#White Privilege

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Black people owe us nothing

People are dying  children of all colors and faithsBlack men and womenJews. The ideas of truth, honor, lifeand liberty are besmirched every day as people cheer for a false god and others stay silent. Our president encourages, praises and embraces white nationalism. Spurred by his deep disregard for the truth, for compassion, for anything that resembles what makes this nation great, he has incited a level of violence and hate that is unprecedented in recent history.

We are on a precipice, one where at any moment our democracy may end. For those white Americans who have not fallen under his spell, it is time to question and acknowledge our level of participation which has brought us to this point.  Expressing our honest outrage is not enough. To blame Trump for his very real part in inciting this violence and hate is not enough. As a white woman married to a Black man, it is incumbent on me to do everything within my power to stand up and bring change. 

But it isn’t just up to those of us who love Black people. It is up to every white American, who says they care, to take a stand and stop being complicit in protecting a society that doesn’t value Black people’s lives. Make no mistake; we are culpable in the virulent hate we are now seeing.

HOW CAN YOU AS A WHITE PERSON DO THAT? HOW CAN YOU CHANGE? HOW CAN YOU STOP BEING PART OF THE PROBLEM?

  • First, listen. Listen and listen some more. Do not claim to know or understand what it feels like to be a person of color. You can’t. Do not patronize or tell a Black person you are not racist. By a definition of racism that is defined as power over another based on race, we are all racist. The question becomes are we woke?
  • When you see someone in harm’s way be prepared to stand up and say something. Being silent is not ever an option in the face of active racismBe willing to take on other white people.
  • When a Black person tells you that a joke or a statement is racist. Listen. Don’t tell them you meant no harm. You have no idea what it means to live in a world where stereotypes too often define how people treat you.
  • If a progressive, stop equating economic equality with real equality. I have watched as progressives have eschewed identity politics. They believe that creating an economy that benefits everyone will somehow change what is in people’s hearts and bellies. They couldn’t be more wrong. To not deliberately address the issues that are specific to Black communities and Black men and women is to be ensconced in one’s privilege. It is to deny the very real ugly that has been part of the fabric of this nation.
  • Do not ever let anyone utter racists comments or tropes in your presence. Too many of us are more interested in a Happy Thanksgiving than rocking the boat. To be “woke”, to be an ally means to stop accommodating anyone’racism at any timeeven when it may be uncomfortable and even if Aunt Mary may never speak to you again. Be willing to lose people in your life who spew hate.
  • Catch yourself when you start to think and deal with a Black person based on a stereotype. We have been inundated since childhood by the media, including entertainment and the news to believe that Black people are to be feared, that they aren’t as intelligent, that they are not as cultured and are to be dismissed. When you find yourself thinking that way, change the channel in your head. Name it. Acknowledge it as a racist thought. It is a powerful way to change.
  • If you have children in school encourage them to engage with children who don’t look like them. As a parent reach out to other parents who don’t look like you. It is your job to make them comfortable and welcomed, not theirs.
  • When schoolscollegesinstitutions of any kind exhibit their racism, speak up. Write, email, call whatever it takes to let them know this is not okay. Sadly, these incidents happen more often than not so you will have no shortage of opportunities.
  • Vote in every single election. Know who you are voting for. Know where they stand. Are they willing to push aside issues that matter to Black people because they aren’t popular or because they are trying to please the white nationalists? Vote.

Black people owe us nothing. The very foundation of this country was built on the back of enslaved Black people. They have given up their lives, their self-respect, their families and their right to live without fear because wewhite people made it so. We are still the majority. We are in power, and our greatest goal has been to maintain our privilege. As a result, it is up to us to make and bring change.

To do any less means that you don’t understand the moment we are living in. 

Donald Trump has unleashed a primal anger as he has convinced many white Americans that their way of life is in peril. They are beginning to fight back and take lives. If you do only what you always have done, then you will be complicit not only in the continued persecution of Black Americans but in the destruction of the American experiment, our democracy. We can no longer stand if white Americans don’t find way to strip their privilege away and to finally acknowledge that we are all created equal.  It’s white Americans’ turn to do the heavy lifting.

Jan Harrison, Co-founder of Garnet News and founder of Aliiez.com

Photo credit: Marcela McGreal

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Printed with permission by Aliiez.com

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Straight white men need to step to the back

Image credit: Lorie Shaull, Flickr

Looking back to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, it’s clear we witnessed the first campaign in which the majority of U.S. citizens—and not just straight white men—were the central focus. Women, African- Americans, Latino, Chicano, Asian Americans, LGBTQ Americans, and recent immigrants were all invoked and engaged. And why not? In addition to making up a majority of U.S. citizens, many of these groups–especially Latino, Chicano, and immigrant populations–are not only impressive in their numbers but growing.

While there is much to mourn in the coming Trump presidency, as a Northwestern University professor who teaches, researches and publishes on race, gender and sexuality across the globe I am most frightened by the return, in leftwing circles, to a racist, sexist, and misogynist logic around winning elections.

Contrary to the recent calls made by Democratic and leftwing circles to turn our attention back to straight white male voters, what we actually need is a more realistic and sophisticated focus on this incredibly diverse and growing majority of U.S. citizens.

Focus on us and you will attract a much larger and heterogeneous share of the electorate.

Despite all of the ink devoted to the radical differences between Republicans and Democrats, in most respects, they think alike: that a politician appeals to women and minorities (the majority of U.S. citizens) through simplistic, single-issue appeals. Briefly put: one appeals to women by speaking about abortion rights—and only abortion rights (as if all we do is reproduce and think about reproduction). Similarly, by this logic, Latino voters are attracted by paying lip service to immigration rights and Black voters by condemning poverty and gun violence. Left outside and unspoken are, of course, Native Americans and Asian Americans, not to mention Arab Americans.

Many, I would imagine, would argue with my thesis. Surely President Obama was the candidate who decentered straight white men in political discourse and brought diversity to the table. But consider how Obama discussed women (abortion rights), LGBTQ voters (maybe marriage) and Blacks (poverty and gun violence, with occasional paternalistic admonitions to get off the couch and find a job) and Latinos (immigration rights). And Asian, Native Americans, Arab Americans other minority groups? (Not much at all, really).

While many pundits and Americans alike enthused over Bernie Sanders campaign as the first true U.S. revolution, what they studiously ignore is that it was a revolution for the lost privileges of the white middle class and not much else.

In other words, it wasn’t so much a revolution as a return, which may explain why he lost the nomination. Like Obama, Sanders spoke of poverty and violence to Black voters, immigration rights to Latinos, and abortion rights to women—and yet, despite saying the “right” things, all of these voters preferred Hillary by notable margins. Especially those who, like Black women, occupy more than one of these categories.

Hillary knew that, but many ignored it or misinterpreted it. Hillary spoke of women and minorities as complex agents. For her, we were the logical center for understanding so much of the nation’s challenges and its solutions. She spoke more of our ability to craft a rich and promising future, and less of us as a woebegone product of historical humiliations. She spoke boldly and broadly of what we could achieve together, and she spoke as someone who had allied with us rather than reached down to hand out goodies and pity.

She encouraged us to form our own coalitions and speak our own concerns rather than have them spoken for us.

Yet this is not what so many pundits heard; what they heard was a failure to make straight white men the focus of her thoughts, projects, and promises.

As we said goodbye to Hillary as a political candidate (and I hope that I am wrong about this) we do not need to say goodbye to ourselves and the full and complex definition of “us” that she helped further. Rather than, as Biden, The Nation and others have opined, take Trump’s victory as evidence that we need to pay yet more attention to straight white men, return them to the center of our preoccupations, perhaps, however one may have felt about HRC, we can insist more stridently, as she did, on our right to occupy our own center—and, as such, draw attention to our innovations, our creations, our insights. We are not the ones we have been waiting for; we do not need to wait for anyone or anything—we are the now.

The FBI and the Putin administration may have destroyed Clinton’s chances, but that does not mean we need to comply with their desire to renew focus and attention on straight white men, to go back in time and once again become a nation that ignores both the world and our own destiny. We do not need to become, yet again, a nation that disempowers, denigrates, and otherwise marginalizes the majority of its citizens. Though we’ve said goodbye to the Clinton campaign, that does not mean we need to say goodbye to ourselves and our full identities and thus a promising future for our nation.

-Michelle M. Wright

Michelle M. Wright is Professor of African American Studies and Comparative Literary Studies at Northwestern University.

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The Confederacy is alive and well and living in New Jersey

For some of us, summer was a time of sprinklers; of playing with kids in the neighborhood and fireflies; of playing baseball or jumping in the pool and picking tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden. It was a time to recharge, to be free to play most of the day. An idyllic existence that often didn’t end until the sun went down and last game of hide and seek or kick-the-can was done. 

And then, of course, there was the big vacation. The trip that the family had planned on and discussed for months—when the dot on the map became the next place to go camping, a trip that would include interesting historical places and cool adventures whether it be caves or Fort Ticonderoga. 

It was the stuff of great American novels , the adventures where all the millions of “How I Spent My Summer” began.

That was my story. Those were my summers. My husband’s were different.

Growing up in Manhattan the opportunity for sprinklers and fireflies and pools and tomatoes weren’t to be found. And while the lure of the Central Park and the more erudite excursions drew many a Manhattanite, my husband grew up in Harlem.  He was sent off to the City Mission Society Camps with his brother and sister until he was 9 and his family bought property in upstate New York—fourteen acres on which they built a cabin and the state dug them a pond. Fourteen acres for a black family from New York City.

 That dot on the map indicated not only the town of Broadalbin, New York, it was the dot that pinpointed the only Black family for miles.

I know some of his stories from his summers there. The family camped until his father built a cabin. His father built it and everything else that came to exist there. His mother held down the fort when his father worked in the city during the week. There were beavers that kept building dams that flooded their property. I heard about the tree that almost killed his brother when it fell and about the neighbors who became good friends after initially welcoming them with rifles in hand. I heard about the thrill of watching the big machines that came to dig out their pond—machines provided by the state since it seems that if you wanted a pond on your land back then, the state of New York was willing to dig it for you,  a win for wildlife and a pond to play in.

A place far from the dangers of the summer in the city, a home that was a little bit of heaven in a very white landscape.

We now have our own family. Two beautiful little girls who are Black, who love the thought of adventure and going to new places. We have become campers and thoroughly enjoy the challenges that accompany tent living. Some more than others: each and every time I pat myself on the back for getting the portable tent potty. Never leave home without one.

This past weekend, we decided to take a short jaunt to the Delaware Water Gap for the Fourth of July. We found a private campground in New Jersey that had a pond for swimming, nice big sites for tents, hiking trails, even a wolf preserve on site (not run by campground). Only a 90 minute trip from where we live, it seemed perfect for a four-day, three-night stint.

When we got there, we checked in and got the Camp Taylor’s rules and regulations. Quiet hours were from 11-9. No fireworks were allowed, the rules said, and if you were caught with any you’d be thrown out and your money forfeited. Bears were in the area so campers were also required to take all the necessary precautions: no garbage or food of any kind could be left out; and all coolers had to be put inside cars when unattended. Standard instructions, reasonable rules.

We went up to our site and set up camp. In a relatively short time, we discovered that we were in the midst of a family gathering.  Our girls were over the moon as they found new friends to play with.  Our new “friends” were Dominican but we were surrounded by other racially diverse families too.  I loved the fact that our girls found themselves swimming in a pond with a variety of children of all colors. It felt right.

But despite the beauty of the woods, and the diversity that surrounded us, my family will never set foot in Camp Taylor again.

You see the camp was, in fact, incredibly diverse and included three sites that were seasonally rented to people who flew the Confederate flag. I first saw one as we walked down to the camp store to participate in a scavenger hunt. I stood for a moment transfixed, trying to place what I was feeling. There was a disconnect.

In all the years that I had been camping, I’d never seen a Confederate flag in a campground, or more accurately, if I had seen it, it hadn’t registered with me.

Then, as I looked across the road, I saw another.

These weren’t small hand held flags but huge flags displayed prominently atop these campsites. In the other one, they also had a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, one that is now used by right-wing libertarians and the Tea Party to represent their anti-government stance. I kept walking as I grabbed my daughters hands. They knew something was wrong and asked. I pointed out the flags and said they represented evil.

Each and every time we walked by those flags, my jaw tightened. I felt assaulted and offended, the same feeling I had last summer when we vacationed in North Carolina and walked into a store selling t-shirts emblazoned  with the Confederate flag. I spoke up then, and said I was offended.  The young white girl behind the counter looked surprised. My guess is probably not many white people offered that opinion.

Here, once again, the last thing I expected to find in Northern New Jersey were Confederate flags standing side by side with maples and oaks. I am not naive. I know that racism exists in every corner, in every town and city.

White privilege makes many white people cling to their ignorance, their supposed right to have more than a person of color, to be entitled to a life of liberty at the expense of the “other.”

I just didn’t expect this. I guess my own white privilege was at work. I should have known better.

My husband stayed quiet about it. I only mentioned it to him after I saw a young Indian-American point out the flag as we drove past in the bus to the wolf preserve. He whispered to his dad, “Look a Confederate flag.” My husband nodded.

Our last morning there, a campground employee came to collect our garbage. I decided that it was a good time to ask him about the flags flying over the campsites. His first reaction was that they “weren’t Confederate flags” but were instead “flags of Virginia.”

Now, this is the argument that you will hear many Southerners use to defend their flying of the Confederate flag. They say the flag represents Southern Pride as they declare they aren’t racist, just proud of the South and its history. But we weren’t in the South.

 

The fact is that the flag they were flying is indeed the modern version of the Confederate flag.

Historically, there were many different versions of the Confederate flag, even during the course of the Civil War, but this particular version of the flag that was flying over each of these campsites has represented the Confederacy since the mid-sixties. This same flag was raised over the South Carolina Statehouse to show their defiance to the civil rights movement in 1962. It is the same flag that was taken down a year ago after Dylan Roof murdered nine black people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

I don’t have patience for nonsense and was clear in my response the campground employee that the flags indeed represented the Confederacy and that they were disturbing to see. He then told me that the owners had asked the campers to take them down and that they had refused. The only accommodation they were willing to make was to move them to the back of the campsite. His rendition of what happened also included that the owners felt they couldn’t ask them to take them down.

I shared my conversation with our neighbors who said that they too weren’t happy with seeing such a symbol of hate flying in a family campground. I couldn’t imagine that we were the only ones. I also imagined that few, if any of the other campers, shared their thoughts with the campground owners. It’s too easy to stay silent.

We finished packing, or rather stuffing, our Subaru and went for our last swim before hitting the road. The day was spectacular, bright skies, no humidity, with a light breeze. It was a beautiful day and a pleasant way to end our trip. Wanting to beat the traffic, we dried off and headed back to the camp store to check out and buy one last gift.

As I was checking out, I decided to say something to the man behind the counter. My hope was that my comments would encourage the campground to rethink accepting these people back again next year.  “With the exception of the flags which we found very disconcerting, we enjoyed our stay.” I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to underline our unhappiness with seeing the flags. 

I was wrong. The man looked at me and said, “It isn’t the Confederate flag, it is the Virginia battle flag and it stands for states’ rights. They have every right to fly it, and we have no right, nor would we, to ask them to take it down. It’s your problem.”

Given what the other employee had told me, I was astonished by his reaction.

I quickly, and probably pretty loudly, made clear that the flag stood for slavery and that we would never come back again.  

He had no problem with that. I stormed out to find the owner and his wife outside where I reiterated what just had happened. I was then treated to another account of it isn’t the Confederate Flag, it’s the Virginia battle flag, etc. and that is was their right to fly it and they would never ask them to take it down.  We exchanged a few more pleasantries before I stormed off.

My husband and I handle these situations differently. As a black man, he has learned how to try to keep himself safe and is very clear about what he is comfortable pursuing. I, on the other hand, feel that I have to speak up. I benefit from being white, my family doesn’t. There is no trickle down effect for them. I don’t have an option of not speaking up when I see a symbol of hate, a racist monument that has flown too long over too many sites. I will not be silent.

I won’t put my family in harm’s way but I won’t idly stand by while people describe a flag that has long been an ode to the dark days of slavery as representing states rights.

In my opinion, their disingenuous attempt to misrepresent the Confederate flag is part of a larger narrative that attempts to change history, a way of keeping the status quo of inequality that keeps people of color down, and is, too often, used as an excuse for violence against them.

My family won’t be going back to Camp Taylor. Sadly, I expect that in our future travels we will encounter the Confederate flag waving over another campsite. And once again I will speak up. I hope other white people will join me. It is the least we can do.

Oh, and my last words to them before I got into my car? I bet you are voting for Trump.

-Jan Harrison

 

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