Resistance in Black and White: On White Proximity and Solidarity
Originally published on Radical Eyes for Equity | P.L. Thomas | 2017 | P.L. Thomas is the author of Beware The Roadbuilders: Literature As Resistance, available on Amazon ($19.95); Trumplandia: Unmasking Post-Truth America, available on Amazon($14.95) and contributing author to United We Stand, available on Amazon ($14.95)
By P.L. Thomas
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.
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 themto 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.