“The word racist would be dismissed as a profane slur put upon the common man, as opposed to an accurate description of actual men.”
I received two text messages the morning after the 2016 presidential election. The first was from my mother, apologizing for lying to me about America. (Thanks mom!) The second was from an activist friend, who is Black, who said, “So, what’s the plan?”
When I responded by acknowledging that White people had totally blown it, she was unequivocal. “I’m not gonna lie,” she said. “Yes, you did.”
My post-election texting encapsulates the dilemma facing anti-racist White people: we blew it in 2016, because we were kidding ourselves about our own country. The most charitable interpretation of the presidential election is that the majority of White voters were willing to accept overt racism as a chaser to the president-elect’s shot of disingenuous populism. A generation raised to be colorblind was unprepared to confront the world as it is, versus the world for which our visionary parents hoped.
The outcome of the 2016 election is part of a broader battle to define being White in this country. Right now, anti-racism is losing. Call me crazy, but I’d rather live on equal footing with my non-White friends in a diverse, inclusive, heterogeneous, creative, twenty-first century society, than in a homogenous, antebellum, White supremacist mono-state.
If that means I’m living in a bubble, long live the motherfucking bubble.
If you’re White, and of a similar disposition, here are a few New Year’s resolutions that will keep you busy:
Resolution #1: We resolve to stop being so damned sensitive about the word “racism.” Racism warrants discussion, but White people put too many conditions on the discussion of the phenomenon. We want “The Racism Conversation” to be scheduled well ahead of time, so that we can prepare the perfect words. When we get to said discussion, the room has to be appropriately lit, and ideally there will be both snacks and a competent facilitator present. White people have more explicit conditions for the discussion of racism than we do for the initiation of sexual intimacy. That hyper-conditional version of discussing racism must get tossed in the dumpster fire with the rest of 2016. Racist stuff is happening all of the time. We do not have the luxury to orchestrate conversations about racism so that they’re more comfortable for tepid White people. Each mention of racism is not a “Very Special Episode of Blossom.”
Resolution #2: We resolve to realize that all White people are participating in racism. That’s right, I said all. Sorry to burst your bubble, White lady wearing an “Assata Taught Me” t-shirt, but even you still have work to do. The majority of our people sided with the Ku Klux Klan to elect an overt bigot as president. That bigot has subsequently appointed even more bigoted people to serve in significant positions in American government. While the American political commentariat obsesses over whether or not this means that “every Trump voter is racist,” this distinction is unimportant. All of us are on the racism spectrum until further notice. Whether you’re on the David Duke side (HELLA RACIST) or the Chris Hayes side (not really racist), you have work to do.
Treating racism as a rare disease of smaller minds got us to where we are today. Moreover, the construct of racism as a binary, wherein people who say overly racist things are loathsome racists, and those of us who don’t get to claim permanent moral superiority, is useless. Finger pointed precludes introspection. Racism has spent hundreds of years metastasizing. We cannot eradicate the disease by isolating and removing only the most obvious lesions.
Resolution #3: We resolve to organize our people around anti-racist ideas. Movements and power are built through sustained organizing. The anti-racist segment of the White population got worked by the “maybe racism is tolerable to achieve economic results” flank of our people. That wedge is the oldest play in the American political playbook, as “racism” and “economic opportunity” are kissing cousins (See: slavery, Jim Crow, and “Becky with the Bad Grades.”)
Organizing methods and rhetoric need to recognize this reality. For decades, politicos on the left chastised less privileged White “values voters” for acting against their economic self-interests when allying with wealthy conservatives. Now that president-elect Trump wraps rhetoric about economic self-interest in racist values, the left is like, “but what about your values?!” Values and interests should not be treated as divisible. Reverend William Barber said it best:
Deep religious and moral values have been the backbone of every great progressive movement … There would not have been a critique on poverty and unchecked capitalism, labor rights, healthcare, criminal justice reform, climate change, and raising the minimum wage, without a moral premise underneath it ... we must insist on connecting economic issues with our racial history.
Divorcing economic self-interest from racism has never been possible, and a generation of Americans is now waking up to that reality.
For centuries, being White in America meant reaping unearned power and advantages, relative to people who are not White. America’s power structure, to an almost comical degree, still reflects that version of Whiteness. The resurgence of White supremacy in this country is a predictable reaction to both tangible evidence of that reality becoming compromised, and the demographic inevitability of a future White minority. The “Alt Right,” in presenting clean-cut spokesmodels for White supremacy, is capitalizing on the fact that most people do not want to give up power. Anti-racist White people must continue to make racism unacceptable, otherwise the White supremacist vision will continue to build power. And win.