Resistance in Black and White: On White Proximity and Solidarity

The uncomfortable history of professional athletes being activists is often whitewashed itself, in part through the sort of revisionism that conservatives seem to reject. Think of how Muhammad Ali was mistreated while the Greatest athlete on the planet in the 1960s and then how he was praised in the decline of his life.

Peter Norman has become a symbol for white athlete proximity to black protests.

Because of ostracized Colin Kaepernick, the current focus on athletes as activists is the NFL, and we must ask how this monstrosity has become the focal point of moral urgency and debate.

The NFL coddles violence in its playing as well as violence outside the lines by the players who are deemed essential. The NFL coddles and embraces a white ownership and white elite players who are directly partisan in their politics, but christens black activism as too political.

The newest version of this circus is a call by black NFL players to their white teammates, resulting in a slow drip of white players showing solidarity with the pre-season protests of a few black players. The talking heads on sports media and those displays of so-called solidarity, however, continue to reek of a white resistance to resistance.

Images of black players sitting, kneeling, and raising a fist with a white teammate standing nearby, with a hand or arm displaying support, is ultimately a show of white correction—a see how I am supporting you but I cannot actually kneel, sit, or raise a fist.

The vitriol of white supremacists and their ideology are likely not the real problem in the U.S. in 2017. Their hatred probably blinds and deafens them to black resistance and white solidarity.

Where we need change the most and where that change has the best chance of making a difference is among whites who consider themselves good people, much like the few white NFL players standing in solidarity with black players.

Whites must consider the following before resisting black resistance:

  • Check the urge to claim you are not racist and instead acknowledge the facts of systemic racism and white privilege without becoming defensive about what those forces say about you personally.
  • Recognize that all whites benefit from white privilege and are complicit in systemic racism even when some whites struggle and even as whites live in ways that seem to them to be “not racist” (“I have black friends”).
  • Black protests against inequity and injustice that focus on blacks is a call that matters to all people, a widening of the circle of equity and justice. Protests grounded in racial inequity are themselves not racist just because they highlight race.
  • Rethink what “racism” means by understanding that it is the combination of race and power, not just race. Blacks expressing anger toward or distrust of whites (as a generalization) is grounded in evidence that these generalizations are valid, but whites expressing white nationalism and white superiority are baseless and hate-filled ideologies that lack merit (race is a social construct and there is no biological differences that could be traced to one identifiable group being superior to the other).
  • Dignify black expressions of resistance and protest by honoring that space (stay out), remaining quiet in order to listen, and never interjecting a “yes, but” commentary.
  • Understand and reject respectability politics. Saying that you support a person’s right to protest, but disagree with the how and where is not an act of solidarity; it is itself an act of racism.
  • Don’t shift the focus of any black protests by asking “what about” and determining what issues matter for others through your white lens.
  • Assume the history you know is flawed, and then, commit yourself to knowing a richer story of history that includes all the voices omitted when the version you learned was being written.
  • Be careful about your solidarity and appreciate when you are checked for appearing to offer your white approval. To agree may often require that you (as noted above) step back and remain silent—even when you have a genuine contribution.
  • Resist confusing any individuals with identifiable groups; do not ask a person to speak for any group and do not assume anyone who looks as if they belong to a group somehow prove any generalization. Blacks such asOJ. Simpson, Bill Cosby, and Ben Carson do not prove any arguments among white resistance to black resistance simply because they echo the white “yes, but.”
  • Step away from blaming black protests of racism for creating or inciting racism; this is blaming the victim and is itself a form of oppression.
  • Solidarity can begin with asking how you can help; the advantages of white privilege are not your problem, but your problem is in what ways you use that privilege, for whose benefit.

Racism and white privilege were created by and maintained by whites with power, mostly ill-got power.

Whites are now responsible for ending both.

To resist black resistance to inequity and injustice is a great white failure that cannot be explained away, must itself be resisted.

Racial Slur

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”

“Incident,” Countee Cullen

Earlier in the summer of 2017 during the controversy over Bill Maher’s use of a racial slur, I wrote a poem [1] that confronts the slur but also ends with an image that haunts me in the wake of Charlottesville and Barcelona.

The tyranny of the threat of being run over rests now in my bones after having been run over with a group of cyclists just 8 months ago.

But I have no direct personal understanding of what James Baldwin confronts about race in the U.S.: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. ” [2]

Along with the pervasive threat of  physical violence and death for any black body even or especially at the hands of the state (the crux of Colin Kaepernick’s protests), there remains the threat of the racial slur.

As Baldwin interrogated:

As witnessed in this video: Watch Out Loud: What Was It Like the 1st Time You Were Called the N-Word?

My first grandchild is starting 3K in a bit more than a week from now. She is a vibrant and affectionate child who happens to be biracial.

She appears at 3 on a path to mostly pass for white—that itself a horrible thing to still be contemplating or acknowledging in 2017. In the dead of winter, people praise her lovely tan.

And she is attending a school in my hometown where my wife teaches; it is a solidly rural small town in the South that is far more white than when I attended those schools.

And when I look at my dear granddaughter, the engine I hear revving is when she will first encounter that racial slur, directed at her—to be defined—or at her father, a tall black man with dreads who, when then dating my daughter, used to leave our house in a hoodie in the time around Trayvon Martin‘s killing.

There is a powerful thing shared between parenting (and grand-parenting) and teaching—spending our time in the care of children and young people.

Parenting involves watching a baby grow into independence and the inevitability of kinds of loss.

But teaching is an ever-refreshed group of children and young people—a sort of permanent fountain of youth.

In that parenting and teaching, then, is a kind of hope. Intoxicating hope.

However, my dearest granddaughter is walking into the world of Trumplandia, and I am nearly bereft of hope, consumed instead by fear.

I am haunted now by a question: What is the critical mass of good people who will act on that goodness in any organization or society for it to matter?

I am haunted now by a realization: The critical mass of truly awful people needed to matter is incredibly few, often needing only one dominant figure head to render the whole organization or society essentially evil.

I am terrified by my midlife understanding of the term “gunning an engine.”

I cannot hold my granddaughter tight enough, long enough.


[1] white folk (switchblade)

But all agon eventually reduces itself to human violence….
But then the world has always made violent use of children.
The Book of Joan, Lidia Yuknavitch

to apologists for Bill Maher

white folk carry “nigger” in their throats

like switchblades secreted in designer boots

there are no excuses for such dormant violences

like white men with slick-backed hair and dark suits

who will slit your throat in a white-hot second

like a volcano spewing lava swallowing barefoot children sleeping

beware these smiling white folk clearing their throats

like an engine cold cranking before plowing over you

[2] “The Negro in American Culture,” Cross Currents, XI (1961), p. 205.

False Equivalence in Black and White

It is well documented that marriage has many benefits for any person, including economic, health, and longevity [1]. Divorce, then, should pose a question about the consequences to both parties.

Even in cases of 50/50 settlements of divorce, an important dynamic exists:

Ultimately, the overall economic quality of a man’s life, based on earnings and amount spent on living expenses, increases after his divorce. He continues to earn more but bears fewer family expenses. The overall economic quality of a woman’s life, post-divorce, decreases. (Rosen, 2009)

While the factors in this inequity are complicated, they are all under a clear difference in gender: after a divorce men retain male privilege and women continue to suffer the consequences of misogyny and sex discrimination (both of which may be mollified or masked while a woman is married).

This example allows us to wade into how people often assume equivalence between two situations or arguments that appear superficially equal; that assumption is a logical fallacy known as false equivalence.

Discussions of logical fallacies, I believe, often feel as if they are much ado about nothing, or merely academic—the stuff of college composition, rhetoric, and philosophy courses.

However, the careful naming of ways people think and communicate are witnessed daily in how we live; currently, the destructive power of false equivalence is on display in the wake of the violence spurred by a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA.

One of the most bitter aspects of the U.S. as a current state of Trumplandia is the racial animosity emboldened by Trump, what has been characterized by the mainstream media as white pain or white angst (often oversimplified and whitewashed as working-class pain and angst).

Just as gender distinguishes the consequences of divorce, in the U.S., socially constructed race distinguishes pain and angst.

To be blunt, white pain simply is not equal to black pain since blacks carry daily the inequity of race through their lives while even struggling whites maintain some aspects of white privilege—just as men carry their male privilege even in challenging situations such as divorce.

The false equivalence, then, created with political and public speech about “all lives” or “both sides” or “many sides” fails to address the substantive differences, for example, in Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests (or Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling) from the white nationalists’ rally in Virginia over the removal of a Confederate monument.

BLM and Kaepernick are protest against inequity and calling for integrating all people into the same privileges that whites experience. White nationalists are railing against a false loss (symbolized by the removal of an offensive statue that represents oppression) and promoting racial inequity and segregation.

Again, simply put, two protests are not equal simply because they are protests, and one (BLM) has a moral imperative and a goal of expanding equity while the other (white nationalists) is clinging to an inequitable status quo and a romanticized oppressive past.

Just as expanding the marriage equities to gays never took anything away from advocates for so-called traditional straight marriage, expanding the promise of a just and equitable U.S. to everyone regardless of identity is not some assault on or removal of America but a long overdue path to fulfilling of America.

White nationalism in all its forms—from “Make America Great Again” to the most virulent Neo-Nazis and the KKK—is a plague on the U.S. It must not be equated to demands for equity in our justice system and liberty for all, which are the goals of BLM and counter-protests to white nationalism rallies.

The only thing whites are at risk of losing is their privilege, the false advantages of race that currently disadvantage people of color, the “peculiar benefits” Roxane Gay confronts that work invisibly to those who enjoy them:

We tend to believe that accusations of privilege imply we have it easy and because life is hard for nearly everyone, we resent hearing that. Of course we do. Look at white men when they are accused of having privilege. They tend to be immediately defensive (and, at times, understandably so). They say, “It’s not my fault I am a white man.” They say, “I’m working class,” or “I’m [insert other condition that discounts their privilege],” instead of simply accepting that, in this regard, yes, they benefit from certain privileges others do not. To have privilege in one or more areas does not mean you are wholly privileged. To acknowledge privilege is not a denial of the ways you are marginalized, the ways you have suffered. Surrendering to the acceptance of privilege is difficult but it is really all that is expected.

White nationalism is a denial of white privilege and a calloused clinging to the injustice and inequity that are represented by the monuments and flags white nationalists protect and flaunt.

Black Lives Matter and white nationalism are both bound by race, but they are in no way equal—the former is a call for equity and justice for all and the latter is the gross necrophilia clutching the ideologies that bred the Holocaust and American slavery.

False equivalency is a master’s tool, a rhetorical lie to distract a people from the hard but good work recognizing the unity of all humanity.


[1] Note that this may also be more about gender inequity, however.

Exceptional?: “the right to criticize [America] perpetually”

The U.S. is exceptional.

Exceptionally hypocritical.

Exceptionally delusional.

In a country where patriots are apt to wave fervently the nation’s flag, we are witnessing (mostly passively) in 2017 a professional athlete who took a knee in nonviolent and silent protest become a professional and public pariah.

Yet we in the U.S. routinely express pride for having been birthed out of protest, the Boston Tea Party, and revolution.

It is 2017, and the home of that seminal protest, Boston, remains the most racist fan base in the U.S. and city for a professional football team with owner, coach, and quarterback all supporting Donald Trump—but without any negative consequences for their overt politics.

Free speech in the U.S. is increasingly circumscribed by nationalism as a proxy for race—”Make America Great Again” as code for preserving whiteness.

Adrienne Akins grounds her examination of national and racial identity in the following:

In Notes of a Native Son (1955), James Baldwin poignantly captured the nature of his intense feelings for his nation of birth in stating: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually” (9).

Baldwin, like Muhammad Ali, represents the living ghost haunting Kaepernick’s nightmare—a contemporary resurrection of praise that was contradicted while Baldwin (and Ali) was most prominent and confrontational.

Only in his waning years and after his death did the U.S. begin to concede Ali was the greatest. (Associated Press).

The country that pushed Baldwin into exile issued a stamp with his image only well after his death. See Adrienne Rich’s moving essay on Baldwin and the stamp.

Richard Nixon was elected, many seem to ignore, in the wake of 1960s social unrest, anchored in the Civil Rights movement as well as the counter culture often stereotyped as Hippies.

Nixon’s law-and-order race/class baiting spoke to those most afraid of losing their privileges to the “others”—white America.

Trumplandia is the logical extension of that history—where American exceptionalism, our hypocrisy and delusion, has moved beyond empty political rhetoric (“by gorry/
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum”) to crass nationalism fueled by rhetoric-as-truth (regardless of the evidence otherwise).

The tribalism of crass nationalism denies, as Judith Butler explains, “We are worldless without one another”:

What worries me is that many of us form our sense of obligation toward another on the basis of feelings of identification. If someone else is like us, and that likeness is readily recognizable, then we are more inclined to respond in the way that we would have others respond to us. The harder task is to maintain an obligation to those by whom we feel ourselves to have been injured, to those we fear, or to those whose difference from us seems to be quite severe. This is why I do not think that global obligations can rest on identification, even expanded or expanding identifications; they have to claim us quite regardless of whether or not we feel love or sympathy, for the simple reason that the world is given to us in common and that without each other the world is not given. If the self is the basis of sympathy, our sympathy will be restricted to those who are like us. The real challenge occurs when that extrapolation of the self is thwarted by alterity.

Butler’s insistence for cohabitation feels akin to Baldwin’s refrain about love, a powerful element of his work too often glossed over. Butler argues: “I suppose it is first important to honor the obligation to affirm the life of another even if I am overwhelmed with hostility. This is the basic precept of an ethics of nonviolence, in my view.”

And this bring us full circle to Kaepernick, nonviolent and protesting for equity, ostracized as Baldwin and Ali were in their lifetimes—reduced to “unAmerican” in order to cast him among the Others and to render invalid his refusal to separate his personal and professional ethics (or better yet, his recognition that no one can separate them).

Maybe my opening claims are ill-founded, however. Not that the U.S. is hypocritical and delusional, but that these qualities are somehow exceptional.

Maybe beneath the glitz of consumerism, Americans are merely victims of the worse aspects of being human.

Democracy hasn’t failed, but quite possibly humans are incapable of reaching the high ideals of democracy, equity, and justice.

We have created words for ideas that are just too far beyond our reach as living creatures.

When does one move from “This isn’t working” to “This cannot work”?

The Invisible Politics of White Wealth

The study of silence has long engrossed me. The matrix of a poet’s work consists not only of what is there to be absorbed and worked on, but also of what is missing, desaparecido, rendered unspeakable, thus unthinkable.

Adrienne Rich, Arts of the Possible

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Those who control wealth, politics, and the media have the ability to maintain public attention on where the power elites point their finger.

Trumplandia now has decided that colleges are biased against white students despite college attendance and especially graduation remaining relatively skewed in favor of whites.

The Trump administration has resurrected the affirmative action mantra we witnessed under George W. Bush, who attended an elite university as a legacy and then somehow enrolled in graduate school after being only a C student as an undergrad.

Beware, then, of what the wealthy white elites want us to worry about.

And worry instead about what they are not pointing to, the invisible politics of white wealth.

Is a blank canvas blank? Or white? Or even art?

Consider the examples below.

White males on average score higher than anyone on the SAT, both the math and verbal sections. College admissions remains powerfully influenced by the bias of college admission exams, which are racially biased and greater reflections of privilege than merit.

Testing is a tool to render white wealth privilege invisible.

As noted about W. Bush, when white wealthy men attack affirmative action, they are trying to divert attention away from white wealth affirmative action, such as legacy admissions and the good-old-boy system.

Legacy admissions is a policy to render white wealth privilege invisible.

The current controversy over Colin Kaepernick being too political for a position on any NFL team parallels the affirmative action distraction under Trump. Kaepernick’s silent protests are labeled “political” while the wealthy white owners’ actual political donations and endorsements (and let’s not ignore Tom Brady’s cozying up to Trump) somehow are not discounting politics.

Isolating Kaepernick’s protests as “political” is a strategy to render actual political financing by wealthy whites invisible.

But possibly the ugliest version of this lies in how we find ourselves with Trump as president and the specter of Mark Zuckerberg as a future president.

In recent history, one example is Bill Gates, who masterminded how to mask wealth and privilege as innovation, entrepreneurship, and merit. While there are problems with his work, Malcolm Gladwell offered an unmasking of wealth and success mainly coming from effort and genius that speaks to the Gates-Trump-Zuckerberg effect.

Just a bit of critical unpacking exposes the myth of Gates and Trump being brilliant businessmen; in fact, they have squandered wealth and corporate success often.

It has been the invisible power of white wealth that has buoyed them, and thus, especially with Trump, it is essential for them to maintain that privilege by keeping it invisible.

Fanning the flames of white resentment over the false narrative that racial minorities have any sort of advantage in the U.S. justifies the label “deplorables.”

This is the most corrosive sort of politics, a daily politics of of lies and hatred grounded in whiteness—the invisible thing in the U.S. that defines us.


See Also

America Has Never Had A Merit-Based System For College Attendance, Andre Perry

Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom 60

Thought Experiment: Racism and Republican Politics in the South

Consider this comment from a Republican candidate for governor in South Carolina, framed as “Telling insight as to what an R gov candidate thinks she need to say in a SC primary, circa 2017” by the NYT’s Jonathan Martin:

Now let’s place that in context with an imagined but parallel statement from another country:

Nazi pride

Feel free to discuss.


See Also

South Carolina governor candidate Catherine Templeton’s ‘proud of the Confederacy’ remarks stir controversy

Dismantling Monuments: History as a Living Document