This post is for white friends who’ve remained silent or continued social media posts as though there’s not a national crisis. Certainly, white supremacy is systemic and personal, historical and contemporary, everyday and ongoing. Yet, this weekend it’s especially visible and sanctioned, immediately resulting in intimidation, terrorism, injury, and death. The events in Charlottesville have wide-reaching impact, and to deny (or fail to engage/recognize) the significance of these events is to deny the trauma and ongoing threats facing Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).
As I’ve watched white friends posting updates of cute animals and kids, of beautiful sunsets and delicious food, I’ve felt disconnected. I’ve felt betrayed.
As a rhetorician, I think about intention and impact—what words, photos, and actions say about the author and what they communicate to audiences. Through status updates and social media, we indicate affiliations—who we see ourselves in relation with, who we stand with and alongside, and who we see as part of our relational networks. Bottom line: our communication indicates who and what matters to us.
Status updates acting as though there’s not a major crisis—as though the display of white supremacy doesn’t need comment—undercut the possibility of cross-racial relations, affiliation, and solidarity. These updates communicate relations with other white folks and lack of care for BIPOC.
Thinking metaphorically, imagine showing up at a funeral in bright colors, laughing, and pulling out videos of fluffy chicks. Now, certainly I’ve been to family gatherings where grief turns to humor, and the desire to look at fluffy chicks takes center stage. But not until there’s real recognition of loss, hurt, anger, resentment, regret, and a range of emotions that can fold the lighthearted into heavy grief. And not without relational connectedness that involves ongoing recognition that the grief remains and needs attention too.
So, when I’m seeing white friends share vegan recipes, food pics, and arguments, I’m just not there. Yes, I’m vegan too, and yes, I write these posts too. But unless I’m going to make an intersectional argument about how veganism is connected to my stand against white supremacy and why vegans need to act for racial justice, this isn’t the time. My post about tahini dressing can wait.
And when I see white friends posting photos from summer vacations, I’m wondering who gets to celebrate or depict joy right now. I get that vacationing makes it easy to be out of touch with national events, but any engagement with social media reveals the trauma unfolding. And vacation photos aren’t time-sensitive.
What is time-sensitive?
- Signaling deep care for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).
- Believing the experiences, insights, and knowledges of BIPOC.
- Recognizing the deep hurt of this moment.
- Doing the self-work involved in countering internalized white supremacy.
- Acknowledging white shame and the “ghost of whiteness” lingering over everyday interactions, including those in social media.
- Self-regulating by asking with each new post: “Who am I relating with? Who am I imagining this post will connect with? And who am I alienating?”
- Considering how everyday “stuff”—like food and vacations—is shaped by the ghost of whiteness.
- Taking action to learn more about allyship and what allies can do.
- Saying something to acknowledge that this really is happening, and it matters.
- Committing to racial justice. Again, and again.
This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Trusting the Alarm Behind Supposedly ‘Alarmist Rhetoric,’” “Reframing ‘Independence Day’ as a Day for Truth-Telling and Committing to Justice,” and “Microaggressions Matter.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!
Beth, thank you so much. I’m on the other end of the extreme, Charlottesville and what it means consumes a good bit of my energy, which I feel is healthy and am giving in to. One of my thoughts about what it means is a question: are we more upset about Charlottesville than we were about Mother Emanuel? And the first answer I think of is another question: who’s we? So then I think, well, ok, white antiracist activists. Are we more deeply shaken by Charlottesville because it could have been us than we were by Mother Emanuel because we were clearly not targeted? I am not sure where else to ask this; I know at the very least you will listen, and consider, and respond respectfully even if you think my question is foolish or my ground assumptions need reworking. Lovingly and with thanks.
Oops–I mean Mother Emanuel, for example. I am thinking of many, many killings like those at Mother Emanuel and asking this question.
Beth, thanks for these questions and for being in this work. I feel deeply appreciative for learning in relationship, and I hope we can keep learning together. 🙂
I’ve been thinking about your questions for a few hours, and I’d love to hear what you and others think as well. My guess/gut tells me that violence and injustice have been mounting, accumulating, and growing more and more visible. This weekend in Charlottesville built on the shooting in Charleston, the mosque attack in the Twin Cities, continued murders and hate crimes, state-sanctioned violence, and white nationalist demonstrations, among other recent events. And the demonstration visually called up a brutal and still unacknowledged (much less reconciled) history of white terrorism. The fact that marchers carried fire — which I believe is symbolic not only of the KKK but of burning homes, crosses, and bodies — is so striking. It’s an image with multi-generational trauma, like bombings and shootings in religious spaces.
What I observed in social media were BIPOC speaking up and asking about white silence, expressing betrayal by white professors, peers, and perceived friends. So, while white folks may have imagined ourselves as protestors and seen both the moral responsibility and risks of acting (and I’ve read some pieces by Jewish folks especially putting bodies on the line and pushing for response), the mandate came primarily from BIPOC, I believe. Does that reading seem right to you? Other thoughts?
Thanks again! Hoping to learn more and to stand TALL.
Hi Beth, another/second response, as I follow various responses and engage in various discussions this week:
It seems significant to white folks that a white woman was killed in Charlottesville, and I think that’s what you’re getting at — at mobilization of white folks resulting from threats and injuries to white lives … I think that’s certainly part of the picture here and also not the whole story, not the reason why so many colleagues of color are asking, “If not now, then when?”
I look forward to talking more! ~ Beth
The white supremacists,also target Jews, but they didn’t make it into your acronym.
Is there a reason?
BIPOC isn’t my acronym. I provide this URL in the blog post for more context: <https://wearyourvoicemag.com/identities/philando-castile-akai-gurley-non-black-people-colors-complicity-anti-blackness>.
You’re right that Jews are also targets of overt white supremacist actions/bigotry, as are feminists, Muslims, queer folks, trans folks, disabled folks, and others <https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/8/15/16144070/psychology-alt-right>. A commitment to social justice is a commitment to work against all oppression — to stand with and alongside all people marginalized. This means standing with and alongside Jews as well.
Racialization in the United States is also *so* complex, as these articles indicate:
— “Are Jews White?” <https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/12/are-jews-white/509453/>
— “Jews struggled for decades to become white. Now we must give up white privilege to fight racism.” <https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/09/22/jews-in-america-struggled-for-generations-to-become-white-now-we-must-give-up-that-privilege-to-fight-racism/?utm_term=.60268c3e8dc2> …
As an acronym, BIPOC makes visible Black and Indigenous people, among other people of color, because the histories/legacies of colonization, enslavement, and exploitation are particularly poignant, long-lasting, wide-reaching, and yet too-often unacknowledged. I work with America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM), and ABHM’s description of the “Black Holocaust” <http://abhmuseum.org/what-is-the-black-holocaust/> is helpful for explaining the ongoing violence and needs for remembrance and reconciliation in the U.S. context — and, therefore, the need to name explicitly the trauma and threats facing Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).
I hope these responses and resources are helpful, and I appreciate your question. ~ Beth
Beth, yes, that was what I meant (to your comment of August 18th). I didn’t realize some are seeing this as an “if not now, when?” moment and that interests me greatly. What I was writing about initially was a sense I had that more of us whites were outraged now to a far greater extent than I’ve seen before among whites–because whites had been affected by it directly. And I mourn the life lost of Heather Heyer and any violence anywhere, including the violence against all those hurt in Charlottesville.