anti racism…what went wrong?

October 29, 2009 § 24 Comments

anti racism is a white supremacist movement.  because the big names/experts/the ones who make the money and prestige of it. are majority white.

huh. that sounds a bit harsh when i actually type it out.  but it is in essence what i think of anti racism.

what i mean is.  that the ones who are the most ‘successful’ in anti racism are white.  they are the authors, bloggers, consultants, workshop trainers, speakers etc.  yes there are lots of poc who do anti racism work.  or better said there are a decent number of poc who work in the anti racism industry.

and i have to differentiate between anti racism the theory (almost completely developed by poc under the designation of critical race theory) and anti racism the industry.

so when i speak of the current anti racist movement, i am speaking of the public face of that movement which is presented by those who work in the anti racism industry.


and i think to understand the dynamics of white leadership of the anti racism industry.  you have to look at white people developing whiteness studies. as a response to critical race theory.  and yes, i do think that white folks had really good intentions in beginning whiteness studies in that they were attempting to follow the leadership of people of color critical race theorists. peggy mcintosh.  unpacking the back pack.  the privelege checklist. tim wise. white like me. paul kivel. et al.

just that white critical theorists should definitely know that good intentions dont amount to much in this world.

and let me be honest. when i did anti racism workshops i insisted that i have a workshop trainer who was white.  the last thing i wanted was to sit a room full of white self proclaimed progressives as i explained white privilege and supremacy. by myself.  if racism is traumatic in and of itself.  then being the black girl anti racism trainer in a room full of white folks who still believe in the white man’s burden (even though they would never call it that…ahem…solidarity with (third world) communities under the threat of violence…when will those poor countries ever learn…ahem…) is like. well. walking into a war zone unarmed ready to die for the cause. (white people aint a cause im willing to die for you just yet.)

what i am saying is that part of white folks leadership in anti racism movement is due to people of color asking for white folks to take leadership.

but with all unearned privilege comes stupidity.  because the line in the anti racism mvmt is that it is white people’s duty and responsibility to speak to white folks about white privilege.   people of color shouldnt have to do it.

yes. poc shouldnt have to do it.  but. when white folks are getting mad props, respect, accolades, book deals, professorships, awards, etc. when white folks use the fact that they identify as white to gain a leg up on people of color in the anti racism industry/profession.  then it is racism pure and simple.  and if you are white and in the anti racism movement then that is what you are doing.  lets be race critically blunt about it.  your whiteness works in anti racism movement the way it works in any other sphere-aka toyour advantage.  i have seen it enough times to be nauseous.  a poc says something during a discussion of anti racism.  the white folks ignore it.  or guffaw. a white person says the exact same thing.  whitie is the new messiah of anti racism.  happens.  like all the fucking time.

what i mean is. that the common wisdom in anti racism circles. is that white folks are more likely to really *hear* and take seriously the words of a white person talking about white racism than a poc.  so the best thing that white person can do if they want to work aganist anti racism is to be the voice of anti racism.  and to explain to white folks the nature of racism.

sounds great right? so glad that i dont have to go around explaining to white folks why they are racist any more.  right?

nope. because not all white folks are going to do so out of the kindness of their own hearts.  they are going to do so.  and they are going to expect to be compensated adequately for their work.  as tim wise explains. if he wasnt doing this work.  he would be doing some other job.  and using his white privilege (unconsciously) to succeed and thus be perpetuating the racist system.

the problem is that when he does anti racism work.  he explains that he ‘opens the door’ for other poc to be considered leaders and experts in anti racism. why the fuck in the anti racism movement to we still need white gatekeepers?  this is what gets me.  it’s the anti racism movement!  we dont have a bunch of men leading and speaking as the voice of feminism.  we dont have a bunch of skinny chicas being the (body) of fat acceptance.  we dont have a bunch of straight folks being the voice of lbgtqia ness. but in the anti racism movement.  it is white folks who speak. so that white audiences with money are not required to listen and take seriously the voice of color.  ‘

dear fucking god.

here’s the problem.  if the anti racism movement.  even the anti racism movement.  perpetuates the same structures of inequality and white privilege as other movements do (feminism. anti war. queer). in that the leaders are white.  mostly white.  almost all white.  then the anti racism movement.  is racist.  and if the anti racism movement is racist…then what the fuck is the anti racism movement about?

and.  i love many anti racist white folks.  partnered with one.  some of yall are real. down. i know you know where it’s at.  but seriously?  i have to admit. that i too judge a movement by its leaders. and when the leaders of the anti racism movement are white.  i have to wonder. what went wrong?

but i have to wonder what has been the effect of white leadership of anti racism?  do we have a less racist society?  or a differently racist society?

r u better off than you were 4 years ago?  or are you just different?

i dont know why i have not read a lot about the white supremacy of anti racism movement.  seems pretty obvious to me.  but then im no expert (on racism).


§ 24 Responses to anti racism…what went wrong?

  • I’ve been saying/thinking the same thing for years. White people want the points for being anti-racist, but they don’t actually want to live an anti-racist life.

  • bloombeautiful says:

    YES!!!!! Totally!!!!! Thank you for that one !

  • Chanteezy says:

    I love how Wise has highjacked the mannerisms of a preacher in the Afro-American tradition in his oral delivery, too. Kind of Elvis-Preseley-wise, and raising the same difficult questions: is the imitation homage, flattery, mockery? Or just [profitable] plagarism? Not saying he and his allies aren’t speaking some necessary truths; but I’m really enjoying the discussion you’re bringing here.

    I’ve always felt like the most useful way for someone who suffers from white identity–and it is suffering, it seems to me, a loss of real culture taken in exchange for the bait of “privelege”–to begin to undo the chronic mess Europe wrought [and wreaks] in its encounters with non-Europe is to really begin first to acknowledge his or her own pain, and to take some time to get really angry at how shitty, in fact, is their own end of the deal. Then, of course, to heal–yourself. I like to think that that’s what the best of “anti-racism” tries to do. But it gets tricky the further one gets from the radius of one’s own experience. Gets even trickier the second someone feels the need to “preach.”

  • i share your opinion. whites are successful at whatever they do, even if they profess to undermine and explain their unjust privilege over others. whiteness studies provided some very great insights to me as a student, but at some point the talk descends into self-promotion, self-indulgence and plain vanity.

    i would be keen to see more evidence about how the whites came to lead the anti-racist movement because people of color asked them to take leadership (paragraph 9). are you naming the “anti-racist movement” as one specific movement of many anti-racist movements (movements for self-determiniation, empowerment, etc.)?

    • mama says:

      i do know in general there has been a push for white people to go educate their own people. i think this was supposedly said by stokely carmichael and a few others in the civil rights/black power movements when whites asked them what could they do against racism? how could they help?

      there are several streams that feed into the current anti racist movement/s.

  • nakedthoughts says:

    Given that we are in a racist structure, is there any way that any movement would not have a racist structure?

    You mention feminism as being run by women still. do you think that may be because there are fewer male allies to feminism than to anti-racism?

    Womyn ask men to help and stand up and talk to other men, but few do. if they did take up this mantle would it become a patriarchal strucutre?

    Because men ARE more likely to listen to men, and white people ARE more likely to listen to white people.

    Being an ally of the LGBTQQI community i have heard many people ask straight people to use their privilege to get listened to. but it isn’t happening in the same systematic institutionalized way that you are outlining.

    is it because the allies have done better at being supportive rather than taking power, or did the individuals fighting for rights just held more tightly to the ropes of leadership? or is the co-opting of these other movements yet to come? These are questions i don’t really expect anyone to answer right now. but this is what came to mind. I still need to educate myself on a lot.

    I would like to help, and don’t want to be frozen in inaction with guilt or fear of doing it wrong, because inaction seems worse. Nothing I can do is without white privilege. I will always have it. Perhaps it could be used better withing the white anti-racist part of the movement to promote the voices of POC instead of repeating what they are saying?

  • Br00ke says:

    Much to mull.

  • […] is asking all the right questions in her essay, “anti racism…what went wrong?” the problem is that when he [tim wise] does anti racism work. he explains that he ‘opens the […]

  • You raise some legitimate, cutting concerns and questions.

    In religious terms, perhaps what the antiracist movement needs is less evangelism and proseletyzing, and more confession and penance and restitution.

  • allie says:

    Let me just say first, that I completely agree.

    However, as a white person, I obviously have feelings a certain way about this and my own perspective on it.

    As a college student (graduating in May finally!) I am definitely not a person of the stature of Tim Wise or anywhere near that. However, I do follow the anti-racism sentiment, and I have to tell you that I really do not say the things I do for notoriety. I do say it for people to listen, however. As “mama” said, white people are encouraged to teach other white people to see the light and see how ridiculous they are being and see the things that they don’t know how to see. It’s sad, but the whole reason that there is an “anti-racism movement” is because racism exists, so are racists, or people who don’t understand white privilege, going to listen to minorities? No. White people have the power, therefore they have the power to change moreso than the minority does.

    However, this is an issue I completely agree. In my sociology class last semester we were talking about a paper and my friend, who is black, said that especially coming from a white person, it is influential. My teacher, who is also black, got upset and started saying things similar to the criticism in this post. The general public is so impressed when a white person reflects on racism, while minorities have been saying and clearly seeing these things for years, because they cannot ignore it.

    I get the point, and I got the point at the time that she said it, but it is understandable why these pieces are so influential. People listen to people similar to them, which is why racism exists in the first place, fear of the unknown. So when a black person writes about racism, mostly black people hear about it and read it. But they’re not the ones who need to hear and read about it. It can be empowering, which is great. But to get white people to listen, it also makes sense that white people will listen and be influenced by other white people.

    I am also a feminist, and when a man is a feminist and comes to rallies and says empowering things to women and advocates for us, it is moving. Wow, a person cares who this isn’t an issue for; it’s actually benefiting them and it is very appreciated that someone besides women agree because sometimes it can seem like we’re all just bitching because we can.

    Someone like Al Sharpton is perceived as always playing the race card, which is unfair. It is not fair that of all of the anti-racist minorities he is the one that people (white people, which I am now noticing because I am white and have been around a lot of white people for my entire life, I see them as the general population when we are certainly not!), associate with fighting for civil rights because he does tend to be outlandish, and a lot of his fights are good causes that get overshadowed by his few not so great ones. It’s the boy who cried wolf, people say he’s always playing the race card.

    But again, why do we even have the need to have these conversations? Because racism exists, so white people will be skeptical and tend to say minorities “pull the race card” because they don’t want to see that their privilege directly leads to inequality.


  • joankelly6000 says:

    To me, and maybe I’m repeating something that’s been said above (sorry if so), it’s the very idea that “white people won’t listen to a black person say they are being racist so white people should be the ones to assume authority that wouldn’t otherwise be granted” – that idea itself is an outrage. Why isn’t the answer for nobody to accept that white people get to keep discounting the voices of any person of color? Why even give legitimacy to that idea that oh-well-shrug-guess-we-have-to-work-with-their-dismissal-of-people-of-color?

    I will admit though that I tend to have a dire view, not a hopeful one. It is not my experience that white people talking to other white people about racism is somehow more effective in the first place. It feels to me like what you talk about in this post (and thank you for this post) – forgive my crassness I’m sick and lacking in social graces – it’s really a skip-over of confronting racism altogether. Because I don’t think that someone who won’t hear and respect the truth from another person in the first place is somehow magically going to respect and hear it when the “right” kind of person tells it to them. I think discounting the voice of a person of color precludes altogether the willingness or possibly even ability to be on any side except the white side.

    Or at any rate, I am not on board with catering to “well I won’t listen to this black lady but if you want to tell me something I feel less under attack” from another white person. Not just because I’m a self-righteous fucker. But because I swear to you, my personal experience is that it doesn’t work anyway to actually change someone’s mind.

    • mama says:

      yes. that is my basic problem. and for me it was a professional issue. because here i am an anti racism trainer and consultant. and supposedly white people learn best about their racism from other white people because it makes them less defensive. and in our anti racism group the logic went: people dont learn if they are defensive. white people hearing poc talk about racism makes white ppl defensive. thus white ppl need to learn about racism from other white ppl. and if a poc really cares about anti racism, then they will put aside their own ego so that white ppl can speak and change the world.
      and i am so glad that you said this: my personal experience is that it doesn’t work anyway to actually change someone’s mind.
      is why i say that we dont need another anti racism 101. b/c in my silly world view, if white folks are interested in being anti racist. then the first thing they can get over. is that they dont have to take poc srsly as equals. the way that a lot of white anti racists are doing it now. yeah, it doesnt work.
      oh and i owe you a comment. ive been thinking about it for over a month. i am a slow thinker.

      • Joan Kelly says:

        thanks for your reply, Mai’a. And no worries about other comments elsewhere – god knows it takes me weeks and weeks to respond at times to people/things/posts/comments I’m thinking about, and/or sometimes I never even get around to it. I’m glad to hear though that I have something to look forward to on the internet with your comment whenever you leave it! 🙂

  • […] and it makes me wonder if bruce springsteen is doing in a three hour show what ‘anti-racism’ hasn’t ever and probably never will be able to do. […]

  • spiralsheep says:

    Very thought-provoking post. Thank you.

  • Catherine B says:

    Thank you. I used to subscribe (reluctantly) to the notion that white people listen best to other white people on the subject of racism, but that view of life hasn’t rung true for me for quite a while. Your post has helped to clarify a lot of things in my mind. Thank you very much for making it.

  • tam121 says:

    Thanks for your post.

    I’ve had both experiences: white people tuning me out on race because I’m white (and can’t know anything useful about racism, and white privilege doesn’t want to get heard) and white people listening because I’m a white person talking about racism and white privilege.

    I do agree with the analysis that racism is ultimately white people’s problem, and we have to be an accountable, responsible part of a communal undoing of that problem. I also agree we white people do not need to be and should not be in charge of a movement or an industry based on the undoing of racism (the co-optation that results is similar to that described in _Poor Peoples’ Movements_, but has the added onus of white privilege warping things all over again).

    Maybe we would be helped out of the dilemma by focusing on the profit-making. As Cherokee activist-scholar Andrea Smith put it so well:

    “Our job is to be engaged in the task of eliminating the oppression our communities face, not to make a living from it.”

    (Andrea Smith, “Walking in Balance: The Spirituality/Liberation Praxis of Native Women,” _Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside_.)

    If money generated by anti-racist work went to restitutions and reparations and other means of benefiting communities of color, then anti-racism work might look more like work and less like an industry.

    I struggle with this. I have been paid modest amounts to work with white people on white privilege. I bring critical race theory and whiteness studies into the classroom. I’m not making a profit, but there is co-optation in that this has become my work as well as my passion.

  • Jen says:

    I will be thinking a lot about this post.

    I am white. Almost everything real I ever learned about racism or anti-racism, I learned from people of color.

    I have been supported by other white people who want to be anti-racist, and I have learned from them and with them, but the voices who really moved me or changed the way I saw things were the voices of people of color. People speaking up (sometimes gently and sometimes harshly, but most of all honestly) and saying, “This is what it’s like for me, these are my experiences, this is how racism works and this is what you’re doing to me.”

    So yeah, I think people of color should be leading. Because you’re right, anti-racism is looking very white and very white supremacist. And because we can’t build a movement on the idea that people of color can be dismissed. And because we white people need to listen to what you’re saying, not just what other white people are saying about you and about each other.

    All that’s easy to say. Harder to do.

    I used to talk about anti-racism a lot. I felt like if I wasn’t talking, I wasn’t doing my part. Now I spend more time pointing people to works by people of color, introducing them to the words and thoughts of people of color, rather than my own words and thoughts about people of color. I am an English teacher, so I have great privilege and responsibility in this area, but it’s something that lots of white folks can do in our blogs and our everyday conversations.

    It is shameful to realize how easily I accepted this state of affairs. Shameful to need this reminder, but I did need it. So thank you for writing this.

  • Caitlin says:

    I’m white, but honestly, I’ve always found white people talking in the mainstream media about racism… not “wrong,” but, as you said, like they’re looking for kudos because they care oh so much about these other people. As if basic human decency doesn’t apply to people of colour, and by not being racist they are doing some great, incomparable thing that they should be lauded for – when being decent to other white people is something they do automatically and without expecting congratulations for. Which is, IMHO, what all people should be doing with all other people, regardless of race or gender or orientation or anything.

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