In honor of Black History Month, I’ve asked a number of friends and colleagues to contribute guests posts sharing their wisdom about how to live in a world where so much is shifting, and so much stays exactly the same. I encourage you to let these words sink in. – Mike
We who are the descendants of indentured European servants and of European working-class immigrants who fought back against bosses and their police to form unions and fight for better pay, better working conditions, the weekend, benefits, that few my age and younger have,
We who are the descendants of peoples who became white as a ruling class strategy to divest us of our shared humanity and solidarity with all working and oppressed people, and gave us entitlements, rights, the social and cultural wages of whiteness, as W.E.B DuBois wrote, that ultimately kept many of us economically down, politically weak, and spiritually impoverished,
We who are the descendants of people who became white through our collective consumption of hundreds of years of toxic anti-Black racist culture from the minstrel show to COPS that reinforces anti-Black laws, policies, and de facto rules that allow every form of brutality and insult to be unleashed against those who became Black in the process of extracting the wealth and power that built the United States,
We who are raised to be white in a white supremacist capitalist society must remember that white privilege was both a granting of access to resources and rights, while also a strategy to warp our worldview in anti-Black racism. This strategy channeled our our anger and resentment about working everyday to make someone else rich, deflecting it from the bosses and the ruling elite who imposed these conditions onto us, redirecting it onto other working people who are Black and of color. A strategy of maintaining structural inequality by granting non-ruling class white people the opportunity to regain a sense of our own power through our socially-encouraged, protected and often-rewarded ability to desecrate the dignity, humanity and life of Black people.
We who are raised white must realize that this society that devours the lives of Black people, everyday, is also a society that systematically raises us to be either butchers of Black life or the defenders and supporters of those doing the butchering. We are raised in a culture where white parents brought their “becoming” white children to watch the lynching and participate in the private rioting of socially acceptable white violence against Black bodies. We who are raised to be white, are raised in a death culture to be soldiers inflicting daily dehumanization against Black people in a capitalist society that profits from the slow (and sometimes quick) taking of Black life that maintains the monstrosity of the status quo.
While the most devastating and brutal consequences of anti-Black racism take place against Black communities, anti-Black racism is also core to what it means to be white in this society — to be emotionally and spiritually malnourished, fed hate, fear, envy, and resentment that deliberately replaced the sustenance of solidarity, love, friendship, community and mutually-affirming authentic human interactions across what became the color lines of a white supremacist society.
Every murder of a Black person by the police, every justification of how ‘scary’ and ‘threatening’ that person was to armed, trained, law enforcement, every media account that assumes innocence on the part of the police and guilt on the part of the murdered, every justification for endless anti-Black racist war, is also a continuation of the campaign to turn descendants of European servants, descendants of insurgent European immigrants, into patriotic white people who fight for the agenda of the rulers and denounce all who strike out for a world that affirms the inherent worth and dignity of all people, that embraces our shared humanity, that centers economic, racial, disability, gender, and environmental justice for all.
Anti-Black racism is war against Black communities. It is a cancerous, solidarity-poisoning, justice-denying process of straightjacketing the hearts, souls, and liberatory imaginations of those of us who have been raised white, so that we will be butchers, soldiers, and ‘good white people’ who call for ‘calm’ over ending violence when it’s Black lives being taken.
Anti-Black racism is a structural nightmare that white people must wake up from. We must wake up and fight back against it. The fight for white people against anti-Black racism is one of solidarity with Black communities and Black people in our lives and in our hearts, but it is also a fight to break free from the death culture suffocating and malnourishing us – and everyone raised white – whom we love.
When indentured Europeans joined with enslaved Africans to overthrow the tyranny of the slave master, the goal was to all get free. When the descendants of indentured servants, of exploited working-class immigrants, descendants of those who became white, join with the Black-led multiracial Black Lives Matter movement today, we must remember that in our confrontation with anti-Black racism, in our efforts to dismantle white supremacy, in our work for racial justice, we are also working to all get free and reclaim our shared humanity and the power of our solidarity, to build a world where liberation rather then supremacy guides all of our lives.
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Chris Crass is the author of the new book Towards the ‘Other America’: Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter. He writes and speaks widely on anti-racist organizing, feminism for men, strategies to build visionary movements, and creating healthy culture and leadership for progressive activism. He was a founder of the anti-racist movement building center, the Catalyst Project, and helped launch the national white anti-racist network, SURJ (Showing Up For Racial Justice). Rooted in his Unitarian Universalist faith, he works with congregations, seminaries, and religious and spiritual leaders to build up the Spiritual Left. He is also the author of Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy. He lives in Louisville, KY with his partner and their two sons. You can learn more about his work at ChrisCrass.org.