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White Folks: Do Something

White people, we have a problem. And it’s not a new problem that’s come with this blight of a presidency. It’s always been rippling beneath the surface of our country—many of us have just been privileged enough to ignore it.

Not anymore.

So, fellow white folks, we need to do something about white supremacy. Because—and I never thought I’d quote an ex-skinhead (see Life After Hate below)—”White people created this problem and it’s our job to fix it.”

I’m no expert—just an average cisgender gay white guy in Seattle trying to rail against white supremacy and white patriarchy (and yes, I still fuck up plenty).

Here’re some suggestions for white folks:

If you barely make ends meet like me and have no extra money to donate, try:

AND/OR

  • Taking time to march, wheel, or virtually march with POC-led organizations, Solidarity Against Hate marches, or counter-protests to various white extremist rallies.

AND/OR

  • Participating in free workgroups or meetings to educate yourself about/better understand:
    • White privilege and white fragility (If you’re white, you have privilege. Period.).
    • Equity versus equality
    • Intersectionality
    • Microaggresions
    • Power and power-sharing
    • Mass incarceration/the prison complex

AND ALWAYS

  • Shutting up and listening. Don’t take up space when people of color are talking. Listen. Learn. Repeat.
  • Calling out racist shit and being prepared to be a buffer, especially if a person of color is being harassed in public. And then calling the police.
  • Recognizing that racism lies at the heart of all of the other -isms. Center racism and race in talks about gendered violence and bias. Trans* women of color are harassed, assaulted, and murdered at a higher rate than any member of the LGBTQ+ community. Women of color are harassed, assaulted, and murdered at a higher rate than white women. Men of color are harassed, assaulted, and murdered at a higher rate than white men.
  • Voting…in LOCAL and NATIONAL elections. Help unseat career politicians who serve the (exceedingly white) one percent to the detriment and continued disenfranchisement of people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, and women.

If you have money left at the end of the month, start:

  • Doing all the things above.

AND

  • Becoming a recurring donor to POC-led organizations, and organizations working to combat hate—especially small community organizations. (Seriously, you’ll make some Development/Fundraising staffer’s day—recurring donations help small nonprofits more than you know.)

AND

  • Talking to your affluent friends about race. Don’t let your wealth or your friends’ wealth insulate you/them from these systemic problems. Get them involved in organizations you’re passionate about. And if you have oodles of money, pool some of your resources for multi-year grants for organizations like those I mentioned above, and others fighting against hate and for civil rights.

AND

  • Unpacking “gentrification,” and how it often displaces people of color and other marginalized community members. Educate yourself about how to combat gentrification. (And please stop acting like you’re some sort of pioneer. I guarantee most folks in your neighborhood already don’t like you and give you side-eye all the damn time. So you should probably start doing something worthwhile to build community and counter your gentrifying effects.)

AND…

…plenty of other things.

***

The point is this: Each and every single one of you white people can do something. Don’t give in to fear or apathy, and for the love of the mother goddesses, do not check out, thinking this will “blow over.” Silence is complicity.

Acknowledge that you’re going to say some stupid shit and embarrass yourself. But get over it, apologize, and learn some more. We don’t have time for pity parties. We only have time for action and for building momentum. Are you tired yet? You should be. You will be. Because you will always be learning. But an educated resistance is a stronger resistance.

So, white people, it’s past time for us to do something. Get up. Speak out. Educate yourself.

Be one more body of resistance against white supremacy.

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Hand in Hand

Joanna stared up at me with her marble-like eyes as I folded my emergency contact list and shoved it into my pocket. I finished a duplicate sheet and put it on my kitchen counter, with directions and arrows pointing to Joanna’s food drawer.

Along with many others, I was going to counter-protest a nazi rally in the heart of downtown Seattle—and given the tragic events in Charlottesville, I wanted to leave a trail of breadcrumbs back to my anxious dog in case I didn’t return.

Part of my preparation was recognizing that my ability to anticipate potential violence was a privilege—one that people of color never have.

***

Walking to the bus, a young white woman noticed my sign and asked if there was a protest happening today. Her breath smelled of beer, and I answered that, yes, there was.

“You know, with all this shit going on, sometimes I just have to pull back, you know?”

She semi-slurred and I nodded.

While I, too, understand the importance of self care, I also recognize that a lot of white people default to that whenever there’s a call to action where their whiteness suddenly doesn’t buffer them as much. And there’re always strings of caveats and “I would but…” statements. But I’ve grown tired of comforting fellow white people. We should all be exhausted and uncomfortable. Because we should all be leveraging the privilege we possess to fight back.

On the bus, an older woman smiled at my shirt and sign, and I watched out the windows as droves of sports fans flooded toward large arenas. I stepped off the bus, recognizing that the nazi rally was a few blocks behind me at Westlake Park; the counter-protest was set to begin in Denny Park, and wind its way through downtown streets to Westlake.

I passed brunch-goers and tourists confused by the road closures, and spotted plenty of police congregating in bicycle groups. As I walked toward Denny Park, I glanced down momentarily and snapped my head back up when I heard a man’s voice outside an Indian restaurant I was passing.

“Give’em hell. Don’t let those bastards win!”

I looked up long enough to meet his gaze and smile, even though my face had been screwed up into a grimace all morning, thinking, We’re fighting nazis again. In 2017.

As I crossed the street, an older white couple stopped me.

“Is there a protest happening?”

“Yes. I’m headed to a counter-protest to the nazi rally happening over there in Westlake.” I motioned behind my back.

He leaned in, and she kept looking around—eyes wild, darting.

“It was really unnerving. We just saw these three guys wearing all this horrible stuff and Pepe shirts. It’s just terrible.”

I nodded, and said something along the lines of, “That’s why we all have to fight back.”

They appeared slightly surprised that I didn’t feed into the echo chamber of white privilege. I gave them a wave and turned, noticing them quickening pace as they headed up the street. I doubted they would’ve stopped me if I’d been black or brown.

At the park, the group began growing larger and larger. There was, of course, one person carrying a Russian flag, doing their best to garner attention for themselves. Anarchists congregated in a fairly large group, with each member wearing black bandanas. Over megaphones, organizers underscored the importance of being respectful. Signs with various messages were raised aloft as the chants started and we began marching. Looking around at the sea of faces—black and brown, trans* and queer, people with disabilities, elderly people, pastors and union workers—I was again reminded that intersectional solidarity is crucial in this fight.

Several blocks in, after passing many streets cordoned off by bicycle police, we reached a relatively un-policed intersection, and began moving in the direction of Westlake.

Suddenly, police swooped in on their bikes and on foot, pepper spraying the closest marchers and sending everyone running. There was no apparent provocation—just a hair-trigger response to marchers moving down the road. People screamed at the white mist speckling their faces and others rushed to their aid, dousing their reddening faces with water. I couldn’t believe it was happening. And then the chants started.

“Cops and klan hand in hand!”

“Who are you protecting?!”

Slowly, we moved on. Many more blocks later, people began realizing we weren’t being allowed to reach Westlake. Two blocks away from it, we stopped at an intersection where more bicycle cops stood waiting. Folks flooded into the intersection and began sitting down in protest, at the behest of the organizers.

“Until they let us through, let’s hold the intersection!”

Chants began again as the police force grew behind their lines. Someone started spraying silly string near the police barricade; people began laughing. And then, it happened: police fired pepper spray and blast balls into the completely unarmed, peaceful crowd. People stampeded in my direction, and when I turned to run, someone slammed into me, pushing me into a barricade. Other people fell; others screamed from the spray. The air smelled of burned hair and smoke. My ears rang.

People hollered about civil rights and protection and that the police serve us. But in that moment, I recognized I was more afraid of the police than the nazis.

As people rebounded and stood back up, we filled the intersection again. About twenty minutes later, an organizer came over the loudspeaker and said that the nazis had left—and a chorus of cheers resounded down the street. Another organizer announced that we’d be backtracking to Denny Park in a show of continued solidarity. And then she added something that made my arm hair stand on-end.

“And whatever you do, stay together! We’re not going to let them pick us off one by one.”

I suddenly felt like the sickly gazelle in a National Geographic special. And what was more concerning was that I didn’t know if the predators to which she was referring were the police or the nazis. I shifted uncomfortably, and turned as an older woman—another organizer—came up to me, her brow furrowed.

“And just where is your buddy?”

“I don’t have one.”

“Well, find someone. We’re at our most vulnerable when we’re alone.”

She reversed course, motioning me back into the larger group as she did. As we wove our way back along our route, the police followed, occasionally showing force by using their bicycles as a makeshift wall and chanting something all their own as they prevented folks from going down side streets.

As we neared the park, I realized I was flanking a large, blocks-long version of the United States Constitution—which I learned had been created for the Women’s March. Someone called for help supporting it.

I stepped in, raising the heavy canvas just as someone yelled, “Don’t let it fall! Don’t let it touch the ground!”

As I literally helped support the semantic crux of American democracy and wiped sweat from my brow, I noticed my shirt and rainbow cape reeked of gunpowder from the blast balls.

Behind us, police stood in a line, batons in-hand, ready for engagement. On our sides, anarchists began castigating marchers for not facing down the nazis.

***

Dispersing from the park, I folded up my cape and shoved it into my back pocket. I stuck to main streets, and watched my back on the occasional side street. When I got to the bus stop, I reached into my back pocket for my wallet, and grazed my contacts list.

Unlike so many people of color who are murdered every single day by gun-toting racists and poorly trained police—Charleena Lyles, Desmond Phillips, Armound Brown, Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Philando Castile…— and unlike Heather Heyer and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche and Ricky John Best, I was able to return home.

This is America. In 2017. We cannot afford to lose any more ground.

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White Privilege: The Lion in the Room

I’m a few hours away from another phone interview. The hurdles we clear in the course of starting a new career are stressful and tiring, and we often just long for them to be behind us, with an offer waiting in our inbox.

But for me, there’s something more wrapped up in this particular interview.

When I made the decision to leave my papered academic past for nonprofit work, I knew it wasn’t going to be glamorous, the path wouldn’t be littered with hundred dollar bills. The adage “underpaid and overworked” became my mantra, whether or not I embraced and adopted it. And it was okay, because I felt like what I was doing was worth the exhaustion that nips at most nonprofit professionals’ heels.

Part and parcel to most nonprofit work is educating the public. Whether your organization increases awareness about racial inequality, STI transmission, human trafficking, environmental conservation, planned parenting, LGBTQIA advocacy, or animal welfare, the crux is always education. Because a more informed public is more likely to speak out, stand up, and effect meaningful change.

As a kid, I didn’t always grasp the importance of why I had to do certain things, and why my parents pushed me and my sister to branch out – always reinforcing how crucial it was to be able to relate to people from different backgrounds and respect differences. During those teachable moments, I – like most my age – would roll my eyes and complain about spending yet another valuable weekend of my youth planting trees, cleaning up roadside garbage, caring for injured wildlife, or taking food to people in need.

I’d often think Where’s my freedom? Why do we have to do this? Nintendo and Bonanza marathons were much more appealing.

Little did I know, I was learning exactly what it meant to be free – and, not until I was much older, the problematic, insulating effects of white privilege.

***

Growing up in the Deep South, racial lines were socially mapped and cultivated in our consciousness through school and print media – and unabashedly writ into the landscape of our small Alabama town. In ninth grade, we weren’t taught World History, but rather Alabama History. We came to recognize “the other side of the tracks” or a “rough area” was synonymous with a predominantly black neighborhood or an area of violence. In daily dialogue, describing people without a racial preface was unheard of – there was no “There was this guy” or “That lady at the grocery”; often whispered, black became the most important identifier in a descriptive parable relayed from the day’s happenings. Without fail, that hushed tone conveyed something else – something sinister pulsing through that word and, by association, the person to whom it was applied. Everyone was guilty of such profiling – even if we didn’t realize the implications of what we were doing, we became complicit in widening that divide, contributing to tacit racial tension. But this proclivity wasn’t reserved for towns in the South. Whenever Andy and I talk about growing up, we always touch on how racism was just as prevalent farther north – just cloaked in different veils. We both grew up very differently, but we shared a privilege we couldn’t exactly articulate until now, in retrospect.

Even still, we also shared a nagging feeling that we were somehow different. In high school, I had an odd fixation with The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – the weight of the albatross a fitting analogy for the emotional baggage that’d been weighing me down, something that I was terrified was as obvious as a dead bird strung around my neck. But it wasn’t. And I could pass. Again, not until I was much older, I realized the color of my skin diluted my difference – made it more socially acceptable.

Not until I became more outspoken, and had the privilege of a collegiate education, did I start to comprehend the enormity of the problems humanity faces. We parse and segment as a means to better understand, but in so doing, we lose the connective thread that connects them all: education. And by education, I don’t mean post-secondary. I mean hands-on, face-to-face, person-to-person interaction; getting in the dirt together and finding common ground in meaningful, proactive ways. But many of us must first acknowledge our white privilege – that we have the luxury to obsess over the death of a Zimbabwe lion, while our black friends are under threat every single time they leave their home. Until we understand why black bodies are grossly policed, are subjected to structural violence, and take action to change it, we can’t really move forward to tackle everything that we face.

***

I’m inching closer to my interview, and I’m remembering why I was drawn to this particular organization: its emphasis on early, comprehensive education for every child, every family. And I can’t help but think about what I learned as a kid, and how much I want to teach my child so many of the same things – chief among them, respect.

I hope I’ll be open about difference, and be able to answer hard questions. I hope I’ll be able to appropriately frame how inequality hurts everyone, and how important it is to speak out and stand up for your friends, known and unknown – to speak and to act.

Because if we don’t first take care of our species – prioritize humanity – there’s no hope for those others with whom we share this planet.