what do we do with white folks?
Note: This piece was originally published on the Third Woman Press blog — edited by Kim Tran — in May 2016. A lot has changed since then.
“I’m still waiting for a comprehensive plan from White Anti-Racists on how they plan to dismantle Supremacy. Aside from ‘educating other white folks’ — what is the plan? What are the concrete steps that White people can take to dismantle & confront Supremacy in their schools, workplaces, industries, government & communities?” — Leslie Mac.
I’ve written, talked, and thought a lot about how white people fit into dismantling interlocking systems of oppression (i.e. race, gender, class, sexuality etc.). I want to walk us through a scenario. It’ll require you to stretch your imagination. Far.
Let’s say it is four years from now; the year is 2020. We are in the wake of the historic Black civil rights movement, the Black Panthers, and most recently, #BlackLivesMatter. White people are starting to think about white supremacy, white privilege, and anti-Blackness more in depth. The diehard anti-racist white folks have educated the hell out of their fellow white folks. They have done their due diligence with their racist partners, aunts, uncles, cousins and even employers. We are heading toward a cultural shift in these here United States of America.
I know it’s hard to imagine this given history and the present, but stay with me.
It’s 2020 and while white people still don’t “get it” because they will never have the lived experience of Blackness, but the majority recognize that there’s a problem. Realistically, four years isn’t enough to dismantle our cisheteropatriarchal white supremacist society driven by capitalistic individualism, so single white cisgender straight men remain economically, socially and politically the most powerful.
But importantly, white folks are actively working toward unlearning the dehumanizing thinking characteristic of racism and colonialism by reading, talking and sitting with their discomfort and complicity. They are stripping themselves of oppressive mindsets in order to begin to dismantle the systems they uphold though their actions and existence.
There is a widespread shift, one in which white fragility is shattered and white guilt is produced.
But to what end? And maybe more importantly, what happens next?
How can white co-conspirators actually be useful in the movement for Black lives? What action steps could white people take beyond building awareness and becoming more educated?
Given the nature of intergenerational wealth among white folks, giving Black folks access to higher education just won’t solve the far reaching asymmetries created by centuries of slavery and oppression. In this world that programs Black folks and people of color to view white as right, awareness of oppression amongst white folks must turn white guilt, shame and apathy into action.
But here is where the problem of progressive minded whiteness comes into play. No matter how “woke” mainstream media labels white people for doing things like reading The New Jim Crow, history has never given us examples of people in power who give up their power.
White supremacy is our abuser and white folks are most often the ones embodying it and benefiting from it through their whiteness.
So let’s say this proposed cultural shift of 2020 occurs, do we really believe that our abuser is going to offer us restorative justice that makes up for centuries of abuse? I’m not alone in asserting that it is not wise to turn to our abuser for help. Opening the hearts and minds of white people is not enough in a world where white domestic terrorism is a daily threat.
So . . . what do we do with white folks?
We need a mass redistribution of resources. That’s right, reparations.
I’m not just talking about “money because it’s owed”, but economic, political, social, academic and material reparations for the enduring legacy of white supremacy. We need to think along the lines of the Black Youth Project plan to #BuildBlackFutures, centering the most marginalized within our own communities. We need reparations. If we plan to solve the root problems of anti-Blackness in this country, we need some capital, opportunity, and solidarity among people of color to start building.
Showing Up for Racial Justice, or SURJ, is a white anti-racist organization that aims to engage 3.5% of the white population. I think it’s great that white folks are trying to do the work, but will achieving the goal of reaching 7 million white people be enough? Especially considering Black folks make up around 13% of this country? And white people make over 70%? And dedicated anti-racist white folks make up a substantially smaller percentage than either of those numbers?
We’re outnumbered not only by white people who possess the capital, but control it, too. Considering the way white supremacy is set up … I gotta ask again: what do we do with white folks?
First, white folks need to stop being so late to the game and realize that anti-Black racism is a daily experience. They need to be called out by those who won’t get shot for doing it. Second, white folks need to continue to put their physical bodies on the line during direct actions because the reality is — they are rarely killed for it. Third, white folks need to sit down and shut up if they aren’t willing to fight the good fight, because the last thing we need is another white opinion on anti-Blackness.
But being really real?
White folks need to quit whitesplaining and start donating some of that white money to build Black futures.
Now, don’t get it twisted, even white money that is “earned” is tainted by the labor and sacrifice of people of color — mostly Black and Native folks. And we need to discuss what reparations look like when we factor in Native folks who are so often forgotten in these discussions.
I’m telling white folks that if they love Black people so much, they need to show it.
Not with cultural appreciation or guilt, but by giving up their economic, social and political power. Because once we’re at a point where more white folks see these systems of oppression, what measures are in place to stop them from reneging on their empty promises to help Black people get free?
White people need to redistribute their material resources, as opposed to slightly adjusting their political leanings, offering a retweet, or giving up screen-time at the Oscars.
Because if that’s all they’re giving up, what’s stopping them from just saying “nah?” So if white folks really believe that #BlackLivesMatter, they need to stop talking about it and actually be about it.