We Can’t Rely on the Oppressed to Do the Work

Image by Kevin Dauda

Due to the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia there has been (and rightfully so), a reaction to the public demonstration of white supremacy and preservation. Yet, the focus isn’t on those who are remaining silent. No one is talking about the level of organization and protection of those people who assembled and demonstrated (without fear or veiled appearance) in Charlottesville, Virginia. Historically, these groups would assemble at night or wear hooded or veiled vestments to conceal their identity but now racism and the institution that it rests upon is overt. Yet, their unveiled appearance proves that it is not the historical white supremacist pageantry of KKK robes, ski masks, or bandanas. Instead, it is 21st century racism, complete with white polo shirts, baseball caps, khaki pants, and loafers.

Don’t let their J-Crew appearance fool you into thinking that a polite conversation will eradicate their racism. It is the responsibility of white people to talk to, ostracize, and lash out at white people about racism.

And no, a Charlottesville Syllabus is not enough. A Charlottesville syllabus is a) problematic, b) won’t work, c) places the responsibility on the oppressed to educate and articulate their suffering to the oppressor, d) makes white people feel better about their inherited privilege.

It is time to unapologetically confront and call out white supremacy and systems of institutional oppression. If these people can show their faces then we should not veil, code, or “diagnose” their behavior. That thought experiment is exhaustive and the moment has passed. These people are not only demonstrating in plain sight their hate but they are doctors, lawyers, educators and law enforcement. They are not these mythic coal miners or uneducated “backwards” folks that are located in discarded towns in America. These are influential people that can and do decide the fate of a lot of people in this country. I am tired of apologetics that excuses their behavior. And for the record, it isn’t just white men who are racists. There are white women and the people of color that either comply or condone their ideology.

It is easy to hide behind the singular narrative of the white male or because of Marxist theory: wealthy, debt free, middle class white men that are hetero-normative. We must remember that they have female associates and alt-right/conservative LGBTQ folks that prove that women and non-heteronormative white people are just as racist and oppressive.

Nor should the hands of people of color be the ones to eradicate images and ideology of white supremacy and oppression because it relies on the oppressed to do the work of those who benefit from privilege.

For example, when Brittany “Bree” Newsome removed the Confederate Flag from the flag pole in front of the statehouse, in Charleston, South Carolina didn’t go unscathed. First, a black maintenance work replaced the flag which is the example of the labor and hands of supremacy. Second, she was fined and faced the possibility of having to go to jail for tampering with federal property. Therefore, there is a cost for physically dismantling these institutions. I have yet to see what is the cost for the woman who climbed the statue in North Caroling and placed the rope in order for other protestors to pull it down.

We don’t talk about Ramsey Orta, who filmed the horrific police strangling of Eric Garner on Staten Island, New York on July 17, 2014. Ramsey has been arrested numerous times for filming police arrests and at Black Lives Matter protests. He (Orta) is serving a four-year sentence for the selling of Heroin and illegal possession of a firearm.

Orta’s criminality is the focus of his life in the ways in which countless black and brown people who fight back or are killed through law enforcement are profiled. For example, Sandra Bland was blamed for her death because she wouldn’t extinguish her cigarette and questioned law enforcement as to why she was being pulled over. Whoopi Goldberg and Raven Symone et al. defended Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s erroneous question on Sandra Bland’s cigarette could have been used as a weapon on The View.

I won’t go on a long pontification on the politics of respectability and how Bland and others assertion of selfhood is a politics of ‘(dis)respectability.’ Yet, the narrative of people of color in influential positions of power or their exceptionalism proves that in modes of resistance people and especially women of color vacillate between maintaining mythic images of respectability which can retain systems of oppression. While those that don’t retain those images are often marginalized as being social pariah and the downfall of communities of color and labeled ‘disrespectful.’ Yet, these ‘respectability’ police don’t realize that they are retaining a gate-keeping ideology that doesn’t shake up white fragility and their need to retain their positions of power. Because they are just happy to have a seat at the table that they will remain silent or police people who question white authority.

Nor will I contribute to a narrative, that racism is regional, and that only a small sect of the population plays in the role of racism. There are alt-right rallies (Better Known AS) 21st century racism scheduled across the country.

It is easier for people to look elsewhere than it is to look locally at oppression. This isn’t just a piece on Donald J. Trump and his cabinet because white supremacy and oppression is a long and sufferable form of socio-political amnesia. This amnesia is what plagues The United States of America.

Instead, this is a time in which the actual conversation of abolition needs to happen. Not just reform. But actual abolition. What does it mean to abolish white supremacy, the prison industrial complex, educational debt, drastic poverty vs drastic wealth? What does it mean for citizens that work to receive social benefits that will retain their well-being? What does it mean that regardless of your ancestry you can have a fair and equal opportunity to not just survive but thrive? These are the questions and ideas that need to saturate the minds of this country.

A syllabus is an elitist and dismissive form of window dressing the elephant in the room. I am all for education but the student must want to learn. It is not my job as a member of the historical and very presently oppressed to educate my oppressor when their lives are valued above my own. It is not my job to place myself on the front lines of protests and demonstrations in an effort to dismantle power structures that me nor my ancestors did not create. Instead, I have the write to maintain my safety and position as one who works to create archives of information that will survive longer than my life expectancy. For self-care and archival creation is the legacy that my fore-parents in the fight for freedom have left me and others.

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