“I had hoped that one day white people [of the United States] would finally leave behind the belief that they mattered more. But what do you do when this glimmer of hope fades, and you are left with the belief that white people will never change—that the country, no matter what we do, will remain basically the same?” — Professor Eddie Glaude Jr.
After all, the story of the United States is a collection of crossroads that have seen the settler colonial thesis take baby steps towards the correct direction, only to witness the inertia, in the form of white “supremacy,” white backlash, and manifest re-destiny shove the body of justice back 20 steps, 100 paces, and with the ultimate goal of arriving back to 400 years ago.
The 13th Amendment cracked the window open, slightly, 8 years of Reconstruction made it even more agape, offering a momentary glimpse of the “justice for all ” paradigm on which the U.S. settler colonial project was ostensibly “founded.”
Unfortunately, we neglected to appoint sentries to keep the window of justice open such that a breeze of equality could flow freely and thereby mollify the heat emanating from the lie that “America” is morally exceptional. The consequences of this undersight include the shutting of the window by Jim Crow, furnished with the concrete of white “supremacy’s” redemption.
The 1960s Civil Rights epoch chiseled through, albeit marginally, and re-opened the window, cracked it open really, but we left no one to marshall the opening. The result was a physics of injustice, an opposite and unequal reaction that yielded infiltration of Black communities, assassination and possession of Black bodies, the rise of Richard Nixon, Lee Atwater, Newt Gingrich, and the so-called Southern Strategy.
But at the end of the day, far too many of the contestants turned out to be nothing more than a metaphorical Lance Armstrong: that is, a romantic fictional hero, propped up on performance-enhancers on the idea of a Black liberation that they never really wanted to do the work for. The summer fling is over.
If Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta were Black and happened to star in a musical turned hit movie about the greasy summer when white folk met Black liberation, it would have included a tune with lyrics like:
It turned colder that’s where it ends,
So I told her we’d still be friends,
Then we made our true love vow,
Wonder what she’s doing now;
Summer dreams ripped at the seams, but oh those summer nights… [on street corners]”
It’s almost as if this summer Black Lives Matter became the new Studio 54 for white folk. As we saw many putting on their “protest clothes” and a persona for weekend parties on street corners standing as clubs. But by Monday, it was business as usual, their good deeds done and their consciences intact for the week ahead when privileges would be enjoyed and any guilt generated during the week could be absolved via acute catharsis, complete with BLM posters and played out chants the very next weekend, on the same street corners.
Since June we have observed white support for the Black Lives Matter “movement” plummet from 60 percent to less than 50 percent in September, and according to two Economist/YouGov polls, the number of white people who found racism to be a “big problem fell from 45 percent to 38 percent during the same time frame. What appeared to be the prelude to a racial justice momentum has proven to be nothing more than a perfunctory “racial justice” moment.
In his latest book, Begin Again, chronicling the life and works of the Prophet James “Jimmy” Baldwin, preeminent scholar Professor Eddie Glaude Jr. offers a poignant inference for the precipitous descent of white attitudes, “In these moments, the country reaches the edge of fundamental transformation and pulls back out of a fear that genuine democracy will mean white people will have to lose something—that they will have to give up their particular material and symbolic standing in the country.”
To be clear, the “particular material” and “symbolic standing” the Brother Professor is referencing is “whiteness,” a commodity that white people are simply not ready to give up.
As my [full disclosure] older sister, Philadelphia-based Justice seeker and grassroots organizer YahN’e Ndgo puts it, “There is only a progressive adventure, in which white people play at politics and call it activism. And nothing happening in this adventure is truly revolutionary, since it is not at all an effort to overthrow the systems that oppress.”
Is this to say that this summer was nothing more than a farce? In order to truly answer this question, journalist Hal Harris contends that white people will need to really dig deep and fill the void of their understanding of what she refers to as “ancestral pain.”
In Harris’s recent piece, White Allies Must Confront Their Heritage of Sabotaging Black Movements, she provides a sketch that may explain the white flight from Black liberation we’re currently observing. Therein she offers, “Politics reveal the soul of a folk. As a nation, the white polity is fed a diet of quick, painless solutions: a swing election here, a few months of protest there.” She goes on to describe a phenomena characterized by Shay Steward-Bouley as “white dirty pain.”
“Can you feel the pain of your ancestors? Can you feel how whiteness envelopes you and shackles you, even when you want to do better? The dismantling of whiteness is soul work. Are you ready?” — Shay Steward-Bouley
Harris explains that white dirty pain, “ultimately looks like denial,” and contributes to the intermittent efforts of white folk who are ostensibly more activated by the aftermath of Black death than the maintenance and edification of Black life. She goes on to offer an admonishment if this doesn’t change, “The [summer] protests become a politics of aimless self-flagellation rather than clear agitation for change.”
White dirty pain cannot be eviscerated via white fragility, the same we saw on display when certain white activists were called in for their successful gentrification of Black Liberation struggles. And white dirty pain cannot be addressed simply by READING Dr. DiAngelo’s brilliant book, White Fragility. And no, reading Ibram X. Kendi does not make you anti-racist by osmosis, nor does having his book on display when your Black “friends” come over.
For as Steward-Bouley reminds us, “It isn’t enough to be heartbroken when the next Black person is shot and probably killed. It isn’t enough to read the latest anti-racism book or blog post. It isn’t enough to throw a few bucks in the tip jars of Black and Brown activists. It isn’t enough to discuss racism and create a racial justice or equity committee.” She goes on to explain, “For white-bodied people, you have to go deeper and that means truly understanding why we are trapped in this history, it means confronting your ancestral pain, so that you can move forward and use that knowledge to share with other white people.”
In the process, BLM has been commodified, watered down, raisins added to its potato salad, dub-stepped on, Elvised, bleached and rendered into a password to enter a “woke” white folk speakeasy where there’s more Kool Aid drinking than actual thinking.
It seems that the latest Black-face interlopers: Jessica Krug, CV Vitollo-Haddad (who clearly took that scene from True Romance WAAAY too far), and Stachuel Cole (proving that as effective as COINTELPRO was at a counter-insurgency, her shit is on a whole new level), all taking a page out of the godmother of social location shape-shifting, N’Kechi Amare Diallo, formerly known as Rachel Dolezal (I shit you not), were carbon-based metaphors for the white folk summer fling with Black Liberation, a sadistic reciprocal of Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks.
I am not saying that all white people have to take a page out of John Brown’s book, though I would not necessarily consider that inimical to Black Liberation either.
For as the good folk at Indigenous Action teach us in their opus, Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex,“Where struggle is commodity, allyship is currency. Ally has also become an identity, disembodied from any real mutual understanding of support. The term ally has been rendered ineffective and meaningless.”
And “ineffective and meaningless” is manifested in myriad forms including milquetoast and mayonnaise candidates running for office who believe exercising actual racial justice includes tawdry campaign ads about a couple of houses they fixed in the hood while commanding a six figure salary as the ED of a non profit, BLM paraphernalia in windows (though not as much as this summer it seems), and Facebook posts with sanitized MLK quotes.
Black folk can be tour guides and [PAID] consultants, but we cannot be the vehicles for white people. Until this great alabaster emancipation occurs, expect nothing more than a continuation of a perpetual “Social Justice Halloween” where white folk put on costumes that they can take off whenever they choose, and especially when the wages of their whiteness begin to diminish. The challenge then is to dismantle “whiteness” altogether and to not equate or conflate it with Blackness, which was, and is, a necessary genesis and perpetual motion for survival, celebration and rejection of the idea that white = right and Black = lack.
The fires that blazed this summer have flickered out along with the glow that illuminated the hopes of so many Black folk that the summer fling moment could actually lead to perpetual momentum. Yet, I suspect that these hopes were always measured.
Many questions were forged in those fires, including, can they incubate a necessary empathy among white folk, and will they still be burning in the winter when the sun embraces the skies less often and we are forced to generate brighter beacons that force us to see each other’s faces if we choose to open our eyes? Unfortunately, the questions appear to have been answered as the snowflakes begin to accumulate on and cover black and brown dirt. And this makes me wonder if Jimmy B’s The Fire Next Time was a proclamation or a question in itself.