White Supremacy and Black Athletes’ Protests

With the proliferation of mass media, people increasingly look toward political leaders to make public statements when a tragedy occurs. Tensions often flare, and we look to such leaders to bring our communities together in times of crisis. We know a single statement can’t heal centuries of division, and that leaders are humans and so will always be imperfect. But a leader sets a high standard to which all can aspire—our “better angels,” as several great U.S. presidents have referenced (citing Charles Dickens). By now, unfortunately, hopefully only the most naïve and sheltered among us are still waiting for or expecting the current president Donald Trump to ever do such a thing. Although clearly trusted advisers have attempted to steer him in that direction at times, it was not long before, left to his own devices, his unscripted comments at the next public venue effectively cancelled out any inspiring statement he had previously attempted. This all happening while police officers killing unarmed black civilians are exonerated in courts, while hurricanes are decimating U.S. states and territories, and while white supremacists are marching openly and killing citizens to make political statements.

Is it any wonder that private citizens all over the country—-comedians, actors, athletes, anyone with a public forum with a chance of being heard widely—-are stepping in to fill that vacuum our white president has irresponsibly left open? There is a long tradition in this country of those who would be silenced (and their allies) proverbially “grabbing the mic” to raise the public’s awareness about injustices happening in their midst. They do this because often raising public outcry is the first step toward creating change. If U.S. news camera footage of dogs and water hoses aimed at their own citizens had not been viewed around the world—-just after the U.S. had intervened on the global stage to stop a white supremacist named Hitler, and thereby revealed to be human-rights-hypocrites in front of allies and foes alike—-the US state would likely never have made such bold moves to finally create the civil rights legal reforms of the 1960s. As the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) beautifully recreates with statues of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising a Black Power fist at the 1968 Olympics black athletes and other public figures outside of politics have at crucial moments in our nation’s history been able to raise awareness and move our national conversations forward on racism issues in productive ways.

Critics dismiss certain athletes who speak out or take a stand as “attention-seeking” spectacles “distracting” from the game—athletes like Colin Kaepernick (NFL player who has been taking a knee during national anthem, along with many other allies, on his team and around the country, to protest continued injustice against African Americans) and Stephen Curry (NBA player who recently spoke about not wanting to visit the White House, prompting Trump to Tweet a “disinvite” in return). What has struck me since I worked on the White Men on Race book with Joe Feagin (based on over 100 interviews with elite white men) is that whites will often speak with decisive authority on people of color they know very little about. It took my 10-year-old son’s school project on Curry, reading biographies, for me to find out, for example, that when Curry beats on his chest after he scores on the basketball court, he’s actually pounding on his heart and then pointing up to the sky to represent his own personal relationship to Jesus. It is actually a humble, reverent gesture, rather than the arrogant strut it has been perceived as by some. As Joe Feagin and Kimberley Ducey point out, whites have routinely perceived identical behavior from whites and non-whites in strikingly different perspectives—-the “white as virtue” frame. As Ta-Nehisi Coates brilliantly reminds us, there would be no “race,” no “whites” to speak of without “blacks” to contrast them against, because race is a relational construct—-constructed solely to justify the colonization and exploitation of the latter. It did not take long for the public to take to social media to point out how President Trump seems to have this same kind of striking perception contrast between white supremacists (“very fine people”) and athletes kneeling during the national anthem (“sons of bitches”).

Many whites perceive the act of taking a knee during the national anthem as disrespectful. Yet when I see this photo, for example, of the Oakland A’s player Bruce Maxwell (the first in MLB) taking a knee during the national anthem I see anything but disrespect. I see Maxwell with his hat off, holding his hand over his heart, glancing longingly up to the flag. And what I hear through his body language is, “Great country that I call home, when will there truly be liberty and justice FOR ALL? When?!” I see embodied in his posture the words of Cornel West: “America. . .needs citizens who love it enough to re-imagine it and re-make it.” These words are etched into the walls of the Smithsonian’s NMAAHC—-and this location would certainly fit the criteria the Golden State Warriors are seeking during their upcoming DC visit:

In lieu of a visit to the White House, we have decided that we’ll constructively use our trip to the nation’s capital in February to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion — the values that we embrace as an organization.

To voice their opposition to athletes kneeling during the National Anthem, many whites also cite their family members who have fought and even died in wars. Some even cite their Christian faith. They seem to forget that scores of African Americans are also veterans, are descendants of veterans, are currently serving in war zones or deployed, and have even lost their lives serving our country in the armed forces. And they certainly forget the centrality of Christianity in African Americans’ lives. The most beautiful patriotic statements I have seen lately come from veterans who disagree with kneeling during the anthem, but proudly state that this is precisely why they served and fought in our military—to defend all their fellow Americans (not just veterans) in their right to this very kind of freedom of speech and expression! I have seen several beautiful photos of football teams standing together during the National Anthem, right next to their teammates who are kneeling, with hands on their shoulders-—making a strong statement that they respect each other’s choices, whether to kneel or to stand, and that is what makes our country great, our diversity of thought, viewpoints, and experiences.

There are many ways to serve our country. There are many ways to make personal sacrifices and/or contributions in service of making our country better. Sometimes our racial segregation from each other keeps us from seeing the humanity of others, the sacrifices others have made. Although I personally have been celebrating Kaepernick’s public statement that Black Lives Matter, when my own 10-year old son came home with a plan to sit out the pledge of allegiance at his school, it gave me pause. After all, we’re talking about my baby. I see adults making choices, but when I Google what related actions have been taken by children under-18, I see that high school football players have received death threats for kneeling during the National Anthem and elementary school students have been assaulted by their own teachers for sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance. To his credit, it was actually my son’s own idea to call a meeting with the principal, because he expressed a strong desire to take action “without being rude.” He sat there in this big chair that he looked so tiny in, and spoke softly but clearly, “I don’t like the way police officers treat African Americans,” and I thought I could see water in his eyes, but he kept his composure. I am grateful that his principal and guidance counselor are both supporting him, and they will relay to his teacher that he has a right to sit down (according to the student handbook—and according to US law, actually, too). Although the adults around him have a primary concern for his safety, when a teacher suggested he be in a different room away from view (helping with the morning announcements in the technology room—which he loves to do!) he was actually disappointed that his action would potentially not matter. In his words, “but mom, I want to make a difference.” My awe at his bravery and sacrifice of his own personal safety in order to work toward making our country fairer for all stands beside my awe of my stepsister’s (and her husband’s) bravery and personal sacrifice while serving in the Army and being drafted to Iraq and Afghanistan (they are both veterans, as was my father—a Vietnam veteran in the Navy).

My concern is all the “colorblind” comments that divide our country up into “us” and “them”—-the patriotic white heroes who serve our country and stand for the National Anthem and never criticize the President become the “us” while the “ungrateful” people of color who take public actions to draw attention to the continuing injustices in the nation become the “disrespectful” outgroup, “them.” The tone of this (mostly white) public criticism of those who kneel during the National Anthem sounds to me like the critics think people of color should be grateful for, in Malcolm X’s words, the “crumbs from the table.” They should be happy to be playing a sport at all, to be having the right to kneel at all—-meanwhile elite white men (all NFL owners are elite white men, as are all NBA owners but Michael Jordan) are reaping exponential profits off their arduous labor. And selective memory is employed to erase just how hard their forefathers and foremothers fought just to get onto the same playing field at all, just to get the basic constitutional rights to even apply to them at all (to become more than the original Constitution’s “three-fifths of a person”!)

My son’s father is a Desert Storm veteran (Marine Corps), he is African American, and he supports his son’s right to sit out the pledge. He was born in 1966, just a couple days after Christmas in a snowstorm in Virginia, and because the hospital in town even at that late time still did not serve black people, they had to drive an hour in the snow to a bigger city (Richmond, VA) just so he could be born. So there were no family visits in the hospital, no big celebration. Just him and his mom on a quiet cold day. It was not until the year after he was born (1967, in Loving v. Virginia) that interracial marriage was even legally permitted by the US Supreme Court. And this is not a man who is in a rocking chair at a nursing home somewhere—this is a man who will be squeezing himself into a tiny desk chair to attend Back to School night at elementary school this week. When whites talk about the “sacrifices” that they and their families have made in this country, I wonder if they ever contemplate the tremendous sacrifices, and loss of life, loss of children way before their time, that African Americans face every day here– still waiting for “liberty and justice for all.” Parents send their children out into these streets never knowing if they will make it back home. And if they had to play the odds on whether a court would find a police officer guilty when s/he “accidentally” shoots their child because that officer says “I feared for my life,” unfortunately those odds would not be good. Why is it that so many of us whites cannot see another human being’s sacrifice and struggle as just as relevant as our own? That lack of seeing each other’s common humanity is the ultimate disrespect.

As long as there is a lack of moral leadership at the helm of our nation, and as long as there is great racial inequality, white Americans can expect to see people of color and their allies taking much protest action, as they always have. If US history is any indication, one day our grandchildren or great-grandchildren might be celebrating as heroes the very figures some whites vilify now. Elementary schools across the country now include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in their patriotic programs as a hero, but when he was living and breathing, he was jailed like a common criminal, chastised for not being respectful enough and not knowing “his place,” and regularly targeted by many white supremacists with death threats. So, as for me, I am going to be celebrating tomorrow’s heroes now, while I have the chance. I believe this is the ultimate in real US patriotism and respect for liberty and justice.

 

~ Eileen O’Brien is Associate Professor of Sociology and the author of several books, including Whites Confront Racism

Kids Being Kids—More than a White Privilege

Robin Bernstein, the author of the book Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood From Slavery to Civil Rights recently published an Op-Ed in the New York Times, “Let Black Kids Just Be Kids” that really tugged at my heartstrings. It opens with the example of George Zimmerman thinking Trayvon Martin was “a little bit younger” than him, meanwhile the boy was 17 while the man was nearly 30. Bernstein reviews numerous examples besides Trayvon Martin—and unfortunately there are too many to count—Emmett Till, Tamir Rice, the list goes on—where this faulty assumption of African American children being guilty of adult-like crimes, that they likely could not even fathom for themselves– has cost them their lives. Yet we must remember that these tragic cases are only the tip of the iceberg of what one of Joe Feagin’s interviewees has identified as the “daily murders” of racism and white privilege happening to children of color across our society, every minute the clock ticks.

Even when they are not shot to death mistakenly by police, people of color are routinely assumed to be untrustworthy and up to no good. Not just by police, but by everyday stakeholders making decisions that could affect the rest of their lives. Medical doctors, social workers, and teachers, just to name a few, make decisions on a daily basis that negatively impact people of color as compared to their white peers. These decisions are often made by people who see themselves as “colorblind” and unbiased. The Sadkers’ research, and other more recent studies looking at the intersection of gender and racial bias, are poignant in that, when teachers are presented with video/observation evidence of themselves doing these things, they can tend to even shock themselves. There is a boatload of denial surrounding the everyday racism and sexism that permeates our society.

When I read Bernstein’s piece, I immediately thought of my own son’s struggles in school. Both my son and my daughter have, unfortunately, come to expect now that when a group of kids in school are caught talking too loudly or doing something needing reprimanding, it is their names that will be called and singled out when a mostly white group is doing all that and more. They both are striking in appearance, taller and bigger than most of the kids their age, and also not white. My daughter’s coping strategy has been, when she is counted out, she works even harder to prove folks wrong, and very often does. Her grades are stellar (all A’s) and her confidence is too. But while my son is smart as a whip, with a memory like a steel trap—he’s still in elementary school with one teacher all day, so how his teacher perceives him—-I am learning—-will make or break how he ends up performing academically all year long. And this past year, his teacher perceived him as up to no good, not working up to his potential.

Determined not to be a hovercraft parent, or one of those annoying parents who believes their kid’s “stuff don’t ever stink,” I tried to hang back and not over-interfere—even as I watched his confidence tank and told myself the “tough love” approach would be good for him later. All year I heard story after story of him being reprimanded for things other kids were doing too. It touched me so much when a guidance counselor asked my son to go into the bathroom and intervene in a situation with some younger boys, and he came home saying proudly, “I know Mrs. XXX trusts me”—and he was beaming from ear to ear. Because this is the kind of “trust” he did not get from his classroom teacher—that benefit of the doubt, that confidence in him to be a good citizen and do the right thing. While none of the almost exclusively white middle class female staff of this school would ever see themselves as making any decisions that have anything to do with race, when I read Bernstein’s essay, and when I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, I am reminded of how much our (white) society writ large expects grown-up maturity out of our children of color, and reserves the space to “let kids be kids” almost exclusively for whites. This daily injustice is what spawns all the coping strategies of being “twice as good,” and the unfairness of mediocre, average whites making it to the top and beyond each and every day—because they were allowed to mess up, fail, and come back from it.

The students in my college classrooms are heavily military, so in discussing racism in the military, we recently came across this new study, showing that black service members face more disciplinary actions than their white counterparts, in every branch of service. This criminalization of nonwhite mistakes is a pattern that those studying the school-to-prison pipeline know well. As with criminal justice system racial disparities, we know that some of these African Americans may have indeed committed these crimes, and some may not have done anything at all. But in either case, the whites who make the same mistakes are not being punished with the same gusto. I am here to tell you my kids mess up sometimes, as do I. But my son’s mistakes cost him a whole year of not being on the honor roll when he should have been, a whole year of assaults to his confidence that did not have to go down that way. He is just a child that wants to goof off and be silly sometimes. And I wish he could be able to do that just as often, and with just as much gusto, as his white counterparts. I want to live in that kind of society.

We must remember that the local decision makers and stakeholders carrying out white privilege in everyday Americans’ lives usually are not the ones who created this notion of white “virtue” to begin with. The lower-middle class female entry-level teacher or social worker or police officer just feeding her family, carrying out someone else’s policies that she did not created, and hoping she doesn’t get fired due to budget cuts, is not ultimately to blame for the fate our children face. As Joe Feagin and Kimberley Ducey argue in their new book Elite Men Ruling:

From the distant past to the present, much of the effort to create and maintain this dominant white racial frame has come from powerful white men. This is not surprising, for they are central to the frame—especially its accent on virtue. . . [T]he word virtue is derived from the Latin vir, which means man or hero. Early on, in the development of the North American colonies, white men were supposed to exhibit the supposed manly virtues of courage, strength, and piety. Most white men, then as now, have implicitly or explicitly accented certain masculine virtues. They have often exuded an arrogance about what is human virtue and what is not, about who is virtuous and who is not, and about where and when there is virtue. Not surprisingly, the dominant white frame has been replete with anti-black and other anti-others subframes—that is, subframes targeting “those people” as generally unvirtuous.

To reshape our society, we cannot settle for pointing fingers at “implicit bias” in only the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. If it were only individual biases among certain (white) officers and teachers to blame, and our highest courts of law and lawmakers were truly practicing justice, then such biases would be fairly punished and ferreted out, unable to systematically take root in institutional practice at large. Media, cultural, political practices all work to reinforce the white-virtue subframe such that a time rarely comes for us to be challenged about it. It becomes the air we breathe, whether we are white, Latino, black, male, female, or anywhere in between.

Bernstein rightly points out that, in trying to dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools (Audre Lorde) by striving to prove that nonwhite kids are “just as innocent,” we reify this white racially framed dichotomy of (white) innocence/virtue versus (nonwhite) evil, which is a bit out of touch with reality. After all, whites’ mistakes are routinely overlooked, dismissed, forgiven, pardoned—-their conflicts with police are somehow “deescalated” without killing anyone. Whites, and white children, are hardly ever 100% “innocent”—our mostly white-controlled society just permits them to learn and grow and be full human beings more readily than it permits the rest.

I’m dreaming for the day when all those with the power to shape our kids’ future remember what it was like to be a kid—having fun, being loud, messing up, and getting back up again– and see that common humanity in all kids, not just those who “look like them.”

The Strengths of Being Multiracial

In a recent NYTimes piece, “What Biracial People Know,” Moises Velasquez-Manoff assembles a variety of compelling studies demonstrating that people of mixed heritage—-or even people who have similarly cultivated a “limber-mindset,” perhaps by living an extended period of time in another culture—have sharper mental acuity, and stronger problem-solving abilities, than those with a monocultural background. Even as young as 3 months old, these infants begin having greater facial recognition abilities than their counterparts. When presented with word-association and other creative problem-solving tasks, those reminded of their multiracial heritage performed better than those who were not similarly primed.

The research Velasquez-Manoff reviews echoes other studies done around monolingual vs. bilingual education that reveal that fluent bilingual students tend to perform better in school than either Spanish-only OR English-only students—challenging the advisability of the “straight-line assimilation” admonishments of old. But Velasquez-Manoff goes even further by looking at not just at individual-level outcomes, but societal outcomes—such as “economic prosperity, greater scientific prowess and a fairer judicial process”—to argue that an entire community benefits when groups forge intimate connections beyond just their own tribe.

This piece comes across as much a celebration of diversity as a stark warning—warning to those who would like to turn the clock back to a time when many took solace in the comfort of the uniformly familiar. With facts like these—“multiracials make up an estimated 7 percent of Americans, according to the Pew Research Center, and they’re predicted to grow by 20 percent in 2050”—Velasquez-Manoff makes it evident there is no turning back this tide. In the shift from an Obama to Trump administration, he argues, the step back from multiracial to relatively monoracial is evident. And this “closing in” of ranks, as if fearful of an impending multiracial nation, emanates from a grave misperception that “out-groups gain at in-groups’ expense”—the great zero-sum game fallacy. In presenting this collection of studies, Velasquez-Manoff makes an excellent case for those who fear a society where whites are not the majority. He demonstrates that everyone in a society stands to benefit when its members are better able to perceive a situation and solve a problem from multiple vantage points—skills that are clearly heightened in multiculturally fluent individuals. He writes, “cities and countries that are more diverse are more prosperous than homogenous ones, and that often means higher wages for native born citizens.”

Velasquez-Manoff seems to implore—even if diversity scares you and you want nothing to do with it, just on the basis of this evidence that you’d be part of a stronger, richer, smarter society, wouldn’t you want to come on board for the ride?

Yet if it were that simple, of course it would have been done by now. I have two biracial children myself, and several older biracial stepchildren. Recently I asked one of my stepsons, now nearing college graduation, when did he first realize there was this thing called race separating us? Of course he spent nearly every day of his life going back and forth between families of different skin colors, but that never passed the radar. After all, when a rainbow of shades and tones is your daily reality, it’s hard to tell where this dividing line is that everyone’s talking about. I’ll never forget having to explain to my daughter about legal segregation—she was assigned the part of Dr. King in a kindergarten play, and all she was told was he gave a speech and had a dream, so I had a lot of filling in of details to do! I could see her rolling all of her different family members through her head, trying to figure out which ones back then would have been considered black, and the funny thing is she got 99% of them “wrong” by society’s standards—I mean, after all, who do you know who looks “black?”

It’s instructive to see the nonsense logic of “race” through a kid’s eyes. But my stepson told me it was not until he started to notice the differences in the churches he would attend with each part of the family—all the while seeming to be talking about the same God—but doing so very differently. Such a clear indicator that race has so little to do with skin color and so much to do with the way we humans have persisted in organizing ourselves. What once existed by law now continues de facto, because the scars are very deep, because we fear venturing out of comfort zones, because we continue to be excluded subtly rather than overtly—there are so many reasons. (See Gene Zubovich’s thoughtful essay for more on church segregation specifically.)

Our churches and our families are some of our most intimate spaces. We go there to take refuge from the onslaught of pain that the world “out there” throws us. Many of us turn to a spiritual community, or an intimate relationship, to feel safe, to be able to let down our guard, to finally no longer have to worry what everyone else thinks, or what someone might do to hurt us. Velasquez-Manoff cites a study of college roommates (by Sarah Gaither at Duke), matched across racial lines, and in this intimate space, yes -— it was not easy, at first. But after initial discomfort subsides or is worked through, the gains for both parties to the relationship are undeniable.

Velasquez-Manoff writes: “Diversity is hard. But that’s exactly why it’s so good for us,” and quoting Katherine Phillips of Columbia Business School, likens it to the pain of muscles in a workout—the hurt is indicative of something growing stronger.

Indeed, research I’ve done with Kathleen Korgen shows that even in close cross-racial friendships, friends tend to avoid the topic of race altogether, or else joke about it without taking racism seriously as a difference between them. Is it any wonder that research shows us many more young people are having cross-racial dating relationships now, but far fewer of those dating relationships actually move onto an interracial marriage —- hence sociologist Zhenchao Qian reminding us this is the “last taboo.”

It is one thing for two people to connect one-on-one, but quite another for them to forge a marriage which bonds their entire social/familial circles —- that will take some hard word, creating conflicts, some of which might never get fully worked out. Those who are already facing the daily pain of racism may not see themselves as able to voluntarily sign themselves up for yet another battle with this monster called race—-after all, so much of it they did not sign up for and is out of their control. And on the flip side, someone like President Donald Trump with a fragile ego and in unfamiliar territory may seek to surround himself with sameness in effort to assuage his own fears—-as might many of his supporters also.

As Joe Feagin and Kimberley Ducey argue in their forthcoming book Elite White Men Ruling, Trump operates from a white-virtuous-arrogance frame. Elite white men often have little to no intimate contact with nonwhites yet boldly attempt to speak with authority about them nonetheless. Diversity can be scary to the monoracials on both “sides,” albeit for quite different reasons.

Yet Velasquez-Manoff’s brilliantly crafted piece demonstrates with a mountain of evidence that facing those fears and struggles will produce a result that is so worth it! And he further shows us that even without interracial marriage or offspring of our own, we can take the plunge to “diversify” our own experiences to similar positive results. But no pain, no gain. So time to get to work to make this a stronger brighter world for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and beyond. Because after all, there is no turning back this tide of multiracials coming up to show us the way!

Dr. Eileen O’Brien is Associate Professor of Sociology and Associate Chair of Social Sciences at Saint Leo University, Virginia campus. In addition to teaching and writing books on race relations and racism, she leads community workshops on race, including the upcoming “Loving Across Differences.”

Women Lead the Resistance to Trump

(Inauguration Protest Posters by Shepard Fairey, from here)

When my daughter and I joined the Women’s March on Washington, DC, we joined with other women who are leading the resistance to the Trump regime. Reported to be the largest ever one-day march in the US, we were joined by an estimated two million people at sister marches around the world.

Being at the Women’s March on Washington

Being at the Women’s March was a chance to be part of history and to be inspired. Many people at the march were fired up about the fact that Trump is morally unfit for office. Holding signs like: “This pussy grabs back” and chants like our favorite: “We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter!” the women at the march proclaimed their resistance.

Actor Ashley Judd’s impassioned delivery of a poem written by fellow Tennesseean Nina Donovan (19 years old) at the pre-march rally aimed to take back the “nasty woman” insult, insisting vaginas “ain’t for grabbin’” and instead are for birthing the next generation of multicultural, multifaceted diverse human beings. The poem spoke of female empowerment, attacked transphobia, conversion therapy (aimed at LGBTQIA folks), and the abysmal 63 and 54 cents that Black and Hispanic women make compared to a “white man’s privileged daughter.” Right away it was evident to me on the ground that this march was going to be a progressive coalition and the beginning of a much broader resistance than just the outcome of the election,

While marching, I was struck again and again by the juxtaposition of what a sign said and who was carrying it.  A “Trust Women” sign for reproductive freedom, carried by a man; a “Black Lives Matter” sign, carried by a white woman; “Respect Women of Color” NOW sign, carried by a white man; “The Future is Brown and Female,” also carried by a man; and “Channeling my Inner Shirley Chisholm,” carried by a white woman. Chisholm ran for the Democratic party nomination for US President in 1972, and although she did not win it, she adopted the slogan “unbought and unbossed”—was a democratic role model that men and women of all backgrounds, races, religions, and sexual orientations.

(The author and her daughter at The Women’s March)

When the crowd was finally permitted to march forward, I caught glimpse of a vast sea of signs and banners that was inspiring for both me and gave me hope for my daughter’s future.

Intersectionality in Action

For me, The Women’s March was also an opportunity to see intersectionality in action. Several of the visionary organizers of the March for Women –including Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour  – spoke eloquently about harnessing the passion of the people who were there.  Rather than focus on calling out the 53% of white women who voted for Trump, or the white women who hadn’t marched before, the organizers chose to “call people in” to the movement.

They called in the people who got on a bus, maybe for the first time and who had maybe never been politically active before, and asked them to stay awake now, to keep paying attention, and to keep speaking up about the issues that others have been fighting for for decades now, like police brutality and Islamophobia.

Linda Sarsour, in particular, who identifies as “unapologetically Muslim American, Palestinian American, and from Brooklyn, New York” passionately spoke that she was glad that people became recently incensed by Trump’s call for a “Muslim registry”—and to these new allies, she affirmed, “I welcome you”—but also made clear, “the very things you have been outraged by, this has been our reality for the past 15 years.

Tamika Mallory reminded the crowd that this was not a concert or a party, and like Sarsour, welcomed new allies in this progressive movement by addressing those who “for the first time felt the pain that my people have felt since they were brought here with chains shackled on our legs, welcome to my world… This country has been hostile to its people for some time. For some of you, it is new. For some of us, it is not so new.”

(Linda Sarsour, speaking at The Women’s March, from here)

While some in the mainstream media tended to focus more on the speeches of white celebrities such as Gloria Steinem, Michael Moore, Ashley Judd, Madonna, and Scarlett Johansson, the reality on the ground at the march was that women of color played a prominent role. And, they always used their platform to highlight intersectionality.  Actor Janelle Monae led the crowd in chants of “Say Her Name,” a call created by Kimberlé Crenshaw to remind us of the black women killed at the hands of police, like Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Miriam Carey, Shelly Frey, Korryn Gaines, Natasha McKenna, Yvette Smith and so many others. Several of the mothers of black men (and boys) killed at the hands of police, such as Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin, spoke to shout their babies’ names aloud as well.

(Janelle Monae, speaking at The Women’s March, from here)

One of the most powerful moments for me at the march happened when the crowd began to chant in unison: “Sophie Cruz.”  Most people there had probably never heard before of Sophie Cruz, but once this brave and powerful 6-year old girl gave an empowering speech, first in English, and then repeated in Spanish, urging the crowd to work to “keep families together,” urging children to “not be afraid,” they would likely never forget her.  Echoing another young heroine, Cruz told the crowd she still believed that most people have “hearts full of love” so “let’s keep together and fight for the rights!”

Standing for five hours of speeches in a packed crowd where one could barely move was uncomfortable at times, but well worth it for moments of inspiration like this one. Reflecting on these moments of inspiration gives me strength as the news from the Trump regimes unfolds with more terrible developments each day.

Women Continue to Lead the Resistance

(Activists in Portland, Oregon, protest President Trump’s ban. Clinton Steeds/Reuters, from here)

As the first few days of Trump’s presidency unfold with an onslaught of destructive Executive Orders, including the so-called “Muslim Ban,” it it women who have been on the front lines of the protests against these atrocities. Michael Moore suggested that the Women’s March never ended.

Clearly, it’s working. One Republican congressman complained that since the march, women have been “in my grill,” asking about when his next town hall meeting would be, and “not to give positive input.”  On the Democratic side, two women have been at the forefront of putting pressure on Sen. Schumer, staging protests outside his home that have helped him “find his spine” to stand up to the Trump regime. Rebecca Traister has a run down here of all the women opposing the regime, which has set off a flurry of speculation that opposition from women is Trump’s Nightmare.

Sen. Kamala Harris’s speech at the march connected “women’s issues,” to human rights issues, to the economy, to immigration. Native Americans formed a human chain as they drummed and marched, chanting what the crowds marching near them could not help but join in as it became contagious—“women are sacred” and “water is life.” These are not just Native values, these are human values—or should be.

(Photo credit: Eileen O’Brien. Shepard Fairey poster)

Making these connections between disparate issues has never been more urgent.  it’s important to deepen our understanding of “women’s issues,” particularly as whites become a demographic minority in the US. Census Data is quite clear that by 2020, a majority of the children in this country will be nonwhite, ushering in a majority multicultural future for the nation. As Joe’s insightful post notes,Trump’s cabinet is clearly assembled to preserve elite white male advantage. If women are to resist this power structure, then we will need to fully embrace the intersectionality  I saw on full display at the Women’s March.

(Rep. Maxine Waters, speaking at The Women’s March, from here)

As crowds chanted “this is what democracy looks like” and “this is what America looks like,” Rep. Maxine Waters said that Trump’s words, actions, and nominees tells us that “you don’t respect us as women” and they are “dog whistles to white supremacists.” With white supremacists like Bannon and Miller actively involved in drafting Executive Orders for Trump’s signature, this not hyperbole.

As Alicia Garza observed, the march is a part of a larger effort at movement building:

“We can build a movement in the millions, across difference. We will need to build a movement across divides of class, race, gender, age, documentation, religion and disability. Building a movement requires reaching out beyond the people who agree with you.”

When I attended The Women’s March, I’m grateful I got to be a part of this.

 

~ Eileen O’Brien is Associate Professor of Sociology and Assistant Chair of the Department of Social Sciences at St.Leo University. She is the author of several books, including Whites Confront Racism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001).

The March for Women: Kingian Perspectives

As I make plans and preparations to attend the March for Women in Washington DC this Saturday with my teenage daughter—with controversy already swirling around it—I find guiding wisdom studying the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

King reminds us that doing what is morally right is often not easy, comfortable or convenient. Well, my daughter does not much like crowds, and we will be getting up at 5am and being on our feet all day, but we’ve done just as much for something more frivolous such as a family vacation. No, the discomfort I believe King spoke of is much less superficial, and much more permanent. Not the discomfort to our bodies, but hurt and pain on our hearts and souls. The kind of reproach and rebuke that might come from someone whose opinions of us we care about, maybe even those we love. Or those with whom we might have marched shoulder to shoulder, whose causes with whom we may have been aligned, under better circumstances.

King is known for being a leader—one of many leaders in the civil rights movement—and I have been awed and inspired by this new generation of leaders who are engaging with the March. Several brave women appear to be living by some of the more difficult Kingian teachings, illuminating the difficulties and complexities of the “long arc” of justice that King described. Not knowing what they did not know, initial organizers first termed the event the “Million Woman March,” but rightly backpedaled and withdrew this title once it was pointed out to them that African American women in Philadelphia marched under this name in 1997. Heated Facebook discussions ensued between women about the long history of race and class tension within the feminist movement in the US, amidst reorganization and broadening of the March’s focus and policy platform to incorporate better not only women of color, but all marginalized and oppressed human beings.

It is difficult to put in words the courage one must summon to accept correction and rebuke and remain engaged in solidarity with others. It is much easier to withdraw and take comfort in those who you perceive will not challenge you. When someone is already feeling wounded, they may understandably take the simpler road for a time until they can build up the strength to engage once more. For example, I have written elsewhere (in my Whites Confront Racism and in Doane & Bonilla-Silva’s White Out about the courage and humility needed to stay on a lifelong path of white antiracism. It is not a path for the faint of heart. You will be called out more than you know. Those who feel like they are doing something special by just showing up will be in for a rude awakening. The courage it takes to say, yes, I made a mistake—not in private by yourself, but with others watching—taking responsibility and walking forward to redress one’s wrongs, is not for everyone. But King’s words can serve as a blueprint and moral compass for such a crossroads:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends [and] Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people; but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.

Some who originally wanted to March have now withdrawn, saying they no longer felt “welcomed.” King rightly points out that being deserted and by potential allies is the “greatest betrayal”—much more so than those who we did not expect to support us anyway.

I am inspired by Lena Gardner, a Black Lives Matter group’s co-founder in Minneapolis, who when interviewed by NPR about the March and asked whether she was hopeful or skeptical about it, answered “both-and.” Gardner stated:

We’ve been out in the streets marching for years. And a lot of white people haven’t been there with us. And now, suddenly, they feel like it’s really important that they come out. So are you marching because you’re upset because you didn’t get your way, or are you marching because you recognize that your life and your liberation is connected to mine now? And I think there’s a long way to go between those gaps. But in my work in the past two years, I’ve seen it happen. So I have hope that it’ll happen for some people. I know it’s not going to happen for everyone. But all I can do, again, is meet people halfway and say welcome to this work. It’s really hard. It’s really difficult, and there are no certain answers.

Gardner appears to be taking the first step to which King refers in this quote: “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” It would be much easier for Gardner to retreat to a safe haven, to retreat to where she knows she feels more accepted, more whole. Instead, she models what Dr. King describes in this quote about courage:

Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles.
Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances.
Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it.
Cowardice asks the question, is it safe?
Expediency ask the question, is it politic?
Vanity asks the question, is it popular?
But, conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.
[I thank Rev. Travis Harris for bringing the above quote and the one about silence to my attention in his recent sermon on 1/15/17. See http://www.wmbrgblacklivesmatter.org]

The organizers of the March, from the current state of their website, explicitly cite Kingian principles of nonviolence as their guiding vision. They rightly characterize nonviolence as “courageous” (don’t mistake kindness for weakness!), and note that “defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.” Their vision mirrors that of Dr. King, when he says:

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.

King’s wisdom resonates today as clear and as urgent and as relevant as it ever was. The road is not easy, but you dust yourself off, get up again, and do the work, because we all sink or swim together. Ultimately, cutting part of the human family off is not going to get any of us where we want to go.

When the world around you seems to be calling for business as usual–amidst cruelty, lies, and disregard for your human dignity–what is the morally upright course of action? King tells us it is to keep showing up, keep speaking up, and never keep silent, because “the day we see the truth and cease to speak is the day we begin to die.” The Women’s March aims to “join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore.” It is surely a day that will make Dr. King proud, for it will be the result of struggles both internal and external, emerging victoriously knowing that it is precisely our differences that is our strength.

Racism and Family: Reflections on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Book

As the nation—and even the world—approaches yet another Rev./Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, some will be reflecting on how far we’ve come since King’s time. Others will be calling for renewed vigor toward activism and social justice, noting how far we still have to go toward King’s “dream.” Last year I was one of those voices. This year, however, I am instead overwhelmed by tremendous grief. The racism King deplored and gave his very life to combat simply will not leave us. It seems no sooner can I experience the joy of connecting to another person than it is cut short by the cold hard truth of what racism does to relationships, and to our inner beings. And just as I am grieving personal loss, I too am grieving the loss for all of humanity. That too many of the human species are condemned to lives far dimmer than what the bright light of their spirit could hold, if it weren’t for the invention of race and its rules of division.

Between the world and me book cover

One analyst who shares my grief is Ta-nehisi Coates. I was deeply moved this summer after reading his new book Between the World and Me. After noticing some reviewers accuse Coates of overgeneralizing about whites and/or police officers (see here for example) I knew I had to get a copy to read for myself. I’m all too familiar with my students and others reading things that aren’t there when it comes to racism. Not surprisingly, I found Coates was not the mythical creature he was purported to be. (You know, the one that hates all white people and won’t give even them a chance–e.g., like the black person “who took your job,” or the “close” black friend you have). However, we still have yet to have a documented/verified sighting of such a black person!

No, far from being exclusionary or categorically dismissive, Coates places the blame exactly where it should be:

‘White America’ is a syndicate arrayed to protect its exclusive power to dominate and control our bodies. . . . without it, ‘white people’ would cease to exist for a want of reasons. There will surely always be people with straight hair and blue eyes, as there have been for all of history. But some of these straight-haired people with blue eyes have been ‘black,’ and this points to the great difference between their world and ours. We did not choose our fences. They were imposed on us. . .(p. 42)

These very fences are directly responsible for many of the losses I am grieving. I connected so deeply to Coates’ writing because he wrote as a parent torn between the beauty of a child who believes he can dwell above the veil, beyond the veil (see W.E.B. Du Bois), and the harsh reality that one’s job as a parent is to protect one’s children of color from being slaughtered by these fences—-all the while knowing in the end we will have little to no control when the unfairness of it all crashes down onto them. I am the one they look to, to tell them they can be anything they want to be when no one else will, but as a person who values honesty, I cannot lie to them. And as a parent who wants them to succeed, thrive, and prosper, I cannot ill-equip them by shielding them from these truths.

Comedians make jokes sometimes about the different parenting styles of whites and blacks—-as if they are simply differences in regional dialect or those color/hue palette variations like eye color that make the world go round and keep it interesting. But Coates so astutely implicates the very white power structure above for the perceived harshness of some black parenting styles. Just underneath that gruffness is nothing but racism-instilled fear:

This need to be always on guard was an unmeasured expenditure of energy, the slow siphoning of the essence. It contributed to the fast breakdown of our bodies. So I feared not just the violence of this world but the rules designed to protect you from it, the rules that would have you to contort your body to address the block, and contort again to be taken seriously by colleagues, and contort again so as not to give the police a reason. . . .This is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile. . . It struck me that perhaps the defining feature of being drafted into the black race was the inescapable robbery of time, because moments we spent readying the mask, or readying ourselves to accept half as much, could not be recovered.(pp. 90-1).

These many costs of racism that take grave tolls on black bodies and minds have been documented empirically in Joe Feagin and Karyn McKinney’s book, The Many Costs of Racism — high rates of hypertension, workplace-induced carcinogens (i.e., much environmental racism), and other factors all ultimately resulting in lower life expectancies. Thus, one piece of my grief, for example, is that my children will never know their African American grandmother, who died at only 52, and was one of the most hardworking, loving, giving, caring, and musically talented members of the family. Yet many African Americans might only dream that their children had been able to see the age of 52—instead, their children, such as (most recently) Prince Jones, Michael Brown, Trayvon Brown, Tamir Rice, and far too many others must be mourned before they can even be parents themselves, much less barely finish their childhood.

Coates wrote Between the World and Me in the form of a letter to his son, who cried in his room inconsolably after learning of the Michael Brown verdict. Coates knew that telling his son everything’s going to be all right was not an option. After the book’s printing, no doubt Coates would not be surprised there would be no justice for Tamir Rice either. Racism literally takes away life, which is bad enough. But for those of us who remain, while we remain, racism does damage to our lives as well.

So I am grieving today that I had to have “the talk” with my 8-year old black son. Much as I wanted to put it off longer–the child still believes in Santa Claus–a well-meaning white family member forced my hand, by giving him the toy gun he asked for for Christmas. I had to tell him that a police officer might shoot and kill him with the justification that he thought he was holding a real gun. Lest his naïve white mother be talking about something she was clueless about, he turned to his older sister for some sort of confirmation or denial. When his sister–with hair like his and skin like his–told him, “yes, it’s true,” at that moment he knew that all the nice refrains in school about the police officer being his friend were but one version of the real story.

I am grieving that “the talk”–that was once associated with getting one’s driver’s license and becoming a young man–is now a talk for little ones who still take their steps down a staircase two feet at a time.

And while I shoulder this, I am also grieving a three-year relationship with the beautiful African American man I thought was my soul mate. Though each of us was raising children of our own, it was mentioned that my parenting was perhaps too optimistic. “We did not choose our fences” (Coates 2015:42), but those fences inevitably mean we only could connect but so much, and but for so long. Imagine how much more energy one could devote to strengthening one’s relationships if one’s body were not constantly drafted into the war of fighting racism. Perhaps fortuitously, a skilled and talented DJ chose “Footprints” as part of the soundtrack to our first date. It begins with a mother saying a routine “hurry back” goodbye to her son, only to lose him forever in a shooting—-much akin to the grief Coates chronicles in his interview with the mother of Prince Jones.

Some have told me Coates’ book was so painful, they had to put it down. While decontextualized excerpts from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech have been used at times as some kind of “Kumbaya, why can’t we all just get along anthem,” Coates instead uses the concept of the “dream” to refer to the deluded whites who think the world is a meritocracy, the world is their oyster, and when and if problems arise, justice wins out in orderly fashion. Those whites and others who buy uncritically into the “dream” still understand racism as an aberration to an otherwise ethically grounded society, much as the occasional natural disaster. Coates notes that

Americans believe in the reality of ‘race’. . .But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming ‘the people’ has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. . . [whiteness] has no real meaning divorced from the machinery of criminal power” (pp. 7-8)

Those who subscribe to the “dream” are usually ignorant of the fact that racism in the form of slavery and Jim Crow forms fully 83 percent of our nation’s history so it’s foundational and ongoing, as opposed to a temporary hiccup. When Michelle Alexander reviewed Coates’ book for The New York Times review of books, she read it twice–the first time she was so disheartened that he offered no optimistic, visionary, inspirational vision for the future, that she had to read it again a second time with new adjusted expectations. Coates does not provide a way out of the mess. And although I do not share Coates’ atheism/agnosticism, what lover of justice among us has not questioned why a benevolent God would allow the ugliness of racism to continue to rage with no end in sight?

I led two community discussions on Coates’ book in Fall 2015, and I asked my fellow readers whether they thought Coates was a pessimist. Though we did not find him to be offering optimism, we agreed that what Coates prescribes is instead consciousness. He calls us to be fully aware, cast off the denial, and pay attention. Indeed, to his son he wrote:

My wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable. None of that can change the math anyway. I never wanted you to be twice as good as them, so much as I have always wanted you to attack every day of your brief bright life in struggle. The people who must believe they are white can never be your measuring stick. I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world” (pp. 107-8).

If one listens closely, there are moments of beauty of this world Coates celebrates throughout these pages. Those are the moments when one dwells outside the veil, when the fences have been temporarily lifted, when the softness dares to emerge despite the inevitable risk of pain that looms just behind. Coates eloquently shares with the reader the moments when he is bowled over by the bold no-holds-barred confidence of his son or his wife, or the way his fellow students groove to the music at a party. They exude a soulfulness and a zeal for life that he cherishes in those moments. Those snapshots in time become all the more beautiful when you are fully conscious of how rare they are, and how inevitably they will be interrupted.

In a bereavement workshop after the passing of my father, I was reminded that grief is an indicator of once having loved and being loved in return. Toward the end of his life, this man sent me a card every year on MLK day to acknowledge and honor my work. He would also remind me of the Buddhist teaching on impermanence–everything, whether wondrous or painful, too shall pass. Coates brings us face to face with the kind of pain that is like fire or looking into the son-—at some point, many readers feel compelled to put the book down and look away, it is too heavy to bear. Yet, even though he is a skeptic, he is fully conscious. His eyes are wide open, and he does not want to miss a moment.

So on this Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, while the national focus on race and racism only calls to mind the sadness and pain it inflicts upon my relationships with those I love most, I am also challenged to follow Coates’ lead: as I grieve, I will keep conscious. I will cherish the moments my love and I got lost in the music and there were no fences between us. I will cherish the moments my children played with abandon without a care to how boisterous they were, and no one was there to invoke our fear of sanctions that might befall them when their “race” trumped their youthful innocence in someone’s eyes. Most of all I will keep telling the truth, and I will not keep silent, about the racism that keeps us all from being able to enjoy so many more of those moments with each other.

~ Eileen O’Brien is Associate Professor of Sociology and Assistant Chair of Social Sciences at Saint Leo University (Virginia campus). She is currently researching race and hip hop (with Nosh McTaggart) and race/gender in military families (with Stephanie Byrd). Her books include The Racial Middle, and Race Ethnicity Gender and Class (with Joseph Healey).

Of Rachel Dolezal and Other Confused White People

Like Wendy Moore, as a white antiracist scholar and mother of biracial (African American/white) children who has spent the majority of her life in intimate relations with people of color, I have been asked a lot lately to give my two cents on Rachel Dolezal. And also like Moore, I initially hesitated to speak, because it seemed so many excellent points had already been made, especially by Jessie’s insightful post: that Dolezal’s experience cannot be neatly equated to being transgender; that being black is not a costume one cannot take on and off at will without serious social and political ramifications (the majority of which the masqueraders seem to obfuscate, deny or not even consider); and that any well-intentioned antiracist efforts Dolezal may have attempted are surely cancelled out by her dishonest cooptation of resources that otherwise would have gone to people of color.

Yet we whites are often fond of playing the good white, bad white game: Bad Kramer from Seinfeld , bad Paula Deen—it would seem we may hold up the “bad white” examples to make our own selves feel better. I may put my foot in my mouth sometimes when it comes to race, but at least I don’t do it to such public and blatant proportions, so that must make me not racist—or so the confused logic goes. At least I’m not Dylann Storm Roof, who committed the brutal anti-black hate crime of shooting 9 people in a Charleston, SC church—although by confused white logic, we may not even be sure if we can put him in the good white or bad white column, since, after all, amidst all the racist propaganda he collected, he also “had black friends.”

Not unlike the white students in my Race classes who eventually reach their oversaturation point in exposure to white racism, stating exasperatedly, “why does everything have to be about race?” (um, because that’s the title of the course? Why does everything have to be about chemistry in your chemistry class?) it is clear that much of white America can only take so much of the media attention on police shootings of unarmed African Americans. It’s harder to play the good white, bad white game with such stories of institutional systemic racism, for several reasons. There’s often not a single/lone culprit. Moreover, as in the case of Baltimore, some of the officers weren’t even white—and boy, do whites get really confused then (because the concepts of internalized and institutional racism don’t typically come up in the good cop/bad cop discussions). And more to the point, we are often told that officers shot because they “felt threatened.” Now all bets are off for the good white, bad white game. The object of the game is to absolve whites of their guilty consciences by focusing on white racists who do “crazy” things that average whites convince themselves they would never do—and what white person hasn’t “felt threatened” by someone who is African American? Given what research tells us about the amount of antiblack attitudes held by a majority of white Americans, including assuming blacks are prone to crime, it’s doubtful that most whites are able to draw such a clear dividing line in their minds between themselves and a police officer who “felt threatened” by a black man.

So what better relief from this cognitive dissonance than to shift the mass media discussion away from such institutional racism and toward a white woman—Rachel Dolezal—who has nowhere near the power of the racial state that will soon likely acquit yet another (and many other) officers murdering unarmed African Americans for so-called “justified” reasons? In the game of good white, bad white, most whites can tell themselves, at least I haven’t lied about my race and pretended I was black. The Dolezal story thus presents a more palatable racism news feed for many whites who may be able to see themselves in the shoes of a “threatened” police officer but can’t ever imagine themselves masquerading as black.

It’s so much easier to put a demonizing face on a single white woman (Rachel Dolezal) who deceitfully stole an opportunity from potentially other equally or better qualified African Americans than it is to do a news story on the scores of whites who everyday take opportunities from equally or more qualified people of color through the “opportunity hoarding” that Nancy Ditomaso describes in her book about mostly all-white job referral networks. So Rachel Dolezal gets to be the scapegoat for confused whites, while the rest of us are deluded into thinking our white privilege and racism is normal and not worthy of public outrage, by comparison.

In Malcolm X’s autobiography, he argues it is no accident that the history books paint John Brown (a white man executed for his role in an 1859 slave rebellion) as a “nut case.” Malcolm X asserts it’s quite intentional that the white power structure doesn’t want the masses of whites to think it’s normal to challenge their own white privilege. Although I do not believe the heroic acts of Brown and the cowardice of Dolezal can at all be equated, I argue in my book Whites Confront Racism (2001), as others have before me, that the historical silence about white involvement in antiracist struggle can leave whites confused about where they fit in. Perhaps in Dolezal’s small town upbringing, and subsequent experience of racial politicization in the context of an HBCU campus, left her with a false dichotomy: be white and part of the problem, or be black and be part of the solution.

Newly declared antiracist whites can tend to distance themselves from their own communities and position themselves as “down with the black people” instead, as a way of assuaging their white guilt. Yet people of color will consistently tell white antiracists that the very thing they most need is for whites to go back into their own communities and talk to other white people about racism. We have a unique position from which to do this, in ways that people of color cannot, since whites so often see them as self-interested or “playing the race card” when they speak the truth about racism. In what I call privileged polemics, we are more likely to be believed by fellow whites when we say, yes, racism really happens. Sad, but true. So in choosing to cut herself off from her white family and ally herself in less-than-forthcoming ways with people of color, perhaps Dolezal was one of those confused white antiracists that did not realize there was a place for her in the movement just the way she is. Dolezal’s actions are certainly not congruent with those of principled antiracists. But fully all of the more respected antiracists will tell you that we white antiracists probably fumble around, fail, and put our foot in our mouths more than we succeed. We are constantly learning, and constantly making mistakes—sloughing off a lifetime of racist conditioning, one baby step at a time. So like Moore, although I cannot personally relate to the path Dolezal has chosen, I’ll let those without mistakes on their track record hurl their stones at her. I can only pray that she (and more importantly many more others) eventually become(s) less confused about what racism is, and why fighting widespread white privilege and mass incarceration (among many other forms of systemic racism) is so much more worth our time and attention than one white woman’s confusion.

Eileen O’Brien is a leading researcher on white anti-racists and Associate Professor of Sociology and Assistant Chair, Social Sciences at Saint Leo University (Virginia Campus)