Racism — December 2, 2017 at 3:51 pm

Anti-racism Organizing Has Staled

by

During this period in my life, I have found myself committed to participating in anti-racism organizing efforts that move beyond black people and other people of color trying to convince white people that they have privilege and white people admitting to that privilege.

Those of us committed to anti-racism organizing need an entirely new conversation, one that has white people digging deeper into the impact racism has had on their own humanity. Drug abuse, domestic violence, suicide, mass murders, etc., are results of the same system that causes intraracial violence within black and brown communities.

I recognize that it is difficult for many to accept that the conditions faced by whites are tied to racism. Racism is a painful existence for blacks and other people of color, and anti-black racism is a deeper level of racism that blacks face, even within “allied” relationships.

As a black woman born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, a city that has suffered under a half-century of propaganda assault because of its predominately black racial demographic, I cannot ignore the impacts of anti-black racism. Anti-black racism has had a direct psychological impact on me and I have witnessed the impact it has had on my city, my entire life.

However, as I have begun to envision and work towards trying to realize the type of world I wish to live in, I have taken note of the impact that participating in such a dehumanizing system has had on well-meaning whites.

Although too many deny it, it has also become easy to take stock of the visible correlation between racism and capitalism.

When whites go into banks and other institutions that have built their wealth on the selling of black bodies through slavery, and are afforded loans and other resources that are quite often denied to the descendants of slaves, that is an obvious connection between racism and capitalism.

When black and brown residents are uprooted from their neighborhoods and their homes replaced with stadiums and upscale hotels or businesses that cater mostly to a white population, those are obvious connections between racism and capitalism.

But, what is less obvious is the psychological impact participating in this capitalistic racism has had on whites. The imaginary bubble that one must create around themselves in order to falsify a peaceful (often suburban) existence from the undesirable (black and brown) population, lends to a level of dehumanization in white people that many don’t speak about.

Instead of confronting these realities in a systemic way, blacks, other people of color, and whites have allowed themselves to participate in a seesaw that reinforces a false hierarchical narrative. Black people and other people of color are on one side of the seesaw and whites are on the other side. This false dichotomy is the privileged and underprivileged seesaw.

This type of rhetoric cannot exist within anti-racism organizing. It will not create the world many of us wish to live in someday. It is the dominant narrative, not the counter-narrative. We need to be committed to the counter-narrative.

If white people don’t begin to look at the impact the system of white supremacy has had on white people, those who have committed themselves to anti-racist organizing will continue to pursue undoing racism as a pet project they can pick up and put down. Undoing racism has to become a lifelong commitment white people make in order to humanize themselves. It cannot be something they do in the black community. Racism is not a black and brown community problem. Racism is something that is inflicted upon the black and brown community.

It is true that unarmed white people are not being gunned down by racist police the way that black people and other people of color are being gunned down. It is true that white people are not being redlined in order to allow for blacks to move into their neighborhoods. It is true that white school districts are not suffering massive school closings and disinvestment at a level that you see happening in black and brown neighborhoods. The system of white supremacy and the policies that are enacted in order to continue that system are vicious and unyielding, and we must do everything in our power to struggle against those policies and supporting forces. In order to do that, we need everyone in the struggle for racial justice to be doing so. This is why forcing well-meaning white people to shrink under white guilt and the false notion of privilege serves the movement for racial justice no real purpose.

Participating with the system of white supremacy is far from a privileged existence. It is a dehumanizing existence. The further connected one is to a system that forces you to look through people based on their racial identity in order to survive or thrive, the farther away from your humanity you have to be.

Climbing the perpetual ladder to the American Dream requires a level of disconnect from what it means to be human that can only be nurtured with larger metal gates, deeper car garages, smaller front porches, and minimal contact with people all around you — even people who look like you.

Is it truly a privilege to be connected to a legacy of lynching, displacement, redlining, etc.? We need new language. We need to pull away from the cycle of ally-ship and begin struggling towards co-liberation. We need whites to firmly believe that their liberation, their humanity is also dependent upon the destruction of racism and the dismantling of white supremacy.

This framing is new and challenging for our movement, but it is one that must be considered if we are truly to avoid revisiting the dynamics we are currently facing in this country another fifty years from now.

(photo by Tim Spannaus)

On November 29, 2017, I had an opportunity to participate on a panel titled, “Let’s Talk About Race: Standing Together to End Racism” at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Royal Oak, MI.  I joined the panel with Professor Peter Hammer of Wayne State University Law School and the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights. He presented on the history of racial inequity in Detroit and SE, Michigan. I presented on much of what I referenced above. We will continue these conversations.

It’s time we recognize that true anti-racism organizing means that we must help each other down from the seesaw.

  • Oya

    Excellent job, Tawana. Recently CNN’s Fareed Zakaria gave a refreshingly honest commentary about religion, race, and culture. People identifying as white in the U.S. and Europe have historically voted against their own interests because they are invested in the tribal cultural and social privilege of whiteness. https://youtu.be/agd1LXxIw94
    From the elimination of indentured servitude to the recent tax proposal, they have supported a system of exploitation, genocide, and injustice. This psychosis is a pillar of American culture.

    • Tawana Petty

      Thank you for reading and responding Oya! I appreciate your feedback and will view this video.

      • Tawana Petty

        Oya, thanks for sharing this video. I think he has a solid point about how people become inspired towards action.

  • Stephen Banicki

    This is really stretching when one ties our economic system to causing racism. It suggest that if society eliminates capitalism, racism disappears. This is blatantly false.

    Dictators throughout history had slaves. Black slaves were used to build the pyramids. Dictators throughout history used slaves.

    You are not helping the fight against descrimination by alleging that there is some kind of link between slavery and capitalism. In fact, it would be easier to draw a link between capitalism and Emancipation. Many ex slaves survived by using their own wits and backs to earn a living.

  • Kathy Kistler Randolph

    Tawana, I just wanted to let you know that your words really spoke to me today. And I am listening, learning, hoping. Thank you.

    • Tawana Petty

      Thank you for reading and reflecting Kathy!

  • emm

    Yes, we have to open our hearts and our lives, and we are severely diminished by doing otherwise. I am eager to hear more. Actions plans we can take hold of.

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