a word for white people, in two parts

part one: what a time to be alive.

right now we are in a fast river together – every day there are changes that seemed unimaginable until they occurred.

if you are a white person (or a man) this is a time of intentionally relinquishing power, or having it pulled out from under you. i know it seems fast and everywhere, but it’s actually not a rapids, not a waterfall, not a tsunami. most people who aren’t white have in our lineages or lived experiences the whiplash of much more drastic changes, placed upon us by your ancestors. being snatched from home and shipped into slavery, weighed and measured, worked to death, lynched daily by authorities, reminded that our lives are expendable at any moment (and yes this is true even right now, hence #blacklivesmatter and #defundthepolice).

or being displaced from the land we were given instructions to love and care for, then raped, killed or reprogrammed.

or being burnt up by new weapons your ancestors created to speed colonization or domination. being cast as the savages or terrorists in their worldview in a way that stuck to us even outside the stage of their minds; stuck in your minds such that it’s nearly impossible for you to even see it without cultural ice buckets poured on the delusion.

your ancestors did not fight fair, and they didn’t teach you to be in right relationship with anyone. they didn’t give our ancestors time to wonder, ask for help, course correct, negotiate. this is why some say you should be grateful we seek justice, equality, and our humanity, versus revenge. because right now, after years of physical, intellectual and cultural warfare on peoples who were different from white, you have an opportunity to leap forward, dive into this river of change, rather than be deluged and drowned in it.

the time for denial is over. you were not raised in a secret mountaintop retreat disconnected from the world, you haven’t existed with no contact for over 400 years…so we know you see and know what is going on. and you’re scared, saddened, defensive, guilty, and unsure of who to be if you aren’t the default superior. so you make choices towards or away from or against your own highest self.

when you say ‘but don’t all lives matter?’ we hear ‘i refuse to acknowledge the harm i have caused you by benefiting from false constructs of supremacy. i cannot prioritize your pain over my privilege.’

when you say ‘ok ok so teach me’, we hear, ‘my time and needs continue to be more important than yours. i refuse to google and read, i demand your labor.’

when you say ‘but what do i do?’ it sounds like procrastination, because we have told you a million things. here.

here are ways i recommend for diving into this river:

learn to say, and mean, ‘i am sorry for the impact of my white supremacy.’ don’t post it on the internet, say it from your heart and gut directly to people you’ve impacted, especially in situations when you were/are in positions of leadership or authority. and then – and this is important – shift your behavior so you never need to give that apology again. riffing off fellow nerd albert einstein, practicing white supremacy and expecting a different outcome than race war is one definition of collective insanity. i don’t want the apology without the shifts in behavior, policy and access to power, without the end of the monsoon of constant harm.

commit to doing your own work without seeking accolades. yes, some people of color will be welcoming, will even celebrate what you do – i am sometimes moved to tears when i hear how acts-of-white-people-being-kind-to-black-people touch my black southern father, who just never thought he would see that. and/but many people of color won’t clap because the point of this moment is decentering whiteness in the story of humanity. that means not centering white course correction with the attention we give a baby’s first steps. we won’t patronize you for rejoining a collective path…and that should be good news.

don’t revert to supremacy under pressure. it breaks trust. if you are told you are practicing white supremacy, consider that we see and feel things you do not because they’re weaponized against us, weighted against us, scarring us, limiting us. we aren’t generalizing or reducing you, we are protecting our vulnerable lives.

redistribute resources. not as charity, which is just another way to assuage the conscience of privilege. redistribute money, leadership positions, decision-making power, land, time in meetings, visionary space, relationships with philanthropy, speaking opportunities, press attention, health care benefits – if you can measure it, you can redistribute the resource.

i am taking the time to write to you because i am a mixed race black woman. i am connected to the same lineages of harm as you, even as i am harmed by them. i am in intimate familial relationship with white people, and i want those relationships to be honest and accountable. i benefit from how the artifacts of whiteness in my skin, cadence, and cultural shaping make me more visible and comprehensible to you, more human to you.

it’s a devastating weight to carry, to work to be fully myself, humble and brilliant and messy and great, against a delusion of white supremacy so pervasive and invasive that it can grow within each of us without invitation. but just because something alive violates us does not mean we asked for it, does not mean we partner with it, believe it, or even let it live.

i in my wholeness am working to hold the contradictions of white supremacy responsibly, to weed my own garden even as i demand and build my and our black power. we all have our work, and none of us can do anyone else’s.

..

part two: a variation on paying attention to white people

in the spirit of ‘what you pay attention to grows’, i want to bring more attention to the white people who are in my life, none by accident, none tolerated, each beloved and cultivated. not everyone has an experience of white people who love, learn with, and follow them. i want to practice, in this moment, attending to them as much as or more than we attend to the swarm of karens and beckys and donalds and other haters.

i do not believe whiteness will just disappear in shame, or that white people committed to race and other offenses to science and god will self-segregate in a way that leaves the rest of us and the planet safe. so i must believe that something else can emerge, is emerging, even if it is still small and rare. and my belief is met by the presence, felt much more than spoken, of white people who are blessings, peers, beloveds, comrades, self-responsible humans.

i am blessed by my mother. she gave up everything she’d been raised in, family and resources, when she realized she was in love with my father. she began unlearning racism without training, decolonization curricula, language monitors. she began her unlearning in relationship, both as wife and as mother. she was the one who came storming into classrooms challenging our racist teachers. she has taken our sides and has our backs and asserts our brilliance at every turn. she doesn’t claim to get it right, she keeps leaning in and learning with love. she makes me consider that something can shift deep within when you birth a black child, or three. i am not interested in denying that, ridiculing that, making it smaller than what it is.

i am blessed by those in my southern white family who reach out to let me know they love me and listen hungrily to suggestions for what they can do to be in solidarity, to raise their kids to see beyond the racism they’re all raised to swim in. they do help to offset the pain of knowing there are white people related to me by blood who watched me be a black child and then chose to vote for the klan’s favorite president, frump.

i am blessed by the anti-racist white people in my inner friend circle. instead of perfection, these friends are committed to practice, to asking questions and really listening to the answers, to doing their own work and not putting it on me, to releasing rigid control and seeing that that there are many ways to be productive and efficient, to growing ease in taking leadership from black people, from people of color. and then diving in deep with other white people. and decentering themselves in their fields. and fucking up, and then letting it grow them rather than make them performative or bitter. they do most of their race work elsewhere, and yet it is palpable to me without feeling like guilt, charity, pity or other power-over emotions.

i have had a white partner in the past, and though i revel and thrive in black love now, when i look at movement i actually see a huge number of leaders with white partners, white family, white community. sometimes claimed, sometimes quietly kept off screen. i think we need to bring more attention to why those people get to be in our lives, why any white person gets the privilege of being in intimate space with those who have experienced enough ancestral harm from white people to stay away forever. attend not in a carrot/stick way, not denying your humanity, not cheerleading what you are already just supposed to do, but simply to acknowledge that it is work.

it isn’t a shift at the level of slogan, political correctness or press release, though those cultural quakes do soften the soil for new organic infrastructures of antiracist life to take root. it is deeply personal work to relinquish white supremacy, and it helps me if i think of the white people in my life not as exceptional, but just a few steps ahead in their work.

think of those confederate statues coming down. all my roots are southern…those statues seemed like they’d always been there and always would be. and then slowly the realization that they were celebrating the worst of humanity, the plantation hitlers, that that’s what white supremacy is really about. now it feels inevitable that we are pulling down the symbols, while inside everyone’s minds we are pulling down the ideas of racial supremacy.

but then there’s the gap, the statue’s empty base, the place where that idea once seemed right but now there’s just the wound, the world shaped around the absence of a clear way of being. i just purchased the bust of a black man, head full of amethyst, from damon davis; and last year i visited the lynching museum, full of statues to honor the murdered. both of these works are perfect and i wish they were everywhere, so i am tempted to make a case for replacing the statues with black heroes and martyrs. but i can also see the case for no replacement statues, in our town squares or our minds. we live in a beautiful interconnected world that needs our attention. maybe if we drop the performance of celebrating difference, we can make it possible to actually survive difference.

it must be possible. we must make it possible, or else we will always be in a position of demand, or counter policing, or rage. i want us to use this current justified rage to shape demands that take the labor and danger off of us. so that our grandchildren don’t have to live such taut, hurt and angry lives.

at the same time i want us to contend for power, and notice who truly invites that power. that is the common trait of every white person, every person, i allow into my life in a meaningful way: there is a mutual invitation. both of us in our power and truest selves are invited into every space.

so for the white people walking this path with me, thank y’all for keeping me faithful when a mass perspective on whiteness still feels pretty hopeless. thank you for being willing to be visible, or not. thank you for not waiting for praise as you unlearn the supremacy you were programmed to practice, and for not reacting personally to the righteous rage and shifting boundaries required to move through this collective transition. thank you for offering support instead of demanding more labor.

mary hooks has articulated a mandate for black people in this time – to avenge the suffering of our ancestors, earn the respect of future generations, and be willing to be transformed in the service of the work. the white people in my life must align with that mandate – put your lifetime in service of undoing the work of your ancestors, earning the respect of future generations, and being willing to be transformed in the service of the work.

a season of love (for all those killed with impunity)

it is our duty to fight for our freedom
it is our duty to win
we must love each other and protect each other
we have nothing to lose but our chains

– assata shakur

first, we must love ourselves enough to believe in the fundamental rights we have to breath, to be children, to grow up, to love and protect, to walk and play and disobey, to live until we die, not because our skin scares someone empowered by the state to kill us, but because our bodies are appropriately tired from all the living and loving we did.

we must love ourselves like spring, bursting through any containers that cannot grow with us.

i freed a thousand slaves
i could have freed a thousand more if only they knew
they were slaves

– harriet tubman

second, we must love everyone who shares this lineage of being on the dark side of white supremacy. to ferociously, obstinately, loudly and unapologetically love the majority of the planet. to be unafraid to see every black and brown person as a potential comrade. because as patrisse, opal and alicia teach us, black lives matter.

we must love like summer, storming, burning off the surface, sun and rain in the same moment, double rainbow style inspirations, wildfire alchemists.

if you come here to help me
you are wasting your time
but if you come because your liberation is bound up with mine
then let us work together

– aboriginal activists group, queensland, 1970s

third, we must love those who open themselves up against the trajectory of their lineages, who learn, who teach themselves to love us when they have been socialized not to. this means loving those who benefit from a system that doesn’t love us, but work against it in their hearts, beliefs, families, jobs, and actions.

here we must love like fall, stripped down to the spare truth with each other. let the assumptions and projections that keep us from each other be bright enough in their dying to make us gasp, and then fall away – they are illusions. the construct of race is deadly, but it is still a construct. let history give us rich soil to hibernate in – each other. we need each other. we need everyone to stand up for their own humanity in this moment, advancing the work of black lives mattering on all of our divergent front lines.

love has within it a redemptive power…there’s something about love that builds up and is creative. there is something about hate that tears down and is destructive…love your enemies.
– martin luther king, jr

and finally, especially in these moments, we must work to love those who place themselves against us as our enemies, our oppressors. this doesn’t mean forgiving without due process, or allowing to move forward without accountability and critique. in fact it is the opposite, it is loving in the highest sense – compassion.

we must learn to see that the violence they walk with is, all the time, inside of them, make them so so sick. we cannot let them slip by, killing us quietly. we must put the light on them – those images of modern day lynchings, the memories of that violence that brings us to tears, to raging in the streets…that death energy is a toxic poison of guilt festering inside of those who fear and kill us, and they in turn rot our communities, our societies.

racism is a sickness, viral in our species. and it is tricky, reducing the mind that carries it to the least viable, least sophisticated of world views. if we cannot be compassionate for violently racist people, recognizing this behavior as a sickness, we are at risk of confusing their violence and control with the power we seek to gain and share.

to be the worst of humanity is not a power, it is a trauma.
to need lies and corruption to protect your power shrinks the soul.
to be the most inhumane and racist among us and be unable to receive the balm of justice, the release of a genuine apology, the embrace of other people who feel safe in your presence – it must be unbearable. i would not wish that on any human being.

for these people, mostly white men, who are pulling these triggers…for their humanity, and for our species to move beyond this fatal sickness, i want them to feel the righteous hand of justice that comes with real love. i want them to feel the kind of justice i watch the best parents in my life offer the children i live for…’because i love you, i must stop everything right now and give you my attention, to correct you, i cannot let you behave this way, hurt yourself and me and others this way. you must apologize…do you understand what you did and why?’

this kind of love stops everything, so that the violence, the misbehavior, cannot be normalized.

this kind of love yields transformative justice, it reaches all the way down to the root, the part of the wound that is tender and swollen and full of pus and smells like the end of everything. this kind of love is not saintly, it is pragmatic. it is the nurse, midwife, doula, doctor, healer, shaman, witch, magician, neighbor, sister, friend willing to touch, clean, soothe, amputate, say spells, exorcise, journey, listen and find the possibility for healing.

and in this season, this last love feels like winter. when a loved one has to turn away from the violence and leave the violator to contemplate himself, or reach like an icy wind under the collar and through the ribs, or to shut down all the systems that allow the violator to normalize his behavior, it is a cold time.

we must freeze racism and white supremacy – armed and unarmed – out of our system, give it no place to grow. the love we offer here cannot be meted out in half measures. everywhere, winter.

we are the anomaly. our actions must be as unyielding and show stopping as that wall of snow in buffalo.

and of course we know, in the cyclical intelligence of our cells, that winter is a season of abundant nourishing for the land, water piled on top of water just waiting to be swallowed. love made visible.

when you see our rage piling up, snowballing, know that it IS our love.

we have been learning to practice love in actions of collective rage, collective redistribution of resources, and collective healing. our actions stop traffic, stop business as usual, close the schools, interrupt the speeches and the holidays – we love in ways that localize our brilliance.

we divest from the system that refuses to provide justice. we love each other by investing in each other.

join the efforts in any way you can – let’s each be clear about the things we are best at, the things which give us the particular joy that comes from being in our purpose – don’t worry, it can be multiple things. do these things as part of the larger effort for black lives.

if you are a creator, create in ways that ‘wage love’, as charity hicks taught us, that challenge small thinking and uplift black lives.

if you are an organizer or an activist, fill yourself up with righteous vision, take leadership from those most directly effected, stay hydrated, and disrupt the system at every turn. ‘turn your rage into love’, as keith cylar taught us.

if you are a parent, model and speak the message ‘black lives matter’ to your children all day, and make sure to be a presence for black lives mattering in their schools, day care, everywhere.

if you are a healer, donate a day of your work’s earnings to the efforts in ferguson (december 18 is a first day that healers will be doing this, sparked by leah lakshmi piepzna-samarasinha), or answer adaku utah’s call to offer healing to those putting their bodies on the front lines.

invest your time, money and energy into black organizing, black wholeness, black arts, black lives. this battle requires every kind of action.

and yes, some of the most direct actions may seem violent, disrupting business as usual, destroying property. think of it as survival. when someone is choking, drowning, dying, the body becomes very intelligent and willing to do anything to continue. individually and collectively, we are trying everything, and we are being brilliant, so that we, and our children, survive.

because our root cause, our root purpose, is love.

this is not the beginning, this is not the end. but this moment is ours, to ‘bend the arc towards justice’. this battle is a devastating and crucial place to be intentional about how we are showing up, what we are embodying. the superpower we need to be cultivating now is love. radical, unapologetic love.

hands up, pull it down.

#nojusticenochristmas #cancelchristmas #buyblack #blacklivesmatter #blacklove