Chris Crass dives into the role of white people in supporting the anti-racism movement.
For all of us who want to move white people into anti-racist consciousness and actions and into the river of multiracial Black-led liberation movement on the move, we need to remember the dual role of anti-Black racism for non-ruling class white people in the United States. Anti-Black racism which was most famously fused into popular culture and ideology through the Blackface minstrel shows, which became the national art form by the mid-1800s, teaching millions what it meant to be white.
One the one hand, the minstrel shows disciplined European-Americans, with a wide range of agricultural-based cultures, into a White American industrializing capitalist workforce. A workforce that prioritized a “self-sacrificing work hard (to make others rich) culture of individualism” and portrayed Black culture as lazy, shiftless, and attached playfulness, lustfulness, and public displays of emotion as childish or animalistic (aka unable to control one’s “basic” urges which interfere with capitalist productivity). To be white (“self-made, self-controlled, self-sacrificing, self-sufficient, superior” was to be anti-Black (“dependent, incompetent, “entertaining”, inferior fools, whose place – for their own good – is serving the superior).
On the other hand, the minstrel show demonstrated that White Americans must discipline Black people (aka take out all of their rage from economic exploitation and political disenfranchisement). To be white is to discipline Black people who are criminals always looking for ways to steal from white people, villains looking to take advantage of white people (take away white freedom), and finally, predators looking to take advantage of white womanhood and emasculate white men. White discipline of Black people justifies all means of violence and punishment as necessary for white safety and capitalist order and in the end, it’s necessary because, again, Black people can’t take care of themselves.
James Baldwin famously said to white America, “If I am not who you think I am, you are not who you think you are.” Our responsibility as white anti-racists who want to dismantle white supremacy, win and build a world where #BlackLivesMatter, where we have economic justice for all, is to understand that white rage and white resistance is rooted in white failure to achieve the capitalist lie of “self-made, self-sufficient, self-control individualism” and attach blame, resentment, and rage at Black people and people of color for this failure rather then seeing that this whole system of profound structural inequality is the real villain, predator, and criminal.
Yesterday I heard a working class white mother, holding her young child, say she was protesting Obama because he was letting “illegal” immigrants stay in the country and get food stamps, when she herself was denied food stamps to take care of her kids. She stood there alongside middle class Tea Party people, all of whom vote to cut food stamps for everyone (because Black and Brown people use it to steal from hard working whites). I was holding my son, of the same age, at a simultaneous protest for immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter as Obama spoke in Nashville, TN. In her words, I felt the pain and tragedy of anti-Black racism in white lives, as well as it’s ability to marshal violent political racist action. I looked at our children and felt the responsibility of creating a different culture and society for white kids to be raised in – a culture and society that affirms, ensures and protects the inherent worth and dignity of all people.
For white anti-racists, our task is to demand Black Lives Matter and learn how to deeply speak to, be witness to, and listen to the pain underneath white rage and resentment, attach it to the real enemy of structural inequality and name racism as the violent poison that it is. Our task is to support anti-racist white leadership, particularly working class and poor people’s leadership, to free white people’s, of all classes, hearts and minds of anti-Black racism, align us/them with multiracial democracy, economic justice and Black Liberation.
Furthermore, our task is to learn from the history of white anti-racists and continue generating and nourishing positive identities and cultures as, and for, white people. Identities rooted in challenging, not side-stepping structural oppression, as well as collective liberation visions, strategies and understandings. Now is the time.