A couple weeks ago, a bunch of my friends on Facebook checked into the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Reservation in North Dakota. Knowing that the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline was still ongoing, I originally thought that a bunch of my friends had actually gone to join the fight and I had missed something big. The reality though was that people were just checking in on Facebook while not actually there as a way to stand in solidarity with those on the ground and potentially confuse anyone who was using Facebook check ins as a way to target activists.
While not something that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe had asked (and at this point, I’m not sure where the mass check in originated), the tribe did welcome the solidarity. Raising awareness by sharing videos, checking into places on Facebook, or dumping buckets of ice on our head can be important but they can’t be the only actions that we accomplish. There’s so much more work that goes into fixing the problems and issues that plague our society. Everyone’s activism is going to look different – some people aren’t able to go to marches but can help to make banners, others are able to organize community meals or do phone banks.
Recently, I read about how some school districts around the US were going to be teaching about LGBT history to students. This is, of course, a cause for celebration because it allows for LGBT students to learn about their community’s history in school. For one of the first times (at least in my experience), young people might be learning about the Stonewall Inn and Compton’s Cafeteria Riots and about people like Audre Lorde, Sylvia Rivera, and Marsha P Johnson.
I think that any sort of ally behavior should include continuous learning and listening to marginalized people when they speak. A part of this is also not insisting that marginalized people speak on demand or educate us on the issues because one, it is centering us and our understanding in the conversation rather than other people and two, other people are not and should not be responsible for our education.
One of the best things you can do as an ally to any community is to read and learn as much as you can and unlearning the systems of oppression that drastically shape our understanding can some time but there are so many resources available. So I thought I’d share some! These ones are specific to race and racism:
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way we learn and understand history – in part because of my own love for the Broadway hit musical Hamilton. That musical has taken the life of the first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, turned it into a popular hip hop musical, and made learning about the founding fathers of the United States a little less boring. (Unless you’re a part of the founding fathers fandom, which is in fact an actual thing on the internet and includes romantic shipping of historical figures.) But at the same time, the show hasn’t told the full story and has spun some of the facts into a more dramatic retelling.
Hamilton has skyrocketed into mainstream popularity, received awards and praise, and has gained a sizeable and dedicated following. People show up in droves to watch the live #Ham4Ham mini shows during the ticket lottery in New York City and a book was created to show behind the scenes of both the show and creation. But not everyone has been praising the production and that’s a good thing.
Yesterday I finished up the book Civil Rights for Beginners by Paul Von Blum and overall I really liked the book. Most of the book is dedicated to the civil rights movement from the 1950s/60s/70s but also ties in the history of black/African American resistance starting from slavery to the present.
Honestly, I learned more from this book about the civil rights movement and the history/context behind it than in any US history class I’ve taken. Von Blum writes so that the book isn’t like a dry history textbook but rather the interesting history it is. And the book not only highlights more than the civil rights movement but also goes more in depth about it than the March on Washington and “I Have a Dream” speech.
At the end of the book, Von Blum also writes about the impact that the civil rights movement has had on other liberation movements from the 1960s to the present. And while I really liked this focus on other movements, I thought it lacked a certain sense of how the different movements worked together on different issues as well. That and the gay liberation section did not even mention the work done by trans people from the 1960s to the present.
In fact, Von Blum completely erased trans people (especially trans women) from the narrative and not once mentioned women like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson. These two women were critical to the start of the modern gay liberation movement and are consistently erased so I’m severely disappointed to see them yet again left out from a civil rights narrative. And yes you can argue that this book is just civil rights for beginners but including Rivera and Johnson in the narrative should be included at the beginning stages because of the important work and role they’ve played in queer history.
So while this book does provide a lot of important information about US history and the historical context of resistance, it did leave out some important people and information. Ultimately the book does provide many of the missing information not found in some US history classes but it should be in no way be the final solution to learning more.
The way that history is commonly presented in the US (at least in my experience) has been lacking in intersectionality and ironically historical context. I don’t think that individual history teachers are the root of this problem in part because there are systemic issues that play out, like how public schools are often underfunded, overcrowded, and fail to address racism.
Months and events like Black History Month and LGBTQ+ History Month are so necessary because of the ways in which we as a society (especially we as white people in power) have written about history. We often alienate the others of society while learning about history – we whitewash and in some cases, don’t even address some things. (And no we don’t need a White History Month because that’s literally every other goddamn month at this point. We don’t need everything to be about us and our whiteness!!)
I think it’s so important to relearn history and reimagine the ways in which we talk and interact with historical events and people because the way history is often presented, we miss out on so much context and understanding. There are so many examples and things that we miss out on in the whitewashing of history:
And there’s so much of queer history that exists but hardly mentioned. Being queer or LGBTQ+ isn’t new or some trend – there’s a rich history of this community and LGBTQ+ people. Eboné Bell collected some images of queer pioneers from the past and there’s even a pop up museum of queer history that does temporary art installations celebrating the largely unknown LGBT history.
The Stonewall Inn Riots and the Cooper’s Donuts, and Compton’s Cafeteria riots are all important events in US LGBTQ+ history but hardly ever widely spoken of. The Quist App has a wide range of information and resources about queer history, like how guys found guys before the internet and LGBT history walking tours.
There are some interesting ways to learn about history (because it can be boring at times). I already mentioned the Quist App for LGBTQ+ history but there’s also the podcast Stuff You Missed in History, one that I actually really like listening to!
Recently, White Student Unions have been popping up at different universities – apparently more than 30 universities now have one, including Georgia State University, NYU, UCLA, and the University of Missouri. The one at University of Illinois has been consistently challenged the Black Lives Matter movement, even going as far as to label the movement as ‘terrorism’.
But the thing about white student unions is that they’re completely and totally unnecessary and they are utterly wrong about the Black Lives Matter movement. As white people, we do not need a white student union because we are not oppressed or marginalized because of our race. Actually, it’s far from that because the entire United States is built on white supremacy and white privilege buys us a lot here.
Things like Black Student Unions, MEChA, and other similar student unions are so important because places like universities can be incredibly isolating for students of color. There are microaggressions and being on campuses as a person of color can be really really difficult. Having these student unions, clubs, and other safe spaces can be incredibly beneficial because they often offer a sanctuary from the world that constantly dehumanizing people of color and fill in the gaps that are lacking in society and on campuses.
White Student Unions, on the other hand, can be a danger for many reasons. White privilege afford us so much within the United States, especially on college campuses. Our whiteness protects us, offers opportunities and safeties that aren’t there for people of color. We don’t need white student unions because the world we’ve created is there for us and we have so much power and position here. The point of clubs and unions like Black Student Unions and others is to provide spaces that we as white people don’t need because that same space is literally everywhere for us.
With all the protests on college campuses around the nation and the reactionary death threats, there have been many people talking about what it means to be “the other” on campuses. Students shared what it’s like to be black at Mizzou with HuffPo and others shared their own experiences on the hashtag #BlackOnCampus. While college campuses are starting to be more and more diverse, there are still plenty of microaggressions that occur based on different identities and the racial gap that exists at Mizzou is unfortunately typical on many other campuses.