Hundreds marched in Glasgow, Scotland yesterday in a rally (opens short video, 1:17) to call for an end racism. According to this report, the march and rally were organized to remind people of the dangers of allowing prejudice and discrimination to go unchallenged, and was organized by the STUC, a labor union. Reading the news about this anti-racism rally in Glasgow got me wondering, why aren’t there more of these in the U.S.? While I recognize that a rally is not the same thing as a social movement, but it is noteworthy that the only time there’s an anti-racism rally here, it’s in response to a KKK (or other white racist group) rally, and there’s not a sustained anti-racist movement in the U.S.
There’s some recent research by sociologists Jill McCorkel and Jason Rodriguez that may shed some light on this question (recently highlighted in Contexts). McCorkel and Rodriguez explored the experience of those who participate in movements dominated by people of other races, specifically, they used multi-year participant observation to study how white people become accepted in civil rights organizations dominated by African Americans (e.g., “pro-black” abolitionism and “conscious” hip hop). They found that white people are rarely recruited into such organizations and, when a white person seeks membership, they’re often relegated to “supporter” roles rather than given full membership. In order to move into the core of the movement, white people had to prove their “realness”— that is, their commitment to political struggle. But regardless of their efforts to “fit-in,” white participants in black social movements never could become full members. (You can read the entire article in the journal Social Problems, March 2009).
While McCorkel and Rodriguez’s research is focused more on the challenges that an influx of progressive, anti-racist whites posed to two racially progressive movements, their research also suggests a few speculative explanations for why there’s not a robust anti-racist movement in the U.S. First, it suggests that whites are rarely seen as natural allies by people leading organizations focused on racial equality. Further, it suggests that anti-racist whites are not organizing among themselves to form a movement against racism, but rather are seeking out organizations dominated by African Americans. Yet, once in those organizations, anti-racist whites must do the work of proving their “realness” to others rather than engaging work that might change structural inequality, dismantle institutional racism, or raise the consciousness of other whites. Perhaps anti-racist whites who want to see real social change should work on doing something to change the school-to-prison pipeline, as just one example, rather than trying to get demonstrate how “real” they are.
Or, maybe like whites in Glasgow, whites here in the U.S. could organize an old-fashioned anti-racism rally.