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Beyond the #BernieSoBlack Standstill: A Self-Implicating Proposal for Crossracial Solidarity in Social Reform

A Problem

I am a White radical who has been very vocal in his support for Vermont Senator and 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, an Independent who is running on the Democratic ticket. I am also a White ally who has been engaged in the fight for racial justice in this country through my involvement in mobilization efforts on the ground to the point of police arrest as part of the #KettleAtRoss, in church-sponsored marches, and in my academic life as a doctoral student doing work around critical whiteness and hip-hop. In fact, it is in large part because of my dedication to decolonizing whiteness that I, a White radical ally, have found myself so enthusiastic about Sanders’ compelling campaign with its revolutionary socialist rhetoric and its thrust toward the redistribution of wealth, which carries implications for deconstructing hierarchies that are classed, gendered, raced, and sexed.

However, in light of my ideological commitments to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, I cannot ignore the protests that disrupted the Netroots Nation 2015 event (#NN15) in Phoenix, AZ on July 18 and caused a stir of White “progressive” backlash at the Black protesters for their supposedly misinformed attempts to be heard by a prospective co-conspirator in the Black freedom struggle.

In light of the call to White accountability that a movement in which I wholeheartedly believe has offered not just Sanders, but White progressives, in general, I cannot help but reassess my own, until recently, blind enthusiasm for the presidential candidate—a zeal lacking in the critical self-reflexivity necessary for White allies such as myself to be effective in the move toward freedom from bondage to White supremacy that affects us all.

Upon the kind of critical self-reflection on my investments in Sanders for which the cries of agitators at Netroots Nation called White progressives, and if I’m to be sincere with myself, this fervor for Sanders has been informed by a kind of unconscious racism on my part called White paternalism, an attitude that takes responsibility for and thus displaces the needs of the Black lives which I so often, through social media and in my own activism and academic work, proclaim matter.

That’s a rough confession to make inasmuch as it challenges me to question my perceived innocence as one who professes himself—in the spirit of Alicia Garza’s admonition to White allies of the #BlackLivesMatter movement—to be a “co-conspirator” in the fight to abolish the structural inequalities that perpetuate in and through acts of discrimination and violence against my brothers and sisters of color in America and around the world.

Alicia Garza and members of the #BlackLivesMatter movement for racial justice. Photograph: Kristin Little Photography
Alicia Garza and members of the #BlackLivesMatter movement for racial justice. Photograph: Kristin Little Photography

But I need to offer this inventory as a check on the pride, arrogance, self-delusion, and self-centeredness which would have me believe that I, a White male, know what is best for Black people. “Step back, brother,” I tell myself, and “slow your roll”—words a Black priest-friend of mine from Baltimore told me when I critiqued his own deeply personal engagement in race matters in the course of an online exchange in May of this year.

The supremacy of Whiteness and the privilege that secures its hegemonic stranglehold at the level of individual and institution is insidious. It has snuck up on me and I’ve let myself be seduced by it in my own unquestioned adherence to a campaign that, if I’m again to be honest with myself, has not been as vocal as it could be about the fact of White supremacy and its intersections with the unjust economic conditions that Sanders rightly laments. In his seeming lack of racial analysis regarding income inequality in America, meanwhile, and his unwillingness to field the questions of protestors at the #NN15 gathering concerned with his commitment to ending Black blight, Sanders reproduces the paternalism and racial privilege to which all White progressives are subject in believing they have a monopoly on the “best practices” of social protest and/or reform.

In the defensiveness I’ve felt around Sanders and the gusto I’ve mustered on behalf of his campaign, I’ve been avoiding a conscious acknowledgment of paternalism as it functions in the subtleties of my past reproach for the line of critique that claims his racial analysis is lacking.

Previous to the interruption at the #NN15 event, I have used social media, primarily facebook, to highlight the ways in which Sanders has indeed been part of the struggle for racial justice in this country, as evidenced by his involvement in the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), his voting record, his own vocal excoriation of police brutality and mass incarceration, and his awareness of the disproportionately disenfranchising effects that income inequality has on people of color in this country. I also capitalized on the news concerning rapper Killer Mike’s endorsement of the presidential candidate—in no small part, whether or not I was aware of it at the time, because of the MC’s Blackness, exploiting it as testimony of Sanders’ appeal to the Black vote (as if Killer Mike is the sole representative of African American cultures) to advance a political agenda. #smh

Lastly, I recall the racially insular comfort of a conversation I had with a White friend of mine during a hike through a regional park in the hills of North Berkeley a few weeks back in which I admitted in so many words, “I think Sanders is it. I am just worried about the Black vote. I hope it does not go to Hillary.” Perhaps this admission might seem innocuous at first glance or upon hearing it in passing; but when scrutinized under the light of the critical Whiteness I espouse in my own work as scholar-activist, it reveals an ironic anxiety about the self-activity of the collective Black political body–diverse and variegated as it is in and of itself–that indeed knows what it means to take part in the political process! #smh

Admitting all this throws me into an imperative crisis of identity and identification as the defects and contradictions of my own character come roaring up at me in the mirror like monsters returned from the repression of my racial closet—the door of which was opened yesterday upon reading on my pastor Michael McBride‘s facebook wall an article detailing the incontestable uproar of Black activists at #NN15 and subsequently witnessing Sanders’ glib dismissal of their demands for recognition in an evasive reiteration of his populist economic vision—wholly lacking in the necessary humility and poise of deep listening that I believe was being asked of someone championing such political commitments as his platform proffers.

The criticisms from Black activists are incontestable precisely because the fragility of Black dignity and life in this moment and throughout the history of the modern world deems it so. My professed adherence to the Christian Gospel of Love deems it so. The pangs of a conscience I feel, which are informed by the Christian Gospel, deem it so. I say this not out of the insecurity of White guilt, which would be counterproductive to the cause, but out of the security of a self-responsible ethic of empathy.

If I am to be serious about the sincerity of my engagement with the cause for racial justice, then, it is necessary that I undergo a continual inventory on racism as it manifests in my consciousness and character if only to create a space of vulnerability and open-heartedness within myself to receive the moral indictments of my Black brothers and sisters whose rage refuses White silence (i.e. consent) and demands accountability from those touting “revolution” as a slogan for a movement not altogether unrelated to the aims of #BlackLivesMatter.

A Dilemma

Because of the messiness of splitting I feel within myself and which I am witnessing in the current battle in which White and Black progressives seem pitted against one another, I’ve had a hard time conceiving a viable picture of “where to go from here” in terms of the move forward regarding issues and stances that both Sanders and those in the #BlackLivesMatter camp hold dear and true in their hearts—issues and stances that I, myself, hold dear and true in my heart.

I am disappointed in myself. I am disappointed in Sanders. I am disappointed that he failed to receive the invitation, even if challenging, to just listen in Arizona. It saddens me that he seems to have under-utilized his privilege—which he could very well leverage given the clout he has garnered in a convincing grassroots political movement that overlaps with the goals of the global #Occupy—to talk more incisively, more intersectionally, more prophetically about systemic racism as well as the concerns voiced by those whom he chose instead to hush in Phoenix. I am equally as disheartened by the White “progressive” backlash in his defense.

At the same time, I remain wary of a wholesale rejection of his campaign. 

This is not to reinscribe the implicitly paternalistic proselytizing I believe was operative in my past endorsements of his platform, nor to claim a monopoly on the “best practices” of social reform, but to hold true to my own convictions that Sanders has a lot, if not the most, to offer the movement(s) for racial justice in this country of any major party candidate running for the job thus far–largely because of the work he’s done to combat the disinheriting monolith of monopoly capitalism that hurts racial minorities the most. By the same token, I believe said movement(s) have much to offer his “revolution” as a deservedly celebrated creative foil and corrective to his progressivism, in particular, and that of White liberals, in general (myself included), inasmuch as it reminds us all that the issue of racism must be treated as a problem in and of itself–without reducing the issue of social inequality to race alone–and that the self-activity of Black organizers must be taken seriously (see Dara Lind in Vox, “#BernieSoBlack: Why Progressives are Fighting about Bernie Sanders and Race,” July 20, 2015; see also this article in The Nation).

Neither the movement for economic justice nor the movement for racial justice is mutually exclusive of the other and I fear that what could function as an invitation toward unification across difference in the present social media uproar regarding Sanders and Black lives is instead turning into a kind of ideological race war: anti-progressive Black radicals versus anti-radical White progressives. In a word, it seems people on both sides of the divide in this specific conflict are castigating each other into corners of categorical disposal, resorting to an “all or nothing,” “us versus them,” and “black versus white” mentality that is flattening the complexity of a potentially fruitful moment for “real talk” rather than cynical stone-throwing from each corner.

A Proposal 

That being the case, as far as I can tell, I wonder what the possibilities are for a unified crossracial progressive movement rooted in more nuanced class- and race-based policy reform that brings together the predominantly White base at the foundation of Bernie’s platform and the predominantly Black base undergirding the various movements committed to ending institutional racism and racialized violence in this country. What could happen if there was a joint effort that combined the best insights of each movement for the purposes of overhauling our current political-economic infrastructure without drowning out the clarion call to recognize that #BlackLivesMatter and that racial injustice and economic injustice are intertwined?

Though he has not ignored the issue of racialized oppression in America, Sanders’ predominately class-based critique of the present economic situation fails to name the ill of White supremacy at the root of the present order of things in which economic inequality is merely one symptom of that global disease. By the same token, it’s important that the issue of economic injustice and class-based reform not be altogether disregarded either.

If anything, Sanders’ bid for president presents us with an opportune moment to at least consider the need for a co-conspiratorial grassroots movement sharpened by the precision of a race-class cultural critique that looks at the ways in which class is organized along racial lines and vice versa; that recognizes that income inequality and racial inequality work in tandem and must be addressed as two sides of one corroded coin of monopoly capitalism, the global processes of which function to erect what intellectual-activist Andrea Smith calls “the three pillars of heteropatriarchy” that constitute White supremacy: Slavery/Capitalism, Genocide/Colonialism, and Orientalism/War.

I am not proposing anything new—see Cornel West’s Race Matters (1994), for example—yet this moment, in which class- and race-based measures for change seem to be at odds with one another in the split imaginaries of progressives isolated from one another across what is amounting to a racial divide of mutual alienation, incites us with a pivotal urgency to put theoretical intersectionality into practical action in a joint effort for policies that address classism and racism, bedfellows that they are, as well as the ties of each of these -isms to various other forms of prejudice (heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.).

imgresYou cannot adequately address one issue without the other in this line of logic, which accounts for how Whiteness, specifically, and class formation go hand-in-hand. I find labor historian David R. Roediger‘s insights useful here as he argues convincingly that class-based reform is as much a precondition for attacking racism as attacking racism is for class-based reform. We must all wake up to the fact that the income gap is deeply racialized and that racialized violence is deeply classed–to say nothing of the gender and sexual dynamism at play, here. I believe Sanders recognizes this, but needs to be more explicit about this. Not just by attacking racism, but by calling out this country’s “possessive investment in Whiteness” (George Lipsitz 2006) itself for its collusion with the global processes of capitalism in creating a racial hierarchy that is also classed, gendered, and sexed. imgres

That said, I think Sanders is on point in so many ways, but needs to fine-tune his approach to meet the race-based demands of those at the center of the #BlackLivesMatter movement so that the largely White progressive movement he represents might divest itself from a “possessive investment in Whiteness” (Lipsitz 2006) to which we are all victim. By the same token, it is important that those in the #BlackLivesMatter movement and other organizations campaigning for racial equality fine-tune their approach to reform so as not to overlook racism’s economic dimensions. In the end, none of us can hope to accomplish anything by shouting over each other as such action only fuels a deafening resentment. On that note, it is not up to White progressives to decide what are best tactics for Black protest, particularly in a movement that purposely eschews a politics of respectability in favor of a politics of disruption. The most important step across the color line is that of listening.

Hopefully, the chaos of righteous Black indignation and the White racial anxiety it provokes will pave the way for constructive, clarifying dialogue to take place across current divides. In the meantime, it’s important that we hear each other out and keep grappling with underlying causes–to paraphrase the words of a friend and colleague who quoted Dr. King recently in a facebook thread on this very issue–so that our social analyses remain as sharp and precise as the long arc of the universe which bends toward justice.

Dear White People: Letter to Myself in the Wake of the Baltimore Uprising

April 28, 2015

12:40 AM (PT)

North Berkeley, CA

It’s late. Or early. My body’s fried. I want to sleep, but I can’t. I’m restless. My hometown of Baltimore is up in flames.

“Race riot.”

The term is a loaded one. For those dealing with white racial anxiety, it invokes fear of black uprising–a racialized, if not racist, backlash of panic and paranoia perpetuated by what the mainstream media has portrayed as a mob of rabid-animal black “thugs” (a racial epithet in its own right, which is wrong) who do not know what they are reacting to or against. In this way, corporate network coverage has diluted the strong message and disruptive purpose of such an uproar (yes, even in its chaos, there is a purpose), reducing it to silence; dehistoricizing its linkages to a history of economic disruption in this country (Boston Tea Party anyone?); and, ultimately, recuperating it into nothing more than an empty, innocuous signifier to be invoked nostalgically in future recollections of that day in 2015 when Baltimore burned because of “dem ‘ol race riots, hon.”

“Race riot.”

When understood as nothing more than a coded term for “angry black people breaking and stealing shit for no reason,” particularly in the racially biased imaginary of white America, the term renders an illusion and evades the reality of what so many whites in crisis across the city (and country) refuse to recognize within themselves: racism. I am not innocent.

“Race riot.”

What does that term actually mean? Might it signify on that buried body of Nat Turner, resurrected and burning with holy rage, breathing a furious and prophetic fire as he’s done before into Chicago, Detroit, LA, Newark, Southampton County and Watts? What would it mean to imbue the term with a memory of slave rebellion?

What if we were to in fact see that, yes, there is indeed a “race riot” as figuration on slave rebellion going on in Baltimore and elsewhere? A riot to end enslavement to the concept of race as we know it? A riot to end the slavery to whiteness as we know it? A riot and rebellion to abolish not whites, but whiteness, as a form of racial hegemony, itself?

While this series of questions are in no way meant to imply a justification or excuse for the violence now happening on the streets of the city in which I was raised, it is meant to call myself into an exacting awareness and analysis of the ways in which my own whiteness, specifically, and whiteness, in general, factors into reproducing the racist processes which have instigated such violence. That said, neither does this refusal to condone violent protest dismiss the rationale undergirding such social upheaval. For, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, a “riot is the language of the unheard”–those exhausted by systemic abuse, neglect, and brutality manifest through racial segregation in housing, education, and the workforce. It is most certainly, when it all boils down to it, not my place, as a white man, to judge how black people negotiate the politics of their pain and respond to decades upon decades of disenfranchisement.

The call to a self-critical investigation of whiteness for which I am advocating and a searing cross-examination of its collusion in racial oppression that the Baltimore race riots invite, demands a painstaking interrogation of my own white past and the ways in which I, a white male and the youngest son of a white Baltimore City police officer, was conditioned to equate blackness with criminality. It is an equation that has taken me years to unlearn–through formal study of race matters as dealt with in books and music as well as in conversation with friends, classmates, colleagues, church family, and protest comrades of color–so as to ultimately falsify (which is to say: abolish) it.

This kind of schooling is, in fact, an ongoing, self-implicating process of (inter)personal discovery which asks that we consciously awaken to the taken-for-grantedness of our respective social locations. That we dismantle those conditions which block us from seeing that what we take to be common sense is no less than a societal ruse–a way for the inequities and injustices of power relations in this country to simply reproduce themselves ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

This kind of work demands no less than a painstaking interrogation of my own white present/presenceI feel that particularly now as I go about the work, as would-be scholar-activist, of deconstructing  the whiteness by which I was conditioned as a child to fear the racialized other. I do so through the lens and lexicon of hip-hop, the cultural politics of which is rooted in a deeply felt sense of communal belonging across various color lines. Indeed, it is in answer to hip-hop’s call for “realness” that I must continually scrutinize my own relationship to blackness and black people, and what the experiences of my past bring to bear on those relationships.

Looking back, moving forward

I love my dad. My father is a good man–dutiful and faithful to his family and his beloved Roman Catholic Church. His heart is pure gold and bigger than the life which he breathes. A traffic cop, mostly, he served 28 years in the Baltimore City Police Department (a timespan that includes the 1968 race riots) and never once lifted a finger against another man, woman, child, or animal. I’d imagine, in fact, that my dad is one of the kindest, most honest officers to have made it through a career in one of the more corrupt police agencies in the country. Though quick to temper, my dad is a gentle man who worked hard to get me and my two older brothers and two older sisters through school. He was a public servant who represented with highest honor and dignity the badge he wore with rightful and righteous pride on that crisp uniform that never failed to inspire in me a sense of admiration, trust, safety, and warmth.

By the same token, my dad is a product of his time. He grew up in a still-racist, racially segregated Baltimore, subjected to the same unconscious and unquestioned assumptions about black folk as “lesser than” by which I was reared whether my parents are/were aware of it or not—a conditioning in no small part reinforced in my dad and, subsequently, in me, by his negative experiences in dealing with blacks as the law enforcement officer for Baltimore City that he was.

Indeed, I can remember once in my childhood when some black folks were looking at a house for sale on the block where I grew up (a sleepy, predominantly white enclave on the outskirts of the City proper just South of Baltimore County).

Noticing this, my dad responded something to the effect of, “There goes the neighborhood.”

My dad, a good man, is not innocent–even in those moments, in those stories, in which he recounts experiences of cross-racial friendship in the context of his career as policeman, including those instances in which he was dealing specifically with people on the street. My father is not innocent, even in the ways in which I’ve witnessed him change and grow in his understanding of race and racism as he’s aged and gained more critical distance from police life in retirement. Given that growth, however, I have no doubt in my mind that my dad, as I know him today, would recoil at many, if not all, of his old and worn suspicions as he, too, continues to wrestle honestly with his false and unchecked assumptions about the racialized other.

On that note, and to reiterate:

I am not innocent.

For instance, it is not without remorse that I often think back on a time during my freshman year of college when I thought it would be funny to yell nigger at the top of my lungs as my white friends and I drove, windows rolled up, through the black section of Philly’s Germantown neighborhood on our way back to La Salle University from wherever we were coming on a seemingly insignificant night out (insignificant at least in my mind at that juncture of my life). I wonder about it in hindsight a lot these days, thinking about how I committed this cowardly act not as an explicitly malicious epithet directed at or against the black community, but because I was curious to play with social mores around the term in my own head and, more insidiously, curious about what effect this harmfully ludic gesture might have if heard by a member of the black community. Perhaps, too, I wanted to see how uncomfortable it made my white friends, or how it might amuse them as a jestering with my own and our whiteness in a predominately black space. Come to think of it, I’m really not quite sure what my motivations were for being so obnoxious. I can only piece them together in this ghostly fragment of a haunting, self-scrutinizing critical memory.

Point is, the act of verbal violence (against myself, my friends, and anyone who  may have been within earshot of the slur) was completely asinine, harmful, ignorant, juvenile, misguided, stupid and downright racist. It was, in a word, wrong–revelatory of a deep-seeded sickness that I inherited from a dis-eased genealogy of white anxieties in this country around the status of white racial identity vis-a-vis blacks and blackness.

It is a personally painful memory I hold close in heart and mind now as I engage more self-reflexively than I ever have in my life with all my anxieties, fears, and sorrows around inter- and intra-racial strife as it plays out nationally, transnationally, locally, and within my very own life. At the same time, I am invested in, hope for, have dreams of, and hold faith in racial reconciliation as it might take place in me, in my city, in my nation, and around the globe.

I cannot but look at myself in the mirror to really and truly do this kind of inner and outer work. Work which requires a close examination of how racism manifests and has manifested in our, my, individual behavior (i.e. through micro- or outright aggression) and, further, how that behavior is reflective of an unquestioned/unquestioning loyalty to the racial/racist status quo, reinforced daily at the level of institution (i.e. macro-aggression), including that of church, school, family, and state.

Indeed, this critical self-inquiry–a forthright examination of conscience–is necessary if I am to learn the art of loving in myself what it is I have been socialized to fear, envy, desire in the darker-skinned other. That other who, throughout American history, has been dehumanized by the white normative gaze which has willfully misrepresented the phenotypically different other in its mind’s eye, subtracting this other to the status of zero sum, to abject, to a commodified object to be exploited economically and subjugated politically under a structurally racist logic in which hatred is so circuitously hardwired that, more often than not, we whites are blind to how it operates as a function of an unexamined whiteness.

I say this as one who has acquired gains from the legal, material, political and social benefits of a socioeconomic system that privileges my maleness and whiteness—social constructs that have been used to fortify a hierarchy of being which casts the non-white other into the lowest class of the social ladder. White America has a history of inhumanity, of crimes against black humanity, to evidence this reality which coalesces at the intersection of class, gender, race and sexuality.

It does not take a specialist in American history to recognize that the failures of Reconstruction following the Civil War and the legacies of Jim Crow still haunt us today in a post-industrial predicament that has left America’s cities destitute and its inhabitants, most of whom are racial minorities, desperate. So desperate that many among them have resorted to underground economies, sanctioned by the government and its underhanded ties to global drug- and sex-trafficking ventures, which turn them against themselves and put them in a disciplining and punishing relationship to those public servants who are meant to serve and protect. Not only an intra-communal problem, this system turns whites against blacks as well. It is a problem in which all of us are implicated, most especially those (whites) who hold the most political power, secured in no small part by a police state.


As historical irony would have it, the police force in this country, derivative of an inhumane trade of slave catching, has more often than not been part of the problem rather than the solution. Meanwhile, society’s most vulnerable individuals have been criminalized and processed as numbers in a contemporary variation on a salve system that profits off the free labor the subjugated black/brown body provides for a financially, morally, and politically bankrupt “free market” economy.

This is what we whites have on our hands: the blood of those whose blackness scares us. So convinced by our own fear of it that, with the threat of black-led mutiny in our minds, we would altogether dismiss the overriding peaceful pleas for justice–coming from so many black mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who have lost loved ones in a war that is at once inter- and intra-racial–rather than consider what might be inciting such fire in the first place: white reign itself. 

If anything the history of race relations in Baltimore, let alone America, teaches us, especially now as we all stare at what’s happening on the streets from the safe distance of our laptops, it is that racism is alive and strong.

As a Baldwinian “fire next time,” the unrest we are witnessing in Baltimore–a bastion of racially motivated police brutality on and economic neglect of black bodies and souls–is a purgatorial flame singed into our collective memory that just might reorient how we remember the story of (white) American progress. It might just call us to ask ourselves in a manner of sincere, thorough and searching moral inventory:

Why are “these people” so angry? What, in Baltimore’s fraught history of race relations, has lead to this point of volcanic eruption on the part of some fed-up black Americans in Baltimore?

Upon whose backs was this country built? Who was written out of the American imaginary in the narrative unfolding of our Founding Fathers’s dreams (cum nightmare)? How does my whiteness factor into this American nightmare? How does it factor into the violence I see on the streets? What am I to do with my whiteness when I realize that I am not innocent? That my whiteness is not innocent?

What of the justice, freedom and peace we hold so dear to our understanding of American well-being? How will our understanding of justice, freedom, and peace change when we realize that our whiteness has substituted injustice, slavery, and war for those ideals throughout the history of this torn nation?

What are we to do with what cultural theorist George Lipsitz calls our “possessive investment in whiteness” the moment we realize that it is this possessiveness of/possession by a demon whiteness which is enslaving ALL of us to the forgetfulness of fear, the historical amnesia of deaf, dumb and blind white patriotism?

What are those of us who are scared of what we see on TV to do with the kind of whiteness which teaches us to be scared? What might it mean for us to reinscribe that whiteness with love and put down those shields and weapons of an old whiteness—arrogance, pride, suspicion, fear—which would have us deny the trauma of American racism as tangled in the hearts, minds, and bodies of those who throw stones? Especially those who throw stones!

How might we be better able to accomplish the peace we wish to see in Baltimore and cities across the country simply by loving each other into the justice of reconciliation across the color line?

There is in fact a “race riot” in Baltimore and we cannot hold this term “race riot” lightly or use it too loosely.

We must be deliberate in how we deploy it in remembering what is happening in Baltimore and what has happened throughout North American cities in the history of race relations in the United Sates. Indeed, the real race riot began 500 years ago when essentialist racism became an institutional practice manifest in the slave trade and continually showing up through history in the failures of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, racial profiling, backlash at affirmative action, and police brutality.

The most recent race riot in Baltimore is not the first one there, nor elsewhere, in this country. We can hope that it will be the last one. Indeed, that is my hope. But it will only be so if we ourselves work to put the old armor of our defensive and anxious whiteness down and simply listen to those most affected by a system of white heteropatriarchy. Not only to listen, in fact, but also to walk with black lives–arm-in-arm.

It will only happen if we make that existential, ideological, moral, and spiritual choice within ourselves to work together and across the color line to abolish the kind of whiteness which Marxist labor historian and neo-abolitionist David Roediger calls “nothing but oppressive and false” and, in a spirit of co-conspiratorial partnership with the black struggle for racial justice, reclaim whiteness as nothing but liberative and true.roediger_abolition

Let it be known. This is not a self-induced guilt trip, which would be counterproductive to the cause, but a call to (inter)personal responsibility to stare down white supremacy as it gazes back at each of us in the mirror which is dominant society.

With that long, hard look in the mirror at my own reflection, I welcome a crisis in (my/our) white identity/ies that the Baltimore uprising incites. I offer this reflection as a cultural move geared toward doing away with the old racist whiteness that has left us cold and donning the new neo-abolitionist whiteness of anti-racism. Let this be, I tell myself, a gesture toward reparation and a conscious relinquishing of any falsely conceived white paternalism toward the black and brown other in favor of something much more constructive of, committed to, and co-conspiratorial with the struggle of my/our black and brown brothers and sisters for universal liberation. It is an invitation to to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, our brothers and sisters of darker hue, whose chains are our chains and vice versa, whose freedom is tied up in our freedom and vice versa.

This is the dream of reconciliation… that we may all one day be free of that ignorance which deafens us to the sounds of each other’s moans and shouts and which blinds us from seeing the experiences we share simply by dint of being human, together.

Those of us who are white must come to leverage what privilege we have to dismantle whiteness as we presently know it. This cannot happen until we reorient our entire understanding of history according to/from the perspective of those most silenced by old, white ways of telling it.

As a good friend of mine reminded himself in his own, critically white self-reflection I read on Facebook recently, we must break out of our own apathy and silence, afforded as it is by the lazy privilege to which we resort every time we tell ourselves, “This doesn’t affect me.”

Leaders in the #BlackLivesMatter movement have made it clear to us that white silence = consent. When we, as white co-conspirators (as Alicia Garza would call self-professed allies), do speak, however, we must not speak for the other. Rather, we must speak with the other, holding ourselves accountable to and amplifying black and brown voices by way of our own prophetically white witness to the possibilities for and creation of that “beloved community” which awaits us at the end of Dr. King’s arc of the universe, bending always and ever toward justice.

Let us not rest, then, until that day of reckoning as racial reconciliation comes.

And even then, we must keep going, rewriting history as we go along, birthing anew the miracle of life’s triumph over death each day in our own and each other’s lives.

One love.


8:40 PM (PT)