The destruction of Black life in this country is built on white silence -- on white heartlessness about Black people's -- including Black children's -- imprisonment and murder. White people turn away from the bloodshed, throw up our hands about the alleged "futility" of the current state of anti-Black violence in our communities, or obsess over minutiae in the unrelenting reports of police and vigilante killings -- because the unspeakable truth is this:
Police (and others) are killing Black people in our names, with our "safety" as their justification.
In 1988, Peggy McIntosh's groundbreaking article, "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack", was an eye-opener for a generation of white racial justice-seekers. McIntosh's famous list of 26 markers of "white privilege" helped whites see the comprehensive, invisible safety and support net that racism provides.
McIntosh listed a number of privileges that have a crushing resonance today, as the deaths of Black children, teenagers, women and men have mounted alongside an almost universal dismissal of charges -- in the two years since Trayvon Martin's death:
4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
12. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer... without having people attribute these choices to the "bad morals"... of my race.
15. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
17. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as an outsider.
18. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to "the person in charge," I will be facing a person of my race.
19. If a traffic cop pulls me over, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.
24. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
McIntosh reports that she wrote the piece because she realized that:
In proportion as my racial group was being make confident, comfortable, and oblivious, other groups were being made less confident, uncomfortable, and alienated. Whiteness protected me from many kinds of hostility, distress, and violence, which I was being subtly trained to visit in turn upon people of color.
More than two decades later, the days of hand-wringing, denial, and paralysis around "white privilege" must come to an end. White silence in the face of racist violence affirms and amplifies that violence.
I offer this list of "resolutions" as the new year approaches and the movement to confront racist violence in the U.S. is gaining new energy that demands white participation and affirmation.
I offer it as a follow-on to McIntosh. Once we get past the idea that racism rests with a few prejudiced, hate-filled individuals and accept that all white people uphold a system of racism in our daily choices and actions, there is a lifetime of constructive, life-affirming work to fight racism ahead of us.
Let's march, absolutely -- let's show up and put our bodies on the line in this nation-wide effort to write a new U.S. history that sides with justice, that sides with recognizing and honoring our shared humanity.
AND -- let's ACT. Let's fight racism in our unflagging actions -- small and large, in simple and absolutely crucial deeds, every day.
18 Daily Resolutions for White People to Fight Racism
(1) Stop being the first person to talk at every meeting; stop being the person we hear from the most. Listen. Listen more. Listen when you are uncomfortable.
(2) Support or be of use to projects that are established and led by people of color.
(3) Stop segregating around race and class so that the only people of color in your life are either service providers or service recipients. Put yourself in a position to have your thinking and your practices challenged by leaders and peers of color and low-income peers.
(4) Stop saying -- and especially stop telling your children -- that "race doesn't matter." Open your eyes to the impacts of racism all around you; point out the ways racism is playing out in your path and help other white people understand their unearned privileges and their attendant responsibility to dismantle racism.
(5) Advocate for hiring in your workplace or community to address the systemic racism that maintains a supermajority of white people in positions of power (board, executive staff, tenured positions, management). Insist that your workforce (especially leadership) mirror the racial distribution in your community or your constituency.
(6) Do conscious succession planning for your leadership position or high paying job so that people of color and lower income people are prepared to assume your position when you leave.
(7) Help create economically accessible, people of color-driven cooperatives in your neighborhood -- child care, food, coaching, farmers' markets, clothing swaps, etc.
(8) Challenge racial profiling and police brutality in your neighborhood, school, township, or city. Interrupt practices you observe. Push for citizen oversight. Speak out. Organize.
(9) Support and frequent businesses that are people of color owned.
(10) Challenge racist lending practices in your community. What is your bank's history of lending in communities of color?
(11) Advocate for accessible, high quality health care. Insist that the race of the doctors and health care leadership in your community mirrors the race of the people they are serving. What is your doctor doing about this? Does s/he know your concerns?
(12) Stop celebrating holidays that glorify racist history; reframe "Thanksgiving" and "Independence Day" so that white children begin to develop critical skills around the way our nation addresses (or fails to address) its history of colonialism, slavery and white supremacy.
(13) If you buy your home or rent your apartment in a people of color majority neighborhood, instead of advocating for increased policing, advocate for:
a. free or affordable child care and afterschool programs
b. citizens review boards for local police practices
c. youth sports leagues
d. visual, performing arts, music and other creative projects
e. community gardening and access to affordable fresh food
f. tax abatement for long-term residents of the neighborhood so that they are not pushed out if more whites move in, and property values rise due to racist gentrification.
(14) Send your children to public school and instead of advocating for "zero tolerance" or "bullying" programs that target children of color for suspension and expulsion, advocate for programs that:
a. hire more people of color in leadership positions at school
b. restructure "gifted" programs that shut out students of color via "objective" criteria
c. bring creativity and student voice to the fore in the school culture
d. address trauma driven by racism, sexism and poverty
e. reclaim storytelling
f. teach the history of racism and its impacts
g. provide respite for low-income parents
(15) Don't expect people of color to be glad you are in their neighborhood, stores, or schools. White people often come into people of color majority spaces and make things worse by:
a. Increasing policing and incarceration, especially of men and boys
b. Drawing the attention and intervention of the state to families of color
c. Driving up property values and driving out people of color
d. Increasing investment in the neighborhood that "whitens" every existing institution and closes many long-term people of color led enterprises
e. Bringing in businesses that don't reflect the existing culture or community priorities
(16) Don't think of yourself as "doing good" or "giving back" by addressing racism; understand that you are making reparations but that you will never share the jeopardy that racism presents to your peers of color. You are benefitting from a daily racist "pass."
(17) Campaign for and fund candidates at the local and national level that address racism in local, national and foreign policy.
(18) Organize, teach and challenge other white people to address systemic racism, outlined above.
a. Share anti-racist tools and articles on social media;
b. bring friends to local actions;
c. challenge racist frameworks and lies among your peers;
d. collect and disseminate excellent research and literature;
e. disseminate anti-racist art;
f. organize an anti-racist study group or action;
g. interrupt racism as you encounter it.