Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tamara K. Nopper: To White Anti-Racists

As you know, I rarely print a whole essay or post by somebody else and would not, frankly, have done it here except that I couldn't establish a permanent link straight to the essay where it originally appears in Race Traitor so I could post it at the top of my blogroll. The only alternative I could come up with was to transfer and re-post it here and then permanently post that link.

Some of you will blanch at this essay, but those of you who have become regular readers will recognize many ideas as having already appeared in this space over the past four years. This pleases me, of course. But I'm not going to claim that this piece didn't give me some things to consider even more deeply than I have previously. And in any case, it is elegant, insightful and, I think, right on the money.

The piece is clearly not intended for those who haven't a clue about race relations in this country. It is, rather, written for those of us who have been wrestling with the demons of institutionalized oppression in the name of race for some time and have tried to -- and in some cases, may have succeeded in -- making some degree of headway. I, for one, will use it to keep me honest and on-task in the same way I always receive input from people of color in terms of teaching me what I need to know to be of use in this or any struggle for human agency.

I am grateful the author took the time and dedicated the intelligence and energy to craft this work and I present it here with great respect and appreciation.

The White Anti-Racist Is an Oxymoron:
An Open Letter to “White Anti-Racists”

by Tamara K. Nopper

I received an annoying e-mail about white people and their struggle to do anti-racist work. I keep reading and hearing white people talk about their struggle to do anti-racist organizing, and frankly it gets on my nerves. So I am writing this open letter to white people who engage in any activist work that involves or affects non-whites. Given that the US social structure is founded on white supremacy, and that there is a global order in which white supremacy and European domination are at large, I would challenge any white person to figure out what movement or action they can get involved in that will not involve or affect non-white people.

That said, I want to begin with what has become a realization for me through the help of different politically conscious friends. There is NO SUCH THING AS A WHITE ANTI-RACIST. The term itself, "white anti- racist" is an oxymoron. In the following, I will explain why. Then, I will begin to detail how this impacts non-white people in organizing work specifically, along with how it affects non-white people generally.

First, one must realize that whiteness is a structure of domination. As such, there is nothing redeemable or reformable about whiteness. Intellectuals, scholars and activists, especially those who are non- white, have drawn our attention to this for years. For example, people such as Malcolm X, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and many, many others who are perhaps less famous, have articulated the relationship between whiteness and domination.

Further, people such as Douglass and DuBois began to outline how whiteness is a social and political construct that emphasizes the domination, authority, and perceived humanity of those who are racialized as white. They, along with many other non-white writers and orators, have pointed to the fact that it was the bodies who were able to be racialized as "white" that were able to be viewed as rational, authoritative, and deserving. Further, and believe me, this is no small thing, white people are viewed as human. What this means is that when white people suffer, as some who are poor/female/queer, they nevertheless are able to have some measure of sympathy for their plight simply because they are white and their marginalization is considered an emergency, crisis or an issue to be concerned about.

Furthermore, even when white people have been oppressed by various dimensions of classism, homophobia and heterosexism, they have been able to opt for what DuBois, in his monograph "Black Reconstruction" brilliantly called "the psychological wage of whiteness." That is, whites that are marginalized could find comfort, even if psychological, in the fact that they were not non-white. They could revel in the fact that they could be taken as white in opposition to non-white groups. The desire for this wage of whiteness was also what drove many white people, albeit marginalized, to engage in organized violence against non-whites.

Of course, legal cases such as the Dred Scott Decision along with many different naturalization cases involving Asian individuals, has helped to encode a state-sanctioned definition of whiteness. But there are other ways in which white people can be racialized as white by the state. They are not stopped while driving as much as non-white people. Their homes and businesses are not raided and searched as much by police officers, INS or License and Inspections (L&I). White people's bodies are not tracked and locked up in prisons, detention centers, juvenile systems, detention halls in classrooms, "special education" classes, etc. White people's bodies are not generally the site of fear, repulsion, violent desire, or hatred.

Now some might point out to me that white people are followed, tracked and harassed by individuals and state agents such as the police. This is true. Some white women get sexually harassed and experience state-sanctioned discrimination. Queer whites are the subject of homophobia, whether by individuals or by the state through laws and the police. Some queer whites are harassed by cops. Activist whites are stopped by police. White people who play rap music and wear gear are stopped by cops. Poor whites can be criminalized, especially by the state around welfare issues. What I want to point out is that, while I do not condone police violence and harassment, there is a way in which white people will not be viewed as inherently criminal or suspect unless they are perceived as doing something that breaks particular norms.

Conversely, other racial groups, particularly Blacks and Native Americans, are considered inherently criminal no matter what they do, what their sexual identity is or what they wear. Further, it has always struck me as interesting that there are white people who will attempt to wear what signifies "Blackness," whether it is dreadlocks (which, in my opinion, should be cut off from every white person's head), "gear," or Black masks at rallies. There is a sick way in which white people want to emulate that which is considered "badass" about a certain existential position of Blackness at the same time they do not want the burden of living as a non-white person. Further, it really strikes me as fucked up the way in which white people will go to rallies and taunt the police with Black masks in order to bring on police pressure. What does it mean when Blackness is strategically used by whites to bring on police violence? Now I know that somewhere there is a dreadlocked, smelly white anarchist who is reading this message and who is angry with me for not understanding the logic of the Black masks and its roots in anarchism. But I would challenge these people to consider how they are reproducing a violence towards Blackness in their attempts to taunt and challenge the police in their efforts.

Now back to my point that white anti-racism is an oxymoron. Whiteness is a social and political construct rooted in white supremacy. White supremacy is a structure and system of beliefs rooted in European and US imperialism in which certain racialized bodies (non-white) are selected for premature negation whether through cultural, physical, psychological genocide, containment or other forms of social death. White supremacy is at the heart of the US social system and civil society. In short, white supremacy is not just a series of practices or privilege, but a larger social structure and system of domination that overly-values and rewards those who are racialized as white. The rest of us are constructed as undeserving to be considered human, although there is significant variation within non-white populations of how our bodies are encoded, treated and (de)valued.

Now, for one to claim whiteness, one also is invested in white supremacy. Whiteness itself is a political term that emerged among European white ethnics in the US. These European ethnics, many of them reviled, chose to cast their lot with whiteness rather than that with those who had been determined as non-white. In short, anyone who claims to be white, even a white anti-racist, is identifying with a history of European imperialism and racism transported and further developed into the US.

However, this does not mean that white people who go around saying dumb things such as "I am not white! I am a human being!" or, "I left whiteness and joined the human race," or my favorite, "I hate white people! They're stupid" are not structurally white. Remember, whiteness is a structure of domination embedded in our social relations, institutions, discourses, and practices. Don't tell me you're not white but then when we go out in the street and the police don't bother you or people don't ask you if you're a prostitute, or if people don't follow you and touch you at will, act like that does not make a difference in our lives. Basically, you can't talk, or merely "unlearn" whiteness, as all of these annoying trainings for white people to "unlearn" racism will have you think.

Rather, white people need to be willing to have their very social position, their very relationship of domination, their very authority, their very being...let go, perhaps even destroyed. I know this might sound scary, but that is really not my concern. I am not interested in making white people, even those so-called good-hearted anti-racist whites, comfortable about their position in struggles that shape my life in ways that it will never shape theirs. I recently finished the biography of John Brown by DuBois. The biography was less of a biography and more of an interpretation by DuBois about the now-legendary white abolitionist. Now while John Brown's practice was problematic in many ways--he still had to be in control and he had fucked-up views that Blacks were still enslaved because they were too "servile" (a white supremacist sentiment)--what I took from Brown's life was that he realized that moral persuasion alone would not solve racial problems. That is, whites cannot talk or just think through whiteness and structures of white supremacy. They must be committed to either picking up arms for other people (and only firing when the people tell them so), dying for other people, or just getting out of the way. In short, they must be willing to do what the people most affected and marginalized by a situation tell them to do.

Now I am sure that right now there are some white people saying that other people cannot understand what is going on, that they do not have the critical analysis to figure stuff out, or that non-white people have fucked up ideas. This is just white supremacist bullshit because it is rooted in the idea that non-white people have not interpreted their experiences and cannot run things themselves. It also assumes that there are not internal conversations within communities--which I do not think white people need to be privy to or participate in--in which people struggle out their own visions for society and how to go about achieving them. In short, this perspective by whites that non-white people cannot be in control of our own destinies is rooted in a paternally-racist approach to non-white people.

Further, it is also rooted in the idea that white people are not racist or do not benefit from racism. Rather, white people at meetings will often discuss how they feel "silenced" by non-whites, or that they are being "put in their place." Let me make one thing clear: it is impossible for a non-white person to put a white person in her place. This is not to say that non-white people cannot have a sexist or homophobic attitude towards a white person. But to say, or even hint at that as a "WHITE" person someone is being put in their place--whoever says this just needs to shut the fuck up because that is some bull. It is impossible for whiteness to be put in one's place, because that is a part of whiteness, the ability to take up space and feel a prerogative to do so.

Further, the idea that white people are being put into their place relies on the neo-conservative view of reverse racism that has characterized the backlash against non-whites, especially Blacks, in the post-civil rights era. So when you say these types of things you are actually helping to reproduce a neo-conservative racial rhetoric which relies on the myth of the "threatened" and "displaced" white person.

Additionally, white activism, especially white anti-racism, is predicated on an economy of gratitude. We are supposed to be grateful that a white person is willing to work with non-white people. We are supposed to be grateful that you actually want to work with us and that you give us your resources. I would like to know why you have those resources and others do not? And don't assume that just because I have to ask you for resources that it does not hurt me, pain me even. Don't assume that when you come into the space, that doesn't bother me. Don't assume that when you talk first, talk the most, and talk the most often, that this doesn't hurt me. Don't assume that when I see you get the attention and accolades and the book deals and the speaking engagements that this does not hurt me (because you profit off of pain). And don't assume that when I see how grateful non-white people are to you for being there, for being a "good white" person that this doesn't hurt me. And don't assume that when I get chastised by non-white people because I think your presence is unnecessary that it does not hurt me. Because all of these things remind me of how powerless non-white people are (albeit differently) in relation to white people. All of these gestures that you do reminds me of how grateful I am supposed to be towards you because you actually (or supposedly) care about what is happening to me. I am a bit resentful of economies of gratitude.

Further, this structure of white supremacy known as white anti-racism also impacts the larger social world because it still makes white people the most valued people. Non-white people are forced to feel dependent and grateful to white people who will actually interact with us. We are made to feel that we are inferior, incapable, that we really do need white people. And the sad thing is, that given all of the resources that whiteness has and that white people get and control, there is an element of material truth in all of this, I am afraid. But white people need to think of how their activism reproduces the actual structure of white supremacy some--not all whites activists--profess to be about. This structure of white supremacy is not just in an activist space, it actually touches upon and impinges on the lives of non-white people who may not be activists (in your sense) or who do not interact with you in activist worlds.

But consider what your presence means in a community that you decide to set up your community garden in, or your bookstore in, or your meeting space in, or have your march in. What does it mean when you decide that you want to be "with" the oppressed and you end up displacing them? Just because you walk around with your dreadlocks, or decide that you will not wear expensive clothes does not mean that your whiteness does not displace people in the spaces you decide to put yourself in. How do you help to bring more forms of authority and control in a neighborhood, whether through increased rent and housing costs, more policing, or just the ways in which your white bodies can make people feel, as a brilliant friend of mine once asked, "squatters in somebody else's project"?

So what does this mean for the future of white anti-racists? This might mean to first, figure out ways in which whiteness needs to die as a social structure and as an identity in which you organize your anti-racist work. What this looks like in practice may not be so clear but I will attempt to give some suggestions here. First, don't call us, we'll call you. If we need your resources, we will contact you. But don't show up, flaunt your power in our faces and then get angry when we resent the fact that you have so many resources we don't and that we are not grateful for this arrangement. And don't get mad because you can't make decisions in the process. Why do you need to? Secondly, stop speaking for us. We can talk for ourselves. Third, stop trying to point out internal contradictions in our communities, we know what they are, we are struggling around them, and I really do not know how white people can be helpful to non- whites to clear these up. Fourth, don't ever say some shit to me about how you feel silenced, marginalized, discriminated against, or put in your place. Period. Finally, start thinking of what it would mean, in terms of actual structured social arrangements, for whiteness and white identity--even the white antiracist kind (because there really is no redeemable or reformed white identity)--to be destroyed.

In conclusion, I want to say to anyone who thinks that this is too academic or abstract, I write as a non-white person, meaning that from my body, my person, I experience white supremacy. I also draw my understanding of white supremacy from non-white people, many engaged in various struggles of activism, but most importantly just to speak out and stay alive. They did not get accolades from many for speaking out but instead experienced constant threats on their lives for just existing and doing the work that they did. Moreover, I want to know when a discussion of whiteness, white supremacy and domination became seen as abstract and not rooted in the everyday concrete reality that we experience?


BigmacInPittsburgh said...

The author was on the money,but my experience says,never close a door you may need to re-enter.

changeseeker said...

Sometimes, though, closing one door makes another accessible to us. The author is not talking about getting rid of fair-skinned people. She's just talking about changing a system predicated on giving fair-skinned people power, economic resources, and special consideration and "respect" just because they were born with fair skin. Seems fair to me. ;^)

BigmacInPittsburgh said...

Some of those "fairskin people" sometimes need their hands held through the process,I know you understand clearly what was being said.My point is I want everyone I can get to be on my side when I need them,and sometimes holding their hands is the right thing to do.Because in the end we are talking about right and wrong.

changeseeker said...

That's why I used the graphic I used, Bigmac. But WAY too much of the time, folks who need their hand held never opt to get it. I know African-Americans who are VERY good at hand-holding and I've seen them accomplish much in that way. I, on the other hand, tend to take the harsher road. I think it takes both to make it happen. (Not surprisingly, I was more into Malcolm than Martin -- for the same reasons.)

BigmacInPittsburgh said...

I do understand where you stand and respect your postion,but do also agree in Malcolm's later years just before his death,that he did some hand holding after his pilgram to Mecca?

changeseeker said...

I don't think he was hand-holding. I think he was genuinely surprised to find fair-skinned Moslems in Mecca. It was a religious issue for him. But I definitely understand and acknowledge your point. And it DID carry him in a different direction.

sawtooth said...

When we were referred to the Race Traitor site over a month ago by one of your bloggers, I read this statement by Tamara back then. While I too agree with the fundamental beliefs being expressed, I like hand-holding/guidance - nothing wrong with that - promotes understanding and learning - who better to learn from than the oppressed? Their knowledge is most valuable and a key source for social change. Yes, we need to dismantle the structure of domination, but I think Tamara's assumptions - well, really the actual experiences being discussed - with anti-racists, was a bit harsh...understandable though. I sense a lot of resentment and anger that most whites react to negatively; how can an anti-racist, who doesn't adhere to Tamara's examples of the kind she/he doesn't like/trust, get anywhere with the primary quest here? "Don't call us; we'll call you" - well, I need to call you and ask questions and learn. That's how I know how to start. I don't think you'll ever call me first. Why the heck would you?

changeseeker said...

Hey, Sawtooth. Thanks for dropping by. You suggest that a fair-skinned person might need to call a person of color to ask a question or might even need some hand-holding to learn. But the way I read Nopper (and the way I write about these issues myself -- see the series on How to Be An Ally listed at the top of my blog roll), she's not talking about not being available. She's talking about White people who call themselves "anti-racist", but who want to bull their way in all the time and run everything (as if African-Americans are helpless without Whitey). They're so busy "saving African-Americans", they don't have time (or the introspection) to see themselves. These misguided individuals are not trying to learn anything; they're trying to fix the world as if only they could. White people who have not done the inside job first tend to miss how obnoxious we are socialized to be around those we are taught are our inferiors.

Further, some White people will argue with African-Americans about race relations in the U.S. in the name of trying to "learn something." James Baldwin once said, "You can learn everything you need to know about race in the U.S. by asking a White man would he want to be Black."

Personally, I'm quick to show up and slow to show out until I get the feel of the situation. I ask to be taught rather than to teach. I talk in terms of saving my Self rather than "helping" Black folks. I declare in classes that racism is a White people problem; that White people invented it, maintain it, and benefit from it, so they need to figure out how to get rid of it. When I speak out, I ask people of color afterward for input on whether or not I missed something I should have included or presented something inaccurately. Because I show respect, I am invited to participate and to learn more. And it's taken me 45 years to get the understanding I still work so hard every day to increase.

African-Americans just get tired of having to meet White folks' needs all the time and White folks are often needy. That's all.

changeseeker said...

Welcome to the dialogue, Anonymous. Your comment is obviously the result of some considerable thought and I agree with you in almost every point. One thing many don't realize, however, is that, according to the Census Bureau, in 2008, White people who were not Hispanic made up less than 66% of the U.S. population. Assuming that half of those are women (which is the average in the U.S.), only about 33% of the population of this country would then be White males, considerably below the level of a majority. Nevertheless, they hold the VAST majority of decision-making positions, which is where the rubber meets the road. And this is held in place institutionally by the practice of what we call in sociology "the male kinship system" (or more popularly, "the good ole boy network").

Tamara Nopper is not criticizing White anti-racists in general. She's criticizing (and trying to educate) White anti-racists who want to have it both ways: calling themselves "anti-racists" while still acting "White." It won't work.

vegan hip hop movement said...

thanks for posting this!!! i'm about to repost now!!

sister sarah said...

I wonder if "white guilt" also plays a role here. If a white person "helps" an oppressed group, that may assuage some of that guilt. As in, "my ancestors set all this into motion, and I should help fix it", not realizing that is perpetuating the structure he/she is supposedly fighting against. The underlying white supremacy is still there, in the attitude that non-whites cannot be trusted to make their own decisions about what is best for them individually and their communities. This includes decisions regarding whether or not to reach out to white allies, and how to respond to white people who enter their space.

Great article, very well said. :)

changeseeker said...

Lord Vegan: That's what I did. ;^)

Sister Sarah: You absolutely nailed one of the most difficult things for White folks to get their White-washed brains around. They don't "mean" to be arrogant and patronizing. It just comes with the territory. I try to be vigilant as to when I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time just because of my skin tone and my tendency to speak out without apology. Sometimes, it's good. Sometimes, I need to step back. Sometimes, I need to leave. And that comes with the territory, too.

Maya Angelou wrote in "On Working White Liberals":

I'm afraid they'll have to prove first
that they'll watch the Black man move first
Then follow him with faith to kingdom come,
This rocky road is not paved for us,
So, I'll believe in Liberal's aid for us
When I see a white man load a Black man's gun.

I'm not advocating violence per se (and I don't think Angelou was either -- necessarily), but I'm just sayin'...

Dusttracks said...

I love every word of it, Changeseeker, including your replies to the comments. Thanks. I will subscribe and read again.

changeseeker said...

Glad you like it, Dusttracks. Be my guest. Anytime and often.

Peter DiCaprio said...

I think this article assumes that the goal of the folks calling themselves white anti-racists is to "help" people of color. That's not the kind of work that white racism activists need to do. Whites need to deliver the message of combating racism to other whites and they need to be led in doing so by people of color. They need to learn about it and teach other whites that racism resides in us, in the attitudes, behaviors, etc... of we whites and white society, and it is that part of society that needs to change to stop racism. I've also spent some time holding to the belief that whiteness is only a structure of oppression and I can tell you from experience and from the inside that while oppression is an integral part of white history and culture, there are elements to the racial group “white” that simply are not oppression. When my white friends and I get together, something happens that is culturally white and is not oppression. As much as the concept of culture is valid in any context, whiteness is a group affiliation that has cultural content- patterns of meaning, communication patterns, etc… which of course exist in a context of diversity and individual difference among members of the group. Another way I describe it is that our society holds people to certain “white standards.” Holding all people to the standards of the dominant group is oppression. The standards themselves are the content of whiteness (in this instance).

changeseeker said...

It interests me greatly that this particular post (or re-post actually) draws ongoing emotion over time, most of which is valuable participation in a discussion that is quite needed in the U.S. Some comments I agree with (I do think "White" people need to communicate about White Supremacy and its foot-soldier, racist oppression, to other "White" people, for example). Some comments I agree with in part (I do think "Whiteness studies" can reflect "White" narcissism, but they can also provide the statistical evidence for how White Supremacy develops and works). And some comments I'm not sure I fully understand. For example, "White" people have most definitely developed what they want to see as a "culture" of "Whiteness" -- thus necessitating "White studies" -- but that culture is DEEPLY entrenched in the premise that "White" people AS A GROUP are superior on a number of levels, which is, of course, ludicrous. It's not true of any group of humans. And besides, the criteria for this assumption of superiority was set by "White" people themselves BECAUSE they had/have the power to do so. Why anyone should accept that assumption (even "White" people, if they have an ounce of logic) escapes me.

In any case, some comments, such as the one by Angienoremorse89 threaten people of color and are removed. My blog will not contain that type of language, though I will address it in a blog post later today.

Youknowwho said...

Yet, Tamara nopper provokes violence against whited and threatens our lives. This to the administrator: grow some skin.

Yesme said...

You want to be more Malcolm than Martin? You know what, I'm ready; WHITE PEOPLE ARM YOURSELVES. You want to play that petty little nonsense with me you gonna get trouble. I'll call it like I see it too, you people are so paranoid and hateful you see racism where there is none and you make your own problems. Like I said, we are getting fed up with you, so bring it, since you seek to divide.

changeseeker said...

Nobody on this blog is on attack mode but you, Yesme. Not me. Not anybody else. Just you.

I'm not sure why you feel threatened, since the point I already made was that I want this space to be safe for everyone. In five years, I've never allowed threats against anyone to remain on this blog. It's not personal. It was a decision I made back at the beginning.

Generally speaking, people on the attack are afraid of something. What is it that's scaring you?

Anonymous said...

You said, "Tamara Nopper is not criticizing White anti-racists in general."

Can you elaborate on that? I don't really get that from the article at all. It feels extremely general. Which is weird because a lot of her arguments are seemingly based on a really specific type of 'white anti-racist,' who complains about being silenced or put in their place, wears black masks, etc.

I feel like she's taking this really specific type of person and saying any "white person" who's working against racism in some way (and there are a lot of ways) is wrong, needs to stop whatever they're doing, and should shut the hell up about it.

Maybe I'm missing something though. Any thoughts?

changeseeker said...

You're really asking the wrong person, Anon 10:49. I didn't write this and I'm not in Nopper's head. But I obviously had no problem with what she wrote or I wouldn't have re-posted it. I appreciate having my coat tail pulled so I can reflect on how I'm functioning in a more conscious manner. Some folks don't want to do that. And my best guess would be that Nopper is talking to those folks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response.

OK, I see what you mean. It's certainly good to try to make people more conscious of what they're doing, and it's great if this piece does that for some people.

Like I said, it just seems a bit mixed up as far as who she's actually talking to (white anti-racists in general, or these specific types of activists?). I think that's a pretty important distinction to make.

I suppose I probably agree with a lot of what she's saying, but the way it's written I don't think it's nearly as effective a piece as it could be.

changeseeker said...

Nothing is ever perfect. ;^)

Robert said...

How do you explain Obama in this white supremacist society?

changeseeker said...

Obama was the charismatic leader the U.S. population was hungry for. Yet, he was approved by what C. Wright Mills called "The Power Elite" or he wouldn't have been allowed to be one of the last two candidates. By pitting a woman against a Black man, The Power Elite was able to ensure that the mass public would believe that they were going to see something new, when in fact, they were both already committed to maintaining the status quo (with the power staying right where it was). Here we are four years later and Obama has advanced the agenda that many call fascist just as effectively as any White man could have done.

Christa said...

Thank you for posting this. I'm a relative newbie when it comes to actually addressing my privilege, and it's also a privilege to have that space to confront it like it's something new and exotic when I've been benefiting from it my whole life. That said, I'd like to address some of the folks on here regarding "hand-holding".

It's very, very easy to want that kind of thing. Being implicated in our white supremacist society leaves you feeling confused/ashamed/bruised/turbulent, and the first instinct often is to "reach out" to people of color to help you understand your process.

It's not anyone's responsibility but yours to take that step and to process this ugly reality. There are people of color who are willing to educate and hold your hand, but don't assume that anyone, even if you've known them for a long time, is going to instantly step into that role for you. I think Nopper speaks to this re: "silencing" of whites in non-white/activist environment. It's literally impossible because we have the voice granted from birth based on our skin color. It's arrogant and racist to assume that you can turn to a warm community of color who've just been waiting for you to combat your ignorance! If someone tells you to fuck off/go away/shut the fuck up and listen/deal with it, guess what? We have to deal.

There are respectful ways to ask questions that are heavily rooted in context and your relationship with your friends/partners of color. There's a time and a place, and we, white people, are in this struggle to get out of the way and live differently, better, excellently, on our own. We cannot assume that anyone is going to help us. It's racist, it's oppressive and it's actually really effin' rude, too.

Sascha said...

About masked protestors: black masks are not used to "bring on police pressure." They are used to avoid surveillance measures, amongst other things. I love this essay but that section is some straight up victim blaming bs.

Of the Italian Autonomia and the German Autonome, anti-police/statist/oppression groups that sprang up in the late 70s, from the book "Fire and Flames: A History of the German Autonomist Movement": "Because of their outfit (heavy black clothing, ski masks, helmets), the Autonomen were dubbed the "black bloc" by the German media, and their tactics have been successfully adopted and employed at anti-capitalist protests worldwide."

Anonymous said...

@ Changeseeker: You can't keep making excuses for why Obama has been such a disappointment to everyone. You are one step away from fantasizing about the Illuminati with your far-fetched conspiracy theory. Face the facts: America voted in a black man for the first time and they watched him fail. Now we have to guess whether Clinton could have done better as Obama's utter uselessness has opened the Dem's up to a possible 1 term run. Obama has become even more of a warmonger than Bush and, because of this, America has never been less popular in the world. Black people have to start taking responsibility now that a black American is the most powerful man in the world, authorizing record body counts for oil. Which secret society makes him such a butcher?

changeseeker said...

Wow. This is what I get for not answering my comments for a while. :^)

Christa: You da bomb, girl! Here's to "relative newbies" who jump in with both feet. Would you mind if I make this one comment a permanent post in my "Some Basics" link list?

Sascha: I've now re-read the part about the masks and I'm somewhat confused, but I do agree with you. If Topper is referring to the Guy Fawkes masks members of Anonymous and other protestors wear, those are not Black at all. They're white and related to a British revolutionary who lived in the 1600's. I don't know how I missed that section and, of course, you're right. It doesn't fit the rest of the argument at all.

Anonymous 8:31: Sorry you feel that way. I assume you accidentally wound up here and were forced to read this. That's terrible.

Anonymous 1:55: I make no apologies for Obama or any other President. They've all been pretty much alike since the beginning and his skin tone makes no difference. How did you get the impression that attacking him would somehow bother me?

Anonymous said...

I see nothing here but racism and hatred for white people. I see many comments about weapons here "loading guns" by Angelou, ect. This brings me to an important point--show me a gun that was not designed by a white man, or in some few cases, by an Asian (but most of those are copies). Or a bullet. Or the machinery to make it. Or a car, or even a damn toaster.

South Africa used to make it's own artillery (in case you wonder why that's significant, it's really hard to do) and really good ammunition right up to the "revolution". Now they don't make artillery, and their ammo is crap, because it has third-world (non-white) quality control.

Yes, you are living in a white world. And if you were not, you would be fighting lions with sticks and eating each other like those who stayed in the Mother country, having not had their ancestors kidnapped and forcibly bred into partial white people.

I did not do this. It was not done to you within your lifetime. You are better off now than you would have been had this not happened.

I am white, not racist or anti-racist, but realist, and very, very sick of racist non-whites blaming me with their problems.

I got here by accident; I probably will never come back, but it is useful to me to see what non-whites really feel about me, without meeting me, This is called "prejudice", it's when you pre judge someone before you meet them.

There appear to be some very articulate, educated non-white people here. Too bad you don't produce something except racism.

On the topic of color, here is a fun factoid. On Indian TV, probably 50% of everything advertised is a "fairness" product. Creams, or lotions or whatever designed to "bring out your natural fairness" IE bleach you whiter. They even have a "vaginal fairness" cream. Then look at the tanning industry in the US.

Everyone wants to be something else, it seems.

GreetzFromEurope said...

Changeseeker, I thank you for your wise comments and for posting this text.

Anonymous, have you ever even thought about what power means? Ever had a look at what happened when colonialisation was carried out? At the politics of the IMF? At the history of Congo? Anything?

Privilege may be hard to reconcile with your self-image of being so egalitarian. But being excluded from privilege is far more brutal than anything you're likely to have experienced as a privileged being. Humbleness is definitely a lesson to learn for whites. I'm saying this as a "white woman", who has experienced both sides of privilege more or less consciously and always involuntarily.

Concerning the masks, I don't think the Guy Fawkes masks were meant, afaik they only came up with Occupy. Normally people do dress up in black to be unrecognisable and undistinguishable to the police. I wondered why this dresscode is black and rationalised it as being a good camouflage colour in the evening, plus there are no different shades of black clothes that could help identify you. But I'm afraid it's fraught with another message, too... :-/

changeseeker said...

Thanks, GreetzFromEurope. It's always great to have additional perspectives. I think sometimes readers think mine are irrational.

Anonymous said...

Speaking from a British perspective, I think the author's anger is indeed justified in some instances. However, her gross generalision leaves her open to valid criticism of essentialism and stereotyping which is precisely the cultural process she is seeking to undo. I say this precisely because my politics revolves around equality. White people no more than Black people should be made to feel guilty about their actions, whatever they are, because of the colour of their skin.

changeseeker said...

Anonymous 10:13, none of this is personal to you. The writer of this particular essay is not attacking a White person as an individual, but is examining White Supremacy (and the illusion of White superiority) by looking at how it is demonstrated by some (most?) White people. And certainly by you. You're welcome to your White Supremacist perspective. It is not, however, borne out by history in the way you try to state it. And if better ways to kill people is your primary benchmark for superiority, God help us all.

changeseeker said...

Anonymous 8:24, this essay isn't an attempt to make you or anyone else feel guilty. It's an opportunity to consider how insidious and pervasive White Supremacy as a paradigm is. I don't feel guilty that a White power structure has implemented and maintained White Supremacy for the past five hundred years to the present, but I most certainly want to root out of my being and my society this particular manifestation of my socialization. We swim in an ocean of White Supremacy even yet. Those who are unwilling to look at that are voting to keep it so. It's a choice. I choose justice for all.

Anonymous said...

Changeseeker, to question the tone and separatist undertones of Nopper's letter is not to deny white supremacy. Her reification of white anti-racists and her essentialist assumptions ties white supremacy to all white people and that simply is not true, not to mention philosophically naive. To homogenise white antiracist work in this way, as does Nopper, is to devalue the work that some white people do in tackling white supremacist discourses.

Nopper and other radicals need to accept that a reification of race, in the name of political activism, breeds exactly the kind of society they professes to undo. Such accounts fail to interrogate whiteness and inadvertently produce a fixed view of racial identities, negating the very contested nature of their construction.

Anonymous said...

First off, please forgive me if I accidentally say something offensive or problematic - I've never before been exposed to or taken part in dialogue like this.

I'm a white man who only recently (in the past month and a half) became aware of the idea of dominance, privilege, and oppression. I'm trying to learn as much as I can as quickly as possible - the first time I heard these ideas it was clear that they were putting into words something I had never heard before, and I was hoping you could clarify something for me.

You said that, to help dismantle these current power dynamics, white people would have to "get out of the way" - but I was wondering, practically, how I could actually do that. What sort of steps can I take in my daily life to be a better ally?

Again - I am truly sorry if I'm speaking out of place in any way.

changeseeker said...

You are starting at a pretty sophisticated level, Anon 12:30. And I welcome you heartily to the struggle to free your own mind. What I meant by "get out of the way" is that Whites are socialized to feel quite comfortable and even entitled to make suggestions, offer ideas, speak their minds, step in to "fix" things, etc., whether or not they really understand what they're talking about (about any topic, not just race). So part of undoing the power dynamics would involve them stepping back, not being so quick to speak, listening more, and asking questions that don't imply that people of color have it wrong when they're explaining their own experience of life. You are already engaged in your process to be a better ally because you are asking how to do it rather than arguing to avoid doing so.

Read all the "Some Basics" posts to the right of this blog for starters and then feel free to jump around the blog by chasing particular topics in which you might be interested (see the "labels" list for ideas). My blog roll is carefully chosen to reflect what I think are some of the best of the blogs on race. A good beginning book (among many) might be White Like Me: Reflections on Race by a Privileged Son by Tim Wise (followed by anything else he's written, including many essays online). Some interesting first films might be "Slavery By Another Name" and "Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible." (Try the internet or a library for either one.)

Realize that once you begin to open your eyes, you will experience lots of feelings, including perhaps depression or helplessness. Don't be afraid of them. All feelings eventually pass. And remember: this is going to be a life-long process rather than one you can enter, graduate from and move on. Luckily, you have a whole life to do it. ;^)

Will said...

Thank you for answering the comments - I try to do that in my own bloggings and really appreciate others who likewise take the time.

What I struggle with is that the article seems to be asking that white people live without sinning, when the culture we're born and raised into is such that "sin" is such the default. And even when we try to counter this, we indirectly imply that everyone has to feel gratitude towards us and give them pain.

There's no moral path forward, except for forsaking all non-white people, which is in itself a racist act since it's biased towards the status quo and allows more power to media and its biases. The only path she gives is giving up my whiteness through mechanisms left unsaid.

And so, when I see this landscape of moral harm everywhere, and no possible way out, I recoil. To me, hope isn't handholding. It's necessary leadership. Otherwise, I'm staying the hell away and will happily enjoy a privileged-enabled life, selectively fighting a few battles as they come up. It's not for me to say if it's better or worse, but I don't feel right about that path either. I just need something for my behavior to orient to.

I think this is what 7:26 is talking about with the homogenization.

changeseeker said...

Thanks for joining the dialogue, Will. I don't think Nopper is expecting "White" people to be perfect. I think she's calling for them to stop being "White." Keep in mind that "Whiteness" is not about skin tone. It's about being designated a member of a category arbitrarily and disproportionately rewarded for no other reason that they have been designated "White."

"White" people created the concept of race for the express purpose of ripping off people of color. Then, "White" Europeans took the socially-constructed, political notion of "race" they had created to a whole new level in the Western Hemisphere by enslaving or murdering millions of people of color and establishing an entire nation built on the principle of "White" Supremacy. That paradigm is still in place in the United States today and the social institutions set up and maintained to keep it in place continue to do so quite handily.

What Nopper writes is that we are either in or out and we cannot dismantle this brutal, immoral, and even genocidal system of "White" Supremacy while ignoring the extent to which we are, as individuals, still "White." It is a daunting and complicated task, but whether or not we are up to the challenge, it is our task. We can choose to face and work to uproot the White Supremacy with which we are embedded or we can turn away. But Nopper is reminding us that, if we turn away, we are choosing to support the system we say we abhor.

Since "White" people created this mess, "White" people must clean it up. Or accept responsibility for not doing so. Part of the clean-up process is to recognize how "White" Supremacy affects the way we -- as individuals -- interact with and see people of color and, most particularly, "Black" people. This process of recognition, according to Nopper, cannot be theoretical alone. In this essay, she calls on "White" people -- especially "White" "anti-racists" -- to respond to her challenge in practical, personal ways. Because the fate of our nation hangs in the balance.

changeseeker said...

Just keep reading, Anonymous. History tells us that social change is continual. There's no time table, but no society has ever gone up and never come down. Black people aren't trying to do to White people what White people have done to the rest of the human race. What many White people seem not to have considered, however, is that when you act against the best interests of the human race, you are acting against your own best interests, as well. Read and think. It's not rocket science.