In November of 2016, shortly after Donald Trump had been declared President elect of the United States, The New Yorker published a series of essays that were slated as reactionary pieces to the results of the election. The late, great Toni Morrison’s essay, “Mourning for Whiteness”, was particularly moving, encapsulating and remains timely even four years later.
Morrison got to the heart of what produced a campaign, and subsequently a presidency like Trump’s. So frightening is the perceived threat to whiteness that people have resorted to sheer depravity. As she says in her essay, “much as they may hate their behavior, and know full well how craven it is, they are willing to kill small children attending Sunday school and slaughter churchgoers who invite a white boy to pray.” Its these types of actions that are deemed necessary to protect a system so fragile.
And it is fragile; constantly on the brink of collapse if not for the ceaseless efforts of the people who prop it up. In January of 2017 when former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer infamously lied to the American public about the crowd size at the inauguration his fellow journalists questioned why he tarnished his credibility over something so seemingly trivial. When Amy Cooper called 911 and lied about being harassed by Christian Cooper because he asked her to leash her dog many people questioned why she chose such an act of aggression over something so inconsequential. But this is Trump era racism folks. It’s a callous, undignified, amoral, loud declaration of meaningless superiority.
It is the smallest calf fattened with lies, dangerous rhetoric, and violence. The intention is to take the shreds of whiteness left over from the Obama years and bulk it up; repair and replenish if you will. Make sure to send it to the gym seven days a week so its stronger than ever before; and who is going to confront that show of strength? White people are not willing to confront this Trump era whiteness and the racism personified in Trump himself because this presidency is the embarrassing sacrifice they’ve made to preserve whiteness.
White people have entered into this silent contract with their endorsement of Trump. There are plenty of people (often posing as liberals) not willing to even acknowledge that they voted for him because they know what that vote symbolized and it wasn’t a vote for a change that benefited all of us. Here we are steeped in an era where attempts at preserving whiteness at a high cost play out openly: Amy Cooper, Sean Spicer, Dylan Roof, Derrick Chauvin, a Trump presidency, and I could go on. Collectively, white people are being viewed as vindictive, vengeful, dangerous, racist, murderous villains. My question is, is this how they wish to conduct themselves or are some of them not realizing its time to defect so as not to debase themselves further?
Make no mistake, to rob anyone of their humanity is an action that also deprives you of your own humanity. You don’t call the police on someone for barbecuing in a park without first making some decisions about who they are and simultaneously who you are. This is not done in service of your individual superiority and privilege, its done in service of whiteness. By the time you’ve made that call you’ve already lost yourself.
From the old man shooting arrows into a crowd of protesters, to the middle aged with their knee on George Floyd’s neck, to the teenagers on TikTok freely using the “N” word, to Breonna Taylor’s murder in her own home—whiteness across America. Truly, what a performance: the act of preserving whiteness. It’s unparalleled. If I wasn’t so busy being suppressed I may have actually stopped to marvel at it.
People have tricked themselves into believing whiteness is what makes them a person, as opposed to their dignity, compassion and tenacity. But they are actually serving an old system of oppression that has placed them on the top of a hierarchy and they are fighting hard to maintain that place. Fighting hard isn’t even enough, you have to get dirty, murderous even! In service of that system there is no individuality, especially in whiteness. There is only prioritized group identity. I said what I said.
Yet what is the alternative? Equality? They try not to cackle at this. Everyone else has the same opportunities and access to wealth therefore I must have less? Ludicrous! Imagine a world! Imagine a world where no one person or set of people hoard wealth and resources while the rest of the world suffers. Imagine. On the notion of you must have less so we can have more is where whiteness lives and breeds (yes, breeds). We are all aware of it.
The black community is frustrated with white ignorance; everyone is aware racism is alive and well. Please stop insulting our intelligence. Everyone participates in racism at some level; even feigning ignorance is a sort of participation because if you can pretend this all isn’t happening then you won’t have to address your part in it. More importantly, you won’t have to acknowledge that your superiority isn’t real and that your privilege isn’t fair. But if we are all going to face 2020 head on, and I don’t think we have much choice, first things first is lets all acknowledge that racism is real and its being exercised in every facet of our society.
Let us also admit that it is human nature to be a little selfish. Maybe, exceedingly selfish. Who knows what each of us would do in order to access and possess wealth and wield the kind of privilege that the most influential white people have? Or even the average white person, somehow able to interact with the police and then go home to their families. And for those white people who are struggling with poverty, food insecurity and all other types of sociopolitical issues, imagine being able to rationalize that the “coloreds” and “illegals” have too much or else you would be better of? Imagine. How do you let go of that, albeit weak, footing? How can you dismantle whiteness, built on lies, blood and suppression yes, but it’s the bread your family has fed on for generations. How can one just let that privilege go? Further, how can one participate in destroying it?
I don’t say all this for understanding. I am aware that we are all fed up with creating more and more room for understanding. I am saying it for context. Whiteness is an incredibly valuable construct. Every effort to destroy it has only resulted in its re-figuration. It has and will probably remain one of the deadliest forces on the face of this planet. People who have possessed this sort of power for generations will not willingly forfeit it.Even as this power continues to make them desperately wicked and estranged from their humanity.
But there are some who are invested in real change; the people who are on the front lines getting maced along with black protesters. There are white people who have and continue to be allied with the black community in the struggle against racism and systematic oppression. I consider these people to be some of the most self-possessed individuals I have personally interacted with; they, like a lot of black people, have had to define their identity outside of the context of racial hierarchy.
For people who do this very difficult but necessary work, it feels like finally confronting your mis-education. It feels like you are exorcising the lies, stereotypes, inferiority, prejudice, and phobias from your psyche. It is a liberation of the self and I want black people to know that some white people are doing this work a long side us. Some white people are extracting themselves from traumas too and they are in the fight with all sincerity.
I believe our white allies are willing to be honest about racism. It takes extraordinary courage to speak truth to power, even as its viewed as some sort of betrayal. This fight will require advocacy, and sustained partnership. It’s a very long road. But I believe the black community has been open to collaboration and community building. We welcome white allies. We are open to productive dialogue and should aim for strategic long-term change. I have the utmost faith that we can effect meaningful change if we work together in love, respect and earnestness. We all must want the same thing, and if we stand in solidarity—white, black, brown—the human race, who can stop the revolution?
Some tips I offer are already in action. The fight has begun and we want that fire that has been lit to stay ablaze.
Direct Your Hatred Towards The System
I suggest that we start by directing our hatred toward the systems that have sustained the suppression of marginalized people for years. These racist, capitalist institutions need to be dismantled and our collective rage should be channeled into tearing them down. I know a lot us of feel hatred right now for the white faces that ignore us and our pain each and every day, but there are bigger fishes to fry: the justice system, the prison industrial complex, voting rights, immigration, the police force, the Presidency, Congress, equal educational opportunities, classism, water in Flint, housing discrimination, appropriation, homophobia, misogyny, reproductive rights, and we could go on. There are so many ladders to climb,but there are plenty of organization already doing the work.
Have Difficult Dialogue
I no longer believe, as I’ve mentioned before, that people are truly unaware of racism. Rather, I think many people have made a choice to ignore it because it doesn’t affect them in the dangerous ways that it does black people. If you are invested in change you need to be willing to have conversations about racism with the people it affects most. Not abstract theoretical conversations and observations, but real consequential dialogue that opens wounds and makes you uncomfortable. These stories need to be heard and they need to be heard by white people.
I genuinely believe black people have been ready to have these conversations for decades. If we are to move forward without hatred, its important for white people to know what the black experience is like on an intimate level. Moreover, it is important to have conversations about exactly what all our parts will be in destroying this system. We need pledges and action. Black people need to hear you say it with your chest: what are you hoping will change and how will you help to execute that change. Personally, I need to hear these declarations over a microphone, in front of audiences, said as loud and with as much conviction as Trump promises to kill people.
Action and Citizenship Rights
The protests that are erupting all over the world is an incredible step in the movement. We need to understand that black people are fighting for the same rights that white citizens have freely in this country. Its encouraging to see this fight move forward and we should understand that there will be ferocious resistance.
This is where I believe the movement needs white solidarity the most: without white people, who have the full benefits of citizenship, using their platforms to condemn violent backlash and suppression then we will not see real change. If when “the shooting starts” white people refuse to speak up and employ the justice system to work for black people the same way it has worked for them for years, then people will die in the streets and nothing will be done about it. We must find the courage to face the terrible truths of this country. The stakes are too high now.
This is a project that will require everyone’s active participation. The black community understands this and I truly believe I don’t need to discuss what hatred means to this community since we experience all forms of hatred just for existing, and yet we are so willing to show love. Why? Because love in itself is an act of resistance: loving yourself, loving your black children, loving your black wife, loving your black husband, loving your black mother and father, loving your black brothers and sisters, and yes, loving your white ones too.