A Note from Poor White America

I’m probably going to get SO MUCH backlash from this, but you know what, I stopped caring about ten days ago.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about this motherfucking election. And a lot of people I’ve talked to have noted that “racism/sexism/homophobia/utter disdain for the environment/etc. are bad BUT”

And then continue with a sob story about poor white Americans who are poor and white and American. And how we need to reach out to them right now. And worry about their futures.

Ignoring the fact that many white college-educated people voted for the king of rotting peaches, I have two responses.

First, where was this sympathy when you just thought we were ignorant cousin-marrying inbreds without any real political power? Why is it just showing up now to excuse us from any culpability in supporting a racist fascist dictator and his (how is it possible???) even worse cronies?

Second, I’m poor white America. I grew up in a family of six sharing a two bedroom, one bathroom house. I wore patches in my jeans and got my hair cut on the back porch well into middle school. I went to bed hungry most nights. It was a shock one day when I realized for the first time in a long time that I wasn’t hungry.

I’m not saying I’m the poorest. I’ve never known what it’s like to be homeless. But I know the poor rural white America you’re talking about. That’s where I grew up. I remember when the RV factory shut down and half the town was unemployed.

And GUESS WHAT. That still doesn’t excuse racism. That doesn’t excuse sexism. It doesn’t excuse anyone from being a good person.

To use that excuse (sorry “explanation”) is to ignore the fact that even when you’re poor you still have free will.

I have gone month after month where I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make rent. I’ve counted down the cups of rice left until the next paycheck. It’s disheartening and demoralizing. But I still knew that the enemy wasn’t immigrants or “the gays” or Planned Parenthood. I knew that the enemy was a capitalist society.

And, yes, I’ve had the advantage of a prestigious private education. But you know what? Even when I was an under-educated little runt, running around trying to hit boys because I wanted them to like me, I still stood up for gay rights and against racism. I never would have voted for the orange asshole no matter how bad things looked. And I know many other poor white Americans who agree.

Look, I’m very happy that wealthy liberals are now suddenly aware of the existence of rural America. It’s about fucking time. But don’t pretend like you “caring” about us now is anything other than a smokescreen to once again ignore that America is inherently racist, supports rape culture, and is intensely homophobic.

If you really do suddenly care now, then do something about it. It will probably arise that working for social justice for poor white Americans will require you to also work for poor black Americans and poor Asian Americans and poor Native Americans. If you really want justice for poor white America, then work for all of poor America.

I’m tired of hearing this argument as a way to avoid looking at the truth. You’re still responsible for your actions even if you’re poor. Yes, lets provide jobs, but lets not pretend that scapegoating is ever excusable.

The Five Stages of Acknowledging Whiteness

Note: I know a lot of times these conversations are framed as “black and white”. As if these were the only two races that exist in the United States. This is obviously not the case. There is a broad spectrum in which racism impacts people of color, each person and their intersection of identity will be impacted slightly different. I do not want to narrow the scope.

An Invitation

I realized recently that recognizing my whiteness followed along exactly with the five stages of grief. I’m sure I’m not the first person to realize this, but this is my personal blog, so I’m going to write about it anyhow.

I hope if you’re reading this and you are white, that you will not automatically shut down because I’m asking you to think about your whiteness. I know it may seem like I’m attacking you, but believe me I’m trying to invite you in.

I am a white person from rural Indiana. I have done and continue to do racist things. I am trying to stop this in myself and in others, and I know you can join me in this. I know from personal experience that it’s terrifying to interrogate your whiteness, but you can do it.

Let’s begin.

1.Denial

This is the stage where I spent most of my life. And a stage where I see many other people continuing to live. This stage is epitomized by ideas like “I don’t see race” or “I’m white so race doesn’t affect me”. It is saying things like “white privilege no longer exists” or “racism isn’t real, you’re just overreacting”.

If you see yourself in one of these categories, I’d like you to do one of the following things: attend a class on race history in the United States or read a book about race relations in the United States all the way through. In some way, I’d like you to challenge yourself, just for a number of hours, to explore whether or not these things that the majority of the population are saying, that our professors and philosophers are saying, that your friends and loved ones are saying, might be true.

Or message me. I will have a conversation with you. If you are genuinely interested in listening and being listened to, I will have this conversation with you.

It is difficult to confront the truth about the United States. It is difficult to confront the truth about ourselves. As white people, we may want to ignore these truths to protect ourselves, but as a wise old white man once said “the unexamined life is not worth living”.

Please, in my least argumentative and least condescending voice, recognize that the racial hierarchy in the United States benefits you as a white person.

2. Anger

So you’ve come to realize that you are white and that white is a race constructed by society the same as any other. You’ve realized that by being born white, not through any fault of your own, you benefit from the color of your skin.

You benefit by avoiding being arrested for petty crime or misdemeanors. You benefit by having a higher likelihood of getting hired for a job. You benefit from the sheer psychological support of seeing your face everywhere, your voice on every radio or podcast or whatever you kids listen to. You know that you can be the President. That was never in question.

So you’ve recognized all of these things. And you feel angry.

I remember when I finally took the life-changing course “African American History”, the first thing I felt after fear was anger. I was angry that I had been lied to my whole life. Angry that I had fallen for the bait. Angry that I was a part of the problem. Angry angry angry.

And this was good, because I had moved on to the next step. But we run the risk of misdirecting this anger.

A lot of the time after the revelation, I felt irrationally angry at People of Color. I was angry because I was reminded of what a piece of shit I am, what a piece of shit my whole culture is. I was furious. I think this is where many angry white people actually live. I don’t think they are unaware of racial realities, but I think they are so blinded by their anger that they choose to hide in denial again, or worse, direct the anger at POC.

But that anger should never be directed at the victim, the anger must be directed at the systems of oppression. And the anger must be channeled and not used as a way to shut down. (See below for a more in-depth discussion of white emotions/fragility)

3. Bargaining

The next step, if you have come to acknowledge your anger, and agree to channel it towards positive action, is often bargaining.

I think of the conversations I’ve had with very intelligent and caring people who say things like “But we’ve come so far” or “It’s so much better now”. It’s a fine line between taking courage from the progress we’ve made and allowing it to make you complacent.

We as white people, myself SO VERY MUCH INCLUDED, often fall into the trap of being “good” white people. We are aware of our race, we are therefore not racist, maybe we have retweeted something or liked something and we get that little rush of adrenaline telling us we’ve done enough.

But we haven’t. I’m sorry to tell you there is no “enough”.

I know I fall back into this stage a lot. I think, “Oh, look, I wrote another blogpost and my friends liked it. I’ve done so much today. I can now sit back and pat myself on the head.”

Do not stay in this stage of bargaining. Do not stay here, where everything looks okay if you squint your eyes. Keep moving forward, friends. Take sustained action.

4. Depression

I have long had struggles with depression, as I think is apparent by now. If you’ve read the blog at all. So this one is a real doozy for me.

This is also, I think , where a lot of white people fall into the territory of white fragility.

Listen, as a human being, you have emotions, whatever your race, gender, or other identities, you have emotions.

It is critical to your survival and growth as a human being to recognize these emotions. It is good that you recognize when you are feeling triggered, saddened, hurt, angered, because these are signs that something is impacting you. BUT there is a big difference between recognizing your emotions and letting them control your actions.

I recently had a very close friend call me out for making a compromising decision regarding race and my culpability in supporting racism. At first I felt attacked. My immediate response was to shut down and rationalize away all the things she had brought up. “Well, but she didn’t understand that–” or “It’s not fair to say–“. I wrote some things in my journal. I cried. I texted my support group.

And then I pulled myself together and recognized that she was right. I made a mistake. I hurt someone I care about deeply. I compromised the progress I have been making as an activist for racial justice. And I resolved to change my actions moving forward.

It is always important to recognize your emotions, but we need to treat them like a wave. Let them pass over and through you.

My emotions are not the most important part of this process. I am not the most important part of this process. Although I need to be a part of this movement, this movement is not about me.

It goes along with being a white ally. Supporting without taking up space. Saving and channeling your emotions in a way that does not counteract what you are trying to achieve.

You will feel depressed when you recognize the great pain and hatred that exists in this country. You will feel depressed when you recognize some of that pain and hatred has come from you. You are human, you are white, but you are human. It makes sense that you will feel this deep grief.

But watch it like a wave, and then move forward.

5. Acceptance Activation

Finally, there is activation. I already wrote that we as white people must activate, so I’ll attempt to be brief here.

Activation is the final part of our process as white people with race, but it does not mean it is a stopping point.

Race impacts all aspects of our lives in the United States, whether we realize it or not. So, I’m not advocating that everyone quits their job and takes to the street (although that would be pretty cool, I’m just saying), I’m saying that we should do what I’ve read in so many wonderful articles, take our knowledge of race and spread it to our fellow white Americans.

It is not the POC that we need to convince they are under attack. It is our white friends and neighbors, roommates and relatives. These are the people we need to be talking to, which is difficult.

I hate conflict and I hate difficult conversations, but as I noted earlier, this isn’t about me. This is about achieving a society where people are treated equally regardless of their race and other marginalized identities.

Here is a guide that is a good place to start. There are many many many others out there.

Keep doing the good work you are doing. Keep being the good person you are being. Interrogate yourself. Talk with your fellow white people. Keep fighting. Keep fighting. Keep fighting.

And please know I write this with all the love I have in my heart. We are making mistakes and we are learning from them and I am here for you.

Dear Moderate White People

We need to talk. I’m sorry we didn’t talk about this sooner.

You need to radicalize.

Listen, I was once one of you, in many ways I still am, there’s not an end to progressing, there’s only achieving all that you can in your lifetime.

It is easy to think that you are not a part of this. You probably didn’t vote for the racist rapist cheeto, you might have even voted for Hillary, but that is not enough. Maybe you are a woman, so you feel this on some level, but if you are not committing right now to changing your behavior and the society around you, then you are part of the problem.

1. Racism is ingrained in the fabric of the United States.

I grew up in rural Indiana, and I used to believe that there were only Racists with a capital “R”. I believed that as long as I didn’t hate anyone actively, didn’t use the “n” word, didn’t threaten people, then I was fine. But there is so much more to it than that.

As a white person, by sitting silently, I continue the status quo.

In the original constitution, black people were worth only three-quarters of a person, in reality they were treated as even less. We cannot ignore the fact that slavery took place, that it was based on race, and that the reverberations of those atrocities are still being perpetuated today.

Segregation continued in states until the 1960s, that’s only fifty years ago, well below a full lifespan. Interracial marriage was illegal until 1967.

And let’s not forget that black people are arrested and imprisoned at rates almost seven times greater than white people. If they are arrested at all rather than being shot and murdered in the streets.

2. The narrative vs. the truth

It is difficult, if you are white and don’t often encounter people of color, to imagine that this can really be happening. You imagine that the world is somewhat fair. And for you, as a white person, it usually is (unless you are disabled, poor, neuro-atypical, queer, trans-gender, etc.).

Perhaps, though, one of your other identities once made you feel unsafe. As a woman, for example, I was once groped in public.

After being groped, I felt dissociated from the world around me. I felt weak, unloved, and scared. When I tried to talk to male friends about it, they often dismissed it as a one off event, they didn’t understand why I was taking it so hard.

For me, in my lived reality as a woman, I knew that this was not an isolated event, that this behavior was a part of a much larger narrative, that women are traditionally undervalued, under-represented, and disbelieved. That sexual assault and sexual violence occur at much higher rates for women (though I do not want to discount the seriousness and trauma that happens for male victims of sexual violence).

If you’re a white woman, maybe you can relate to this.

If so then you have a vague, skewed picture of being a person of color in the United States. Except that white women are traditionally valued higher than women of color.

So imagine on top of being a woman you are also never represented in media, or when you are represented you’re shown as “a thug”, “a criminal”, “a rapist”, “a welfare queen” or any number of other short-hand for being black or brown. Imagine that not only are you not understood by men, you are also not understood by women. You are not understood by the entire population.

You can’t go to the police when you come up against harassment or discrimination because you run a serious risk of becoming victimized all over again.

If you’re Asian American or Latinx American you are constantly threatened with deportation, even if you are a citizen. As a person of color, your language, your heritage, your appearance, your family, everything about you is mocked, criticized, and misconstrued on a daily basis.

Every day you are engaged in conversations with well-meaning people about how good your English is, asked where you’re “really” from, told that you must be particularly good at one subject or another.

Every day you are engaged with less well-meaning people who tell you to “go back home”, when you always thought that this was your home.

You are attacked by words and by actions. Every. Single Day.

This is what is happening. Every day. For a person of color in the United States. In 2016.

If you’re tired as a white woman, imagine being a woman of color.

If you’re tired as a moderate white man, imagine being a man of color.

Most importantly, you must empathize with your fellow citizens. I know it is difficult when the narratives you have been fed are full of criminalized, one-sided stories of people of color. And you have no way of counter-acting this narrative because you’re surrounded by white people. But people of color are first a foremost people. They are good people and they are bad people, they are silly and serious. They laugh and cry the same as any other people in this crazy little world.

I’m asking you to treat them as you would any other human being.

3. EXCEPT

Historically and currently, people of color are not being treated as any other human being by the country as a whole. The economic depression in many populations of color is the direct result of discrimination by white people. To continue “business as usual” is to continue a system based on the subjugation of black and brown people. See point 1.

4. THEREFORE

We must radicalize in order to overturn the system that continues to harm people of color through economic strictures, criminalizing petty misdeeds, use of unnecessary force and murder by police officers, attempting to dissuade voters, high incarceration, misrepresentation by media outlets, and the many other weapons that the nation has at its disposal.

This system was put in place to keep white people in power. If you are a moderate white person and you do not actively fight to over-turn the system, then you are a part of the problem.

White silence keeps the status quo.

5. So, my dear moderate white people

It is time to act. You will be uncomfortable, that is good. Change is often uncomfortable. You may feel guilty, that is okay, do not let it stop you from doing the hard and necessary work. You may come to a point where you feel self-loathing, do not let it immobilize you.

You are fighting for your sisters and your brothers. You are fighting for your children. You are fighting for your own morality, for your very own soul.

Most importantly you are fighting.

This is your battle, and this is your call to arms. Stand by the people of color in your country, when you see protests, do not dismiss them as “rioters”, understand that they are fighting for their very survival.

When you see your co-workers, your compatriots frightened or harassed, step in, use your whiteness as a shield. If you know people whose citizenship is in danger, offer your support to help them through the immigration process. If you see people of color looking worried, offer to listen and then actually listen.

And call out the white people around you. If your friend is spreading hate speech, you are culpable as well. If your co-worker is acting out of ignorance, then you are as well. Talk to your friends and co-workers and communities. Stop hate speech and violence, sign petitions, protest, write letters, act.

I would not be writing this if I didn’t believe you had the capacity for good. So go out and fight with all the goodness in your heart.

 

Who Controls the Narrative: Thoughts on Being a Woman, Luke Cage, and the Presidential Election

*I was working on this before the election and I wish I had published it back then, but I hope it’ll still be relevant.*

**Content warning: discussion of sexual violence**

Narratives are what we tell ourselves to make sense of a disparate and confusing universe. Narratives have power. Narratives shape reality, our sense of identity, and how we empathize (or don’t) with other people.

When you control narratives you are taking on great power, and, if you are a moral person seeking to forward social justice (big if, I know), you are taking on great responsibility as well.

Thought 1

I am a woman. And it seems that everyone has an idea of what that means. And moreover everyone would like to tell me what it means. Or shout it at me while I’m trying to get to work.

Some of the most frustrating things I hear as a woman are from very well-intentioned people who truly have my best interests at heart. They are seemingly innocuous things such as: “You’re walking home at night?” “You’re traveling alone?” “You’re living where?” “You’re going on a date with someone from Tinder?” “You’re moving across the country with no job or housing lined up and you know absolutely nothing about the area other than what you picked up from a thirty minute visit a year ago?” (The last one might be me-specific.)

I in no way want to downplay the seriousness of sexual violence or gender-driven abuse. Honestly at this point I’m surprised I haven’t been raped yet. I feel like it’s only a matter of time.

Which is the problem.

Rape is a terrible reality for many women. 1 in 3 globally, 1 in 5 in the United States.

But it shouldn’t be considered the norm. Even by me in my own head. Pardon my French but it is FUCKED UP that I think it’s inevitable that I will be raped.

This is the narrative that I’ve grown up with. Men rape and women are raped. Men are violent and will hurt me if I don’t live according to a very strict set of rules that control where and when I go places. According to the narrative, if I don’t behave according to the rules of an acceptable respectable woman, if I drink or wear the wrong clothes, I will be raped.

HOW FUCKED UP IS THAT. This is the narrative that goes through my head EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

I’m not exaggerating. I’m not being dramatic.Women live in constant fear. Every day. Every interaction with men. We are weighing the consequences of our actions, judging whether we are within the bounds of the narrative.

This, we are told, is to be expected and accepted.  We are told it so often that we believe it, accept it, acquiesce to it.

There are so many reasons to throw out this narrative.

First, it isn’t even accurate. The rules don’t keep us safe. It doesn’t matter how we dress or act. We can still be targeted due to our gender.

Second, the fact is that anyone is capable of committing sexual violence and it is possible for anyone to be a victim. To say otherwise is to silence an already horribly marginalized part of our population.

Third, women are powerful. We do not have to live in fear. Living in fear is counter-productive to all the things I’m trying to accomplish. Particularly traveling alone. I love traveling alone. I’ve done it in the United States and abroad, during the day and the night. I will continue to do it. I love taking walks at night. I will continue to do it. I refuse to continue buying into a bankrupt narrative that doesn’t work for me. I can create better stories than that.

Thought 2

Now, let’s talk about Luke Cage. The best show on television right now. I don’t want to hear about Stranger Things or Breaking Bad or any of the other white-washed shows out there. I want to talk about Luke Cage. Because finally we see a narrative being controlled by someone other than a white man (0r even a white woman). It has a cast of black actors, shows multi-dimensional black men and women facing multi-dimensional problems. Not to mention the star-studded cast of black musicians. This is an example of the narrative being controlled by and for a minority. And it’s brilliant.

It’s certainly not the first of its kind. God, no. But it’s getting some well-deserved attention and is a particularly relevant, freeing, and constructive. Not to mention it’s also a hell-of-a-lot more interesting than the same “white man struggling with his fragile white masculinity” story we’ve been force-fed the last two centuries.

Thought 3

And so we come rambling-ly along to the current presidential election. I already wrote a piece about it. And I stand by what I said: even if Hillary Clinton has a troubling past, I believe that she’s willing to listen to her constituent. I believe she can change. I don’t believe the same can be said of the other guy. He has sexually assaulted numerous women and is likely to continue doing so. His hate speech is horribly destructive and inhumane.

I know that many conservatives are frightened. I know that they don’t want to vote for the corrupt wealthy elite (even though that’s what the other guy is). I know that they are familiar with and comforted by the narrative of a white man triumphing.

Which brings us back to point number one.

Women should be afraid, people think, so why is one running for president? She should be cowering, not attempting to hold public office. And why is she in support of minorities or immigrants, when all the minorities or immigrants they see are bit characters, stereotypes, or villains?

We need a new narrative. For women. For POC. For POC who are women and non-binary and queer in particular. We need to be writing and consuming and producing media that tells stories about and for these people. Because if we don’t we’ll continue to be trapped in this horror world, where women must live in fear, and men are trapped in a glass cage of emotion. Where POC are sent to prison or killed because they look like “a big, bad dude”. Where there are no “happy endings” for queer POC or queer people in general.

There is a mural on a wall in West Oakland, I see it every day when I ride the BART to work. It says “Culture is a Weapon”. I love this mural, and I take hope in it.

White culture, after doing our best to exterminate all other peoples on this continent, has sought to enslave or erase all other narratives. The power of Hollywood has done a lot to make this a reality, but it has not succeeded.

There are MANY wonderful examples of positive narratives, movies, TV shows, this thing called books, that exist already, and it’s our job to find out and support these voices. (Side note, it would be amazing if we could compile a list of these in the comments.) Let’s fight back with our votes, with our money, with our viewing.

We can change the narrative, not only through creating, but also by consuming. Think about what narrative you want to live in and pursue it.

I Can’t Sleep

It’s been a rough year. Again.

They all seem to be pretty rough recently.

This year, I was in and out of an emotionally abusive friendship/ex-relationship. Found out one of my exes had sexually assaulted multiple people. Was groped while wearing an Easter Bunny costume. And remember that time when Donald Trump became president?

I’m a hopeful person, which I guess is why I keep dating assholes, but I’m having a hard time feeling hopeful.

I always believed that if I worked hard, I could achieve anything.

My whole life I’ve been working hard. I worked hard in school and got good grades. People, especially males, called me lucky. I worked hard at my jobs, starting when I was seventeen and every summer, school year, winter break, all the time since. I’ve been writing every single day for the past three years believing that if I put in the work, someday it will pay off.

But I’m a woman. And now I fully believe that no one in the United States will ever see me as more than a pussy.

I have always believed in justice.

I thought that we were working together to achieve a more equitable society. I hoped that through my writings and through voting and through donating and through rallying we could move towards a country that supported black people, Indigenous people, Asian Americans, immigrants, LGBTQA+, Latinx, and all the people who don’t fit in any of the neat little categories.

Now I feel as though I’ve failed them all.

And myself.

I’m bisexual (pansexual, whatever you want to call it, the point is I’m not straight). I haven’t come out yet, not even to my family, because I’ve been afraid.

The fear was clearly justified.

I have been traumatized as a woman. This election result has further traumatized me. I know that many of my friends are even worse off because they aren’t white or cis-gender.

Let me just say this, if it was ever unclear.

I support trans-people.

I support Indigenous peoples.

I support lesbians.

I support black people.

I support immigrants, whatever your documentation status.

I support asexuals.

I support people with disabilities, mental or physical.

I support Muslims.

I support queer people of all flavor.

I support sexual assault survivors.

I support Asian Americans.

I support gay people.

I support Latinx.

I support women.

I’m not going to give up. As much as I want to. I’m going to keep working hard. I’m going to keep writing every day. I’m going to keep voting and rallying and donating and radicalizing as many people as possible. I’m going to keep believing that a better future is around the corner.

I can’t sleep.