exception.”

Additionally, the backhanded compliment allows the white person to think well of themselves.  Why did I mention that the black woman in my story was articulate?  Was my motive to compliment her or to exhibit my graciousness?  This is especially common in progressive circles where white people seek to demonstrate their solidarity with people of color.  In 2007, Joe Biden once described Barack Obama as “articulate, bright, clean and a nice-looking guy.”  While Biden intended his remarks to be complimentary, they were rightly condemned as racist and he later apologized.  While all four qualifiers are suspicious, no one would ever compliment a white politician for being clean.

In my racist assertion, describing the black woman as articulate was completely unnecessary.  Whether I thought her articulate was irrelevant to the story.  She did not need my accolades as a preface.  Her worth was not enhanced by my approval.  If I had simply related her words, the power of her statement would have been obvious.

Rule #3

Describe the behaviors and impact of black people’s actions rather than offering qualifiers and adjectives.

Here is what that black woman said.  She told of how when she arrived in Africa for the very first time, a weight she’d never been aware of dropped from her shoulders. She was suddenly in a place where everyone around her was black, where she didn’t have to fear what the next white person she encountered might say or do.  She spoke of how incredibly freeing that had been, of how her health improved.  After two weeks of liberation, she arrived at the airport to go home.  She described how that burden of living in a white world fell heavily on her shoulders the moment she was greeted by the white flight attendant.

The proper response to such a story is empathy and personal reflection. Thankfully, on the day I heard that story, I did not add to her burden by telling her “how articulate she was.”

Black people don’t need our compliments.  They aren’t waiting with bated breath to see if the white person is going to approve of them.  They know how often those compliments are really insults.  Indeed, the giving of compliments is often paternalistic, implying that black people’s value is directly connected with how much they please the white people around them.  White people need to carefully check this impulse to re-center attention on our alleged superiority and graciousness.

It is usually about here in any discussion of backhanded racist compliments that some white person will say, “Well, if I’m going to have my every word scrutinized, I just won’t say anything.”  Which brings me to my final rule.

Rule #4

Since racism is so deeply embedded in white behavior, it would benefit white people to talk less and listen more.

Not saying anything is often the right response.

Appreciation and gratitude are better than compliments.  When your black waitress provides great service, remarking on her politeness isn’t appropriate.  Leaving a good tip is sufficient.  When a black man does excellent work, complimenting his “competence” is only slightly less insulting than calling him “a good boy.”  A simple “great work” will do.  A raise would be even better.  When a person of color speaks in a way that makes you think or feel differently, there is no need to compliment them for “being articulate.”  Simply tell them that their words made you see the world differently.

Progressive Racism

Progressive Racism

Note to my white self…

Don’t give up.

I know you’re frustrated. You’re surprised by how insidious racism can be, how it permeates our culture so completely that even many of your white progressive friends and acquaintances repeatedly express racist opinions.  Don’t give up on them.  Not so long ago, the racist themes they so casually propagate tripped off of your tongue. They are reciting what white people were taught. Diminishing the role and impact of racism is standard fare in our culture.

I know you’re exhausted. You’re tired of defending NFL football players, Black Lives Matter protestors, reparations advocates and Maxine Waters, of having to justify the behavior of people of color to many of your white progressive friends and acquaintances.  Don’t stop defending people of color. Think about how exhausting this constant critique must be for them. Blaming the victim for their response to their oppression is a common distraction from addressing the underlying abuse.

Keep in mind that many of your progressive friends and acquaintances diminish and distract because – at some deep level – they understand that ending racism in our society is their responsibility. White supremacists and racist conservatives are not the primary obstacles to ending systemic racism in the United States.  For most of those people, racism will only die when they do. If racism is to end in America, it will require white progressives to finally and completely abandon their complacency and subtle support of systemic racism.

Your task is twofold.  First, you must continually monitor your biases, attitudes and opinions with the goal of eliminating your own tendencies to diminish and distract.  Second, you must patiently challenge this tendency in your white progressive friends and acquaintances.  Ironically, calling out the blatant racist expressions of white supremacists and racist conservatives is a distraction.  It may make you feel enlightened, but it accomplishes little.  Your responsibility is to call out the far more subtle racism of many of your white progressive friends and acquaintances.

Systemic racism in the United States is not sustained by rabid white supremacists, but by a whole system of subtle racist opinions and critiques.  Here is a short list of the racist opinions you once expressed and commonly encounter within progressive circles:

Critique the approach to racism rather than racism

“I just wish (the NFL football players, the Black Lives Matter protestors, the reparations advocates or Maxine Waters) would use a less combative approach to addressing racism” 

You’ve made such critiques. Recognize them for the distractions that they are.  White progressives often flee to the moral high ground to escape from the rushing and fetid waters of racism.  Rather than dive into those waters, we stand idly by while people of color try not to drown.  Telling them to stop thrashing around – though technically correct – does little to help them survive.  Our criticisms imply our role is not to end racism, but to define the rules under which people of color can oppose it.  Too often, this defense of civility or critique of strategy distances us from our responsibility to ally with those who are oppressed.

Diminish racism by focusing on other social ills

“I think the best way to address racism is to focus on more basic social problems like broken families, unemployment, inadequate education, gun violence, drug abuse or poverty.  By addressing these social ills, people of color will also benefit.”

You’ve made such arguments.  Hear them as the diminishment of racism that they are. White progressives often imply that progress can only be made if we address universal societal issues rather than racism itself.  We suggest that addressing the poverty of all people will result in prosperity for people of color.  We offer this as a strategy to “trick” other white people in helping people of color.  After all, the Democrats allegedly lost the presidential election because they ignored the plight of white working class people.  These arguments ignore what every person of color knows – people of color have been at the back of the line for every single social or economic initiative in American history.  Rosa Parks taught them it isn’t good enough to be allowed on the bus.

Respond to present racism with reminders of past progress

“Don’t you think our society is less racist than it was in the past?  I wish (the NFL football players, the Black Lives Matter protestors, the reparations advocates or Maxine Waters) would focus on all the progress we’ve made.”

You’ve offered such optimism.  Understand how ridiculous that sounds to people of color. They know the terrible cost of that progress “we’ve” made.  They see – in our present administration – how fragile that “progress” can be.  They also know the Civil Rights movement was opposed by about 75% of the white population, with even higher levels of resistance in the South.  The system only changed when some white progressives became accomplices with people of color, risking life and liberty to protest against injustice.  It changed when – unlike today – politicians like JFK and LBJ risked their careers and alienated portions of their party in order to challenge racism. Those white people who stood on the sidelines criticizing Dr. King are no different than those who criticize Black Lives Matter.  If we want to take credit for the progress of the past, we must be part of challenging injustice today.

Encourage the racist trope of the violent person of color

“When people of color advocate for or resort to violence, their behavior is counterproductive, making it more difficult for me to support their cause.”

You’ve reinforced negative stereotypes about people of color.  Whenever you give credence to claims of black violence, you encourage an age old racist device.  Historically, the incidents and levels of violence perpetrated on people of color by whites far exceed the incidents and levels of violence perpetrated by people of color.  When people of color resort to violence, it is usually when they have abandoned hope in any other option.  They act violently knowing that their actions will be brutally suppressed by white culture.  Yet, repeatedly, at the slightest aggressiveness by people of color, many of their progressive white supporters fade into the ranks of the white mobs that beat, lynch and kill.  People of color are not the race of people most deserving of a violent characterization.  When progressives pretend this isn’t the case, they actually justify continued white violence.

These are the common white progressive complaints you must abandon and challenge. This will be frustrating and exhausting.  Many of your white progressive friends and acquaintances will resist your pushback.  They will not like your continual reminders that white progressives – and not those crazy Trump supporters – are the chief impediment to racial reconciliation and equity in the United States.  Only when white progressives abandon these supports to systemic racism, will the pillars of racism in America finally crumble.

Stop complaining of your frustration and exhaustion.  Come down off your moral high ground.  End you attempts at diminishing racism. Give up your theories of inevitable progress.  Support those who are defending themselves – sometimes violently – against abuse.

Get off your ass and back to work.