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)