I’ve documented before how I – regrettably – had to wake up to systemic racism. I had my privileged blinders on until George Zimmerman was found Not Guilty in the Trayvon Martin murder. It was then that I realized: The system is racist. The system is conditioned to criminalize young boys in hoodies before they’ve done anything illegal. The burden of proof is on the innocent where young black men are concerned. Their guilt is assumed, their innocence must be supported by good character, while white frat boys raping drunk girls at college parties get off with a slap on the wrist.
Since then I’ve done everything in my power to keep learning. To keep my eyes and my heart open to painful truths. I sit in my discomfort and examine it and find more power behind it. I reflect on my defensiveness and I try to look through the eyes of someone who has not grown up or lived with the privilege my skin has given me. I reflect on THEIR truths, not on MY discomfort.
When it comes to racism – that’s something I have to always remind myself: It’s never about me.
On the day of the election, several of my favorite voices – mostly black women – were writing about how racist the suffragette movement was in many ways. This was all new to me, as with a lot of our black history. During that time, white women were trying to secure the vote and found that pushing Black Women to the shadows made their efforts more palatable. Even if they had supported abolition and freedom for slaves, things changed when it came to the suffragettes. Many openly campaigned against the black vote, implying that white women should have been allowed to vote before black men, that the black man should not have more rights than the white woman.
Yet in 1870, the suffragists found themselves on opposing ends of the equal-rights battle when Congress passed the 15th Amendment, enabling black men to vote (at least, in theory) — and not women. That measure engendered resentment among some white suffragists, especially in the South.
This was hard for me to read on a day when I wanted to celebrate women like Susan B. Anthony. But I read it and I sought to educated myself on Ida B. Wells – An African American Woman who was also fighting in the suffragette movement. I sat on all of this and learned from it. Since then I’ve been keeping my mind and heart open to ideas of intersectionality.
Intersectionality was on my mind in the wake of the Women’s March this weekend, as many Black Women wrote about the March. There are several good pieces I sat with including Kelly Wickham Hurst’s Facebook post.
Let’s dig into the “zero arrests” thing. Because it’s making my entire ass itch.
To accompany this, let’s also look at the videos of protestors going up to a line of police officers and shaking hands, high-fiving them and hugging them.
If we don’t dig right into this we could miss an important lesson that’s really trying to get taught.
There were no arrests because of the supremacy of whiteness. The inherent goodness of non-threatening white ladydom. The pinkness and innocence. The stereotypes, y’all.
There were “zero arrests” because of whiteness. We really have to understand this and stop back-patting over how “good” and “peaceful” this march was. The dichotomy of seeing police officers show up in matching pink hats and handing out flowers as opposed to showing up in riot gear is just, whew.
We have to walk this thinking all the way down the line or else we can slip and fall into a vat of self-congratulatory privilege and never come up for air again. We gotta call the roll on this one as well as how we frame the inconvenience of protests we didn’t participate in previously.
Otherwise, you ain’t checking for everybody.
I kept seeing all of the “no arrests!” reports and feeling weird about it and Kelly’s post helped me validate my feelings. This is the change I’m seeing since waking to systemic racism, a part of me now seems to be aware of the subtle racism even if I can put it into words. I knew this “no arrests” line of praise was not something I felt comfortable shouting, I just wasn’t sure why.
I also read this piece about intersectionality at the march:
Intersectional feminism isn’t leaving thank you notes on the cars of police officers, and high-fiving them for being nice to you at your march, while completely ignoring that if this march had been BLM, law enforcement would conduct themselves with hostility. If only you’d seen how the chants went to murmurs when it was time to say “Black Lives Matter” or “refugees are welcome here!”. Ignoring these very facts alone is the root of the problem when it comes to feminism.”
And then finally I read and sat with this poem by Johnetta Elzie. Here is a small part of the powerful truths:
Where were you when we asked you to #SayHerName?When Rekia Boyd was killed while playing at the park with her friends?
When Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Shantel Davis, and others died at the hands of police, with little media attention?
When our trans sisters — Brandi Bledsoe, Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee
Whigham — were also murdered and also forgotten?
Where were you?
I read all of these words and soaked them in because – as many have said before – it is not the job of the Black Woman to educate the White Woman. Black women voted against Trump in a 94% majority. White women did not.
I read these words and I think about our history and how I want my stance to be preserved in history during these tumultuous times. How I’m glad I’ve said the name Sandra Bland when I was asked to by my brown sisters. History will show that I did learn at some point, and I will keep learning. I will sit with the words of these painful truths as many times as I have to in order to create true intersectionality. I will not apologize for hurting feelings because I remember when my feelings were hurt – and then I remembered the most important lesson I’ve learned in ages.
BLACK LIVES > WHITE FEELINGS.
There are a lot of exclusionary practices I have participated in ignorantly. I didn’t consider my Trans Sisters when loving all of the images of biological reproductive systems. Those images define “woman” on a biological level when my Trans Sisters are trying to changing that view. I didn’t know about the 750,000 Black Women who marched in Philadelphia in 1997, and I realize those participants and the black women who celebrated them, might have felt jaded by all of the attention the white women in pink hats were getting this weekend. Wouldn’t they have loved to have had all of us at their backs when they took a stand.
But I’m learning and I’ll keep sharing my lessons so that maybe I can save others from the same discomfort.
Racism is hidden in seemingly benign language if you’re white. For example, WhiteHouse.gov – who has deleted their racism section – now has chosen to boast that the Trump Administration is the presidency of Law & Order.
Sounds GREAT, doesn’t it? Love it! Law and Order!
That is an example of hidden racism. It’s the same thing that had me naively supporting the Bill Clinton 1994 Crime Bill. When you’re white and not inherently scared of the police, Law & Order sounds great. However, it has been proven time and time again that these attitudes and the associated legislation negatively impacts the minorities in our communities, especially young black men. Watch the documentary The 13th. Read The New Jim Crow. See the stats that demonstrate how this increase of policing creates more racial divides and punishes the poor and the minorities at a higher level than equivalent white people.
We have to be aware of how our government will disguise racism. And we can’t fall victim to the same language. Just like Kelly said that bragging about the No Arrests thing is due to the “The inherent goodness of non-threatening white ladydom. The pinkness and innocence. The stereotypes, y’all.” If we had replaced every face with a brown one the police would not have been given high-fives and wearing pink hats. And if you believe they would have, then we are coming from two different levels of understanding of our culture and there’s no place in the middle for us to meet.
It would have been different. Period. And the second we recognize that and understand it as true, we learn to see this in many other places, many other times. And that’s where I’ve been. I’m finally open enough to this type of subtle racism that I felt the underlying racism behind these reports of “no crime” – it’s not something you inherently see at first. But I felt weird bragging about it, like there was something icky about it.
We all need to start to feel icky. That’s a sign that we’re learning to spot the subtleties of the systemic racism that surrounds us. We need to be alert to the criminalizing of poverty. We need to recognize the safety these white bodies gives us and be brave to stand up for our brown brothers and sisters because – more often than not – we have nothing to lose.