As #BlackLivesMatter continues to show up at Bernie Sanders’ rallies to raise their voices, more and more White folks are speaking up about issues around race. That could be a good thing, but my observation has been that most often it is not.
We just don’t seem to get it. I blame the cotton cushions of privilege that insulate us from feeling the actual pain of racism. That fluffy, white blanket has allowed us to become simultaneously desensitized to racism, and overly sensitive to challenges to our privilege. They work hand in hand. White fragility is a real thing that continues to work feverishly in maintaining the bulwark of white supremacy through denial, derailment, and lack of analysis around white privilege as a whole. (learn about white fragility here.)
Even ‘good’ white folks have this privilege and fragility. It becomes visible when we speak against the #BlackLivesMatter tactics and programs. When inconvenience to Bernie Sanders and his rally of (mostly white) supporters is considered ‘more harmful’ than the actual killing of Black folks at the hands of law enforcement. When White folks can’t take 4 ½ minutes to be silent in remembrance of these lost lives, because hearing Bernie speak is more important.
This sets the stage for what I want to say today. I have been hearing calls for solidarity between Occupy and #BlackLivesMatter. Mostly from white liberals who claim that these two movements share common cause. Indeed, at some point, I have felt the same. That the ruling class of our society keeps us divided through a number of tactics, one of which is racial. And really? It’s true.
But, the problem is different than that, and needs White folks to become even more critical of white supremacy in order to be addressed.
Racism lives in our society not only within the top echelons of power and capital. It exists in our neighborhoods. It exists at the grocery store and the gas pump. It is in our schools. It is in our churches. It is embedded within every aspect of our culture. It lives within our minds and hearts in ways that are very difficult for us White folks to accept. The numerous studies on racial bias and discrimination have shown over and over again that even the most well meaning white person (of whom I count myself) carry implicit bias against Black folks. I have seen it in myself, my friends, my family, my co-workers and throughout this culture. It is not difficult to see once a person takes the step of opening to the possibility. We need a healthy dose of humility to recognize that we are saturated with white supremacy. Dismantling that supremacy will require looking within to uncover those feelings of superiority, hand in hand with de-centering whiteness in our struggles for liberation.
De-centering whiteness. That is the place that many well meaning white folks get hung up. It is imperative for the people occupying the margins of the margins to be centered in our struggles. When Women of Color stand up and give voice to injustice, White folks need to take a seat.
Imagine for a moment that Occupy were to be successful in displacing the ruling class. What a glorious day that would be. But what would happen the day after? If we have not addressed racism and anti-Blackness centered within the struggle to end classism, that anti-Black bias will continue to thrive. There is no way around this. We cannot put off till ‘after’ the revolution to evaluate ourselves and our anti-Black social norms and expect them to simply disappear of their own accord. This will not happen. The focus must be now.
When I read the writings of Black Women working for social change, I hear voices that are addressing injustice in ALL its forms. I see a world changed to a place of community where every one of us, beginning with the most vulnerable, has safety and opportunity to live our lives in peace.
How could this ever be in contradiction to the aims of folks striving for economic justice?
De-centering whiteness happens now or not at all. There is no reason to fear that agendas for economic justice will be ignored; they are tied together with racial justice. Silencing the voices of Women of Color and demanding (or even suggesting) that they align their movement with… well with ANYONE that they have not chosen to align with on their own, is simply replicating the system of white supremacy. If alignment is to happen, it is the place of white led and populated movements to align themselves with #BlackLivesMatter. Not the other way around.
We need to do this today. There is no more space for White folks to call for #BlackLivesMatter to re-assess their tactics, or re-align their agenda. Now is the time for White folks to turn our focus on ourselves in a critical analysis of how to end all forms of supremacy. Curing economic disparity will not alleviate racism. However, ending white supremacy will open the doors for true justice to manifest for all.