“Everyday of my adult life I’ve asked myself. ‘Did these motherfuckers not watch Sesame Street?’” – Kiese Laymon
I’ve been sitting with this piece—unsure of what to write that could be productive—since before Roe v Wade was overturned; since Peyton Gendron specifically targeted a Black neighborhood in Buffalo, killing 10 Black Americans in their neighborhood grocery store for, in his words, “the future of the White race.”
The Republican Party bears some responsibility for this horrific violence, and for furthering white supremacist terrorism nationwide. Except that they don’t care. Tragically, it is integral to who they are. They’ve attacked state capitols, the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, and recently there was an assassination attempt on Nancy Pelosi. They continue to incite, to minimize and to corroborate in political violence. Yet with the help of people like Elon Musk, they can spin those truths into lies and misinformation.
From the Supreme Court, to Congress, to state governors, their political leadership is rooted in a staggering lack of humanity. The attack on women’s bodies and agency, and on reproductive rights, illustrates how little they care for women and how deeply they depend on patriarchy. They’ve created hysteria around a bogus understanding of “critical race theory,” using this misinformation to ban books by authors of color, fire and intimidate teachers, and further their dishonest, conservative agenda. They’ve passed laws that harm LGBTQ+ community and children, with the well-funded group Moms for Liberty attacking a 13 year-old transgender youth, Ash Tough, in Maryland.
Governors Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis use immigrants fleeing violence and seeking asylum as their own political pawns. Not long ago, DeSantis pulled off a $12 million stunt, orchestrating the lying to dozens of immigrants by promising them jobs and then flying them to Martha’s Vineyard. This was cruel and criminal.
A couple of months ago, while the residents of Jackson, Mississippi, a capital city, continued to be subjected to shit water, due to intentional neglect and systemic racism, Governor Tate Reeves had the gall to say, laughingly, “It’s a great time to not be in Jackson.” What a disgusting thing to say, making it clear that human lives, and Black lives, are a joke to him.
This is the context within which the Supreme Court is poised to ban race-based affirmative action in universities. Their party further exacerbates racism, while simultaneously saying, “get over it,” and blaming “wokism.” It is gaslighting. It’s also another term that has no clear meaning, yet functions as a shield for their anti-Blackness. Unfortunately, mass media is complicit by running stories on this nonsense, emphasizing “both sides” rhetoric and the “culture wars.” This is at a time when the GOP has insisted that teachers teach both sides to the Holocaust. This means they are pro-Nazi, and with a rise in antisemitism, the evidence of this is all around us.
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, we are in a very dangerous moment in this country. In Tuesday’s elections, the majority of GOP nominees (299) deny the results of the last presidential election. Evidence be damned. There is rampant voter suppression in red states, as well as questions around the integrity of voting machines. I’m no expert on fascism, but this country seems to be headed in that direction, unless the Republican Party is stopped. They’ve shown us who they are repeatedly. They cannot be shamed, and appeals to their morality fall flat. They must lose soundly, which may take many years, if they are ever to change.
So, how come the vast majority of white men are silent when the worst of us are in positions of leadership? Is it not embarrassing? Is our own sense of superiority, and worth, so inflated that we disassociate and emotionally distance ourselves? Or perhaps the patriarchy and toxic masculinity that gets celebrated as The American Way, we still find a lot of comfort and belonging in?
Cisgender white men are the least involved demographic in work for equity, social, racial and gender justice. The bar for us is so low, it’s touching the floor. Too many of us opt out, likely because we don’t want to be seen as villains, or feel bad about ourselves. We deflect and emotionally disengage with comments such as, “I didn’t own slaves.” We believe, or act like, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is the work of more marginalized folks, when in reality, our absence is us being gatekeepers when it comes to power. Diversity should be celebrated, makes us all better, and we have a role to play in furthering it.
For the past 5 years, our work with Change The Narrative, has been to engage predominantly white Americans in meaningful work, regarding race, racism, whiteness and equity. I believe in meeting people where they are at, with compassion. I believe that we are all capable of change, and that shaming people is generally not productive. I’ve witnessed and supported a lot of white folks, and white men (myself included), growing in positive ways when it comes to learning, healing, and action rooted in antiracist and feminist values. It’s a small percentage, yet I’m filled with hope for helping to vision and co-create a more just world, with communities that value and embody interdependence and love, rather than punishment, policing and prisons.
We are in a moment, no matter what your background or age is, of, “which side are you on?”
I’m asking for more white men to have the courage to vocally reject the hatred, racism, misogyny, violence, corruption and lies at the heart of the Republican Party. If you have love for this country, then I’m asking you to fight for it. To see that though the Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson, may look like us as white men, they don’t have anyone’s best interests at heart. We owe it to ourselves, our families, and our children to reject everything they stand for. There is no way that they look in the mirror and love themselves. We must be brave enough to do the work so that we are able to.
Our relative positional privilege and power matters, no matter where we live or the work we do. Our courage is needed in having difficult conversations with friends and family, in workplaces, and on social media. There is intersectional work to be done on a wide range of issues from reproductive rights, to climate justice, to fighting voter suppression, to combatting white supremacist terrorism.
We do not have to go it alone and must realize that white antiracists have ancestors. We would benefit from learning from and shining a light on this history and present. I’ve personally been inspired by the ongoing work of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), Organizing White Men for Collective Liberation, The Catalyst Project, White People 4 Black Lives, AWARE-LA, White Awake, Teaching While White, and The Barnraisers Project, to name a few.
What would it mean if we let go of innocence and began to realize our own stakes in dismantling white supremacy and patriarchy in this country? Leaning into our own discomfort when it comes to injustice takes courage, humility, some thick skin and a willingness to make mistakes and not have the answers. Yet it can be generative, dignifying, healing, and soul-filling work. There is a strength in our own honesty and vulnerability, that differs from the domination as virtue that most of us received as kids.