“#Racial Learning Groups So White”

Academy reverses plans, will air all awards live at Oscars | KECI

In response to a piece that appeared in the Rochester Beacon newspaper.

To echo what Howard said, I am finding that too many white folks are in fact relying on all white spaces for all their racial learning. A slew of studies show that 75% of white folks in the US report only having regular contact with other white folks. All they can do then when talking about race is echo back their own white frames of reference to each other. In my black experience, that’s exactly what they do. This echoing appears as “doing this work” and substitutes for real activism.

Marketers pay big bucks to a select group of tweens and teens who report back to them what is trending and what is on the twilight to becoming “so yesterday!” among their peers. If you want to know what teens want, asking someone who studies teens will always leave you two or three steps behind interacting with actual teens. And with billion dollar product launches on the line, the question is never “I think that…” or “don’t you think that…?” It is always “what do you think?” followed by a sincere, hungry silence that is more than just an obvious invitation to echo back to the inquirer what a clever marketer he is.  

Yes, black folks get frustrated and tired of being “the go to” guy all the time. That’s mainly because white people ask us the same questions over and over and over, “wearyingly predictable,” as you said.  Moreover, they tend to not really be questions about understanding black life. They’re white questions about how to fit something they don’t understand into a white frame (“don’t you think that…?” or “I don’t see why…”). 72% are simply one of a myriad of rewordings of “I’m one of the good ones, right?”  I’m going to lose a lot of points for saying this but here goes. The popularity of SURJ and other analogous groups has to do with the fact that it’s a space where white people can talk about racism and still have their own whiteness be the center of their discourse. Months ago I attended the same SURJ workshop you mention on combating racist remarks. I kept waiting for when the instruction was actually going to get around to defending black people. Instead I was disappointed to find it all about how to suffer fools and keep your cool while doing it.

If I want to find out what a quinceañera is about I accept an invitation to one. The learning is in the preparation leading up to it (what’s an unsuitable gift to bring and why, appropriate dress, the proper greeting,…) and the actual experience of being there. The same with a bar mitzvah or a Hindu wedding. I wouldn’t go to these events asking a million questions expecting people to divert attention to the fact that I’m here. I wouldn’t talk everyone’s ear off bragging about and quoting all the books and blog posts I’ve read (“I saw Schindler’s List and  I cried through the whole thing…”). I would go, observe, do what I see others doing, and humbly shut the flip up! Offer to help serve punch, maybe. My white friends, I’m afraid you can’t escape us black folks. The only way you’re ever going to invest real skin in the game is to bring yourselves to black spaces. Sorry guys. That’s just the way it is.

In a lot of the workshops I’m leading, lately I continuously hear whites say they’re afraid of being among black people and saying the wrong thing and I’m calling it out for the vestige of white supremacy that it really is–“J’Accuse!” There is a simple mathematical remedy for this fearful situation, stop talking so damn much.

Buddhist nun Pema Chodron says “we work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves.” White people are used to seeing themselves as the smartest one in the room, they come expecting to be heralded as the leader that has finally arrived. Bring yourselves to us with a true desire to learn something you don’t [think you already] know, and accept the authority of black opinions and black points of view on what racial equality needs to look like, the best way to get there, and what supporting role you could play that would indeed be most helpful. 

And once again I’ve written an entire essay answering someone else’s post while neglecting my own blog so I’m going to cut-n-paste, kill two birds with one stone, and go to bed.

Coronavirus in “Black & White”

These days, happily, a disproportionate amount of my energy is going into

1.) staring at the new treadmill I bought while I go all in on another bowl of Breyer’s collaboration with Snickers candy bar (this ice cream is the dairy equivalent to crack, if you’ve never had it before do yourself a favor and leave it alone!!!)

2.) planning topics for my wildly successful series of Sunday webinars, so I’ve fallen behind on posting new essays. I’ve read two pieces recently from other writers though who offer a fresh, original perspective on why the coronavirus is hitting the black community so disproportionately and the medical community’s response to those numbers. It’s lengthy reading. But hell, we’ve all got more time than anything else right now.

Decolonizing Nursing

What people are saying about my Sunday webinar series–

“YES!!! THIS is the conversation I was looking for!”                                                  Sonja N

 

“I just attended Nanette’s first online workshop. The discussion of ‘White Women’s Tears’ was eye opening. We were challenged to listen to the Black person’s experience and not make our reaction about us.”                                        Jean, Rochester

 

“Preach, Nanette! Give as generously as you can! Nanette is giving us such a gift of her time, energy, and wisdom!”                                                                             Laura, Boston

 

“She really is – I’ve been struggling with where to have these conversations and learn without placing demands on anyone else’s time or energy.”         Shellie, Arizona

 

“THANK YOU NANETTE!!! Many questions that both B. and I have been asking ourselves have ‘clicked’ today. LISTENING to you is ALWAYS completely enlightening :)”                                                                                                      Chris, Rochester

concentrated women surfing laptop in cafe
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

“Thank you so much, Nanette!!! What a pleasure this has been!!! Thank you for being you!”                                                                                                                   Jillian, Florida

 

“I appreciate Nanette’s sense of understanding for white experience, while at the same time her frank ability to lay it on the table when addressing the blind spots that we white people tend to carry around.”                                                               Peggy C.

 

“You’ve woven these stories together with absolute wizardry Nanette!”                                                                                                                                                         Brittany, Rochester

 

“Nanette’s Sunday session was really great! She doesn’t sugarcoat serious topics but still comes to the work with a generous spirit and enthusiasm for healthy cross-racial dialogue. Her advice to white allies is super concrete and applicable to everyday life. Highly recommended!”                                                                           Murphy

 

“Thank you So Much for today’s lesson! I learned a lot of nuanced lessons that I would not have learned in any other setting. I appreciate you!”                                     Lillian S, NY

“Hi, Nanette! Wanted to reach out to say that your webinar today already has me thinking differently about how I approach learning and “being.”  I have so much gratitude for you sharing today (thank you so much for doing this).” Audrey

Hi, Nanette. I am belatedly sending a note of thanks for your work with the Sunday afternoon webinars on White Fragility, as well as for inviting me to participate. Your effort and dedication are obvious! Also, it seems to me, “putting yourself out there” in this effort is courageous and generous, as well as beneficial for the attendees. I felt I learned a lot. Thank you for all of this. Heather T.

Howard’s Way

So I got an email Sunday morning from Howard J. Eagle of Rochester, N.Y., accusing me and a list of others of “race hustling.” That afternoon I was hosting a paid-access virtual meeting (which I will be doing every Sunday until we’re let back out of our homes) discussing white privilege and fragility and had advertised it widely by email and Facebook.

If you  live in Rochester and are involved with any effort around race, you’ve heard of Howard Eagle. Now in his sixties, this black man taught social studies in the city’s public schools for some thirty years and was an adjunct lecturer at one of the nearby universities. He holds a master’s degree in secondary education so if the issuing of a master’s degree means anything, Eagle knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the realm of educating children. Without question he is the very opposite of an unsophisticated, blow-hard simpleton.

Eagle has run for the city’s school board six times, and came out on the losing end in all six contests. Google his name and an early result shows a 2019 newspaper story where in a very public meeting, Eagle called a school board member a “vicious, compulsive liar.” She in turn questioned his financial solvency, made a personal dig at the appearance of his physical well being, and accused him of acting like a child. A commentator compared the meeting to an episode of the reality t.v. show Love & Hip Hop.

At one time a respected writer of editorial pieces for the Rochester newspaper, Howard has been banned and locked out from commenting on any of the paper’s other formats. I personally know of several people who have told me they’ve put in the time and effort to block him from every single one of their social media accounts.

Before I did my first workshop in Rochester in August of 2019, I got a series of emails from Howard expressing his cynicism (in length and detail) that my presentation could make any difference. From one of those emails:

“As you know, considering the old, historic existence, ongoing devastating nature, numerous disastrous manifestations, and overall socioeconomic, sociopolitical, and sociocultural impact of the Tripartite [individual, institutional and structural racism] Beast And Illness — being able “to participate in conversations about interpersonal and structural racism [,especially only within] their own [super-limited, minute, so-called] personal spheres of influence” (as opposed to the need for mass, ongoing, societal, dialogue EVERY DAY) — only represents a baby-step…. 

We acknowledge that taking the first baby-step (TALKING — OPENLY, HONESTLY, AND CONSTANTLY ABOUT RACISM) is of course important. Yet, in the final analysis, for us to accept that (as late as 2019) [emphasis Nanette’s], such minuscule, gradualistic, efforts are to be applauded or celebrated relative to impacting the Beast And Illness (in significant, concrete, measurable ways — in our lifetimes — as opposed to the abstract, distant bye-and-bye), actually serves to help prop up, reinforce, perpetuate, and prolong the deeply entrenched, thoroughly pervasive, systemic, racist, status-quo. “

 

In November I was leading a workshop again in Rochester and one of the white participants asked me specifically about how to respond to Howard Eagle, as many in that room had come up against his ire on various message boards and online forums. I told them look, no doubt Howard is an uncouth, overbearing, near impossible pain in the ass. Howard is a black man who came of age in the middle of Rochester’s infamous 1964 race riots. It was a time when this city’s crown jewels of employment were Eastman Kodak and Xerox. Both companies were not only not hiring blacks beyond their lowest paying positions, they put up active resistance to doing so. Now, a comfortable new generation of white people–whose parents worked for those employers, affording them good housing and schools– want to have polite, “sacred conversations” where they can explore their relationship to race and what it all means at a non-grievous pace they get to dictate.

Frank Staropoli is somewhere around the same age as Howard. He authors a blog called A White Guy In Rochester. As I write this, Frank is “wintering” in Florida, retired and sitting pretty atop all the opportunity that Howard and his generation of black men were de facto and de jure excluded from. Instead, Howard’s generation was being pushed around by officers with german shepherds for demanding some such absurdity as the right to live wherever they want and a fair opportunity to prove themselves at a job like anyone else. The older, middle-class white people in my workshop had time to listen to me that weekend afternoon while working age black people in Rochester were scraping away at low paying jobs still trying to catch up to the wealth disparity that Howard watched three generations of redlining and job discrimination produce.

Rochester is often cited as one of the three poorest cities in America. Some say that is only true if one doesn’t count all of its metro area as an aggregate.

That’s just it, though.

The public schools of Rochester proper are now over 90% black while suburban counties–born of white flight from 1954’s federal court decision desegregating public schools, and restrictive covenant deeds forbidding home sales to black families–buttress the city’s borders. On one block is a city school that’s just had to lay off dozens of teachers to trim their budget deficit. Three blocks over, just beyond the city line, is a white school with probably a swimming pool and a library stocked with enough books, each student could take three home and there’d be plenty left for a censorship-and-decency committee to host a hardy bonfire.

Last year the Monroe County legislature passed a bill imposing stiffer fines and jail sentences against prohibited harassment of first responders (in real language, that means people taking video during questionable police interactions) seemingly out of nowhere. No one asked for this remedy. No one. Even the county sheriff and several area police chiefs publicly declared the law mootable and expressed their intention not to enforce it until a higher court examined it. Clearly that law was not intended to target Saturday morning soccer moms. If you tell me you can’t see who would have gotten hurt by this law, I’m going to say clearly you haven’t picked up a newspaper in ten years and I’m quite certain that’s not true.

When new county administrators came in later,they immediately put the kibosh on that law all together.

Jobs, housing, schooling, disproportionate interactions with the police–from Eagle’s and other blacks’ viewpoint, it almost sounds like it’s still 1964 in Rochester.

Over fifty years  and three generations later, watching his brothers, nephews, cousins, neighbors being left out still, Howard Eagle doesn’t have the time or patience for “sacred conversations”. The studies, the numbers they produce, and the stories of blacks’ lived experiences bear out the facts. The only question is in what way are you, as a white person concerned with racism and inequality, prepared to show up and effect a measurable change?

Black public intellectual celebre’ du jour, Ta-Nehisi Coates, admitted when asked about it that he too is perplexed by the popularity of his very Afro-centric, no-holds-barred writing style among white consumers. “I’ve never seen white people embrace the idea of a black man talking about a world in which they are not the center of the narrative (for better or worse).” That explains the popularity of the writings of Robin DiAngelo and Debby Irving, a subject for another essay.

The retelling of suffering among blacks is not just a whetstone offered up to whites to sharpen their character and further center themselves and their growth. If preparing yourself for actionable, measurable change for others is not why you’re here on my page; not why you’re reading Frank Staropoli’s blog, going to monthly SURJ meetings, organizing rides to protests, or posting about the latest incident of racial injustice on Facebook then please,… 

get out of grown folks’ way so we can get to the real business at hand.

I am intent on stirring a call to action. If all white people feel compelled to do after one of my workshops is pat themselves on the back and check off the “racial justice” box on their to-do list, then Howard is right and I am no more than a race hustler. And as long as I keep it breezy and centered on personal revelations, I could get away with that for years and make a nice living for myself off of enough white folks’ desire to merely appear engaged. I’d sooner go back to waiting tables at Friendly’s Restaurants, scooping Fribbles with my bad back and flat feet before I dishonor all the black persistence, dreams and blood that came before me in such a way.

I was brought in as the guest speaker at an all white suburban church one Sunday around the time of Martin Luther King Day. I talked about MLK’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail. In it, the icon expressed his disappointment that the southern towns’ white religious institutions weren’t emptying their pews to support the cause of fair treatment for blacks.

At my finish a woman in the front row said “wow, I don’t feel better after that.” I guess they were expecting we shall overcome and I have a dream. Yesterday a letter from the city arrived for my former upstairs neighbor– $900 fine for jaywalking. Jaywalking. He’s going to be sitting in the Erie County holding center someday soon while his already financially beleaguered family is trying to decide whether they should pay the rent this month or get him out of jail before the weekend. Over crossing the street while black.

I didn’t drive all the way down there to give back rubs, I came to reiterate that “faith without works is dead“. If anyone was feeling a lack of solace after my message it was because in their hearts they knew, like I do, that we have a lot of work to do towards our perported goals of racial equity. So let’s get to it.

I’ll probably get a nasty letter from Howard saying “I don’t need you to speak for me, how dare you represent that you know what I’m thinking, blah, blah, blah” ‘cause that’s how Howard rolls. That’s all right. I don’t really mean in this essay to single him out. I’m using him to make the point that your black friends and neighbors are waiting to see white folks do something. The time for talk and exploring our feelings is past us. As far as Howard, well, extremes serve the purpose of keeping the middle from getting complacent. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as the idiom goes. Or to quote from the 1995 movie Dolores Claiborne, “sometimes, being a bitch is all a [person] has to hang onto.”

The N-word: To Be Or NOT To Be?

I undertook an hour’s drive to a suburb of Rochester, N.Y., the other day. The Greece school district was inviting all comers to a most improbable congress; an open forum on the use of the word “nigger.” Yep, you read that right. A local friend gave me a little background explaining that this particular town has become a popular destination for black families looking to flee Rochester proper. In a short time, the demographic of its public schools has gone from all white to around 30% black.

An hour’s drive may sound like a stretch but a.) I lived in Atlanta for over twenty years where an hour’s drive is called “my morning commute” and b.) I thought “oh, I gotta’ see this train wreck with my own eyes. I’m not waiting for the viral video.”

The parking lot to the host school was packed. I mean people parked in the grass, on the painted yellow lines, I thought there was a sectionals basketball game happening at the same time or something. My unscientific glance counted the audience at about 70% white, and mainly adults as opposed to students. I was expecting a Jerry Springer-style town hall brawl. To my surprise, there was a very sincere, attentive audience of concerned community members who were clearly here to learn something from each other.

Dr. Sean Eversley Bradwell, an assistant professor from Ithaca College, started his lecture by asking how many of us spoke another language. I learned Spanish in middle school. I was exposed early in my learning of the world to the notion that often languages will have a word or phrase that just doesn’t translate cleanly into English because the idea it conveys doesn’t really exist fully fleshed out in Western culture. I flashed back to a man from Columbia I overheard years ago talking with his sister over the phone and referring to her frequently as “Gorda.” The literal translation of that word is “fat.” The softness and tenderness with which he uttered the word each time he invoked it, though, made it clear he was doing anything but admonishing her on her eating habits. An attempt to explain his meaning makes the term, actually, lose all its meaning.

In my early twenties, I traipsed through the Buffalo bar scene with a gay male crowd [shout out to City Lights]. The men often called each other “girlfriend” so I did too. A friend tried to explain how that might not always be apropos for me. I thought what is he talking about? I’m just one of the gang, surely everyone knows I mean no harm. I look back now and I think on how I could walk downtown streets at night holding another man’s hand without fear of being attacked, I didn’t have to hide my authentic self at work for fear of being stripped of the means to support myself, I could go to church, join the navy, adopt children. I could hop in and out of this world at night for a few laughs and drinks at my leisure. Since they could not do the same, they were entitled to a few things partitioned as solely theirs without needing the blessing of my understanding why for it to be so. Like “girlfriend.”

Black folks my age and older use the word “stank.” It is, again, one of those words that as it travels across cultures, the need to explain it renders it unusable all together. Hip hop super duo Outkast named their 2000 album Stankonia. (I know, my pop culture references are SO old.) I doubt they had many interviews where journalists bothered to ask them to decipher its meaning for speakers of The King’s English. I told a fellow salesperson at a job once that I was having trouble driving a male business owner to close this deal. My coworker, being appropriately familiar with me, told me “you need to kick that stank, girl!” As we both enjoyed a good chuckle, I knew exactly what he meant but I couldn’t even begin to spell it out in this essay and do it one modicum of justice.

In the 1997 movie Liar, Liar, white actor and comic tour de force Jim Carrey prattles off this ditty without even a hint of tongue-in-cheek side eye:

“Where would Tina Turner be right now if she’d rolled over and said ‘hit me again Ike! And put some stank on it!’”

That line is operating on so-o-o-o-o many levels that to take it apart for whites,…well, you either come from a social and cultural background where you get it and you pee your pants at the recondite comic dare he took, or you just have to let that one go and keep it moving. Now understand that Jim Carrey spent his formative years on a comedy show with an almost all black cast. A black cast where most of them were siblings and cousins too, so he witnessed the kind of humor that comes from the laxity only being around black family upends, and could know how to deliver that line in such a way as to both say it properly AND manage to parody his own white self at the same time.

Hmm. And I’ve still never heard him assert any right to use the word “nigger.” Discuss.

I, for the record, detest the word, and its pop culture augmentation “niggah.” I acknowledge black comedian Dave Chappell as all the genius he’s been heralded as, but I never watched his t.v. show during its original run. My ears couldn’t tolerate his overuse of that word. I do not run in the kinds of social circles where that word is used frequently, and anyone’s insistence on using it regularly around me, whether they be white or black, is a deal-breaker for me.

One audience participant came to the microphone during the Q&A and asked theoretically what possible affirmative value is there for white people in using that word? That got me to thinking and for I think the first time, I got a pure glimpse of why some black people would still see an affirmative value in it.

After America chained us, beat us, legally declared us ⅗ of a person, broke apart our families, burned us out of our legally acquired homes and land, lynched us by the thousands, deprived us of channels to competent education, told us without cessation that we’re nothing, and bestowed upon a people every degradation one would heap upon a group so debased as to be called “niggah”, we’re still here. Still rising. So, in a way, for blacks to use that word among themselves is to spit in the face of a society that would rather we just quietly go away and to say “call us whatever the –eff you want. We’re still here! What other names you got? We’ll –eff that up too, and keep coming!”

Even with that, I still will not be using the word. And if this is a best case scenario for its usage, it begs the question again what possible affirmative value is there for white people in using this word? Kinship? Not if, like in my earlier example “girlfriend” with my gay cohorts, white people can jump in and out of what that word means when the going gets really tough.

Ultimately Bradwell gave this excellent reasoning for abolishing use of the word among kids during the time school officials have charge over them. Faculty has a responsibility to the safety and wellbeing of each and every student. In the same vein as not allowing “fire!” in a crowded theater, curtailing some speech and other liberties of individuals is a part of that responsibility. Drop the mic right here, you can’t argue around that.

A young man approached towards the end, strong and tall as an oak, and told us he has both black and white parents. His white friends assert their right to use that word around him despite his objection, and can’t understand why he’d be bothered by it since he is part white himself. The young man asked Bradwell for advice on handling that situation.

Man, if that ain’t white supremacy in its boldest incarnation I don’t know what is. Can you imagine an entire school district of adults needing to parcel out an evening of their week because the peers of white Richard want to challenge his right not to be called Dick?”

“Most people never listen.” –Ernest Hemingway

In Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, she told the story of a black youth who came to her, as a lawyer for the ACLU, complaining he was being targeted and framed by local police. He had stacks of paper, dates, reports, evidence, but Alexander didn’t believe him. At this early stage in her legal career, she was still operating under the good faith assumption that the criminal justice system was a positive agent with only a few outlier episodes of racism or deliberate police misconduct. The young man threw his hands up flabbergasted.

 “Nobody will listen to me!”

I recently went online and my eyeline couldn’t escape a piece of click bait on the Forbes.com website by executive business coach Hanna Hart. It had a huge image of writer Ta-Nehisi Coates as its draw. 

“What???,” I gasped. “A white business coach quoting Ta-Nehisi Coates in the bible of ‘we’re white men we don’t have to listen to anybody else’ magazines? This I gotta’ see.”

Hanna used an interview where Coates was asked a question that he decisively answered with “I don’t know”. 

I’ll be darned, did that just happen? The caliph of “I don’t give a –eff what white people think I’m going to write my truth” just got quoted as having something valuable to say to business exec’s.

I find the hardest part about discussing race is conveying to white people that I know what the hell I’m talking about. That I, an ordinary black woman sans pedigree or the bona fides of letters after my name, am a credible and valuable source for worthwhile information regarding the realities of race in our culture. Seeing Coates quoted on Forbes.com grabbed my attention because I’m not used to black voices being regarded as having anything valuable to offer when there are so many other white voices to choose from first. 

Even when it comes to race, we are regarded as incapable of being dispassionate and objective. An 80-something year old retired white real estate lady in Georgia once said to me “oh, you’re just hung up on all that racial stuff because you’re writing a book about it.” Would it ever occur to anyone that after all her years in the trenches, she would be dubious as a credible source for advice on how to sell a house? Could it be that I’m not “hung up” on race, but I have decades of experiences that give credence to my positions?

Debbie Irving woke up white in 2009, then made a wad of dough when thousands of white people woke up with her in her 2014 book about coming to realize how white privilege has indeed buoyed her life circumstances. The book White Fragility by white author Robin DiAngelo lorded over the New York Times best seller list for over a year and all she did was restate all the things white people haven’t been listening to black people tell them for decades. But a white lady with some degrees puts it in a book, now everyone’s ready to pay over a hundred dollars when she comes to town to essentially read the book back to them– the book she already got twenty five dollars out of them for once (“nice work if you can get it”). Anything but, God forbid, go to the black side of town, sit at these people’s dining room tables and listen to them like their stories really could stand on their own.

(To be sure, both of these books are excellent reads for white people wondering what all the hullabaloo around privilege is about.)

“Where’s the beef???”

I just wrote this long-ass reply on someone else’s blog, then realized hey, I just produced a whole new essay. And I ain’t posted on my own site in months. Why am I out here just givin’ it away like that? So here it is. The following is in response to a white writer at his site about what his recent self-examinations have brought forth…..

Hi Frank. Been reading your posts and I appreciate that you are a white man who is consciously on the path looking at white supremacy and where you fit in it. Two thoughts I want to leave here.


You talk about how combating internal racism and implicit bias in white populations takes daily effort and consciousness. That this is true is a real testament to the potency of the brainwash socialization job that’s been done, not just to white people, but to all people. And we really have to start asking ourselves why that’s so and who it benefits. That’s the million dollar question. Then we can focus on what it’s really going to take to see change. I often marvel in my head while I’m standing at the front of the room leading my own workshops “wow. These white people had to pay money, and carve out an entire afternoon of their time to hear me say ‘treat all people well just because.’ That’s the society we live in.” And to do simply that is a day-to-day, ongoing struggle. When you really, really think about that—damn!

Moreover, black people have to put just as much energy into fighting the negative messages we’ve been given about ourselves. Ibram X. Kendi said “internalized racism is the real black on black crime,” and I’ve come to agree with him wholeheartedly. Racism has torn from all of us our very humanity. Our belief in ourselves as good people, and our belief in others as simply inherently worthy. And that is why combating it is important. Not just to “help those people.”

Secondly, I read a piece online recently about Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility that was subtitled: “Robin DiAngelo’s idea changed how white progressives talk about themselves—and little else.” I attended a workshop months ago that was entitled “How To Respond To Racist Remarks.” I sat in because I thought I was going to witness how white folks are arming themselves to be defenders for non-white people and I wanted to affirm and amplify their efforts. The whole afternoon turned out to really be about how white SJW’s (social justice warriors) can take care of themselves and their feelings while being about “the work.” I busted out in a huge fit basically saying “how is any of this about helping non-white people????”

People just thought “poor dear, she’s ‘triggered,’” and my entire point was lost.


Too much of white folks’ musings and ruminations about race only lead in a circle back around to—-themselves. The whole point of white folks contemplating their conditioning and their role within white supremacy is supposed to be to un-condition yourselves SO THAT YOU CAN NOW GO OUT AND BE OF REAL USE IN DISMANTLING WHITE SUPREMACY AND RACIAL INEQUALITY. I submit that it’s not enough anymore just writing and talking about what looking at these issues has helped you see about yourselves as white people.

Non-white’s struggles and suffering…we are not your whetstone upon which to sharpen and improve yourselves. We’re real people out here getting shot at by the cops, denied for home loans, being turned down for jobs because it’s too difficult to pronounce our name, getting short changed on our children’s education because municipalities don’t see the point in installing great teachers and “throwing good money after bad”—and being gaslighted and blamed for our lot in life produced by the down the line effects of those actions. I don’t mean to put you on the spot personally, this is for all the white people reading this who see themselves in your meditations. If your realizations are producing out here in the 3D world more than just new awarenesses about yourself, I’m not seeing it here. I don’t just mean what meeting you’ve been to, what committee you signed up for, what other college educated blacks you sit around talking with about racism (because only listening to other blacks who possess “the” socially approved bona fides only further recognizes white supremacy). I mean black people whose lives have been improved measurably for your change of mind. Black people sitting at your dinner table bringing the real baked macaroni and cheese. Black friends who just call you up to say hey, or whose phone calls you return with urgency because you recognize their needs as fellow human beings are as urgent as yours.


As I read this over, I guess I’m just re-saying what Howard’s been saying to you forever. Where are all these new awarenesses showing up in life where the rubber meets the road?

“Where’s the beef?”

Global warming, the Easter Bunny, and white privilege

THIS IS MY OP-ED PIECE PRINTED IN THE ROCHESTER NY PAPER, DEMOCRAT & CHRONICLE, ON SUNDAY 10/06/19–AND SUBSEQUENTLY POSTED ON IT’S PARENT PAPER’S WEBSITE, USA TODAY.COM–IN RESPONSE TO AN EARLIER PIECE BY A WHITE ROCHESTER BUSINESSMAN WHO DISPUTED THE EXISTENCE OF WHITE PRIVILEGE.

So John Calia, an old white guy, is angry.

In 1961 James Baldwin wrote “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won’t destroy you.”

In history class I learned about blacks being lynched, incontrovertibly denied fairness in court, openly refused jobs and I wondered “how on earth did black people put up with that?” At my first sleepover at a white friend’s house, we were sitting at the neighborhood pool. Suddenly there was a wad of phlegm on my leg. For the life of me, I honestly didn’t understand that someone had just spit on me. Days earlier in class, we learned spitting on black people in public with impunity only happened in the bad old days. Surely this couldn’t be what just happened to me. I was confused, then continued talking with Elizabeth about the new Blues Brothers album.

While I was waiting on the steps of a building for an apartment showing, a car stopped at the curb briefly and drove off. I waited forty minutes more, then left. I had to be in my thirties looking back on that incident before realizing that car was the landlord. He saw I was black.

I’ve been recently musing that blacks in the U.S. all share a distinct mental illness. A necessary cognitive dissonance that extricates the perfectly logically consistent reaction of anger from our day-to-day psyche. To look plainly on our condition would be to live in constant rage. This mental illness is what made not recognizing phlegm or waiting another forty minutes seem perfectly logical at the time.

On Sept 6th, Calia asserted with pride on WXXI’s radio program Connections With Evan Dawson that this country was founded on the ideal of equal opportunity and we must ensure that, unfettered for all. This mental illness allows blacks to carry on knowing the idea was a perjury even as the founders’ ink was drying. Only our polite management of this mental illness for order’s sake allows white people to continue to cling so gravely to this original lie.

Now the term “white privilege” unfairly categorizes men like Calia and robs them of their individual accomplishments and identities and he’s angry. He should have dinner one night at any black home on Jefferson Avenue where generations have had practice at managing this same anger. They’ll show him how it’s done.

“Pay No Attention To That Racism Behind The Curtain!”

“Ha, ha, ha!” LOL with the hardiest chortle I can muster. You know how you’ve always known something but one day it sort of clicks in a way that it never did before and you really “get it”? Racism was originally and has always been a way to control other white people. I’ll be darned my white friends, the joke’s been entirely on you all along. 

I hope you really get that so you will finally, truly understand that the dismantling of racism isn’t something WE (non-white people) need your help with. You have a pony in this race too.

Let’s go back to Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676. Around this time, monied plantation owners paid for a man’s passage overseas to the thirteen colonies in exchange for a commitment to some years of work as an indentured servant. Tracts of land were paid out to a servant upon completion of their contract as “freedom dues”. Plantation owners kept the best land for themselves, of course. Freedom dues land was usually less arid and on the outskirts of the settlements, subject to more frequent contact with both friendly and hostile Native Americans.

Enter Nathaniel Bacon, a well heeled Englishman with a chunk of money from his dad running ahead of accusations he’d cheated another man out of his inheritance. Bacon bought land on the outskirts and found his expansion ambitions hindered by pre-existing treaty arrangements between the Natives and the Jamestown governor. His neighbors, disgruntled former indentured servants both white and black (African slavery as we know it hadn’t quite evolved yet) were meagerly eeking out a living. They were promised if they worked hard and followed the rules, they too could one day live like plantation gentry. Instead many were broke, fighting off Indian attacks, and without wives to boot due to the shortage of women. Not all were poor, Bacon’s neighbors represented all facets of race and means. They were truly a rainbow coalition.

Bacon showed up in the middle of all of this and passed out generous portions of a most excellent brandy. “What’s the government doing for us, the little guy?” he proclaimed emphatically. “They’re taxing us to death but not doing a damn thing to protect us from Indians. And what about those Indians, why is the governor coddling them anyway? Seems like the land they’re on ought to belong to decent Christian folk like us!” 

The men all replied “yeah, decent Christian folk like us!” Gathering their rifles and tiki torches, they overtook the nearby Native American settlements, friend or foe status notwithstanding, then marched to Jamestown and burned it to the ground too. History romanticizes Bacon’s Rebellion as that brief, shining moment where an egalitarian coalition of people from all walks of life united against the greed of the tiny class of rich and connected. Early America’s Occupy Wall Street. 

Fast forward, England sent reinforcements, Bacon died of dysentery, the movement lost its resolve, men were hung, you get the picture. And America did what it has always done since, what has now become the go-to playbook.

The owning class saw this cross section of people uniting and said “if they ever figure out that together they outnumber us, our monopoly over resources would be over. We’ve got to figure out a way to throw the white proletariat a bone while still keeping the meat for ourselves.” 

Et Voilà, the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705 [and 1691] were born. 

They specified that persons who were not Christian before they came to the colonies (non-white people) would now be slaves for life with no chance to end their contracts. A white person who married a black person, free or otherwise, would be banished from white society. A white servant could not be beaten naked without an order from the justice of the peace, whereas no such due process was afforded a black servant. Free black men could not purchase the contracts of white indentured servants. A white servant woman who bore a black child gave her child up in servitude until the child came to age thirty one, such children being referred to in the codes as “that abominable mixture and spurious issue.” An Indian, black or mulatto who struck a Christian (white person) in self defense or for any other reason would receive thirty lashes.

Notice these laws didn’t actually give white people anything. All they did was take away from black people, making white people now feel like they had more in comparison to someone else. It gave whites pretend status and power, no more than a wooden nickel. A cheap county fair trinket that said “thanks for playing.” But the nickel held weight in their pockets, almost the same as real money. In the absence of a real fair shake, the weight of this wood and the dreams they represented would do for now. And, like a cheap county fair trick, the tactic took work-a-day white folks’ eyes off the wealthy, who were still making money and acquiring the fertile land, while preserving the hope that if they just kept working any one of them could go home with that giant stuffed panda hanging in the back called The American Dream. Historian and activist Tim Wise explains it beautifully in this video. (Jump to 10:30-14:12)

Fast forward, again, to the American Civil War. During slavery, the South had an insane number of what today we call “the one percenters” thanks to slave labor. Guess what that did? Made a good living scarce for average white workers. Eleven Southern states seceded from the Union and, after four horrendous years, were dragged back kicking and screaming like runaway slaves themselves. The Confederacy was again part of the United States. 

The federal government had an interest in investing in the rebuilding of the South since we were all one big happy again. But no, white Southerners said “listen, it’s enough for us if you’d just go away and not interfere as we proceed to lynch, cheat, and kick the shit out of black people in exchange for our burnt farms and beleaguered pride.” The Feds said “hey, if it doesn’t cost us any more money, we’re good with that.” They packed up and left, turning a blind eye to decades of Jim Crow laws, lynching, and the pleas of law abiding, tax paying black citizens begging for help. In the end that’s all whites of the Confederacy fought for, the right to not have to bear the indignity of having blacks stand among them as equals. Then they’d have had to take an honest look at how lowly they had actually become. They preferred the comforting weight of those wooden nickels in their pockets. You can argue with me all day that the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery. I’m just talking about the indisputable outcome.

Frank Hyman said it perfectly in this 2017 opinion piece titled “The Confederacy Was A Con Job On Whites And Still Is.” “[M]ost Southerners didn’t own slaves. But they were persuaded to risk their lives and limbs for the right of a few to get rich as Croesus from slavery. For their sacrifices and their votes, they earned two things before and after the Civil War. First, a very skinny slice of the immense Southern pie. And second, the thing that made those slim rations palatable then and now: the shallow satisfaction of knowing that blacks had no slice at all.”

Moving to 1974 Boston, the site of harrowing riots prompted by school desegregation efforts. Around that same time, I was put on a bus and sent to the white side of my town for schooling. I had no idea I was in the middle of this huge social experiment and the entire country was holding its breath. Looking at old news video of Boston, it’s a wonder my mother wasn’t a nervous wreck on a daily basis, God rest her soul. (Maybe she was and never told me….) Meanwhile in white South Boston, projectiles were hurled at busloads of black children, windows broken, violence erupted, police escorts rode three rows deep in front and back of these buses. Here’s your red herring though. At the time, South Boston was the locus of the highest concentration of white poverty in the country. Not Apalachia, not Mississippi, South Boston. Feeling powerless to take the fight to business and government entities, white people instead threw rocks at busloads of children as if to say “we don’t got nuthin else but the belief that we’re at least better than black people. We’re not giving up our last wooden nickels without a fight.” And the rich went on about their business while the attention of Boston’s poor whites were diverted–as usual. (See Michael Patrick McDonald in this video at 23:05-30:52)

For a long time I had a hard time seeing myself as a “real writer.” I didn’t feel like I had anything new to say that hasn’t already been said. For whatever reason, humans just need to hear the same thing fifty different ways over years and years. So here you are reading me when revered scholar and one of the founding members of the N.A.A.C.P., W.E.B Du Bois, said over eighty years ago in his 1935 work Black Reconstruction In America:

“[Uniting black and white commoners] failed to work in the South, and it failed to work because the theory of race was supplemented by a carefully planned and slowly evolved method, which drove such a wedge between the white and black workers  that there probably are not today in the world two groups of workers with practically identical interests who hate and fear each other so deeply and persistently and who are kept so far apart that neither sees anything of common interest.

It must be remembered that the white group of laborers, while they received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage. They were given public deference and titles of courtesy because they were white. They were admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools. The police were drawn from their ranks, and the courts, dependent on their votes, treated them with such leniency as to encourage lawlessness. Their vote selected public officials, and while this had small effect upon the economic situation, it had great effect upon their personal treatment and the deference shown them. White schoolhouses were the best in the community, and conspicuously placed, and they cost anywhere from twice to ten times as much per capita as the colored schools. The newspapers specialized on news that flattered the poor whites and almost utterly ignored the Negro except in crime and ridicule. 

Mark Twain said it in 1884 in what was for me the most memorable passage of his book The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn. The titular character’s father, “Pap” Finn, was the town’s wayward drunk, regarded so poorly as to be beyond the Christian grace of a hopeful prayer for his redemption. “Pap” erupted into an N-word laden bluster about a black, college educated man he’d encountered wearing the most impeccable suit of clothes one could imagine. The man was said to be fluent in several languages. “Pap”, incensed the gentleman didn’t understand that despite his refinement it was still his place to yield the sidewalk to a white man such as he, shoved the fellow off the curb. The larger tragedy isn’t just that “Pap” is such a ne’er do well. It’s that he would settle for so little in life as another man yielding the side walk to affirm his being.

My white friends, 95% of the economic recovery gains after the 2008 housing crisis went to the top 1% wealthiest people in this country. People were getting up and going to work every day only to still lose their homes, yet bankers and brokerages were distributing year end bonuses. All the while, the eyes of the country’s populace were fixed on making sure the wrong people didn’t end up with some such communist thing as access to affordable health care.

People, this is more than just the rich pitting the poor and working class against each other. This is and always has been about keeping white people looking down on others for their self worth and sense of well being. This has always been about distracting and fooling you.

I hope you get where I’m going with this because I’m going to cheat you out of another edit and a clean ending for now. I have been working on this essay for three days. I’m tired and punchy, and I just need to post something and get back to putting the finishing touches on my “Moving BEYOND “White Fragility” presentation in Rochester this Sunday, August 18th. So if you’re a book agent or editor “pay no attention to that dangling participle behind the curtain!!!…”