A few days ago, I went to go see Justin Simien’s movie “Dear White People”, which highlights racism, privilege, microaggressions, and diversity within higher education. The movie follows around Sam White, a college student at an Ivy league school who has a radio show (and several YouTube videos) titled “Dear White People”. The movie follows her around while along with a few other students, she uses several different mediums to highlight the racial inequality and microaggressions that people of color (particularly black folks) face on a regular basis.
The movie spends a lot of time calling out the racism that still exists within “post racial” United States, including by showing that there still plenty of white people (particularly college students) who think that not only is blackface okay but have entire parties with that theme. On her radio show, Sam uses satire and humor to highlight the things that white people should and should not do to be racist. (Such as: “Dear white people, the bare minimum of black friends to appear not racist has been raised to two.”)
Not only does this movie bring up issues of racism and microaggressions but I also saw underlying themes of the politics of interracial relationships and how resistance should be a community effort, not one driven by one person. (Mild spoiler alert ahead**) Much of the activism and resistance that occurs in the beginning of the movie is initiated and driven by Sam, only to fall through when she has some family issues. That aspect of the movie reminded me of the work that is happening in places like St. Louis/Ferguson, MO and New York City, where the protests and resistance against police brutality are not (and should not be) leader driven but should be community driven.
I saw this movie with my mom and family friend, who are both (unsurprisingly) white like myself. I honestly was a little worried because my mom doesn’t quite understand the current state of racism and often removes herself from any responsibility. But both my mom and family friend seemed to like the movie and were surprised at the fact that blackface unfortunately still happens. I was really happy to see that this movie had stirred even just a little thought for the two of them.
The New York Times has a critique on the movie that articulates my experience with the movie much better than I could ever do. But in the end, I would definitely recommend watching this movie (particularly if you are a white person like me). I know I’ll be seeing it again.
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of protests and community organizing against police brutality and racism (particularly anti blackness). There has been a lot of negative (pretty much all in the usually racist backlash) but there’s been a lot of good too. John Legend and his wife apparently worked with activist group Operation Help or Hush and quietly hired food trucks in NYC to provide a community meal for protesters. Legend also collaborated on an amazing song called Glory for the movie Selma (which should be coming out in the next month or two I think).
Brittany (@bdoulaoblongata on Twitter and Tumblr) wrote about testifying today on the police brutality she’s faced with others while protesting. She’s one of many that have been incredibly leaders both in organizing protests and online. (This was actually about getting a temporary restraining order against the police because of the action by the police towards protesters in St. Louis and Ferguson. And they won!.)
With all of the work that is being done, it’s important to keep in mind that all kinds of activism needs to center the marginalized communities being impacted. In this case, it’s incredibly important to center the work and voices of black/African Americans. There have been plenty of posts and articles justifiably calling out white people participating in these protests because as white people, we have to remember that this is not about us. Here are some of those articles:
Dear White People: Ferguson Protests are a Wake, Not a Pep Rally from The Well Examined Life
The Subtle Racism of “Post-Racial” Activism by Mattias Lehman
At Eric Garner Protests, Some White Activists are Being Called Out for Their Behavior by Katie Toth
Seeing Ferguson Clearly: 12 Double Standards that Expose White Supremacy by Sonali Kolhatkar
There have been articles and videos that have talked about the intersectionality of issues (including racism, classism, and the need for living wages) and responses/support for the black community.
Black poverty is a state violence too: Why struggles for criminal justice and living wage are uniting by Sarah Jaffe
An Indigenous View on #BlackLivesMatter by Leanne Simpson
Yet another person shreds the “case” against Mike Brown
There have also been articles showing photos and videos of the protests:
A roundup of #BlackPoetsSpeakOut Selections
27 Stunning Photos of #BlackLivesMatter Protests from Around the Globe by Tom McKay
Rabbis Recite Kaddish, Jewish Mourning Prayer, for Eric Garner, Later Arrested in NYC Protest by Antonia Blumberg
Congressional staffers stage walk out to protest
Broadway Stars Gather in Times Square to Send a Message about Police Violence and Eric Garner
There is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives
Intersectionality, in my opinion, is fundamental to activism because like Audre Lorde says, our lives are infinitely more complex than a single oppression or privilege. We are all more than one single identity so addressing more than one issue is critical to activism. Race, class, gender, etc etc all intersect to make us all complex and human.
The wage gap, for example, is something that is sometimes thought of as a single issue problem – the idea (generally) being for every $1 a man makes, a woman makes $0.77 (this should be an entire post but bear with me now). But if you add race into the mix along with gender, there are some major differences. When you add race to the mix, the differences grow and women of color are generally going to be paid much less than white men.
Hate crime based on sexual orientation and gender identity is another critical issue that must be addressed through intersectionality. I did some research about hate crimes and violence towards the LGBTQ+ community last spring and found (unfortunately) that trans people of color (especially trans women of color) and queer people of color were significantly more likely to experience violence. Rather than reiterate the presentation, here is a PDF of the research I found. So rather than just address the issue of transphobia and homophobia, we also have to address racism when addressing LGBTQ+ related hate crimes.
Laverne Cox also spoke about the intersection of transphobia, racism, and misogyny.
These are just two examples of many that highlight that intersectionality is often critical for activism.
It means understanding that different kinds of oppression are interlinked and that one can’t liberate only one group without the others. It means acknowledging kyriarchy and intersectionality – the fact that along different axes, we’re all both oppressed, privileged, and disprivileged
I wrote another piece earlier this year about white privilege that includes some of the articles in this post but also has several more as well.
I am a white person currently living in a city that 87% white people and in a state that is 81% white. Up until a few years ago, I never questioned my whiteness, ignorantly believed that “we’re all human and we all bleed red!” and refused to acknowledge skin color, and almost exclusively hung out with other white people. I lived in a bubble and had absolutely no concept of race relations and what racism actually is. During college, I was fortunate enough to go through a few trainings and classes that fundamentally challenged and changed many of the things I was conditioned to believe on race. I was fortunate and privileged enough to have people call me out on my bullshit and over the past few years, my beliefs have radically flipped.
Since all of that, I’ve tried having conversations with many fellow white people, only to realize how incredibly deep racism goes and how blind many white people are to the reality of racism within the US. Many of the people, but not all, are incredibly resistant to the idea that racism is not a Google definition and instead a much more complicated institution built into the fabric of US society and history. Of course, every conversation I have about race is steeped in my own white privilege – I have the ability to talk about racism without ever experiencing it.
It is interesting to see how removed white people are from race issues, including:
Three quarters of white people don’t have any non-white friends
Most white people in the US are completely oblivious
Self Segregation: Why It’s Hard to Understand Ferguson
Across America, whites are biased and they don’t even know it
There are also a lot of articles explaining white privilege:
White privilege explained in one simple comic
What riding my bike has taught me about white privilege
What white people need to know and do after Ferguson
And there are articles talking about how to approach talking about racism with other white people and what white people can do:
3 tips for talking to other white people about racism
12 things white people can do now because of Ferguson
Students are watching Ferguson (not specific to white people but still has great resources)
11 things white people should stop saying to black people immediately
I’ve seen so many instances of (usually white) people demanding that people of color educate them about race relations and racism (and I admit, I had several of those moments). But there’s already so much information out there that demanding someone to prove their humanity to you is not okay. There are resources that constantly talk about race, gender, class, and the intersectionality of it all that the answers you might demand of a person of color probably already exist. Some of these resources are academic, others offer their personal experiences, others are a mix of both. Using Google is always the best place to start.