Vanderbilt University recently started an initiative to certify “student leaders” in Diversity and Inclusion. They marketed their new initiative as an open table of learning new leadership styles of dealing with diverse groups.
Now, we know that there must be a God, for even though I read their God-awful, white-liberal marketing, I still applied to be a part of the cohort; hence, we see the idiocy of human in the form of me. (Also, I was a senior at this point. Which makes this even sadder. Soak that in.)
SO I applied, got an interview and was accepted.
On our first day, I walked into the conference room and automatically noticed–as all people of color are trained by nature of being in the United States are–that out of the twenty chosen, only four were people of color. There was a significant amount of white women–like over 50%.
You know that feeling when you want to slowly step out of the room, when there’s a conflict or it’s the wrong class (yeah, freshman Lydia, just step out slowly from the lecture hall, even though they all see you now)? That’s the semi-anxious, semi-disgusted feeling I got, but, beyond God’s second sign to me, I walked in and sat down by my name.
My final semester at Vanderbilt, doing that Diversity and Inclusion cohort thing every Tuesday, was one of the worst experiences I had–but one of the more enlightening ones. I learned, first and foremost, and wrote in concrete in my heart that white people–racist or liberal or in-between–cannot help with the struggle if their mindset is to defeat racism by “helping” brown people.
Now, this notion is one that I trumpet everyone when people ask about solutions to racism (and my first response is for white people to FIX THEMSELVES before they come up in our neighborhoods). But I wanted to look at how white people actually discoursed about racism.
First, it should be noted that everything in this class–which happened every Tuesday night of my final semester–was basic social justice. Like being aware of multiple identities and struggles people hold. How to resolve conflict.
OH, and here’s a joke: on our second Tuesday meeting, we were asked to take five minutes of quiet time, alone, to think of all of identities. My list was:
Young: 21 (at the time)
Pursuing higher education at a private university
Grew up in the South
Couldn’t hold a conversation with any of my grandparents
A bearded woman
Sunday School teacher
That was my list of things that plague me and the things that I’m proud of and the things that make me feel both (at any point). In the end, we were supposed to choose one identity that prevailed above all, and I chose: Coptic (as in my religion specifically, more than my ethnic/racial claims).
Here’s the funny part: one the first years said that her most salient identity was….*drum roll* BEING THE YOUNGEST CHILD IN HER FAMILY. (“Like because everyone has already been through college, and ha–it’s just me!”)
(This is why I can’t hang with 97% of white people. This is why.)
Just so you get an idea of the hell I went through every Tuesday before my graduation.
More importantly, though, all of the people in that space identified themselves as liberals and/or moderates; they could identify racist people in their life, but never were they or their immediate friends. These white people smoked weed, were into discussing the oppression of Black people, how “broken” the immigration system is, how messed up Trump is, BUT none of them–none of them–could bridge the problem as themselves.
And here’s what I mean:
The way white people–racist, liberal, or in-between–discuss racism is what is killing progress in this country, is what is killing Black and Brown lives in this country, is what is keeping families apart. Why is that?
White racists see racism as two things:
- Either a thing of the past (i.e. slavery is bad–but the ancient Egyptians had slaves, and the Western African tribes helped white people make Black people slaves);
- OR it’s a thing white people experience now (i.e. why is it so bad for us, frat boiz, to listen to Beyonce, but not allow Black people to our parties?)
White racists have no concept–or have difficulty in constructing–of Another’s pain. They can’t understand generational trauma, nor can they understand generational entitlement, nor can they see their white culture as inferior to most cultures of the world. They buy boats that have Brown maids to help tidy up after their parties; they wear pastel-colored shorts made with the delicate hands of a woman somewhere in Vietnam perhaps, unable to see her children grow because the money isn’t enough even though the hours are long and the buyer richer than all her ancestors combined; these white boiz say things like “boi” and “whassup” and “I finna,” without the marked realization that these are stolen expressions from the people–the Black people–he kills, daily.
And now the white liberal objects: “Okay-whoa! White frat boiz aren’t all white people. Statistically, a lot of white women vote liberal, so don’t group us with them. And also no matter how much you hate frat boiz, Lydia, don’t exaggerate. Calm down.”
I’ve never had a white racist tell me to calm down, by the way–only white liberals.
What’s key here is two arguments that white liberals usually make to Black and Brown people:
- Don’t group us together (lol–look at my earlier post entitled “Calling White People ‘White People’); white women are different, or poor white people are different.
- White people are not that bad.
To the first claim, I want an example in which white women have stood by Black and Brown people in this country. I want. One. Example.
When white women saw white men rape Black slaves in the colonies, she didn’t holler for freedom and solidarity with her sister–she made the Black female slave’s life hell. She supported her man. And mind you, slavery would not have been possible without the iron rod of white women who wanted to be higher than someone, anyone, and who developed their own cultures and norms–like beauty standards–to keep women of color down. Don’t forgot that: white women support their white men. They bore these white racist men.
When white women got the right to vote, they left Black and Brown people disenfranchised, stopped the fight once they were hooked.
Planned Parenthood sterilized Black and Hispanic people. Scientists, to perfect the C-section, allowed the murder of hundreds of Brown female bodies–just for testing. (Science is just as evil as politics and religious extremists).
When the 2016 election came, white women overwhelmingly voted with Trump, not Hilary. People of color stood by Hilary, even though these white liberal commentators were shouting, “Where’s the Black vote?” Yeah, the Black vote was there for Hilary, but my question is: “Where is the White Liberal vote?”
Don’t tell me that white liberals–female or not–don’t side with racists when it comes down to it. This is why when people point out that identity is multiple and needs to be recognized as so, I think it’s a valid point, but why are white people never pluralist in their way of thinking and acting in the world? (A CNN article shows how white liberals, when a white racist brother benefits them, will side with him over Black and Brown interests and needs. Very interesting–almost like nothing changes.)
To her second claim, yes, white people as a whole need to understand the evil system they have created–much worse than any other system in the world–and that they sustain it. They sustain it when their friends only speak English, when they don’t understand accents and don’t want to, when they eat at “ethnic” restaurants owned by white people in a city like New York, when they gentrify neighborhoods of color (in particular “broke” white college students), when they don’t realize that we’re slowly dying when the nearest hospital is in the white area, when they don’t realize that cops are our worst nightmares and that they don’t protect us (instead, they hurt us), when they don’t understand that we ain’t capitalists, when they don’t understand that our school system is just as segregated as it was in the 1970s, when they don’t realize that we’re dying, suffocating really, and they’re the ones holding down the pillow.
But what leads white people not “to see” the system they’ve created?
And herein lies the problem with white liberals in particular: they see the problem of racism as a system. White liberals quote the Atlantic, can give you figures on how many Black men are shot by police, tell you Chicago is the most segregated neighborhood, will tell you that it’s the government and corporations and capitalism’s problem. (Note: whenever you hear a white liberal say, “Capitalism is evil,” run. Just run. They blind. And they toxic.)
Capitalism is not the problem; white people just don’t want to look themselves in the mirror and say, “I did this.”
And the system is not the problem–at least not the root of the problem. The system’s corruption is a mere manifestation of the deeper problem: white society–all of them, racists, liberals and all the in-between.
White society–racists, liberals, and in-betweens–don’t see a problem in living in an all-white neighborhood. White society–racists, liberals, and in-betweens–see nothing wrong with their racist parents, but they see that Trump is disgusting ironically. White society–racists, liberals, and in-betweens–will go to Harvard and Princeton, comfortable being in a class without people of color. White society–racists, liberals, and in-betweens–will only learn languages if it benefits them, not if it brings them closer with other humans of the world. White society–racists, liberals, and in-betweens–still study regions of the world as these regions are only discoverable through them, in English, French, or German, but not in any other language or people. White society–racists, liberals, and in-betweens–won’t admit that the FBI wanted the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. dead or that the CIA assassinated in cold blood Mohammad Mossadaq before his own people, just for nationalizing Iran’s oil. White society–racists, liberals, and in-betweens–hate what “America” hates: Russia/Iran/North Korea, but they don’t see that the only ones to drop a nuclear weapon was themselves, the United States.
White society–racists, liberals, and in-betweens–fears without truly knowing fear, for they have never listened to the fear of a child in the United States when the cops pass by and his mother is undocumented and his father isn’t here. White society–racists, liberals, and in-betweens–fears without truly knowing fear, for they have never felt like their language was ugly, never were they repulsed by their own skin. White society–racists, liberals, and in-betweens–fears without truly knowing fear, for they don’t know what a bomb, dropping on your people, as they stumble to live.
White society is a menace which created a system of oppression–that is, the United States government. And capitalism fueled that government. But both the US government and Western capitalism are by-products of a society that profits from its hate refurnished as successfulness.
This is why white discourse on racism is broken, endless, un-critical, and non-supportive–because it’s about themselves ironically. But instead of critically engaging their history and present-continuation of hate and disrespect, for if they did they would find all of themselves the source of oppression, they merely engage racism from a perspective that they are the victims of it too, that they have suffered too, that they are children still, that they can’t make change alone, that they are powerless against the system that is their parents and grandparents, that they have not inherited that hate re-spun for a new day.
But in this is a contradiction, for while they are without hate and without power, they must chair the Diversity Committee; they must say be our representatives in Congress; they must open up their coffee shops in our communities.
Racism–their racism–is built on a contraction of who they are and what they’ve done and what they’re doing.
And, hence, this country, like the definition of a third-world country, will remain in standstill as a oppression is reimagined and pushed into the lives of people of color in a white (racist, liberal, and in-between) world. People starve, a government kills, children grow up fatherless, families can’t see each other for years, scientists are paid to kill people, education is sub-standard, workers aren’t allowed to defend their rights, an elected president sexually assaults women, and churches have shoot-outs. Welcome to the United States, the land white people stole from Americans to teach the world what suffering is.