“The trending topics on Twitter over the last year are evidence enough that I’m not going to be able to manage this by poking holes in my own stream of consciousness. I can’t use mind games to reprogram myself when there’s a plethora of trauma porn in my Facebook feed for my brain to soak in and terrorize me with.The only thing that’s changed since last year when I first started to write about my PTSD is that I’ve realized that the problem isn’t how I engage whiteness in my capacity as an organizer or as an intentionally visible Black person. It’s whiteness period. The head-on collision between my PTSD and these intrusive thoughts is consistently triggered by white supremacy.How do you take a break from racialization?How do you divest from the imperial core that you’re living in?How do you put the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade on the back burner? You don’t.”
White Supremacy Has Always Been Mainstream
White supremacy is a language of unease. It does not describe racial domination so much as worry about it.
White supremacy connotes many grim and terrifying things, including inequality, exclusion, injustice, and state and vigilante violence. Like whiteness itself, white supremacy arose from the world of Atlantic slavery but survived its demise. Yet while the structures are old, the term “white supremacy” is not. Although it first appeared in British abolitionist critiques and U.S. proslavery defenses in the first half of the nineteenth century, it only became commonplace—and notably not as a pejorative—in U.S. whites’ post-emancipation calls for a racial order that would reinstitute slavery’s political and economic guarantees.
White supremacy has always been hard work. Because of this, it is possible to imagine that someday there will be no one willing to perform the labor.
White supremacy’s opponents evoke it to condemn. Its proponents use it to summon up a vision of a racially ordered society, to rally political forces behind that vision, to establish laws and institutions that affirm it, and finally to render it natural and normal. But the very fact that the phrase requires speaking means that something has gone awry. If the hierarchy of races were real, it would easily have survived slave emancipation. Instead, that hierarchy must be constantly asserted and enforced, lest the white race be overwhelmed, overcome, and extinguished. White supremacy is organized around a dread of its own demise, and with it the white race.
This inherent instability has produced a welter of fears, fantasies, and imperatives, from racial purity to race war. It has also made “white supremacy” a call to action. Indeed, the effort to transform the phrase from a slogan into a fact has been a massive social and political project, involving the witting and unwitting labor of many millions of people. White supremacy has always been hard work.
But because it is work, it is possible to imagine that someday there will be no one willing to perform the labor. And sometime between the march from Selma to Montgomery and the election of Barack Obama, many Americans allowed themselves to believe something of the kind: that white supremacy’s advocates, having lost their long war, were giving up.
The violent manifestations of white supremacy over the past several years—from Dylann Roof’s murders in Charleston, through Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency—unwound that hope. No better illustration exists for white supremacy’s return to the cultural center than Charlottesville’s 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, in which emblems of the Klan, the Third Reich, and the Confederacy jostled with more esoteric banners and names, together representing a century’s worth of white supremacist politicking. By the time the sirens died out, it should have been clear that Dylann Roof was no “lone wolf,” but the legitimate offspring of a reemergent social movement.
Yet even as white supremacy appeared suddenly to be everywhere in U.S. life, many—and not just on the right—denied its existence. Trump’s refusal to criticize even neo-Nazis was treated as a uniquely craven act of “norm-breaking,” not as a predictable extension of decades of coded and not-so-coded racist appeals. In the rush to catch Trump out, what has been omitted from media reporting is the long history of indulging white supremacist ideology and expression. Consider how long Pat “Blood and Soil” Buchanan served as a respectable voice of the political and journalistic right, winning four states in the 1996 Republican primaries and later playing Rachel Maddow’s curmudgeonly uncle on MSNBC—all in spite of his longstanding support for white ethnonationalism. Or remember the PBS NewsHour profile of Trump supporter Grace Tilly that failed to note her neo-Nazi tattoos. The network’s post-backlash editor’s note treated Tilly’s claim that her tattoos were religious, not racist, as worthy of debate, as though an enormous “88”—code for “Heil Hitler”—paired with a bullseye cross, another white supremacy symbol, left room for uncertainty. The myth that white supremacy is a marginal political phenomenon has proved so durable that many people find it easier to deny its overt expression than confront a more troubling reality: “very fine people”—and not just fathers, husbands, and sons, but mothers, wives, and daughters as well—have always been central to the work of advancing white supremacist causes.
“Very fine people”—and not just fathers, husbands, and sons, but mothers, wives, and daughters as well—have always been central to the work of white supremacy.
Three recent books explore the twentieth-century history of this political project. In Linda Gordon’s thoughtful reconsideration of the 1920s Klan, we watch shameless grifters deploy racial hierarchy and exclusion to forge the largest social movement of the early twentieth century. In Elizabeth Gillespie McRae’s revelatory exploration of mid-century white women’s segregationist work, we see how the inheritors of that vision learned to speak in new languages, muted enough to pass in a society increasingly hostile to white supremacy but unmistakable to partisans as a continuation of the long struggle against racial equality. In Kathleen Belew’s groundbreaking account of the White Power movement from the mid-1970s to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, it becomes clear how a post–civil rights generation of white supremacist organizers positioned themselves as victims of an overbearing state, even as they nurtured Timothy McVeigh, Dylann Roof, and the dream of race war.
These works do not claim to provide a comprehensive account of twentieth-century white supremacy; such a project would also have to probe (as other scholars have) the forces of labor and capital, and—as only Belew does here—the relationship of domestic ideologies and practices to their imperial histories. But read together and through one another, these works provide a sobering crash course in the power, diversity, and persistence of white supremacist ideas and politics.
Across the long twentieth century, white supremacist activists nurtured an exclusionary racial nationalism. They envisioned a nation safely in the hands of its “rightful” owners, redeemed from misrule by “unfit” peoples, and made great again. Although their work relied extensively on white women’s organizational and ideological labors, they posited a world of white patriarchal families in which men spoke and fought while women sustained and reproduced. Responding to successive challenges, these activists developed new languages and new coalitions, but they remained consistently suspicious (at a minimum) of political authority that they could not directly control. Partly for this reason, they usually saw electoral politics as a critical arena of struggle, and they rarely abandoned it. Across the century, this ideological and organizational landscape has been home to hustlers, activists, and insurgents playing distinct but often complementary roles. White supremacy has always been at once a political movement, an armed struggle, and a long con.
Gordon’s Second Coming of the KKK shows how a white supremacist and nativist movement reset the boundaries of political discourse, clarified that the nation existed in the image and service of a particular kind of American, and took control of governments from school boards to Congress to give those imperatives life. Klansmen nurtured a politics of resentment against both “elites” who looked down on them and the immigrants, blacks, and radicals who seemed to challenge their world.
To many of its white contemporaries, the KKK of the 1920s was a respectable organization that promised to restore white Protestants to their proper place of authority.
The first Ku Klux Klan was founded in the 1860s by former Confederate soldiers and for a few years became the spear and symbol of the war against Reconstruction. This first Klan was actively suppressed by legal and military action in the early 1870s, and the campaigns of racial terror and political intimidation that finally overthrew Reconstruction were largely conducted under other names. The second Klan was founded in 1915 by William Joseph Simmons in response to that year’s blockbuster film, D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, which reworked memories of the Reconstruction-era KKK into a mythos of white male chivalry combatting black sexual barbarism. Beginning in 1919, the Klan exploded in size and power as organizers channeled the era’s powerful currents of nativism and violent white supremacy through the heroic image and visual style of the film’s Klansmen. They coupled the anti-black rhetoric of the Reconstruction-era Klan with a pervasive hostility toward non-Protestant immigrants and what Simmons derided as their anti-American propensities for “Bolshevism, Socialism, Syndicalism, I.W.W.ism.” Gordon encourages us to understand that, to many of its white American contemporaries, the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s was an “ordinary and respectable” organization that promised to restore white Protestants, mainly of the lower middle and skilled working classes, to their proper place of authority in U.S. cultural and political life. She reminds us that many of the Klan’s hobbyhorses—anti-black racism, antisemitism, anti-Catholicism, and nativism; censoriousness about sex and alcohol; support for eugenics; and narrow-minded nationalism—reflected broad and sometimes hegemonic aspects of 1920s U.S. culture.
Gordon also asks us to understand the movement as producing, not just reflecting, social concerns. The Klan channeled preexisting hatred of racial inferiors and haughty elites, but it also ginned up those expressions and provided new outlets for them. Conspiracy thinking was central to Klan rhetoric and ideology. Everywhere lurked sinister forces that sought to take over the U.S. government and subvert the country’s way of life. Indeed, those forces might already have taken power. Jews, Catholics, Bolsheviks, and African Americans were always about to swamp “true Americans” with rising birthrates; take control of U.S. police forces and public schools; undermine cherished values with sex, alcohol, or pornography; and oppress real Americans from the safety of powerful, distant institutions.
Such conspiracy talk effectively transformed grievances and insecurities into well-defined targets that local Klans could then organize against. In Madison, Wisconsin, for example, the Klan took up the cause of fighting illegal liquor trafficking in a neighborhood populated by Italians, blacks, and Jews. There and elsewhere, the Klan infiltrated or worked alongside police departments. Beatings, whippings, cross-burning, death threats, and fatal shootings marked the outer edge of the Klan’s activities, but in some locales—Dayton, Ohio; Williamson County, Illinois; large swaths of Oklahoma—assaults were common and condoned.
Although the Southern Poverty Law Center says it has alerted Amazon to sellers who sell hate group material, the company has not always been receptive to completely eliminating these sellers.
Amazon is enabling and profiting from hate groups and ideologies, according to a damning report released on Friday.
The report, “Delivering Hate: How Amazon’s Platforms Are Used to Spread White Supremacy, Anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia,” details a variety of ways that hate groups take advance of Amazon’s massive platforms and inconsistently enforced policies. Two advocacy groups ― Partnership for Working Families and Action Center on Race and the Economy ― compiled the study.
When asked about the report, Amazon referred HuffPost to its official guidelines, which prohibit the selling of “products that promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views.”
But critics say that this policy often doesn’t reflect reality.
Amazon’s approximately 300 million active customers can encounter products that feature hate symbols and hateful language on Amazon Marketplace, which has allowed racist, Islamophobic, anti-LGBTQ and anti-Semitic groups to sell merchandise.
The report found items for sale that included a costume of a lynching victim, a hangman’s noose decal, Nazi memorabilia and children’s toys featuring alt-right symbol Pepe the Frog.
What Did Cedric Robinson Mean by Racial Capitalism?
This essay is the introduction to Boston Review’s print issue, Race Capitalism Justice. Inspired by Cedric Robinson’s work on racial capitalism, this themed issue is a critical handbook for racial justice in the age of Trump.
“Robinson’s critique of political order and the authority of leadership anticipated the political currents in contemporary movements such as Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter—movements organized horizontally rather than vertically. His monumental Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (1983) takes Karl Marx to task for failing to comprehend radical movements outside of Europe. He rewrites the history of the West from ancient times to the mid-twentieth century, scrutinizing the idea that Marx’s categories of class can be universally applied outside of Europe. Instead he characterized black rebellions as expressions of what he called the “Black Radical Tradition,” movements whose objectives and aspirations confounded Western social analysis. Marxism also failed to account for the racial character of capitalism. Having written much of the book during a sabbatical year in England, Robinson encountered intellectuals who used the phrase “racial capitalism” to refer to South Africa’s economy under apartheid. He developed it from a description of a specific system to a way of understanding the general history of modern capitalism . . .
Robinson was a challenging thinker who understood that the deepest, most profound truths tend to bewilder, breaking with inherited paradigms and “common sense.” When asked to define his political commitments, he replied, “There are some realms in which names, nomination, is premature. My only loyalties are to the morally just world; and my happiest and most stunning opportunity for raising hell with corruption and deceit are with other Black people.”
ON BEING “WHITE” • AND OTHER LIES James Baldwin (1924-1987)
James Baldwin was the greatest expert on white consciousness in the twentieth century United States. Born in what he described as the “southern community” of Harlem, Baldwin published six novels, including his brilliant treatment of fathers, sons, and religion in Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), and Giovanni’s Room (1956), a work concentrating on white, gay characters. Baldwin’s early essays, collected in Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1961), and The Fire Next Time (1963), are works of remarkable range, lucidity, and compassion. But his scandalously underappreciated essays, generously sampled in The Price of the Ticket (1985), push Baldwin’s arguments regarding race and the meaning of America, racism, homophobia, and the “male prison,” and whiteness and the immigrant experience to unprecedented levels of insight. “On Being ‘White’ and Other Lies,” published originally in the popular African-American magazine Essence in 1984, is a dramatic reminder that “becoming American” meant learning to be white in a new way for European immigrants.
“ON BEING WHITE AND OTHER LIES” James Baldwin, Essence Magazine 1984
The crisis of leadership in the white community is remarkable—and terrifying—because there is, in fact, no white community. This may seem an enormous statement—and it is. I’m willing to be challenged. I’m also willing to attempt to spell it out. My frame of reference is, of course, America, or that portion of the North American continent that calls itself America. And this means I am speaking, essentially, of the European vision of the world—or more precisely; perhaps, the European vision of the universe. It is a vision as remarkable for what it pretends to include as for what it remorselessly diminishes, demolishes or leaves totally out of account.
There is, for example—at least, in principle—an Irish community: here, there, anywhere, or, more precisely, Belfast, Dublin and Boston. There is a German community: both sides of Berlin, Bavaria and Yorkville. There is an Italian community: Rome, Naples, the Bank of the Holy Ghost and Mulberry Street. And there is a Jewish community, stretching from Jerusalem to California to New York. There are English communities. There are French communities. There are Swiss consortiums. There are Poles: in Warsaw (where they would like us to be friends) and in Chicago (where because they are white we are enemies). There are, for that matter, Indian restaurants and Turkish baths. There is the underworld—the poor (to say nothing of those who intend to become rich) are always with us—but this does not describe a community It bears terrifying witness to what happened to everyone who got here, and paid the price of the ticket. The price was to become “white.”
No one was white before he/she came to America. It took generations, and a vast amount of coercion, before this became a white country. It is probable that it is the Jewish community or more accurately, perhaps, its remnants—that in America has paid the highest and most extraordinary price for becoming white. For the Jews came here from countries where they were not white, and they came here, in part, because they were not white; and incontestably in the eyes of the Black American (and not only in those eyes) American Jews have opted to become white, and this is how they operate. It was ironical to hear, for example, former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin declare some time ago that “the Jewish people bow only to God” while knowing that the state of Israel is sustained by a blank check from Washington.
Without further pursuing the implication of this mutual act of faith, one is nevertheless aware that the Black presence, here, can scarcely hope—at least, not yet—to halt the slaughter in South Africa. And there is a reason for that. America became white—the people who, as they claim, “settled” the country became white—because of the necessity of denying the Black presence, and justifying the Black subjugation.
No community can be based on such a principle—or, in other words, no community can be established on so genocidal a lie. White men—from Norway, for example, where they were Norwegians—became white: by slaughtering the cattle, poisoning the wells, torching the houses, massacring Native Americans, raping Black women. This moral erosion has made it quite impossible for those who think of themselves as white in this country to have any moral authority at all—privately, or publicly. The multitudinous bulk of them sit, stunned, before their TV sets, swallowing garbage that they know to be garbage, and—in a profound and unconscious effort to justify this torpor that disguises a profound and bitter panic pay a vast amount of attention to athletics: even though they know that the football player (the Son of the Republic, their sons!) is merely another aspect of the money-making scheme. They are either relieved or embittered by the presence of the Black boy on the team. I do not know if they remember how long and hard they fought to keep him off it.
I know that they do not dare have any notion of the price Black people (mothers and fathers) paid and pay. They do not want to know the meaning, or face the shame, of what they compelled—out of what they took as the necessity of being white—Joe Louis or Jackie Robinson or Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali) to pay I know that they, themselves, would not have liked to pay it. There has never been a labor movement in this country, the proof being the absence of a Black presence in the so-called father-to-son unions. There are, perhaps, some niggers in the window; but Blacks have no power in the labor unions. Just so does the white community, as a means of keeping itself white, elect, as they imagine, their political (!) representatives. No nation in the world, including England, is represented by so stunning a pantheon of the relentlessly mediocre.
I will not name names I will leave that to you. But this cowardice, this necessity of justifying a totally false identity and of justifying what must be called a genocidal history, has placed everyone now living into the hands of the most ignorant and powerful people the world has ever seen: And how did they get that way? By deciding that they were white. By opting for safety instead of life. By persuading themselves that a Black child’s life meant nothing compared with a white child’s life. By abandoning their children to 180 BLACK ON WHITE the things white men could buy By informing their children that Black women, Black men and Black children had no human integrity that those who call themselves white were bound to respect. And in this debasement and definition of Black people, they debased and defamed themselves. And have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white. Because they think they are white, they do not dare confront the ravage and the lie of their history. Because they think they are white, they cannot allow themselves to be tormented by the suspicion that all men are brothers.
Because they think they are white, they are looking for, or bombing into existence, stable populations, cheerful natives and cheap labor. Because they think they are white, they believe, as even no child believes, in the dream of safety Because they think they are white, however vociferous they may be and however multitudinous, they are as speechless as Lot’s wife— looking backward, changed into a pillar of salt. However-1 White being, absolutely, a moral choice (for there are no white people), the crisis of leadership for those of us whose identity has been forged, or branded, as Black is nothing new. We—who were not Black before we got here either, who were defined as Black by the slave trade—have paid for the crisis of leadership in the white community for a very long time, and have resoundingly, even when we face the worst about ourselves, survived, and triumphed over it. If we had not survived and triumphed, there would not be a Black American alive. And the fact that we are still here—even in suffering, darkness, danger, endlessly defined by those who do not dare define, or even confront, themselves is the key to the crisis in white leadership.
The past informs us of various kinds of people—criminals, adventurers and saints, to say nothing, of course, of popes—but it is the Black condition, and only that, which informs us concerning white people. It is a terrible paradox, but those who believed that they could control and define Black people divested themselves of the power to control and define themselves.
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ALL IN with Chris Hayes 05/23/14
The case for reparations
Chris Hayes talks with The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates about the history of economic plunder and exploitation that are key features of white supremacy in America.
See the video Here
By: Dr. Tommy J. Curry
There is a growing economy for discussions about white privilege in this country that are employing Black and brown intellectuals and whites who profess anti-racism, to be the missionaries that save white souls. white privilege, or the idea that white individuals are born with unearned benefits and advantages, over others has been making its way through out the public media as well as the classroom. On the face of it, this seems like a radical conversation. Black, brown and some white people calling out white liberals and conservatives for their racism, and starting “real” conversations about race that air on MsNBC,CNN and even the Huffington Post. But conversations about white privilege are not really conversations about race, and certainly not about racism—its a business—WHERE BLACKS MARKET THEMSELVES AS RACIAL THERAPISTS.
See the first discussions of white privilege like W.E.B. DuBois’s Black Reconstruction (1935) or George Lipsitz’s The Possessive Investment in whiteness, or even Cheryl Harris’s “whiteness as property,” came from the radical Black intellectual tradition (race-crits, Black nationalists, Pan-Africanists) that did not believe that whites would simply donate their power and act against their global racial interests to be good people IN THE EYES OF BLACKS, people they owned and still imprison. DuBois, and Lipsitz understood there is an antipathy and power in being against Blacks. Like George Jackson said, regarding the ILLUSION many Black academics have in romanticizing their ability to solve racism, “the white race, the economic elites of America, are not going to let themselves be educated out of existence. But today, you sound radical, progressive and insightful by MARKETING YOURSELF as a therapist for whites, and know nothing about the actual conditions, structures, and ills that concretely affect the lives of Blacks. You can even talk about white privilege and not even know the names of the Black thinkers, the literature, the context, or the history the term comes from, and get acclaim for only citing white celebrities like Peggy McIntosh or Tim Wise.
It’s not genius to say in an oppressive society there are benefits being in the superior class instead of the inferior class. That’s true in any hierarchy, being on the top is better than being on the bottom, but the speaker of white privilege gets to pretend that America is not oppressive, they love America, they just want whites to surrender their privilege so we can be equal. See the revolutionary doesn’t have white friends: the government killed MLK, Assata is called a terrorist, Derrick Bell is erased from a field he started, because they spoke about the actual racial and economic tyranny of corporations, governments, the military and the white public, but the for profit revolutionary wants to be commodified by whites…that Black friend that feels like they cured the racist white, while that same white person gets to point to these very relationships as proof they are healed and show to other whites they are the “white ally.”
Conversations about white privilege are simply moral appeals to the conscience of whites who have shown themselves to be committed to racism and social inequity IN THE IDLE HOPE THAT THEY change their mind. The implication of talking about privilege suffers from a childlike naiveity, it suggests that simply exposing racism and the privilege of whiteness to the white mind motivates whites to no longer act in their own self interest. See like the liberal utopia born out of integration, there is an unjustifiable assumption that telling whites about their social position means they are willing to surrender their power to appease a pop culture account of oppression. Think about the dishonesty of this approach. Black people, oppressed people, know there is a fundamental difference between being oppressed/Black and not oppressed, a citizen, white. We call for “national conversations on race,” where these public intellectuals get credit for starting conversations that amount to little more than allowing white America the opportunity to deny the actual realities Black America suffer from. And regardless of the outcome they come out LOOKING LIKE PROPHETS. This issue is white supremacy, and anti-Black death…trying discussing that…and see if your oppressor recognizes you then.
I remember at a recent APA I sat next to a feminist of color trying to get her white male student who couldn’t get a job in the white figures he studied and wrote a book on, and never studied race, racism, or Black philosophy, a job. This professor felt comfortable telling him if you start talking about white privilege, where she claimed the field was going, he could land a race job easily. Think about this. So all the Black, Brown, and Indigenous scholars who study the raw histories of oppression and resistance lose out because they don’t want to give white liberals and conservatives a guilt trip. This is a powerful example of how as an academic discussion white privilege distracts the oppressed, and empowers the oppressor class to be employed in discussing systems they have no real interest in dismantling.
Black Rage, Gender, and Allyship
Aya de Leon
Black people are angry. Anyone who is going to be our ally in the fight against racism needs to understand that. Not every black person walks around angry, or is aware of their anger. Fury looks and sounds and hangs differently on people of African heritage with differences of class, ethnicity, generation, geography, gender, sexuality, and trauma history. But for many of us, we’re angry, and we have good reason after hundreds of years of slavery, racism, colonization, jim crow, neo-colonialism, exploitation, and degradation. This is not an abstract, academic, intellectual racism; this is about hundreds of years of our ancestors bringing racist violence home. In the US, slave masters beat us with whips and we beat our children with belts. Slave masters raped and incested African women, and sexual abuse became epidemic in black families. Slave masters worked us to death and now we work ourselves to death, and we are furious. For hundreds of years, we have had to swallow the rage or risk getting killed by white people. And we swallowed it, and killed each other and ourselves. Men take the rage out on each other, on women and children, women take the rage out on each other and on children, and children take the rage out on each other, particularly those younger. Shit rolls down hill. We have a hard time loving ourselves and a hard time building loving, lasting relationships with each other.
In order to heal from racism, black people need hardcore healing spaces with a big, safe, container to do rage work, to get it out of our bodies. It’s not about sitting and talking about it in a nice middle class therapist’s office, or going for a jog, it’s about finding a safe place to scream our voices raw, kick and flail, and let that beast out. One black woman who does this work is Ruth King, author of Healing Rage – Women Making Inner Peace Possible.
Men need spaces to work on rage, as well. My partner is an African heritage man who doeshealing work with black men. When I asked him to talk to me about black men’s rage, he said that black men are filled with sorrow. But they are culturally prohibited from expressing sorrow, because such displays of vulnerability make them targets of violence and homophobia. So the society has shown them that rage is their best option for pushing back against racism—the only option other than acquiescence. So many of them take the only option that is offered. He said that men need to work with other men to face these feelings. Men have the breakthroughs when other men let them know it’s okay to be vulnerable and they can actually show and get in touch with the sorrow. Women can be allies to this process, but the key is for men to be emotionally vulnerable with each other, not for women to be vulnerable.
Black rage is a response to racism. White guilt is a response that many white people have to racism, and the two have a dynamic interaction. White guilt doesn’t reflect a principled stance against racism, and a commitment to end it and undo its effects. White guilt is more of a childlike uh-oh, we’re in trouble, where the white person goes around feeling bad and expecting/projecting some sort of anger or punishment from people of African heritage. This can lead to fawning and accommodating behaviors in communities and relationships. Again, this is not about a principled stance against racism, this is about an anxious wish to avoid conflict with an individual person of African heritage. At other times, part of the racist gaze is to project anger onto black people regardless of their emotional reality at any given moment.
If you plan to be an ally to people of African heritage, you need to be able to handle black rage. Big, heaping truckloads of it. And by handle, I mean be able to keep thinking clearly and act decisively in the presence of rage.
This is precisely what did not happen last week at the Brecht Forum in Brooklyn at a panel titled “What Do We Mean When We Say Privilege, Ally & Comrade? Exploring the Difficulty of Difference & Movement Building.” I first read the account of one black woman panelist, Dr. Brittney Cooper, who challenged a black male panelist, Kazembe Balagun about his sexism. He yelled at her, menaced her, and threw a glass of water on her. An entire room full of people sat silent in the face of this gendered violence.
Here’s Cooper, in her own words:
Left to sit there, splashes of water, mingling with the tears that I was embarrassed to let run, because you know sisters don’t cry in public, imploring him to “back up,” to “stop yelling,” to stop using his body to intimidate me, while he continued to approach my chair menacingly, wondering what he was going to do next, anticipating my next move, anticipating his, being transported back to past sites of my own trauma, traumas that have been especially fresh and difficult this Domestic Violence Awareness Month…
I waited for anyone to stand up, to sense that I felt afraid, to stop him, to let him know his actions were unacceptable…
I learned a lesson: everybody wants to have an ally, but no one wants to stand up for anybody.
Eventually three men held him back, restrained him, but not with ease. He left. I breathed. I let those tears that had been threatening fall.
One black man further berated Professor Cooper, and the biggest gesture of solidarity was when the third panelist, a white woman, silently inched her chair closer to Cooper.
By way of compassion, I suspect that the entire crowd was completely triggered and regressed to some childhood state in the face of black male rage unleashed. White allies need to work on whatever childhood baggage they bring to the table. Perhaps it is the terrified memories of their own parents’ rage. Or maybe they are still stifled by the frequent middle/upper class prohibitions against strong feelings that meant their own childhood rage got shut down. While I have compassion for anyone who is triggered, I hope that everyone in that room who can see clearly in hindsight that they should have said/done something decisive to intervene. I hope they can tell that because they were far too scared to act in integrity with their values, they need to go seek some kind of emotional help.
But beyond the emotional shortcomings of the community, I want to challenge some of the underlying thinking that often allows this kind of thing to go unchecked. White people feel guilty, and will refuse to take principled stands against expressions of black rage. It’s one thing for black people to take responsibility for our rage and find an appropriate therapeutic or healing context (could be counseling, could be ritual, could be somatics, could be any number of things). This is a situation where the person or group of people have agreed to be witness and container to the rage you are prepared to express in an attempt to heal yourself, that is rage with consent. It is, however, a completely different proposition for black people to go around leaking and firing their rage at anyone in range, anyone who challenges them, anyone who is vulnerable, or anyone who unwittingly pushes the wrong button. As Audre Lorde said, “use without the consent of the used is abuse.”
Starting with the Black Power Movement, some black men have had a narrative that black liberation is about their freedom to express rage. So-called allies have co-signed this, from former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver writing about going around raping white women as a revolutionary act (he “practiced” on black women first, to get it right) to the Brecht forum allowing a black man with a history of verbal and physical raging to be on a challenging panel about allyship. Our allies need to take a principled stand that rage is understandable, but rage needs to be healed and patterns of venting rage without consent need to be interrupted. There is no noble political principle being served by allowing people to abuse others. This doesn’t mean that all displays of anger need to be shut down. It’s important to allow emotional space outside of white, middle class cultural norms (sometimes people get angry, and that can be a good thing) but it’s different for people to have a pattern of raging as part of how they work in community. Our allies need to be able to tell the difference, offer resources, set limits, and hold lines against abusive behavior.
There is a particular historical dynamic that can happen sometimes with black men’s rage and white women’s guilt. In this particular dynamic, black men express rage about racism and white women feel guilty, and offer themselves (sexual access, emotional caretaking, free labor) to black men in some sort of private reparations campaign. Clearly there is no larger agenda being served about ending racism, but it’s easy for women’s training as caretakers and fear of violence to get ignited in these situations. In reality, I have seen this dynamic happen in relationships between black and white women, and even occasionally between black women and white men, as long as the white person has strong childhood socialization to respond to rage by feeling responsible and offering caretaking.
So while the pattern is primarily one of black men, it is not exclusive to black men. I have seen this same pattern run with powerful black women in white dominated organizations, as well. Confused white leaders have been liberal with abusive patterns, convinced that it was somehow good for white people to be targeted with this rage. Those same white leaders were somehow unconvinced that there was a problem with the raging, when the black women targeted black people, as well.
I have also seen black rage, particularly African American rage (from the people whose ancestors were enslaved in the US South) target other people of color or of African heritage, whom they deemed as somehow not black enough, not really of color, somehow closer to white people, deserving of being targeted with rage, disdain, dismissal, or disregard. This rage has undermined or destroyed many coalitions with other people of color, not to mention destroying untold numbers of black organizations.
It is not allyship if white people think we can’t possibly control ourselves; white racism holds that this is the best we are capable of. There’s a particular way that this liberalism and confusion works with regard to black women and men, that white people/organizations generally can’t manage to be allies to both black women and men. Starting in the 70s, feminist organizations notoriously would ally with black women’s mistreatment at the hands of black men in a way that was a little too gleeful about black men’s monstrosity. Or, like the Brecht forum, would tolerate black men’s rage in ways that left black women targeted and alone.
I have also been part of community organizations that are predominantly white and have trouble hanging on to black men. Instead of addressing systemic racism in the organization, they use a strategy of placating and lowering their standards to keep black men involved. No matter how unaccountable African heritage men in the community or organization may be (missing meetings, not communicating, thoughtlessly inconveniencing leaders), it seemed the bar could always be lowered, the expectations could always be revised, so no one expressed displeasure at this lack of accountability. The black men meet a wall of complacent white compassion. Leaving the black women in the community to be the bad cops, the ones who actually have some expectations.
In my personal life, I remember when my partner and I went to couples’ counseling. We had a white, middle class, gentile therapist. He and I are both physically big people and were quite emotionally angry. I used to joke that we were 500 lbs of angry blackness on that poor white woman’s couch. The therapist was completely frozen in the face of our black rage. The two of us would sit in the sessions and fight, and she had very little to say. We didn’t progress much until we started seeing a Jewish therapist, the child of Holocaust survivors. She wasn’t even remotely scared of us. She could think and act decisively in the face of black rage. I celebrate her work with us, not only because it saved our marriage, but also because it helped us through our common trauma so that we could both become people capable of being loving to each other.
Coming out of these and other experiences, I have high standards for white allies. In both of these spaces, I have met white people who can stand up to black rage, to black hopelessness, and to black sorrow. If we aim to end racism, white allies need to start getting themselves in better shape. Do the emotional work; never leave a sister unsupported in the face of such violence. Interventions don’t have to be perfect, but they do need to happen. Speak the truth. Even if your voice shakes.
About the Author: Aya de Leon
Photo: betto rodrigues /Shutterstock.com
An Open Letter to Juror B-37 in the Zimmerman Trial
July 16, 2013
Court Cases, Criminal Justice, News Media, Reality TV, Social Media
Dear Juror B-37,
I saw your interview with Anderson Cooper on AC360 and I want to thank you for the time you took away from your family to serve in the public process as a juror.
That is the nicest thing I can say to you because I find you to be a disgusting human being.
It’s obvious that you never once considered Trayvon’s point of view and did not then, or now, see him as a full human being, worthy of the same rights to which all Americans are entitled and the Human Rights declared by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
Did you even bother to listen to the case?
You took George Zimmerman’s story to be truthful and, yet, you say he “went too far” and that you were certain he had some “exaggerations” and “inconsistencies.” Gee, what do you think he could have exaggerated about? Was it the head bashing, perhaps? The fear for his life? The first punch? Everything happening at the T?
You claim that you didn’t understand the law (and, btw, “went too far” = Manslaughter, bare minimum) but you had plenty of time to ask for clarification; and the only question presented to the judge about the law was Manslaughter. According to you, you were confused about everything. Why not more questions?
You claim that Rachel Jeantel wasn’t so credible to you and, yet, you were certain that Trayvon said “creepy ass cracka.” So, which is it, Disgusting Juror? You can believe a phrase that has absolutely zero proof of existence but you can’t believe that Trayvon was NOT the initial aggressor and did NOT throw “the first punch,” considering Rachel told you she heard the verbal confrontation and the “bump” on Trayvon?!!
And, yet, you feel “sorry” for Rachel Jeantel because she was so “uneducated” and because of her speech? Well, let me tell you something: Rachel Jeantel does not need nor want your “sympathy.” What she wanted was justice for her friend and you have ensured that the justice George Zimmerman deserves has now been delayed. Rachel Jeantel is smarter than you, probably speaks more languages than you, is more street-smart than you; and as soon as she gets her surgery, she will be far more eloquent than you think you are, Disgusting Juror!
You think it would be okay for George Zimmerman to be your Neighborhood Watchman NOW and that he has “learned his lesson?” Well, good. I hope you have a Neighborhood Watchman EXACTLY like George Zimmerman. Then, you can see what your own hands have wrought.
I can’t wait for you to learn that the audio experts EXCLUDED George Zimmerman from being the one screaming. It wasn’t him, you twit. But just like the Sanford Police Department, you gave him the Presumption of Innocence he doesn’t deserve. I would love to see your face when you learn that “Georgie” threw a woman across the room, called his ex-fiance a “hoe,” had a restraining order put on him from his ex-fiance’ and the “meek” man who could not fight assaulted an undercover police officer even AFTER he identified himself, to which “Georgie” replied, “I don’t care WHO you are!” and assaulted him.
You believed the wrong person. You set free the wrong person. YOU are a wrong person.
I don’t care about the tears you had after you gave the verdict to the bailiff. You cried because you knew, deep down inside, you appealed to white supremacy / racism more than anything else. Certainly, there was some doubt in this case but all REASONABLE doubt is removed once you realize that George Zimmerman is a lying piece of murderous scum trash and YOU set him free before even deliberating with the other jurors and even after.
You are a disgusting human being. And I find your desire to write a book after you set a child murderer free to be disgusting and that’s why I repeat the insult. You are a racist and could never think about what Trayvon Martin might have been thinking or feeling. Perhaps you need to read my Closing Argument.
You talked about how sorry you felt for George Zimmerman’s life, through your tears. Anderson Cooper had to collect himself when he realized you were only crying for “Georgie” and asked, “Do you feel sorry for Trayvon?,” to which you replied, “I feel sorry for both.”
See how you couldn’t even condescend to feel for Trayvon, alone, not even for a moment?
That’s how we know you’re a disgusting human being.
I’m glad you said you will never serve on another jury. Please don’t. There is enough injustice in this world.
Disgusted by You
Justice for Trayvon
Update: Due to the excellent diligence of @MoreAndAgain on Twitter, Disgusting Being Juror B-37 was dropped by her literary agent. After the public statement was issued, reportedly Juror B-37 decided she wasn’t going to write a book anymore and provided the following statement:
JurorB37 Book Deal
Shorter Juror B-37: I had NO IDEA how many people would hate me following my self-serving interview with Anderson, especially since I was just testing out the waters to see who’d buy my book. I had NO IDEA @MoreAndAgain would ensure my ass was handed to me and my Literary Agent would drop me like, well, like George Zimmerman dropped Trayvon to the ground without a care in the world for his life or humanity, with his depraved mind.
We already know you enjoy reveling in lies, Juror B-37, and we also now know that your attorney husband is friends with Mark O’Mara. I wondered why that other disgusting being, Frank Taaffe, was so confident about the verdict and knew certain votes and now I’m clear, you were the source.
We’re not surprised.
Dr. Kimberly Ellis ( Dr. Goddess)
Former Producer, OUR COMMON GROUNG
How the media tried to assassinate Chris Dorner Claims of ‘mental illness’ are in the mind of the beholder
Published on Thursday, 21 February 2013 15:55
LAWatts Time Contributing Writer
Christopher Jordan Dorner is dead but his words and actions will continue to impact the Los Angeles area and beyond for quite some time. The former U.S. Navy lieutenant and Los Angeles police officer who is alleged to have shot and killed four people earlier this month was the subject of the largest manhunt in Southern California history. Authorities say that manhunt ended on Feb. 12 with Dorner, surrounded by law enforcement in a cabin in the Big Bear area of San Bernadino, committing suicide as highly flammable tear gas canisters ignited the cabin and burned it to the ground.
Dorner’s ‘manifesto’, in which he declared war on the Los Angeles Police Department and his subsequent actions were horrifying to many. In an effort to understand the reason behind his rage and actions, many mainstream media outlets posited that Dorner must have suffered from some sort of mental illness.
Appearing on “Piers Morgan Tonight” on Feb. 7 Dr. Xavier Amador, a regular commentator for CNN, said there was “absolutely no basis in reality for [Dorner’s] complaints that he was mistreated, that there was any kind of police corruption,” that Dorner had “clear signs of mental illness,” and that his ‘manifesto’ was “delusional.”
Amador’s analysis was based on a review of Dorner’s LAPD case file, he said.
According to Neon Tommy the online news site of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared that “Whatever problem [Dorner] has is mental,” while speaking at a press conference on proposed gun safety legislation. Villaraigosa’s comments were part of a Feb. 7 news article entitled “Christopher Dorner’s Navy Service Record And Mental Health Scrutinized.”
On Feb. 9, The Associated Press ran a news brief on Dorner’s unsuccessful attempt to obtain a restraining order in 2006 against his then-girlfriend Ariana Williams. The story quotes court documents filed in the case that called Dorner “severely emotionally and mentally disturbed.” The court documents also link Williams to a post about Dorner on a website that was signed anonymously, calling Dorner “twisted” and “super paranoid.”
Also on Feb. 9, The Christian Science Monitor, in “Christopher Dorner: Experts look for clues to alleged cop killer’s mental state,” quotes a retired FBI profiler who said Dorner’s actions were “completely over the top.” Dorner, who claimed in his manifesto that he simply wanted to “clear his name,” had a “personality disorder” according to Mary Ellen O’Toole.
While it can be considered normal to search for answers in a case such as this, attempting to make a mental health diagnosis of Christopher Dorner without ever having physically examined him is not.
“It is difficult to make a diagnostic conclusion given how little any of us know about Dorner’s mental health history, having no audio transcripts to review, no testing and assessment instruments to analyze, and no clinical interview data, said Thomas Parham, PhD. Parham is past president of the national Association of Black Psychologists and a co-author of “Psychology of Blacks: Centering Our Perspectives in the African Consciousness.”
“All we have is a so-called “manifesto” (that I have not read) that is selectively presented in the media. So, for the press and media to be making a statement in absence of that kind of information is just interesting, if not useless chatter,” he said.
Clive D. Kennedy, a clinical forensic psychologist and president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Association of Black Psychologists, echoes Parham’s comments on evaluating Dorner’s mental state. “I believe no professional has indicated he or she is aware of Mr. Dorner’s mental health status and therefore, we are unlikely to ever know, including those in the media who have been so forthcoming of his psychiatric condition,” he said.
Dorner claimed in his manifesto clearly and explicitly that not only was he a victim of racism but that his attempts to “blow the whistle” on the racism of the LAPD against him and other officers are why he believes he was fired. According to Dorner retaliation against “snitching” on other police officers was one of several corrupt practices within the, department. Despite this, much of the media coverage of Dorner’s mental state has conveniently left this fact out.
Are Charges of Racism Enough to Push One Over The Edge?
In her Feb. 9 Los Angeles Times op-ed, civil rights attorney Connie Rice recalls a conversation she had with former Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Jesse Brewer. Describing him as “wise and classy,” Rice states that Brewer, the first African American president of the Los Angeles Police Commission that oversees the LAPD, “came to my law office in 1990. He described to me his own ordeals on the force, in which white officers illegally blocked his entrance to the Police Academy, tried to plant false evidence on him, blocked all of his promotions and set him up for ambush in the field. He also described how viciously the department retaliated against him and other officers who tried to stand up for fellow officers or civilians who suffered abuse from cops. The LAPD never did allow whistle-blowers of any kind to survive, no matter how righteous they were,” wrote Rice.
Chillingly, Rice goes on to write that Brewer told her that Black LAPD officers had to resort to accepting abuse from white police officers and “outsmarting” them because, “If you let them get to you, you’ll become homicidal.”
In her 1995 work “Killing Rage, Ending Racism,” noted political and cultural critic bell hooks wrote: “the conditions of racism can ‘drive one mad.’
Referring to an outbreak of violence in New York City in which a Black man opened fire randomly on a subway train, hooks states that “ … most Black folks can recognize that it is ethically and morally wrong to kill folks even as we can also sympathize with mental illness that is either engendered or exacerbated by life in [the United States].”
Psychologist Thomas Parham echoed that sentiment. “We must extend our prayers for those who lost their lives in this rampage (both victims and perpetrator) and for the families who are left to grieve. There is never a justification for the taking of innocent lives, no matter what the level of unfairness one believes has impacted their own life. There is nothing more sacred in the African tradition than life, so to be so callous in the taking of innocent lives would seem to be the most fundamental violation of an African centered worldview.”
Parham continued, “Clearly, the actions Dorner engaged in are very “out of the ordinary,” and beyond the realm of most standards of normalcy and decency that society embraces. Yet, like all of us, he is a product of a social system that makes an implicit contract with its citizens that says if you work hard and play by the rules, including doing the right thing on your job, then success should be the reward for one’s hard work, dedication, and commitment … I suspect that if he embraced this implicit social contract with the rigidity of a very concrete thinker, and then believes that his life was ruined by some unfair and discriminatory treatment when he called himself trying to do the right thing and report abuse by a fellow officer, then the violation and betrayal he feels might evoke that type of anger, rage, and desire for retribution that we all witnessed…”
Paul Harris, a San Francisco-based attorney and author, says that “ … even in cases where the perpetrator of the crime is mentally ill, one must look at the concrete experiences of racism (and other environmental hardships) to understand the resulting behavior.” Harris is the author of “Black Rage Confronts the Law,” a 1971 book based on a case in which Harris was successful in defending a young Black man accused of bank robbery. “Too many people cry racism in explaining these crimes without combining the underlying mental problems, with the specific life experience with racism the person has suffered,” said Harris.
Joy DeGruy, author of “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome,” uttered similar comments as Harris. “I would think that any serious response would include consideration of the obvious and blatant differential treatment of African Americans by a dysfunctional justice system and the structural inequalities inherent in that system.” DeGruy holds degrees in social work and clinical psychology and is an assistant professor at Portland State University.
More than 1,000 sightings of Christopher Dorner were reported to police during the manhunt to apprehend him. The overwhelming majority of those tips were based on faulty identifications of Black men whose appearance was similar to Dorner. What we do not know for sure is how many of those tips were from individuals that were simply Good Samaritans interested in assisting law enforcement, and how many were from individuals who were genuinely frightened that Dorner might attack them.
As we continue to ponder Dorner’s mental state we might also take into account the words of bell hooks: “White supremacy is frightening. It promotes mental illness and various dysfunctional behaviors on the part of whites and non-whites. It is the real and present danger – not black rage.”