Prologue, or please note: This was written as a quick Facebook rant on a topic that deserves far more reasoned thinking on my part. It needs saying, though, before one more placard held by one more white person happily shouts, “Look, ma, I’m white and I’m proudly at a protest!” — even if said less thoughtfully than I’d like.
For example, yesterday at my brief excursion to the #Jews4BlackLivesMatter, which didn’t seem to think Palestinian lives matter, the first sight that greeted me was an obviously white Jew with a sign stating that he was white as part of his slogan, thereby (among other things) papering over the actuality that Jews come in all colors. Moreover, his assertion is emblematic of why many of these Jews at this SF protest on the first night of Chanukah (which, as my friend Mia Amir noted on Facebook, is a holiday of light and remembrance for “a group of sadly armed people [who] revolted against an occupying army enacting grave oppression and the fact that that sadly armed group won”) didn’t allow my banner reading “From Palestine to Ferguson, the state is our enemy.” It isn’t about a few bad or many good white people, Jewish or otherwise; its about deadly structures of domination underpinned by racialist logics, with obviously different histories and different targeted peoples.
So a caveat here: in terms of this rant, all blind spots are my own.
Aside from the collapse of white supremacy in the United States, as upholder of everything from killer cops to prisons to this particular policing state, the best part of the #BlackLivesMatter uprising (and given the particular history of violence to forge these United States, also #IndigenousLivesMatter and #BrownLivesMatter) is how damn much I — and I trust so many others — are learning, how much I’m being stretched and challenged. We all need to stay curious, humble, and dynamic, eager to be self-reflective and transformed, if we’re gonna beat this shit — and be kind to each other. (That’s another damned good part: all the marvelous new social relations we are self-creating!) So if my blind spots need self-reflecting on, including the very use of the term “blind spots,” talk to me in person on the streets of #Oakland #SanFrancisco #Berkeley.
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My Facebook newsfeed thought that I’d like to see an invite for some nationwide group of white people “organizing as white people” with one white person pictured holding up a protest sign reading “beloved white people…” (& ninety-two “likes” & zero “comments” when I saw it). It’s all in the name of #BlackLivesMatter, of course. But that doesn’t excuse a framework that asserts whiteness as pivotal to this (or any other) struggle, by feigning some sort of humble allyship, proudly, “as white people.”
It’s embarrassing. For one, it’s clear that you are a white person; you don’t need to print it on a sign, directly or indirectly, and hold it over your head.
More important, it aids, wittingly or not, in the maintenance of the very logic of white supremacy that it (I’d hope) is supposed to be contesting: that what whites as a category, as a symbol and structure, do is what matters, is whose lives matter.
Using “white power” and its language, subtle or not, to fight white supremacy should be disturbing enough, especially if one is remotely aware of the histories in United States of the KKK or neo-Nazi formations, or US government foreign and domestic policy — to name a few. (A couple weeks ago in Oakland, some white allies doing their #BlackLivesMatter thing used a hashtag of “white supremacy is here, white supremacy is now,” as if it is self-evident to most people — of many colors — raised in a white supremacist society that white supremacy is bad.)
Yet striving to work only with white people, no matter the reason, and then have to front how wonderful you are, implicitly or explicitly, as whites for doing that, feels appalling, especially given the huge opening catalyzed by #Ferguson to self-reflect on and squarely battle white supremacy, which truly is here and now. Better hold a banner declaring “White supremacy exists,” because absurdly, many people still don’t even get that simple fact.
Yes, it should be clear that even if a white person becomes a “good white” who constantly is aware that they are white and tries to work through their own prejudices, when a white person calls, say, a cop to deal with a noisy neighbor, a white supremacist (police) state answers the phone, determining — because of an institutional logic — whether to nicely tell the white neighbor to keep it down, or if the neighbor is black, ticket, hit, kill, or arrest them for the same behavior. Whites organizing as whites, though, seem to miss that point, and so many others, worrying more about their own guilt than the violence of institutional racism and white supremacy under this specific policing state.
As a white person — something I’m neither proud of or embarrassed about; something that’s a fact of my Eastern European Jewish peasant stock mixed with some Dutch and maybe other pieces of a complex history of Europe that includes capitalism and colonialism, uprisings and revolutions, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, slavery and genocide, industrialization and nation-states, and so many other contradictions in the intimate dance of freedom and domination — in these United States, white supremacy already “blinds” our eyes to justice. That is why it is so powerful, violent, and victorious; it is the air we, everyone within a white supremacist society, breaths, whether we want to or not — even as it ensures that many cannot breathe.
White supremacy is the US system of justice, is these United States, and it is working far too well. One cannot be undo without the abolition of the other.
We need to not apartheid and segregate ourselves, then proudly declare our “whiteness,” in this moment of #BlackLivesMatter, when white supremacy is being forced out of the shadows and made visible. We need, myself included, to dig deep(er) into all we don’t see, and then look even deeper, so we can better disrupt and dismantle white supremacy, not assuage our own privilege or sense of sin as individuals. (That we in these United States already can’t see beyond the individual good into forms of social goodness is deeply problematic unto itself.)
Please, “whites,” you are missing the deadly forest for your comfy tree. Enough of the “white blocs”!
Trouble white supremacy instead, as accomplice, as co-conspirator, as traitor, as rebel, as human with a heart.
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(Photographs by Cindy Milstein, the first during a Montreal visit, during a Gaza solidarity demonstration, summer 2014, and the second, on December 16, 2014, in San Francisco for the #NoJusticeNoChanukah demo that didn’t want me to hold this banner, re-purposed from its original “From Ayotzinapa to Ferguson, the state is our enemy” for the first night of Chanukah.)