Some of my very favorite people are white. And yes, I know how that sounds. But I don’t say that to prove I’m not prejudiced. I say that to contextualize my prejudice. When it comes to the struggle for Black liberation, and my perspective of the liberation of our Brown brothers and sisters, I am prejudiced against white participation. This is antithetical to who I am, which makes it a struggle. It’s a struggle because I believe in our fully equally connected humanity. It’s a struggle because I know that white people need to be liberated, too. But the reality is that very few white people can stop being white, and whiteness is violence. Whiteness is full on colonization in every part of the world in which it has any traction but some of Europe. Colonization is the erasure of the culture, the insights, the magic, the humanity, and the bodies of everyone else, everyone who preceded the colonizer. That is violence.
This is what the response to that ridiculous Pepsi commercial was about. It enraged so many because it was a commodification of a “movement” that is about love at it’s core, yes, but at its most immediate is about murder. The murder of our children. The murder of our parents. The murder of justice for men and women in Black skin. The commercial reflects the newest manifestation of the diminishing, co-opting, and sanitizing of our work for freedom from local terrorism. Work that is not driven by fads, but by life and death.
Speaking of fads, you’ve likely noticed that there’s a new oppressed community darling in the U.S. Nope! It’s not the Muslim community. It’s true that they as well as immigrant and refugee communities recently got bumped up on the oppression olympics podium via Trump’s travel ban; but no. The new darling is the Indigenous of the illegally inhabited lands upon which the United States of America defines its borders. The Lakota, the Dakota, the Mandan, the Arikara, the Tongva, and other nations whose fight can be translated into one for environmental justice and nonviolence, shit white people can really get down with.
White people can support their fight without knowing any history, still calling their new cousins “Indians,” and they can feel safe doing it, because these long lost cousins’ primary act of resistance is prayer. On top of that, in many parts of the country, Indigenous communities don’t flagrantly exist, so their white allies don’t even have to live with them! They needn’t experience, witness or respond to the oppression of indigenous peoples — or their complicity of it — in their daily lives and activities. Further, our Indigenous brethren, in their liberation culture, don’t tend to yell in officers faces like those radical Blacks, or light cars on fire when it’s unjustified, like in response to a dead child rather than an “understandable” trigger like a major sporting event. Even if protectors (let’s ensure we delineate the two: protectors — good; protestors — bad) are attacked, there’s no controversy because they likely didn’t strike back. And even if the white people or their friends don’t really give a damn about these actual “Indians”, their culture, or their children, the fight for Indigenous rights allows these white people to be involved in a humanitarian fight while they stand for what they do care about: water and eagles.
Now, to be clear, the fight for liberation of every one of the over 500 nations that have true rights to the territories of this land called America is one I stand with. The fight for our Spanish and Portuguese speaking brethren and sistren in the “global south” to be empowered in their land rather than terrorized by the U.S. is one I stand with. The fight for my relatives to be recognized and honored as human while practicing their own religion of love, possibly brandishing garb to announce their commitment, is one I stand with. I rock side eyes, but it is not at any of these family members or their struggles, which I see as so intertwined with that of my own community.
My offset glance is at the white “allies” who now define themselves as “accomplices,” adopting the term without a slight adjustment to their “activation”. They enter these movements to make themselves feel better, and therefore go the path of least resistance, their focus on any particular issue shifting wild as the wind. Before they unplug from their choice movement, leaving in shambles whatever it is they were contributing to, they buy plane tickets and reserve hotel rooms and tables in overpriced restaurants to stand with each other wearing pink pussy cat hats and pretend they made something different. They feel different, they feel so elated about having looked at a crowd of other women and some men who have not changed a single one of the lives they contend they are fighting for, as they claim a piece of a significant day in history having no idea what it in fact signifies: the almost complete erasure of meaningful protest.
Where are the reports of a transformed election system because hundreds of thousands of women marched and showed their pussy power? Where are the statistics of the increased number of families who now have a home in which to sleep? How many tiny houses were built with those women’s roars? Is that grandmother I met in July, whose children were grown, who was laid off from her job of 40 years, who sleeps on the concrete of the square across from the train station now housed? Is that 7 year old child and her younger brother no longer hungry? Are prisons being forced to provide medical care or even clean water to the humans who live within them? Was there a reconsideration that resulted in 59 Tomahawk missiles and the Mother of All Bombs being withheld from use? Where are the articles about this transformation?!?!
What I’m reading are the reports of “senseless violence” — busted windows, looted stores… I hear my “accomplices” bemoan resisters who undermine all their good work because they damaged some property. We cannot ever condone violence, they argue, as they lap from and step over the assault of white supremacy. They insist that we “be the change” and function solely with a prefigurative approach, living and modeling that which we want to see. A noble and justifiable approach that has no right to undermine, trivialize, and judge the strategic approach of those whose lives are least touched by the change “liberals” and “progressives” are being. Too many use their resources to create spaces so they can imagine their stable lives without racism, while at the same time criticizing the approach of those who must endure it. They proselytize their way of love, dance, and music without taking a moment to hear or learn from those whose struggle expands wider and deeper than the sum of every commune.
When individuals from the movement for Black lives shut down highways after officers weren’t convicted for murdering child after child, father after father, sister after sister on video, the world was forced to pay attention. Every time it happened, there was a real incident with which it coincided, a real incident that was not to be swept under the rug of distraction, a real life that mattered being memorialized. There was actual pain and suffering, actual mourning and true catharsis happening. Family was refusing to allow tragedy and injustice to be buried with their victims. And they were making demands, organizing beyond those marches, as they continue to do to this moment to actually prevent more murders and abuses and eliminate the perpetuation of substandard (read: pretend) consequences.
These were not cries against the idea that they or their daughter may lose a right, these were an angry refusal to accept a continuation of rights that were never afforded in the first place. In many of the marches that have been organized lately, people are gathering to protest the possibility that their lives may move a little closer to experiencing the suffering endured by the people they claim to believe are equal to them but for whom they have never given up an extra donut, let alone a privilege. This is the difference between the rallies at the airport and the women’s marches: one was a fight to restore rights, the other was a fight to protect privilege. That is the difference between Black Lives Matter Los Angeles’ encampment at City Hall, and the one day strikes being organized to honor a different community every month: one holds a demand for justice, the other is ceremonial, striking in truth against the most vulnerable in the communities it claims to pay tribute to. Those impoverished and disempowered cannot afford to miss a day of work, to go without sitters, to lose their job, or to pay someone to do their job if their job is being a mother. They certainly can’t do that just to get someone to stop and say, wow, yesterday was inconvenient, while the rest of their life is unscathed by this one day strike.
As we all know, Frederick Douglass said that “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Well let us not be fooled, protest signs and one day strikes do not a demand make. It is, in fact, the consequence of failing to meet the requirement that moves you from a requester to a demander. It is the willingness to sacrifice, to put your job, not the job of the poor, on the line. Demanders put their body in the same space of jeopardy that those they claim to be accomplices to live in every day. The solution is not a one day strike organized by yet another group of white women to “demand” something, only to go home a few hours later, pat themselves on the back about another great event that elevated them, their demand having never been met. It is not yet another entry into the ongoing march and protest competition in which white group after white group raises and spends significant funds on balloons, stages and sound systems. Not while Sioux Z Dezbah struggles to cover and pay ongoing medical bills for her eye that was put out by officers on the bridge at Standing Rock. Not while family after Black family pays the cost of burying loved ones murdered by those who are called our protectors after we watched Michael Brown’s illegal executioner become a millionaire.
The soda commercial missed the mark because its creators, like so many people, are shielded from the suffering of my people. And that includes, in the end, a massive number of those white people who are also marching with Black Lives Matter, or Hands Up Portland, or the Philadelphia Coalition for Real Justice, or any of the number of organizations, individuals and groups who formulate the Movement for Black Lives. They don’t even begin to understand how they are, with their thousands of marches every other week, drowning out the voices of people who actually have to suffer injustice any more than they understand why the have gone almost radio silent about strange black fruit as they’ve flocked so completely to every fight other than the fight for Black liberation. After they march, they go home and curl up with their unmarked sons to watch television, or read a transformative book, or have an enlightened conversation. They listen to the Last Poets to co-opt some cool throwback Black vernacular, or Drake to be up to date, celebrating their good deed in their hearts as they pop the top off their new and improved bottles of Pepsi.