How did we get here?

I’ve been thinking about posting something for weeks, but I kept waiting until I felt like I understood. I don’t want to wait any longer, even if I don’t understand. I want to say this before Obama leaves office, and now there are just a few hours left.

Thank you President Obama. I will never forget the energy and excitement when you won on Election Day and then that beautiful Inauguration that I watched live at work surrounded by excited students and colleagues. Now I feel like we’re entering a different world, and rather than be proud of how the President would lead and represent us around the world, I am scared. But I’m also ready to fight. I recognize that whatever pain I feel about this election as a white person, it’s nothing compared to those who have been marginalized and targeted not only by the incoming president’s campaign but also by centuries of oppression that his campaign was built on.

Tomorrow, Jan. 21, I will be co-facilitating an event in my town to serve in solidarity with the protests happening around the country. It will bring local NJ social justice organizations together, and speakers will address how various communities in our area have been marginalized. I keep trying to focus on the principle that freedom only occurs when the most marginalized are free.

It took Trump winning for me to understand how much Obama inherited a powerful conservative backlash to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Many thought his election meant an end to this backlash and the arrival of a “post-racial” society, but clearly they were wrong. The conservative backlash only became more powerful, sometimes hidden, sometimes not, and it attempted to stop Obama at every turn.

This conservative ideology persuaded many voters that their worsening economic conditions were the fault of Obama and other democrats rather than the result of multiple conservative strategies that have contributed to a massive gap between the rich and the poor.  These strategies include union busting, deregulation, tax laws that benefit the wealthy, corporate lobbying, lack of campaign finance reform, the myth of trickle-down economics, and the notion that corporations are “people.” However, we’ve only been hearing about how poor white voters were persuaded by this ideology. What about all of the middle class white voters who were persuaded too? It’s much easier to call poor whites stupid than it is to say the same of middle class whites.

This conservative ideology also persuaded many voters that reverse racism was an actual problem and that racism itself was a thing of the past. Newt Gingrich referred to President Obama as the “food stamp President,” resurrecting the “welfare queen” stereotype that identified poor people as black and lazy and that helped pave the way for welfare “reform” under Bill Clinton’s presidency. Rollbacks to affirmative action were already well underway for years before Obama took office and also part of this mindset.

Mass incarceration has grown to unprecedented levels over the past few decades, built on a “War on Drugs” that made drug use a crime, and with it came racially disproportionate arrest rates, mandatory minimums, three strikes you’re out, and a refusal to be “soft on crime.” This “New Jim Crow” was already a powerful force when Obama took office.

The NRA became increasingly powerful and convinced many gun owners that their guns are under threat, even guns used by hunters that no politician would seek to ban. The paranoia that the NRA has stoked prevented reform when it comes to access to automatic weapons, even in the wake of an elementary school massacre at Sandy Hook.

The Tea Party formed as soon as Obama began his presidency and took this conservative backlash to new levels.

The level of hatred in this country for “Obamacare” just reflects the power of a multi-faceted conservative ideology. Is it ironic that many who hate “Obamacare” think the “Affordable Care Act” is just fine? Or is it just evidence the conservative playbook has worked?

Now that this conservative backlash is about to take control of the White House and continue its control of the Senate and the House, we need resist in ways we never would have thought necessary in 2017.

Thank You Facing Race

Last weekend, I attended the Facing Race conference in Atlanta organized by Race Forward. As a thank you to the 2300 organizers, presenters, and participants, I would like to share some of what I learned as I work to dismantle white supremacy as a white educator, activist, and scholar.

  • Participating in a #NotOurPresident rally can be very cathartic. However, while protests are an important symbol, they don’t replace organizing.
  • Organize to make racial justice a priority for your organization if it isn’t already. Invite Race Forward to bring Racial Justice Leadership training to your organization. I attended the Racial Justice Leadership Institute right before Facing Race began, and it was a powerful and helpful experience for me. I’ve attended many such trainings before, and this was exceptional. Thank you to ramesh kathanadhi and Key Jackson for running the session I attended and emphasizing the importance of naming race explicitly, addressing racism at institutional and structural levels, and examining implicit bias.
  • Organize in your community. Join a local community organization as a volunteer or Board member. Run for local office. Towns and counties are often looking for people to run for local office. Volunteer for a candidate at the local level. Start working now on the next election, and stay involved. Change requires sustained involvement, not voting once every four years.
  • Expand your radical imagination, as #BlackLivesMatter co-creator Alicia Garza told us. If you haven’t already read the Guiding Principles of BLM, please do so and figure out how you can support these principles in your work and daily life.
  • Re-read or read “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” by Audre Lorde. Her wisdom is powerful.
  • Support the indigenous activists of Standing Rock. As presenters said several times, over 300 tribal nations are protesting at Standing Rock and need support. Raise awareness about the history of genocide and environmental racism. Provide financial support at https://www.paypal.me/OcetiSakowinCamp
  • Use social media for the organizing, strategizing, and support that cannot be done in person, but never underestimate the power of in-person organizing.
  • If you haven’t already, read this letter by #Our100, An open letter to Our Nation from 100 women of color leaders and Take the Pledge: “My work will not end at the ballot box. In the #First100Hours and #First100days, I will stand with women of color leadership. I will stand with women who are leading solutions that support a vision for Black lives, an end to violence against women and girls, power to make decisions about our bodies, health and reproduction, common sense immigration reform and an end to Islamophobia. I pledge to take action to pursue a democracy and economy where we all have an equal say, and an equal chance.”
  • Support the work of Linda Sarsour, who urged white people to be the first in line when Muslims are told to register.
  • Need a way to address comments about “reverse racism”? Share this video by comic Aamer Rahman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw_mRaIHb-M
  • A breakout session on “Dismantling Mass Incarceration: Strategies to Fight Back Against Prison Profiteering” did an excellent job of highlighting the powerful relationships between private prisons, banks, lawmakers, bed quotas, ALEC, immigrant detention centers, local elected officials, the police, multinational corporations, and more. Check out the important work of:
  • Roxane Gay reminded us that we need to infiltrate every system, every space. Go to law school. Go to business school. Run for local office. Write comics!
  • Read Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. Their names came up throughout the conference.
  • Watch the brilliant film 13th by Ava DuVernay, who Skyped into a session about popular culture and racial justice. Michelle Alexander, who spoke at the conference and is in the film, has done an amazing job of raising awareness about “the New Jim Crow.”
  • Actively work on leadership development opportunities for young people, especially those from marginalized communities.
  • Trump will likely betray many of his voters. He promised them jobs, but it’s unlikely he’s going to prioritize that. We need to expose that betrayal.
  • We need to develop a coherent narrative that connects racial justice and economic justice. As presenters discussed, the political right has been successful in their ability to connect economic disenfranchisement to race via scapegoating and dog whistle politics. We must disrupt that false and dangerous narrative. We need to form a multi-racial, multi-class coalition that prioritizes justice for those most disenfranchised.
  • We need to work until the most marginalized among us are free.
  • We need to build a national alliance between the movements for #BlackLivesMatter, Standing Rock, Marriage Equality, Trans Rights, Immigrant Rights, Anti-War, Occupy Wall Street, and more.
  • The media and popular culture have tremendous power to reinforce oppression but also to resist it. The Center for Media Justice, Color of Change, Unbound, and Weird Enough Productions need support to change the narrative so that people of color are represented as full human beings and can tell their own stories. Teaching media literacy is an important part of this process.

I left for this conference the day after the election, and now, more than a week later, I’ve had some time to process the election results and the reactions of my students, friends, and colleagues. I’ve seen many of my fellow white friends and colleagues respond in shock. And while it’s hard not to feel some level of shock, being in total shock is a sign of denial. At this conference, indigenous activists reminded us they have been living in Trump’s America since 1492. It has taken the election of an extremist for many white people to realize how embedded and “baked in” white supremacy is in our society.

I’ve been thinking about how white people have been describing other white people’s relationship with white supremacy and the election. Here are a few thoughts:

  • There are individuals throughout the entire country (in every state) who actively support white supremacy and are self-avowed white supremacists who believe that white people are biologically superior. While I don’t want to ignore their impact, they are not the majority of white people. Most white people would not join the KKK, for example. This is not a group we can easily “call in,” as they say. Given that, it would be tempting to ignore this group or to push them aside. However, I think that seeing them as different from the rest of us is a problem, as I hope to explain below.
  • There are a significant number of white people who voted for Obama once or even twice, who believe we’re in a “post-racial” society, and who believe in colorblindness as the remedy to racial injustice. They may not understand why black people are saying #blacklivesmatter. They may not understand why people of color are so worried about the election results. Once we understand that this group includes some Trump supporters AND some Clinton supporters, as well as some third party supporters and those who didn’t vote, we can start to see the system of white supremacy at work. The overall racial ideology created centuries ago that white people are biologically superior to black people (otherwise known as white supremacy) can still be an umbrella that allows for all of those behaviors and beliefs in the same individual without the individual consciously recognizing it.
  • The divide that is emerging between Trump voters as the racists and Clinton voters as the non-racists is dangerous because that absolves Clinton voters from recognizing their (our) own complicity in white supremacy.
  • While individual bigotry is of course a problem, focusing on individual bigotry when we think about racism ignores the much larger system of white supremacy that one can unconsciously perpetuate without being a bigot.
  • Finally, there’s another group of white people who would say we’re not in a “post-racial” society and does not believe colorblindness is a step toward racial justice. They tend to recognize the systemic nature of racism and support #blacklivesmatter. However, they (we) are not immune from being complicit in white supremacy either. We can’t forget that resistance to complicity requires constant vigilance. It’s never something that we can check off the list and say we’ve achieved.

The bottom line is that all of these groups I’ve just described are influenced by white supremacy. Some would embrace that, some would deny it, and some would acknowledge it and work to resist it. Identifying one group as smarter than another or superior to another just reinforces the type of hierarchy we need to dismantle. As a NJ resident, I need to actively resist the temptation to think I’m superior. Yes, NJ is one of the most diverse states in the country, but it is also one of the most racially segregated states in the country, with one of the most racially segregated school systems in the country. We are not superior. The Saturday Night Live sketch with white Hillary Clinton supporters in shock on Election Night was a reminder of my privilege.

If most white people only have one black friend, one Latino friend, and one Asian American friend, is it any surprise that so many white people are unaware of systemic racism? If they’re unaware of systemic racism, they don’t understand why anyone needs to say #blacklivesmatter, and they don’t understand why the election results would cause so much fear. We (white people) need to work on educating other white people about systemic racism and on actively dismantling our own complicity in white supremacy, which is a never-ending process. If we think we’re already “done” questioning our own complicity, then we’re definitely not done.

White people are taught to be unaware of systemic racism, so it should be no surprise when that happens. The burden cannot be on people of color to educate white people about why #blacklivesmatter.

Finally, in keeping with my goal of contributing resources for this work, I will be adding a new page to my website that will focus on Post-Election Resources, with articles, organizations, and strategies related to dismantling white supremacy specifically in the context of this election. Please let me know if you have any suggestions. I want this to become a resource for educators, activists, students, and community members. Please continue to refer to Recommended Resources for a series of more general resources about systemic racism and to Resources on “The New Jim Crow” for resources on mass incarceration.

Inspiration and Leadership in Atlanta

I am currently at the Facing Race conference in Atlanta sponsored by Race Forward. I will post reflections on this amazing conference when it’s over. For the moment, I just want say there are over 2000 racial justice activists supporting each other, sharing their ideas, inspiring each other, and strategizing for what’s next. I will be sharing resources and strategies at my college, in my community, and here. Also, since lots of people are asking about resources now, please take a look at my Recommended Resources page. It parallels the approach I use in my current book project and my college course on race as well as in the community version I developed and started facilitating last month, which I’ll share more about soon. I also added my email address to the “About Me” section since a few people at one of the sessions today asked about it.

Dear Netroots Nation

I just returned from Netroots Nation in St. Louis where I gave a training called “Moving Beyond White Guilt: How to Talk to Whites About Systemic Racism.” I posted to Medium some reflections on this issue and concrete recommendations for Netroots Nation to work on strengthening their response to racial justice as they plan for next August in Atlanta. Medium created the tag Nn16 for posts about the conference. Please check it out here!

Scandal in the Age of The New Jim Crow

Here’s a link to an article I wrote analyzing the TV show Scandal through the lens of Critical Race Theory and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow; it was published on PopMatters. It’s based on a paper I gave at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference in Seattle in March 2016: “Scandal in the Age of The New Jim Crow

http://www.popmatters.com/feature/standing-in-the-sun-scandal-in-the-age-of-the-new-jim-crow/

Educators Lead the Way to Interdisciplinary Critical Race Theory

I just attended the 10th Annual Critical Race Studies in Education Conference (CRSEA): #ResistanceMatters: Disrupting State-Sanctioned Racialized Violence Through Education Research, Theory, and Practice. It was only a few months ago that I found out there was an organization and conference devoted to applying Critical Race Theory to an educational setting (with an emphasis on K-12). I’m so grateful to have discovered this amazing conference and organization. I’ve been studying CRT for more than 15 years; I completed an English PhD dissertation on CRT and contemporary literature and have been exploring interdisciplinary CRT work ever since. Having just presented my work at Yale’s CRT conference in April, it was great to see another CRT conference doing exciting work, this time outside of CRT’s original legal origin. (If you missed my blog on the importance of CRT, please check it out here.)

More disciplines need to follow CRSEA and apply CRT to their respective fields. This conference has clearly grown over the last ten years, and it needs to keep growing. Educators (K-12 and higher ed alike) need to become more familiar with CRT and engage with its call to identify the systemic nature of racism and take action. If everyone in a given school system did that, it would be much harder for that school to participate in the school-to-prison pipeline. I hope the introductory manual I’m currently writing, which focuses on race and systemic racism, with tools for action, could be helpful in Teacher Ed programs as well as serve as professional development for current educators who want to develop their approach to understanding racism.

Here, I would like to share some highlights from this conference and reflect on how this work continues to push me as a white educator.

One of the primary questions that kept coming up in presentations was: Who is meant to be in college and grad school and who isn’t? As a white person raised in middle-class suburban NJ by white parents who went to college and grad school, I was meant to attend college and grad school. Not only was I meant to be in the classroom, but I was also meant to be in front of the classroom. The school is a site of state-sanctioned racialized violence (physical and symbolic). If my presence at the front of the classroom affirms white supremacy, what can I do in that space to challenge white supremacy? How can I make the space liberating for my students not meant to be there? These are the kinds of questions I need to think about every day in order to be less complicit in white supremacy.

This conference organized three plenaries to center the importance of activism: Student Activism, Faculty and Scholar Activism, and Engaged Community Activism. The students were an absolute inspiration. As a faculty member, I kept thinking that we need to figure out how to support student activists more effectively, across the country. These students spoke of faculty who challenged their activism, didn’t provide support, and otherwise served as obstacles to justice. We need to address that. Then, faculty who are scholar activists (which include many if not all of the faculty at this conference) spoke passionately about the challenges they face in balancing their scholarship and activism and the very difficult challenges of the tenure and promotion process. Again, more obstacles to justice that senior faculty have at least some control and power over, so that’s another area we need to work on. And finally, grad students and faculty spoke about community activism. Throughout all of these plenaries, the people doing the most activism were still questioning whether that was enough.

During the conference, there were some recurring questions that we need to spend more time considering:

  • How can we end the school-to-prison pipeline?
  • What does resistance look like?
  • How can we create a “brave” classroom space?
  • How can we bend the arc of history toward justice?

Finally, from the plenaries and concurrent sessions, I thought these specific aspects of systemic racism were especially noteworthy since they don’t often get attention:

  • “White innocence” perpetuating white supremacy (Richard Orozco)
  • White savior complex manifesting itself in volunteer tourism (Molly Gallegos)
  • Pressure on women of color faculty to produce “affective labor” (Bianca Williams)
  • Historical amnesia of claiming white fragility as civil rights issue (Cheryl Matias)
  • “System working to correct itself” (Cristina Mislan)
  • “We protest and are complicit at the same time” (Zeus Leonardo)

I also want to call attention to the following organizers and presenters for their valuable contributions: Daniella Cook, Frank Tuitt, Tom Romero, Katherine Rainey, Erica Van Steenis, Julia Daniel, Esther Ohito, Jamie Utt, Keffrelyn Brown, Michael Barnes, Romana Beltran, Lisa Calderon, Jasmine Haywood, Ruth López, Subini Annamma, Meredith McCoy, Justin Coles, Monica Ridgeway, Theodora Regina Berry, Marvin Lynn, David Stovall, Christine Zuni Cruz, and Gerardo López. Finally, as a panelist remarked at the end of the conference, if you haven’t read the “red book,” otherwise known as Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement, then start there. I’m honored that I had the opportunity to see Derrick Bell speak at the University of Delaware about 15 years ago, and he is one of those key founders. His counter-narratives of science fiction and legal analysis helped me understand the interdisciplinary potential of CRT, and I will always be thankful for that.