For White People Who Must Take Action When ‘Good Intentions’ are Not Enough

Dear white people, get your cousins an’ ‘em

White Nationalists surround counter-protestors in Charlottesville, VA.
White Nationalists surround counter-protestors in Charlottesville, VA.

Would you like your racism shaken or stirred?

In the absurdity of this political moment we have witnessed what I will refer to as a ‘stirred’ racism—one that is blatant and outright and bold in its sociopolitical orientations—but it is crucial, now, more than ever, that the emotional reaction to the hyper-visible events inundating all forms of media today does not eclipse the many forms of white supremacy that exists in our everyday lives. Namely, it is crucial for us all to understand that the alt-right neo-Nazis, KKK, and the like are not at all “fringe” groups. They are the kinfolk who share a Thanksgiving table with masses of white people who serve as colleagues, classmates, teachers, etc beyond Charlottesville. The absurdity of this political moment has boiled down to taking a clear stance against hate or being complicit in the reproduction of the bevy of violences that mark our times. Alongside a longstanding history of white allies who have dedicated themselves to the antiracist work of this country, there still exists a majority who feel that white supremacy and racism are fringe realities that have nothing to do with their world or their standing as morally good and well-intentioned people. Rather than plead innocence on the question of racism, it is high time for the white folks who wish to be allies to get your cousins an’ ‘em. That is, to protest, infiltrate, and demand radical change within the families and communities that you navigate daily.

On Saturday, August 12th, an underpoliced White Nationalist riot in Charlottesville, VA equipped with over a thousand armed neo-nazi and KKK members (some carrying batons, shields, rifles, pepper spray, helmets, and wearing fake police-wear) did not result in violence—a passive and erroneous languaging of this domestic terrorism—it was violence.

In the face of this blatant demonstration of unrestrained bigotry, 45, infamous for his twitter fingers and clear stances on pretty much every subject, could not bring himself to condemn the emboldened hate that strutted throughout Charlottesville in defense of a Confederate monument of Robert E. Lee. This defense, that they proclaim is a defense of their history and heritage, is in reality a toxic nostalgia that seeks to defend a “history and heritage of racism.”

So when Trump spoke up only to blame “many sides” for this deadly riot, conflating the hateful alt-right with those protesting against them, masses of white people across the nation found themselves clearly and boldly opposed.

The problem is that white supremacy and racism live and breathe in the very fabric and everydayness of this nation and taking a stance against its most extreme manifestations is not enough! 62.9 million Americans voted for Donald John Trump, a man who has demonstrated his bold footing on the grounds of bigotry and exclusion.

In the same way that the symptoms of a cold are not to be understood as the cause of the cold, these white supremacists cannot be understood as the cause of white supremacy. In the same way that the outward condition of a diseased body cannot be divorced from the infinitesimal wars of the body’s cells, these white supremacist groups must be understood as part and parcel of deeply rooted systemic issues coursing through the veins of our nation.

The controversy over removing the statue of Robert E. Lee and subsequent efforts to remove other statues and symbols that stand for a history of racism across the landscape of America, is a cosmetic makeover that is urgently needed, but still not enough. The fact of systemic white supremacy means that it has solidified itself, in statuesque form, throughout our very consciousness, values, ideologies, institutions, and everyday policies and practices. White supremacy is not just an American construct. It fits into a larger history of European colonization and imperialism that has imbued a global consciousness which bends toward the aesthetics and values of whiteness as rightness. But we must attend to the historicity and context of this construct as it intersects with other systems of power throughout America. As the great Angela Davis proclaimed, “in a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.”

So this is a call for the white people presently on the sidelines to not absolve themselves of the privileges, complicity, and responsibility of white supremacy simply because they are not wearing a hood or carrying a torch. This is a call for you (and us all) to understand the systemic embeddedness of white supremacy and to uproot these symbols and practices of exclusion as they exist across all institutions in your reach, beginning with your families, your places of work, worship, classrooms, etc.

Your emotional reaction and shock about issues that we have been crying out against for literal centuries is a feature of white privilege. And to allow this race-based stress to immobilize you rather than move you to swift and concerted action is a consequence of white fragility that must be resisted. What is white fragility and how can you resist it in the service of allying yourself with the right side of history? DiAngelo writes ,

White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium (54).

Dear white allies, resist white fragility and get your cousins an’ ‘em.