Cracks in the wall of white male supremacy

This election cycle has brought up so many emotions for so many of us. Americans are angry. We are sad. We are anxious. We are afraid.

Yesterday, when I woke to the news that some Republicans are reversing their initial disavowal of Donald Trump over his 2005 remarks and are now supporting him again, I felt deeply depressed. I wondered, “how we could possibly still be here?” As the news sank in more deeply, I started to feel something I did not expect to feel during this election cycle: joyful.

Before I explain, I’ll provide a little background. In my professional life, I have been doing racial and criminal justice work for over twenty years. Today, I am more committed than ever to dismantling what I will refer to throughout this article as “white supremacy” – what School of the Americas Watch accurately defines as a “historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege.”

I have also always been a devout feminist. This means that I will continue to fight for the dismantling of the system of violence (in all of its forms) that keeps people divided by sex with a dominant class (men) and an oppressed class (women). I refer to this system, which has come to rule most of the world over the past two thousand years and is based on exploiting and consuming women, living communities, and the earth itself, as “male supremacy.”

These two systems of power intersect to create an overarching system that is designed to keep males of European descent at the top of the social hierarchy, and that system is called “white male supremacy” (if you want to learn more about it works, check out this article, written by a white man for white men). I am completely devoted, personally and professionally, to the dismantling of this brutal system of oppression.

So when I learned that Republicans are flocking back to Donald Trump, I was first disheartened. I thought, “this is white male supremacy holding on for dear life.” But as those words sank in, my emotional state changed. “This is white male supremacy holding on for dear life.” Because it is starting to crack. And that is some really good news.

To be clear, my reflections yesterday were not really about Clinton v. Trump, nor do I think that Clinton is going to magically dismantle white male supremacy during her eight years as President (and plenty would argue that she doesn’t even want to). This is about something much bigger.

Many Black folks are standing up and refusing to be silenced, thanks to organizations like Movement for Black Lives, and Million Hoodies. Of course, many Black individuals and organizations have always fought for justice. But there is an energy around this movement that I don’t remember feeling before in my lifetime. People are speaking out, standing up and refusing to accept racial oppression.

Many white folks are becoming more aware of the horrors of racism, thanks in part to organizations like White Awake, and we are standing alongside our Black and Brown sisters and brothers, fighting to end police violence, mass incarceration and voter disenfranchisement, and demanding policy solutions to the vast racial disparities that exist throughout our society.

And women. Our response to the vile, disgusting, deplorable, hateful, pathetic, words that Donald Trump used in 2005 to describe how he treats women has been electric. Women told our stories online. Republican women began deserting him in droves. A racially diverse group of women showed up at Trump Tower to protest. Today, Michelle Obama gave an impassioned speech about how Trump’s words and actions have affected her, personally. Women are not crazy for being angry. We have every right to be angry for being mistreated for thousands of years (check out this article for more on that).

There is a critique that it took us too long to reject Trump as a viable presidential candidate, and that we’re only upset now because he insulted white women with his rapey comments. This is a legitimate critique, and it’s important for all of us to ask ourselves exactly why Donald Trump’s 2005 comments are what pushed us over the edge. Why was it not enough for him to say that Mexicans are rapists? Why was it not enough that he encouraged his supporters to beat up Black people? Why was it not enough for him to insult the Pakistani-born parents of a fallen soldier? It’s not that we weren’t upset about those things, but not one of those things sparked outrage like we’re seeing now, over his treatment of women. Not one of them pushed Trump’s campaign completely over the cliff of legitimacy.

Still. Look at where we are today. Many white men (on the right and on the left) are simply losing their minds. They literally cannot imagine a just world. They cannot imagine a world without white male supremacy. Plenty of white women are losing their minds too. Due to a combination of their own racism and internalized misogyny, they would rather cling to white supremacy than dismantle male supremacy. There is a lot of fear here. People are terrified as they watch the systems of oppression that keep them in power start to crumble. I have compassion for their fear, but I’m overjoyed at their liberation.

Even though I have been fighting to dismantle white male supremacy for most of my life, I never really thought I’d see a dent in it in my lifetime. Yesterday I saw some cracks start to form. This whole thing might actually come crumbling down. That has plenty of folks really scared. It has me bouncing off the walls.

Kara Dansky, Founder and Managing Director, One Thousand Arms

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Contemplating Complicity in Racist Violence

One of the ways in which I have learned to examine my own racial conditioning, as a white person, is through contemplative practice. So this morning, when I learned of Alton Sterling's death, I decided to contemplate the following phrase: "As a white person in a white supremacist society, I am complicit in Alton Stirling's death." The point is not to intellectually evaluate whether or not that is a true statement, but to see what thoughts, emotions, and feelings come up.

A few things happened. One was that my mind was flooded with images of human beings (Black African human beings) - starved, beaten, and tortured - being forced onto a boat and brought to the United States. Humans being thrown into the ocean if disease or malnutrition took their lives during the journey. Humans enslaved for hundreds of years. Humans forced to work under horrific conditions, on pain of death. Humans locked in cages for decades and lifetimes.

As my mind was flooded with these images, I started to feel ill. I literally felt sick to my stomach. Because I knew that Alton Sterling's death does not exist in isolation. It exists within a context of hundreds of years of brutality, violence, torture, murder, and enslavement perpetrated by people who look like me.

This system exists in order to benefit white people. It has, since the founding of this country. I benefit from all of that. My ancestors did not participate directly in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, but they certainly benefited from it. My ancestors, mostly poor, some Irish, some Jewish, didn't have it all that great when they came here. But they did benefit from the racist slave trade that made this country possible. And many of my ancestors participated directly in other forms of racial oppression. Those that didn't participate directly benefited from it. My disgust with all of this (disgust with racial oppression, not with my ancestors) motivates me to want to do something about it. Oppression is just not acceptable.

White people cannot be silent in the face of the brutality that is racism. We cannot hide behind our feelings of guilt and shame. Our guilt and shame are of no use to Alton Stirling or his surviving family members.

We are all hurting. Racism mostly affects Black and Brown people, but it affects white folks too. It separates us from our own humanity. We need to reconnect with that humanity.

People often ask me what they can do to stop this. If you are white, I would suggest that you take a moment to sit and contemplate the phrase I contemplated this morning: "As a white person in a white supremacist society, I am complicit in Alton Sterling's death." Again, the point is not to intellectually evaluate the veracity of that statement. The point is to see what it brings up for you. Do you feel defensive? Angry? Sad? If so, sit with those feelings for a while. Do you have feelings of guilt or shame? If so, sit with those feelings for a while. Do you object to the phrase "white supremacy?" Does it make you feel solid and tense? If so, sit with those feelings. And then think about WHY you have those feelings. Do you have any new insights about race and racism? Do you feel motivated to act? Do you feel shut down? Notice whatever it is. This practice won't solve racism, but it's an important first step. Most of us are pretty ignorant about racism, and we're definitely ignorant about how it works in our own minds. Contemplative practice can help.

No matter what, we have to speak. White people cannot be silent in the face of the brutal killing of yet another Black person. As I have learned again and again doing anti-racism work, silence is complicity.

White folks have to do our own work. We have to speak out against racist violence. We have to act to end it.

Kara Dansky, Director, One Thousand Arms

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