I follow several different Occupy pages on Facebook, and while I want to give kudos to the page moderators for posting notices of anti-racism rallies in the wake of of Trayvon Martin’s shooting and the Zimmerman trial, I’ve been disturbed over the past week to see Occupiers refer to anti-racism efforts as “a distraction.”
These (almost entirely) white commenters have variations on this theme. One writes, “Way to keep spurring hatred. Keep pitting us against one another and play right into EXACTLY what they want. Your doing a great job.”
Another: “I completly disagree with this gathering, the court has spoken and that is that>>>>> no one said u had to be happy with the court verdict, better move on to more important World Social issues, and quit bitching….. Sorry!” Not forgiven.
Yet another: “no thanks not in to the whole divide and conquer thing but good luck to you that are!”
[Sic, sic, and sic]
Some also point out that the Zimmerman trial is over, and suggest we all “move on.”
Well, many of us are not ready to move on. Many of us will never be ready to stop confronting American racism and the part it plays in violence against people of color. And to call this confrontation a “distraction” is to imply that racism—and others isms, as well—are not the main issue.
Look, racism is woven into the very fabric of our nation (cliché, I know, but I’m too busy and too angry to do better). Our economy today still has roots in centuries of slavery. No reparations were ever made, even after Emancipation. Black folks in America had to endure almost a century of Jim Crow laws that made it nearly impossible to vote and encouraged discrimination and violence against Americans of color. Today there are wide disparities in sentencing African Americans and Latinos, on the one hand, and white folks on the other. (I highly recommend Michelle Alexander’s book on incarceration, The New Jim Crow.) Violence against black Americans by police officers and others in law enforcement (including self-appointed law enforcers) results in an estimated rate of one murder every 36 hours. By law enforcement personnel.
This is the briefest run-down I can do on the legacy of slavery in this country, and the continuing violence against people of color. There’s a lot more out there and I invite my fellow white folks to look, listen, and learn all they can.
The thing about all this is that we (white folks) are not exempt from dealing with race because we don’t suffer the effects of it. To call demonstrations against racism and racial profiling a “distraction” is basically to say that white people’s experience of America is the only valid or worthwhile experience of America. It is to dismiss the very real experiences of racism and racial profiling every single person of color in the country experiences all the time. It is also to ignore the benefits and privileges we white folks have garnered just by being born white.
Friends keep quoting this phrase these days: No justice, no peace. Until everyone experiences justice, none of us will know true peace. “No man is an island,” Donne wrote, and that is just as true when it comes to racism and white privilege and our political life as it is for the body of the church.
Confronting racism is not about fomenting hatred. It is about creating justice. It is about listening to the experiences of all Americans, and not just the white ones. It is about confronting the tangles of racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and all the other isms and phobias that make us all squirmy and uncomfortable. It is about learning to live with that discomfort, that knowledge that we are complicit in injustice, that we have privileges that many others lack.
Confronting racism is not a divide and conquer technique. In fact, calling it such is, in fact, the divide and conquer technique. As long as white liberals ignore issues of race and racial injustice, we will be guilty of practicing divide-and-conquer. We will be dividing up the quest for justice and a just society into fragmented groups instead of embracing the truth that unless we are for justice for all, we will never find justice at all. And we will be complicit in shoring up white privilege instead of recognizing that racial justice is inextricable from justice per se.
So please, recognize that our anger over the Zimmerman trial isn’t about wanting to undo the jury’s finding. We recognize that’s impossible. It’s about remembering Trayvon Martin and his family, about realizing that Zimmerman’s acquittal means scary things for violence against people of color, about our anger at racial profiling.
And it’s about gathering to share our anger, outrage, and sorrow. It’s about gaining energy to keep fighting injustice in all its forms. It’s about sharing stories and networking and showing solidarity. It’s about creating a better world, which is what the Occupy movement claims to be about. And there’s no more important “world issue” than the struggle to create a better world.
This piece by The Angry Black Woman is a list of Do’s and Don’ts for being a good ally, in any confrontation against any kind of privilege or ism.
Here’s an excellent post by Joyce Clark Hicks on why people of color might be just the eensiest bit sensitive to race, and why white people should stop complaining about that.
And finally, here’s a post I wrote last year on disrupting privilege, based on my own process of coming to accept (and challenge) my privilege.