A few thoughts on white comfort with racism, and how it manifests.
A few years ago, a friend of mine asked me whether I considered a local christian school for our boys. "It's a great place", he remarked in our meeting. "Very welcoming. You all should think about it." 1
I told my friend that, in the ten years I'd lived in Memphis, I'd heard absolutely *nothing* other than racist horror stories from black students and parents affiliated with this allegedly christian institution. Absolute **HORROR** stories. Ten years worth. 2
I gave him a snippet of the stories I'd heard. Just tragic stuff. Classic and predictable stuff, sadly. "Quite frankly," I remember telling him, "I'd sooner set my sons on *fire* than send them to this awful, racist, soul-crushing nominally xtian institution." 3
Then my friend did what white folks tend to do in these situations: completely ignored the information I'd just given him. Well, that's unfortunate, he declared. But I think you and Nat could help your boys navigate any bit of trouble they might encounter. Don't you think? 4
Um - did you just hear what I said?
The mind reels at all that's going on in this moment. So many things. First - how do you not see that sending my kids into a virulently racist environment voluntarily is a problem? How do you NOT see this as a deal breaker for the parents of two black boys? 6
Back in a minute. Taking one of said boys to b-ball practice. 7
How do you not see that we aren't inclined to serve our children over, like two little black social science guinea pigs, to the racist atrocity going on at this school? Seriously, I asked my friend, how is it that you don't understand the 1930s racial dynamics as a deal breaker?8
Well, I hadn't really heard that about the school before.
Have you talked to any black parents about any of this?
Well then, I guess it's fortunate that you're now better informed about the racial dynamics at your school now, right?
Sure. But I still think... 9
that you all should consider it. Warts and all.
And that's when it hit me.
For him, racism was a minor inconvenience that black people should simply put up with - *apparently regardless of its severity*. It NEVER occurred to my friend that the levels of racial violence 10
my kids would face constituted a deal breaker for Nat and me. It never entered his mind. We should accommodate the racial violence. Oh, and while we're at it, maybe my then 13 and 9 year olds could lead some trainings on how to not be racial terrorists for their classmates. 11
So that's the first epiphany, which, truth be told, isn't really epiphany, but rather a reconfirmation: we live in a society in which white folks think/have always thought that racism was a regrettable and immutable fact of life to be accommodated, like taxes, or rain. 12
And, since it was an immutable fact of life, what's one to do? Well, in my friend's case, one waits until the aggrieved black people show up so that they can attempt to *FIX RACISM.* Because that's how this works, right? The school is a once and future segregation academy. 13
And who better to fix an institution that is, quite literally, a monument to white supremacy, than your children, Chuck? Just think of the great, good work done by the Little Rock Nine. Or Ruby Bridges!
(Never mind that it's 2014 when I'm having this conversation. Whatever.) 14
Christina Sharpe's "In the Wake" comes to mind. Her rendering of the afterlife of slavery as, among other things, "the weather", is brilliant and compelling: https://t.co/JnRawAVKvR
But you'll notice, in her exquisite work, Black Folks are *struggling* against this weather. 15
To be clear - this is what we do. We push. We organize. We build. And we struggle. To work. To thrive. To have childhoods. To Breathe. Black life is not defined solely by the struggle against white supremacy. We're more than that. Always have been. We contain multitudes. 16
Which brings me to the next reaffirmation: As much as we struggle, white folks, left to their own devices *feel no compulsion whatsoever to do so*, unless prodded by nonwhite people. This is not new to us - we know this. We. KNOW. THIS. 17.
Which is why it never occurred my friend to say "Oh, wow. That's horrible. We should do something/anything/everything to address that. I'm sorry I even asked you to consider sending your kids to a school that so clearly is not ready for them and doesn't deserve them."18
The Weight never occurred to him. What's the weight you ask? Why, my dear reader, I'm referring to the Weight of White Supremacy. It is heavy. And it extracts a dear cost - especially on people under the impression that they're white. 19
It never occurred to my friend - and probably still hasn't - that his beloved mostly white christian school is creating well-dressed, respectful, polite, thoughtful, bible-reading, Mama-loving, civic minded monsters. 20
Jimmie Baldwin covered this, as have, others. But Baldwin sticks with me when he says white folks are trapped in a history they don't understand.https://t.co/1NwZ9A4wx8
(But a critical mass of white folks *do* understand their history. And love it just the way it is.) 21
My friend is incapable of seeing the results of monster-making. He can't see - doesn't have the eyes - to see the toll whiteness exacts on white people, kids in particular. Parents will be at a park one day with Billy and he'll shout out "ni@@er!" at a black kid. The shock. 22
These are the lovely, well-mannered religious individuals who, from a very early age, will passively and explicitly defend an ethos that was crafted in the belly of a slave ship. An ethos that drew near-erotic pleasure from the destruction of black life. 23
So, when it comes to white supremacy, white folks are hit with the Wonder Twins of Accommodation and Inertia.
Which brings me to the election. 24
To me, elections are a very particular type of window into how this dynamic plays out on a national level. More than almost any other event/ritual in collective American life, we can see white accommodation and inertia play out in real time. 25
White supremacy was a central dynamic in our founding. We know this. To that end, the systemic devaluation of black life has led to what @esglaude calls a racial "value gap" https://t.co/7aJ4n4oDkt
We can see and chart this gap in every corner of black life. 26
But - and this is crucial - in addition to killing and devaluing black and other nonwhite people over the course of centuries, white folks deep deep investment in white supremacy is *also killing white folks.* Just like the way that school was toxic, so too with the nation. 27
And then there's Denial's muscular role alongside Accommodation and Inertia. A lethal triumvirate. @nhannahjones, @tressiemcphd, @profblmkelley, been trying to tell us, along with a host of other folks, that our society has gotten the denial of racism down to a fine science. 28
Here we are. Two solid years of enduring the fig leaf of "economic anxiety" talk, while anxious nonwhite people voted overwhelmingly for the other candidate. The desire of millions of people to gut a health care law that literally provides them with health care. Denial. 29
@KieseLaymon's brilliant new memoir, "Heavy", reminds us that, if we can't be honest with the people we love, we can never, ever be honest with the people we don't. My friend has to go back to that school, buck up, and be honest about the accommodation, inertial and denial. 30