*A brief update*
The past two weeks have been a constant swirl of activism, in every aspect imaginable. Much of it pertaining to the disturbing lack of action on the part of The University of Kansas’ School of Social Welfare. My cohort is truly a powerful, unshakeable force to be reckoned with. And as draining and difficult as this work is, we are making headway in action, and gaining support (remember: we see all of you who remain silent and we recognize all of you who stand with us).
Today, an anonymous publication entitled Dear White People: Architecture Edition (based on the novel by Justin Simien) was distributed across campus. A witty, succinct, powerful manifesto of pointed grievances with the non-inclusivity of the University of Kansas’ architecture program, as well as fundamental critiques of a few, very prevalent, systems of anti-black racism. Read it here for yourself.
The distribution of the text was an amazingly empowering act. Taking the masses by surprise, yet again, with an incredibly intelligent evaluation of the current issues and systems of racism on this campus. With a striking cover and title, packed with engaging content, the text acted as a catalyst to start bringing together everything that our hearts and minds needed to say.
However, as with anything that people of color (specifically black people) ever do, the statement was met with negative responses.
All day I’ve been responding to people complaining to me about how the cover and title are offensive. People have unadded me from social media simply because I posted a picture of the cover of the publication. Posts I make to Instagram easily (and consistently) get upwards of 20 likes within a matter of a couple of hours, my post of the cover of Dear White People, today has garnered 8 likes over the course of 8 hours. Small things like this mean big things because I know that my followers and my friends see these things. And I know they are reacting to these things. They are reacting by ignoring, and that avoidance is nothing but a statement that condones discrimination, and speaks to their unwillingness to stand in solidarity with us. Their silence is their support for the opposition. Their silence is support for racism, for discrimination, for non-inclusivity, and for the demonization of the art and intellect that comes from people of color.
-If you do not stand with us, you stand against us.-
Keep in mind that people reacted and condemned this publication simply because of the offensive cover, they have no idea of the content, of the validity, and of the weight of the publication besides the title and the cover graphic, speaking to their close-mindedness, and desire to immediately condemn the voice of the marginalized.
And to address this:
Dear White People,
Subject: Why Being Addressed as “White People” Isn’t a Gross Generalization or Reverse Racism.
For as long as I can remember, any time I have had to discuss or argue issues of race with white people, they immediately make it personal. This is understandable seeing as white people are being identified as the primary problem in terms of the perpetuance of racism and they are being faced with a real person telling them about the reality of racism (as opposed to being able to read something about it and immediately dismiss it); however, fundamentally it is not only not your place to take personal offense when I tell you that you benefit from a historical, systemic institution of power and advantage. This is firstly because, regardless of whether or not you believe you’re racist, you benefit from the racist system, the system of racism. You are inherently a part of it because it works to your advantage and consciously or not consciously, you work in order to maintain that system of power. Secondly, by taking personal offense to being told that racism exists and that you benefit from it, you are inherently claiming that you are exempt (and once again superior) from this atrocity and that the path of discussion and change should revolve around your feelings (your white feelings). Thirdly, this puts the burden of proof (and change) upon the oppressed. I don’t need to explain to you how the existing imbalance of power makes that charge ludicrous.
It is not a generalization to address white people as a whole when expressing our problems with the current structure of power.
The problem with claiming that you are experiencing reverse racism is that reverse racism doesn’t exist.
Racism is an extremely complex, multi-faceted, multi-layered concept and practice that requires and has required a voluminous amount of discussion, defining, deconstructing. Basic racism can be defined as:
“The hatred of one person by another — or the belief that another person is less than human — because of skin color, language, customs, place of birth or any factor that supposedly reveals the basic nature of that person. It has influenced wars, slavery, the formation of nations, and legal codes. Racism is the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another, that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics. Racial separatism is the belief, most of the time based on racism, that different races should remain segregated and apart from one another.”
Furthermore, institutional racism is a societal or governmental system based upon racism. It is impossible to say that the entirety of the United States is not based around or upon racism or institutional racism. The list of racist travesties that European Americans have committed against minorities is too long to recount, from the genocide of Native Americans and the colonization and enslavement of Africans, through the segregation of blacks from whites, up to being disproportionate targets of police brutality. The United States always has been and continues to be a racist institution, and white Americans continue to benefit from the system of institutional racism. This is why reverse racism doesn’t exist, because the concept of reverse racism is dependent upon everyone existing in a post-racial society. This would mean that everyone exists on a level playing field: where race doesn’t matter, where there is not an obvious advantage to existing while white, and where discrimination and oppression, blatant and systematic, do not exist. That is simply not the case, and that is why reverse racism does not exist and, probably, will never exist.
Dear White People,
Subject: Why You Should Be Ashamed That a Symbol of Black Power Offends You
The raised fist is a symbol for many movements, from labor movements to feminism, the raised fist has an extensive and rich history in terms of being leading symbol in the fight for change. The raised fist has always stood to mean three central things: unity, strength, and defiance.
Popularized as a symbol for black power in the 1960s and still used today primarily as a representation of solidarity with black lives, the raised fist means just that. The raised fist means that you support the movement for equality, that you support black lives, and that you see that there is problem enough that change and resistance is necessary. The fact that this symbol is threatening to white people is deeply concerning. When I see the fist being raised or in print in any form of media I feel an overwhelming sense of comfort and joy to see that there are people who are willing to believe with me, to stand with me, to fight with me; to fear, hate, or be offended by this symbol of black power is to fear, hate or be offended by black solidarity and advocacy. And that means that you do not believe in the validity of the fight. It means that you do not believe in the cause. It means that you don’t believe in fighting for equality, for my black life. It means that my fight for equality is a radical or threatening to you.
You should be ashamed that the idea of another human being, a black human being, a black woman, existing on the same plane of equality as yourself is threatening to the point where you try your hardest to shut it down.
That leads to my next, and final point.
Equality Is A Radical Notion To People.
Respectability politics people, white people, complacent people all tell me, tell us, that our methods of change are too radical. Too disrespectful. Too intense.
When you say that to me, you are telling me that you fear change and you fear words.
The only thing that we have done is speak.
None of our methods of protest or going about obtaining change have been radical. (Even if they were radical, they would still be justified).
We have spoken. We sat and wrote words. We stood and shared our stories. We moved together to show others our voices. And somehow, this is too radical, do disrespectful, too intense.
When you tell me that I need to sit down and be quiet, you are telling me that you fear change, you fear the power of black women (the true leaders of movements), and you fear equality.
In a series of tweets today I expressed my disbelief and disgust with the reality that some people truly just do not support the idea of racial equality:
“Why is it such a radical notion that my life matters. Why is it that even the people who I know and love don’t believe that my existence is worth anything. Why do I have to constantly fight in order to validate my existence, my thoughts and opinions, and my actions. Why do I have to convince people who know me and who say that they care about me that asking for equality isn’t offensive or disrespectful. Do you see that your disgust with my desire for my existence to be considered valid and equal means that you believe that I am inferior. Why do I have to question every meeting, acquaintanceship, and relationship I have with people for fear of them not actually believing that I matter. Why is it that demanding change is demonized and looked down upon. Why is it that the same people who say all lives matter won’t actually stand up for any life, let alone my black life. Why am I demonized for wanting to exist in a space without racism and portrayed as sensitive when your white fragility is the very thing that is perpetuating the institution and system of racism and oppression.”
And while our cause and my existence shouldn’t be considered radical (or even called into question) when considered in relation to the existing structure of society, it is. And that is what we are fighting to change.
I am woke. We are woke. And we see your silence and your condemnation. We will move forward with or without you. But remember, in history, there is always a wrong side to be on. And those fighting for and standing with justice are never on the wrong side.