White people have proven they already understand racism. So what can Black people do for self-protection?
Last month, white people revealed their entire racist selves to Black folks and other people of color.
The day after Memorial Day—and a month-and-a-half after the April 12 incident in which a white employee called the cops to arrest two Black men awaiting the arrival of their white business colleague at a Philadelphia location—Starbucks closed 8,000 of its stores nationwide for several hours to do a half-day “anti-bias” training. The Center City location became a flashpoint in corporate pop culture racism that grabbed the attention of the nation.
According to a report in The Hill, “the training was heavy on media attention, but light on substance, and even lighter on impact. Staff reportedly left feeling overwhelmed and uncertain how to implement what they learned.” The “training” consisted of showing employees videos of Black people being abused by Whites, including cops. Two baristas—an 18-year-old Black woman and a 24-year-old Latino man—told Philly magazine that “the training beat around the bush, failing to address the incident that prompted the event, while simultaneously making minorities in the room feel uncomfortable.”
What was intended to be a nice idea turned out to be a predictable travesty: a half-day session dedicated to leading a conversation and training employees of color about racism, having employees of color lay their lives bare in an effort to make white people less racist. How was that supposed to be productive?
It’s not the job of people of color to do the work for white people to confront their racism. And you can’t change how people live through a workshop—it’s a long painful process.
In the past couple of years, many white people have only just awakened to the fact of racism, and since the arrival of this current occupant of the Oval Office, much of White America is under the impression that the nation is more racist. Of course this is not the case: Bigotry is just more open, more sanctioned by our government, bolder and more publicly malevolent than in recent memory. Thanks to citizen journalists and their phone cameras, more of us have become a witness to the countless incidents around us.
Social media has also been like a stockade allowing us to publicly shame some racists like “BBQ Becky” (reportedly identified as Dr. Jennifer Schulte)—the Oakland, California, woman who tried to call the police on Black people grilling in a park in a predominantly Black community—who became the subject of viral memes depicting her calling the cops on every Black cultural figure at iconic historical events.
And like Sarah Braasch, the white graduate student at Yale University, who, on May 12, called the campus police on a Black graduate student named Lolade Siyonbola, for napping in a common area. Siyonbola posted videos of the incident to Facebook.
And like racist NYC lawyer Aaron Schlossberg, who on May 16 ranted against Manhattan restaurant employees for speaking Spanish, and threatened to call ICE on them—which backfired quickly. Schlossberg was kicked out of his shared office space, the Yelp page for his business filled up with one-star reviews, and reporters pestered him for comments. People crowd-funded to hire a mariachi band and taco truck for a protest outside of his apartment.
The shaming of BBQ Becky, the Yale student, and the racist NYC lawyer are wonderful acts of resistance that need to be amplified. But let’s not be confused: We can’t fight White Supremacy or confront racism with memes, jokes, and café conversations. The animus is real and we need to figure out what we can do to stop this insanity. What will it take to shame the shameless?’
Because white people are calling 911 on Black people for all kinds of non-threatening everyday activities—and the police keep responding. Which reveals something crucial here: White people are fully aware of what they’re doing, and that they can often count on law enforcement to come running at their beck and call as long as they perceive a Black threat. Consider these recent events:
A White man in Louisiana saw a Black man trying to clean debris from a road and killed him with his pickup truck, then sent racist Snapchat messages.
In mid-May, a 13-year-old Houston boy miraculously escaped after being kidnapped from his school bus stop and nearly murdered by a group of White racists, led by a man who had an “I Hate Black People” tattoo on his arm. They assaulted the boy and sent his mother text messages threatening to kill him.
Why should any of these incidents surprise us when we live in a country where the man in the Oval Office calls some undocumented immigrants “animals”? Where undocumented parents are being separated from their children at U.S. borders? When more than 4,000 Puerto Ricans are reported dead from Hurricane Maria last September, due in no small part to Trump’s administration’s defiant, genocidal negligence? At a time when we are seeing more and more reports of Black bodies found mysteriously hanging in Georgia and Mississippi, and the NFL’s recent announcement that they are running a tight plantation by promising fines against players who kneel for human rights? This is 2018, and we’re not even halfway through it.
And let’s not forget how the Orange Menace declared that his ancestors “tamed” this continent. Really? Black labor cleared the forest, drained the swamps, built roads and railroads and levees! Without compensation and without respect. Blacks created wealth and capital they were prevented from sharing. What white America’s ancestors did was steal, rape, murder, enslave and exploit other people. And today, comments like this from Trump reveal that white people think people of color are trying to take away what’s theirs, even though it was never theirs in the first place!
If we have learned anything, it’s this: White people need to step back and stop trying to lead conversations on race or racism with people of color. It’s a job they need to do among themselves, but we need to divest ourselves of our expectations and our involvement. I mean, let’s be honest: Was Starbucks’ half-day of mandatory racial bias training with 175,000 employees the start of a substantive dialogue on racism in America? I don’t even need to answer that question.
In fact, research has shown that diversity trainings don’t lead to deeper, lasting systemic change. A cover story entitled “Why Diversity Programs Fail,” which appeared in the July-August 2016 Harvard Business Review, reports that “most diversity programs aren’t increasing diversity,” and that mandatory diversity training (such as Starbucks’) is shown to actually “activate bias rather than stamp it out.” They’re a form of window dressing that give the illusion that white-run organizations with race problems are making an effort to address them. Yet attitudes, and the diversity within the organizations (or lack thereof), generally remain the same. And that’s because these trainings don’t address systemic and institutional racism, nor do they substantively encourage anti-racism. Rather than have white employees confront racism, they encourage white people to not act overtly racist.
Diversity training is a booming industry designed not to honestly confront racism or effect actual change, but rather to maintain the status quo of whites on top and people of color doing their bidding. Companies don’t need to prove that diversity training works—only that they have made an attempt.
People of color need to take control of these conversations. We need to prioritize OUR perspectives; emphasize OUR experiences, and recognize that we alone are responsible for surviving and preventing these chronic racial attacks on our lives.
We need an internal paradigm shift in our thinking. We need to STOP taking the high road. Stop forgiving. Stop explaining. It is time to emotionally divest ourselves from reforming White America, or appealing to a moral sense that it obviously doesn’t possess. We’ve been doing these things for centuries. Has it worked?
We also need solidarity—with each other. Latinos and other non-Black people of color often say that they feel unseen, unheard, left out of the conversation where so much is rooted in the Black-White binary. We must find common ground and work together because our survival and ability to lead America’s majority-minority future depends on it.
These racist incidents are multiplying almost faster than we can process them. A white woman in a California parking lot attacks a Korean-American member of the Air Force Reserve, telling him to get out of her country and “go back to fucking China.”
An angry white man at a Houston Jack-in-the-Box racially attacked a Latina employee over a coupon.
As people of color, we cannot continue to operate with cognitive dissonance about the genocidal potential of White Supremacy. We must accept the bitter truth that for us, justice and equality are not real. Our bodies are marked for death, directly by White supremacist hetero-patriarchal capitalism.
As the writer Audre Lorde put it: “For to survive in the mouth of this dragon we call America, we have had to learn this first and most vital lesson—that we were never meant to survive.”
I think the challenge is that every generation faces the obstacle of not being lulled into forgetting that. White Supremacy works overtime to distract us—by being seductive and trying to look like love. Even while we watch it literally beat our bodies to death, shoot us, throw us from stages and streets, strip us naked, beat us senseless, we are still stunned by the truth but lulled by the lies.
We were never meant to survive. If we really hold that and meditate on that and believe it, then what comes after? How do we live knowing this?
We know racism isn’t new. But how do we live? How do we fight for our lives and battle the forces against us?
Some of us already have. Recall Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Half-Time show: She pulled out the Black Panther imagery and people lost their damn minds. We need to learn how to infiltrate, confuse, deflect, sabotage. Trump had to uninvite the 2018 NFL champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, because most of the team wouldn’t go to the White House or would take a knee to his face. (And then he invited Eagles fans—the only ones who showed were his own fans.) We need to take power wherever we can get it. We need to use it to mess up white supremacist imagery and policies.
Consider the way athletes like LeBron James and Colin Kaepernick and Serena Williams confuse white people, who feel they should be grateful for their wealth and success—do they care what white people think, though? We need to create symbolic crises that capture the attention of the rulers, taking the spotlight away from dangerous policies, like football players taking a knee—the more Trump, who is easily distracted, responds to this, the less time he has to focus on building a wall or expanding ICE. We have to keep messing with Trump and his army of white supremacists every which way—without casualties! Bait them, provoke them, insult them. This is a long, drawn-out battle.
And in the meantime, make sure you’re taking care of yourselves. Create beauty around you. Create a space for yourself. Love and support each other. Fight the fight. Self-actualize. Encourage peace in your world. Turn around and hand that to others who have less. Talk to each other. We need to send the message to racists that we are not to be fucked with. We need to believe that we were not created to permanently reside in victimhood and long suffering.
We need to see how we’re being propagandized for genocide. Nobody is going to rescue us. We must save ourselves. We need to take ownership of what we want, what we need, and not be determined to merely survive this genocide. We need to think and feel and plan and strategize and move in different ways. Otherwise, we might not make it out alive. And that is simply not an option.
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