What Do We Do About the Nazis After Charlottesville?

August 11, 2018

How much has this nation changed in one year? In the wake of the murderous rampage of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, we’ve seen an increase in hate crimes and a white supremacist administration who complains about “shit-hole” countries in Africa, puts brown kids in cages, deports asylum seekers, and threatens to revoke the green cards of legal immigrants. Oh, and white nationalists are marching on our capital. Are the racists winning?

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A year later the same “Jews won’t replace us” thugs who marched in Charlottesville are on their way to the nation’s capital and the city is bracing itself for more right-wing violence.

I’m in Washington, DC, participating in some events in response to the second “Unite the Right” rally. Part of this was appearing at a teach-in to counter domestic extremism. It was organized by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and held at the Washington Hebrew Congregation. Right-wing extremist expert Leonard Zeskind spoke about the roots of white nationalism. I was part of a panel entitled “Developing Effective Responses to Eliminate Hate,” featuring Dr. Wes Bellamy, Vice Mayor, Charlottesville, VA, Lecia Brooks from the Southern Poverty Law Center, Monica Hopkins, from the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, D.C., Tony McAleer, Board Chair of Life After Hate, and Chris Magyarics, Senior Investigative Researcher at the ADL. It all ended with a mighty 45-minute sermon from Rev. Dr. William Barber II that made me feel like I was sitting in the lap of God.

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Teach-ins and sermons are great, but this one had the ears of members of Congress and you felt a shift.

The question is – What do you do when Nazis come to your town? This event is one response. You organize to educate and embolden the resistance. Sometimes the batteries of social justice needs to be recharged and there’s nothing like a few rousing political speeches and a sermon from on high to get folks back on track. Otherwise, what’s on TV? A body can waste precious hours scrolling through a Facebook feed when it could be engaging with minds in a room with other folks who have the same end goal. It’s so easy to be distracted these days but to be in a synagogue full of people bending the arc of history towards justice seemed a good way to spend a Friday afternoon.

We use these words now – build community capacity. By educating people to the threats present, both existential and physical, but also about what has been done and can be done, you build a resilience. A resilience to say no (again) and resilience to do what needs to be done (again). Fighting the forces of oppression is a marathon, not a street battle. (Sorry, Antifa.) As Rev. Barber said last night, if you really want to fight racism in America, get serious about fighting the voter suppression by Republicans that silences minority voters.

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A point I made at the event (which made it out over the C-SPAN airwaves), is that I don’t want to play Wack-a-Mole with alt-right “Western chauvinists” (formerly known as neo-Nazis). I don’t want to have to plan my weekends around what they’re latest stunt. That lets them drive the narrative. It hands the power to organized racists. “Well, I was going to go hiking this weekend but the Patriot Prayer is having another rally so I have to go downtown and tell them they’re idiots.” Not gonna do it.

Instead, let’s do this work everyday in our communities, in our schools, in our places of worship, and our workplaces. And in our leisure time as well when our friends say something bigoted and think we won’t call them on it. Building community capacity is a full time job but it pays off in numerous ways.

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First and foremost is food. What brings people together more than food? Last week in a Portland park their was an immigrant family having a picnic. Some uppity white lady told them that they didn’t belong in this country and to “Go back where you belong.” Another white lady told uppity lady to leave them alone. She shut the bigotry down. Then the community, an area called Rose City, came together in a unity rally to support the vulnerable in their community. There was music and food. Lots off food. I stuffed myself with tamales. A local ice cream truck rolled out and gave away free scoops. Community capacity is delicious.

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Not in our town – strength for our neighbors

(For the next section of the blog, I’m writing at the Starbucks at the Trump International Hotel. You know, for irony. #Portlandrepresent)

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The second; community gatherings build capacity by linking us together as neighbors, not in front of screens, but face to face. As much as I appreciate a live tweet, the hugs shared last night were more encouraging to keep up the fight than I might have guessed. This includes from veteran social justice warriors that were in the trenches when I was a wee pup to high school kids who earnestly asked, “How can we do this anti-racism work in our school?” More hugs would be a good place to start.

The truth is liberation work is hard. And it’s a thousand times harder for people of color than it is for me. I can “turn it off” and go back to my white privilege bubble and say, Yeah, I’m a gonna take that fight on next week. It’s hard because requires dedication to see the subtly of oppression, including our own internalized white supremacy. It’s hard because, at times, the Trump white nationalist march to make America 1850 again seems unstoppable. And it’s hard because some of your allies will try to pull you down, like crabs in a barrel trying to stop another crab from lifting itself out (to help free all the goddamn crabs).

I posted a link to C-SPAN feed to the teach-in on the Coalition Against Hate Crimes Facebook page and this was the first comment.  You still hang out with Nazis on weekend to “create dialog”? A dismissive white dude as Chair of OCAHC is still a bad look, I could care less about your credentials. The average POC has far more expertise on this subject matter. I had to check my white fragility because my impulse was to fight. Instead, I replied,  I’d love to buy you a coffee one day and tell you why I think my work is important. And you can tell me what you think I can best do to help the cause. (Still waiting for a response.)

This is a marathon. Let’s build each other up instead of tearing each other down.

Cut off their oxygen 

Alt-Right Organized Free Speech Event In Boston Met With Counter Protest

The third benefit of the community building is it deprives the hate machine of fuel. The alt right is actively recruiting young white males who have no sense of connection. If you are alienated, you will join any group that says it  will build you up, and that’s exactly what thuggish groups like the Proud Boys and Identity Evropa do (and your traditional street gang or cult, for that matter). It’s not the racism that attracts whites to the groups. It’s not understanding the social and demographic shifts that they are living through and the only ones who are explaining the “whys” to them are “Western chauvinists.” It’s not surprising that they are attracting lots of white guys who think everything was better in a mythical past. “Again.”

If we have strong communities where neighbors know neighbors, including that new family from Syria or El Salvador, the alt right hate spin has less pull. Those targeted people, even older white men with beer bellies, are less alienated and less likely to fall for the simplistic rhetoric of the far-right. I think everyone wants the same thing, to live in a (tag Paul McCartney song) peaceful neighborhood. I don’t need to join an extremist group. I have friends and neighbors I care about and I’d rather defend them against the threat of your extremist group, thank you very much.

I won’t speak against the people who will show up to directly confront the alt right boys this weekend in Washington, DC, Charlottesville, and wherever else they are seeking photo ops. Those counter-protestors are willing to risk their necks to say that fascists are not welcome and don’t represent the true direction of this country’s future. I’ve spent plenty of time on the frontline. It’s both exhilarating and righteous. I hope they get lots of pictures of these “patriots” so they can be shamed back under their rocks. But I also want to reach out to these alienated folks, who seem so full of anger, and invite them to our side, where we are less alienated and there’s better food. Some of the most committed anti-racists I know are former members of the hate movement.

Tonight there is a vigil in front of the home of alt right godfather Richard Spencer in Arlington. Maybe someone will invite him out for some pho or tapas. Maybe Spencer will be a “former” on the second anniversary of the Unite the Right march that led to the death of Heather Heyer. Maybe he’ll be on a panel in a synagogue asking for forgiveness and permission to join our marathon.

How do we respond to Charlottesville? Some liberal hippie once said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Let’s start there.

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We’re all intersectional (just some more than others).

July 6, 2018

I mentioned that I was developing a workshop on intersectionality on Twitter and one of my social justice-minded followers replied, “Why do you see yourself as a person who is qualified to lead a workshop about it?” The implication was, what would a straight white male know about intersecting forms of oppression? I deleted my snarky defensive reply that I almost posted, reigned in my white fragility, and worked her valid question into my workshop.

Intersectionality refers to the way forms of oppression can combine for people to create obstacles that are missed if we just look at things like racism or agism or homophobia in isolation. I’ve been lecturing about it for 20 years but recently learned it has an illustrative origin, which, like many important theoretical ideas, was born on a factory floor.

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Kimberly Crenshaw, a UCLA law professor was reviewing a discrimination suit filed against General Motors by a group of black women. GM had the case dismissed because they argued that they actively hired both African-Americans and women so, you know, they were good. But Crenshaw learned that the African-Americans that were hired were black men on the factory floor and the women that were hired were white women in the clerical pool. Attempts to remedy racism and sexism didn’t help black women. Their experience was something else, the intersection of racism and sexism.

Sometimes I will ask my students to describe the experience of Asian-Americans. It’s a prompt that is not meant to have a response. There is no Asian-American experience because there is no monolithic Asian experience in America. To equate the lived experience of a fourth generation Chinese-American to someone whose family came from Cambodia in the 1970s or a Muslim from Malaysia or a Shinto from northern Japan is just silly. There are too many important variables to conceive of for even one unifying theme. Throw gender into the mix and it gets even more complex.

Speaking of, the roots of this idea were in the 2nd wave feminist movement when it became clear that “feminist issues” were really just the issues of middle-class white women who wanted to take on sexual harrasment in the workplace and the empty promises associated with suburban housewife drudgery. When women of color said, “Hey, we want to talk about our experiences, too, so we need to discuss racism!” the core (white) feminists said, “No, this is about sexism not racism. That meeting is down the hall.” This led scholar bell hooks to write the founding text of the issue in 1981, Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism. In it she points out the convergence of racism and sexism was a key weapon of the slave traders to further devalue black women and persists to this day.

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Intersectionality has all kinds of dimensions beyond race and gender. Class, gender identity, sexuality, immigration experience, and many other measures add to the mix. Think of how a poor white male experiences white privilege or masculinity differently than a rich white male. Is a gay person with a physical disability going to experience their sexuality the same way as a non-disabled gay person? I can tell you that an undocumented immigrant who is white (like the 50,000 undocumented Irish in America) have it a hell of a lot easier than the undocumented people who are brown. Think of it as a complex Venn diagram where each intersection produces something unique, like the varied ingredients of a smoothie. And typically that smoothie tastes like multiple forms of oppression.

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There’s a lot of blowback on the topic, mostly from white men. Just put “intersectionality” into a YouTube search and see the dumb videos dedicated to “debunking” the actual experiences of others. They scream “Identity politics!” which is a common refrain among those trying to keep the playing field uneven and privileging themselves. Intersectional thinking is actually the opposite of identity politics. It recognizes what is unique about each of our struggles. A first-generation South Asian immigrant who is also Muslim, female, and gay is not served by being put into just one demographic box and should not have to pick any single identity. (“On Mondays I’m an immigrant. Tuesdays are gay days…)

The reason this matters is that marginalized people who have these intersections are even more marginalized because of them. People want to be seen and heard not pushed into the shadows even further. I’m doing these workshops because this has a real impact in the workplace. One study found that people who feel they can be their authentic selves at work are three times more likely to say they are proud to work at the company or agency and more than four times likely to say they feel empowered to do their best work. Being intersectional is good for business! That should get straight-white-male capitalist’s attention.

It’s easy for straight-white-males to dismiss this important issue. What a hassle to have to learn all these new feminist terms, right? I mean, it doesn’t affect them. Or does it? Good news, fellas, everyone is intersectional. Oppression intersect but so do privileges AND oppressions and privileges.

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In this workshop I used myself as example of the intersection of three identities; white, male, and Southern. As a child I learned being a southerner was devalued and did my best to lose any hint of a southern accent. (If you want to hear it, buy me a shot of Jack Daniels.) My whiteness intersects with my Southernness – Southern whites are supposed to be racist and pine for “Dixie.” My maleness also intersects with my Southernness – Southern men learn violence and anti-intellectual posturing at an early age. So you can imagine the learned identity when you put all three together. And that is my struggle that a white male from Oregon might not see.

We’re working at the next level of anti-racism and bigotry here. This isn’t about segregated schools and lunch counters. When we get to addressing micro-aggressions, implicit bias, privilege, and intersectionality, we’re making real progress. There will be the usual pushback from those who have a vested interest in not making equity a reality (“Hey, they had Obama for eight years!”), but I think even those folks can be brought into the conversation. When people are allowed to exist in their own skin, as complicated as it might be, everyone is happier.

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America is Becoming a Dystopian Nightmare: What Do We Do Now???

June 28, 2018

I’m sick to my stomach. It doesn’t seem like a survivable idiocracy at this point. It feels like the drift into authoritarianism. Both my undergraduate and doctoral work focused on how fascist movements emerge. My professional work as a researcher has centered on the threat of right-wing extremism. I have to slap myself to make sure this is not a bad dream. Trade wars lead to depressions which lead to authoritarian strongmen willing to do whatever it takes to make their nation “great again.” Is this 1938 or 1968? Old straight white men don’t see it, but almost everyone else sees the writing on the wall.

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At least the summer of 1968 had just a few central issues to focus America’s rage on; the Vietnam War, institutional racism, would the Detroit Tigers make it to the World Series (yes). For us in 2018 it’s dizzying. Our president alienating our allies and playing footsies with dictators, then lying about about a member of Congress, children being ripped from their parents by government police forces, the Supreme Court rolling back reproductive rights, worker rights, and banning many Muslims from entering the country. And that’s just in the last two weeks! How are we supposed to get a footing to fight back?

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Or is that their plan?

The announcement of the resignation of Justice Anthony Kennedy from the Supreme Court should be taken as a monumental threat to our democracy but, jeez, it’s just another headline. There’ a protest about it, but I was going to go to the protest about the Supreme Court ending fair share support of public unions, and also those kids on the border, and what were we angry about this time last month? I can’t keep up. I’ve got Trump fatigue and that’s good for Trump and his cult of personality. Is this how Germans felt in 1929?

The Supreme Court situation is more than dire. George H.W. Bush recognized stacking the courts with his “yes-men” was the way to go 30 years ago. It’s an old tactic but it was raised to a new height of authoritarian rule in 2016 when Senate Leader and human turtle Mitch McConnell refused to hold hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court pick until after the election. Most of us thought, Fine, then President Hillary will appoint someone who is actually a progressive.

Trump’s pick (which constitutionally should have been Obama’s but GOP + U.S. Constitution = meh), Neil Gorsuch has helped to swing the bench away from the center and to the hard right. The decisions this past week prove that hard fought victories for women, workers, and a sane anti-terrorism policy can be zeroed out by a single vote. Now that Kennedy, the last remaining (Reagan-appointed) centrist is leaving, Trump can recreate the court in his image. Do you think he’s going for judicial balance or for a rubber stamp for his destructive policies? Look for Don, Jr. to be his go to “judge.”

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It’s clear that Roe v. Wade’s days are numbered and women and girls will soon be dying again in back alley abortions. (If Donald J. Trump ever paid for your abortion, now would be the time to come forward.) Marriage equality is in the cross-hairs as President Pussy Grabber tries to appease his evangelical gay-hating “Christian” base. Border policy that rounds up the “infestation” (his word) of non-white immigrants will be expanded. Start looking for an expiration date on green cards. But most of all the Trump Court will hand more of the people’s rights over to corporations and destroy the democratic (that’s a small “d”) fiber that made this country the shining city on the hill.

Trump looks more and more like Saddam Hussein every day, pushing this country into a permanent one party rule. He’s been quietly appointing scores of judges to the lower courts, including white supremacists. And we’re focused on Roseanne Barr and whether or not Sarah Huckabee Sanders can eat a burrito in peace. Post-modern theorist Frederick Jameson warned us that late capitalism would be characterized by an obsession with “politics” while the rich and powerful consolidated their control over the masses. “Trump’s creating an authoritarian state!” “Yeah, but did you hear on Fox & Friends what Maxine Waters said?”

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Speaking of TV shows, as I’ve mentioned before, this all seems like a preview of season three of The Handmaid’s Tale. Every woman and gay person who voted for Trump (or didn’t vote for Clinton) will see their rights rolled back. It might not be the government that is lynching “gender traitors” en mass and forcing non-Christians to work in the wastelands, but the hate mongers who love Trump and hate those who don’t will have high octane fuel for their pogroms. I spent the hour after the Kennedy announcement on white supremacist discussion pages and the Neo-Nazis could not be more excited about where Trump could take this.

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Where I’m stuck is what to do. When I watch The Handmaid’s Tale, I’m cheering for the terrorists. Whoever said that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter was right on the money. King George III called the American revolutionaries “terrorists” because of their asymmetrical warfare. Our country was founded by terrorists/freedom fighters. But there are also the Timothy McVeigh-style terrorists who call for a “2nd American Revolution” to purge America of its control by the “global Zionist cabal.” The 2nd Amendment Trumpies are itching for a civil war and any excuse to unload their ammo on random “libtards.” So, I think blowing shit up is probably off the table.

Can we rally behind a corporately-funded Democratic Party to plug the holes of this sinking ship in November? They don’t have a very good track record as of late and have done a perfect job of blowing perfect opportunities. Of course, all those “progressives” who refused to vote for Hillary in 2016 pretty much handed America Trump on a Mir-a-Lago platter. Can the entrenched misogyny be overcome by the clarion call of an Elizabeth Warren or are we just doomed to have to follow whatever old white man can puff up his chest the biggest?

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I’m so torn. There’s a big part of me that believes Trump supporters are either complete morons or racists (recognizing that there is a third possibility, that they’re both). There’s also a big part of me that believes Trump supporters, like the Nazi skinheads I have spent thirty years studying, have just been misled by those speaking to their emotional distress and can be rescued. And therefore that America can be rescued from this abyss it stands on the edge of. It’s easier to say, “You’re wrong and you are being lied to” than it is to say, “Hey, let’s talk about our common values and how we can act on something other than fear.” Are we up for that challenge?

But right now fear is driving these people, like this ludicrous fear of MS-13. (I want “Angel Family” rallies for people killed by the police, or corporate malfeasance, or falling trees.) Trump’s “campaign events” look more and more like the fascist rallies of 80 years ago, full of scapegoating and dangerous conspiracy theories packaged in easily busted lies. Are his crowd paid actors (like they were at his campaign announcement) or are these people for real?

I don’t know what to do right now. A little angel is sitting on my shoulder and saying, “Randy, you’ve studied this phenomenon your entire adult life. You know what’s coming. Gather your family and get the fuck out.” But part of me wants to reason with these people one last time and remind them that we can be one nation again. That this politics of division will be the end of us. I’m ready to put my shoulder to the wheel to build bridges instead of walls. I’m ready to fight and recruit allies. Even old white men (and their “classy” (barf) women) can be reasoned with. It’s not over yet. America, I’m giving you until November.

 

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Thinking about Racial Reparations

June 10, 2018

Growing up in the Deep South you get to hear white people say a lot of foolish things. Things like, “I never owned a slave, why are black people angry at me?” And “racism ended with the Civil War. Black people need to get over it!” In 1992, a white student of mine at Reinhardt College (in rural Georgia) said this to me; “Racism ended in 1865. Black people are just complaining.” I asked him, “What day? There had be a day when there was racism and then a day when there was no racism that we can celebrate. There should at least be a stamp or a commemorative plate to honor the day that racism ended and black people just started complaining.” He had no response.

Unless you are Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed “least racist person,” you know that racism didn’t end with end of Confederate slavery in 1865. It folded into brutal lynchings and the madness of Jim Crow, and then institutionalized into the “war on crime” and every type of systematic racial bias you can imagine; housing, health care, hiring, and on and on. People of color know this in 2018. White people, not so much.

Obviously, this country still needs to have an on-going conversation about race, not a one-day Starbucks seminar. Having a successful black president for eight years didn’t solve the problem and kicking Roseanne Barr off ABC didn’t solve the problem. White people can’t switch on a Beyoncé song and proclaim themselves woke. I think some whites are figuring that out. But if you want to talk about racial reparations, all that white liberal wokenness goes right out the window.

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I was one of those who was leery of the call for reparations for a crime from centuries ago but I should have not been so fragile. For decades I have lectured about the legacy of slavery and how the psychological effects of the enslavement of an entire race are still with us all, including with African-Americans. It’s not just rednecks waving the Confederate battle flag, declaring, “the South will rise again!” (That’s code, y’all, for bring back slavery.) It’s not even the persistent brutality towards young men of color by police. The dehumanization of the people of Africa is manifested in daily life. If you are black and your last name is Jackson or Lincoln, you family history starts with slavery. (Something those named Obama could sidestep.) If you’re black and worry that you’re not light-skinned enough or don’t have the “good hair,” that legacy is there. Do you think there might be a price tag for all that trauma?

Another thing you will hear white people say is, “Well, black people can be racist, too!” This is true but not in the way my cracker brethren think. Black people don’t think white people are inferior, but many think black people are inferior. Studies have demonstrated that many African-Americans have internalized the racism that the world has laid on them for centuries. Just ask a little black girl which is better, the black doll or the white doll. “Black is beautiful” tried to undo the imposed self-hatred but it’s still a light-skinned black person’s status that reminds those who are “too black” that not much has changed.

I was lucky enough to (briefly) serve on the dissertation committee of Dr. Joy DeGruy at Portland State University. She’s the author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing and it needs to be assigned reading for white people. She outlines the gut-wrenching inhumanity of slavery and how those deep psychological traumatic wounds are passed down from generation to generation. That blacks are savages, rapists, thugs, or (as Roseanne just tweeted) apes deserving of what pain comes their way persists to this minute. Where is the class action suite on that?

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There is a young black activist in Portland named Cameron Whitten who has really forced me to take the issues of reparations seriously. We are a long way from “40 acres and a mule,” but there are real ways we can talk about making an amends today for the sins of the past. He has started to host “reparation happy hours” (now “Power Hours,” since it doesn’t have to involve alcohol) where white people who get it can contribute to gatherings for black people. At these gatherings black people can build community, political agency, and, yes, leave with a little bit of cash. (There is something poetic about black people being handed a ten spot with abolitionist Alexander Hamilton on it.) It doesn’t make up for the cumulative impact of slavery but it’s a powerful symbolic act that has real, tangible value.

Of course the right flipped their shit. Fox News tried to paint Cameron as a huckster, playing on white guilt to put money in his pocket (a thought I probably have been guilty of in the past). For the record, he is doing this as a non-profit called Brown Hope. Still, the troll army came after him, lampooning the idea of racial reparations. “Get over it!” they screamed. “You had Obama! What more do you want?” Whitten appeared on a local NPR show last week and calmly laid out his case. I was in my car listening and a big ol’ black light bulb lit up over my head. It made perfect sense. Reparations are not some type of sociological blackmail and it is time to talk about it without fear of attack from the same old defenders of white supremacy, be they Fox News trolls or white liberals.

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Think of being black in America as an invisible tax. Whether it’s the poorer health outcomes that come from discrimination in the health care system or decades of tobacco companies targeting black communities with their cigarette ads. Think of lost wages from job discrimination and lost wealth from housing discrimination that has prevented African-Americans from buying homes. (From 1934 to 1968, less than 2% of FHA loans for homes went to people of color.) Think of the cumulative stress of “driving while black” in a country that still sees police use-of-force disproportionately targeting minorities, not to mention all those traffic tickets I don’t have to pay because I’m not the one who is racially profiled. I could go on and on to the break of dawn, but I think you get the idea. There is a financial cost to being a person of color (this goes for brown, red, and yellow people, as well). This is a cost that I don’t have to pay and it translates to more money in my pocket. According to one measure, “for every dollar owned by the average white family in the United States, the average family of color has less than one dime.” My white privilege obscures the real reasons for this massive imbalance but it’s as real as the balance in your bank account.

We can’t undo the hell of racism in one happy hour or one generation. But we can acknowledge the price of racism financially. Don’t expect there ever to be a tax on white people to right the wrong. (You think racists like Trump are popular among “undereducated” white folk now…) But white people can think of ways to give to people of color in meaningful ways, even if it’s just supporting a black-owned business or buying someone lunch. Let’s deal with the actual cost of being black in America.

 

Our White Supremacist President

January 16, 2018

President Trump enjoyed his Martin Luther King Day off like he enjoys most of his days on, playing golf. Meanwhile, the rest of the country, those working and those not, were left wondering, just how racist is our president?

It’s not a matter of “if” anymore. And it’s not one comment here or there about African shitholes or Haitians all having AIDS. It’s his entire life. In 1973, Trump was sued by the Nixon administration for refusing to rent his properties to black tenants. His very public campaign for the execution of the black and brown teenagers, known as the “Central Park 5,” who were later exonerated through DNA evidence, wasn’t met with an apology by Trump. Instead he doubled down on his belief in their guilt. And of course there was the bizarre “birtherism” campaign he led to “prove” America’s first black president wasn’t actually American.

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There are numerous examples of this even before his 2015 campaign declaration in which he proclaimed that Mexicans were “criminals, drug dealers, and rapists.” That was the the moment, from my little room in Mexico, I wrote the piece “Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy” that helped put this little blog on the map. It might be inappropriate to say the world has given Trump enough rope to lynch himself, but, good God, how much evidence is enough? His caricatures of Chinese businessmen? No? His Muslim ban? No? His demanding that those black “sons of bitches” in the NFL stop protesting and get back to performing? No? His proclamation that there were “fine people on both sides” of the Nazi/Anti-Nazi clashes in Charlottesville? No? How many examples do you need of him devaluing non-white people and their lived experiences with racial injustice?

I’ve been asked numerous times, including by the media, if I think Donald Trump is a racist. I always try to side-step the question. Honestly, I don’t know what in the man’s heart, other than Big Mac residue. I try to make the point that he’s just ignorant of the reality of racism in this day in age. He’s lived his life in a bourgeois bubble and the only brown noses he knows have been firmly placed in his ass. He hasn’t had to know about the persistence of racism and, like many white people, probably thinks the problem was solved at some point in the 1960s by nice negroes and the benevolent white people who took pity on them.

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But screw it. No more pussyfooting around. I’ve been doing this work long enough to know it when I see it and Trump’s obviousness about this is as big as the Stay Puft Man in Ghostbusters. He’s not only a racist, he’s a Stay Puft white supremacist. And the people that still defend him are his racist enablers. This isn’t just a sad statement of the president’s bigotry. This man has power over people’s lives. Just witness how he threatened to deport the brown children and young people in the DACA program while he threw a tantrum over his racist comments being leaked to the press. I don’t doubt that he thinks lobbing a few nukes at North Korea will help him bounce back in the “ratings.”

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The revival of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s saw upwards of six million members across the nation (including here in Oregon). Their main rallying point was not the “negro problem,” but immigration. They promoted  “100% Americanism” and opposed immigrants “flooding” in from non-white countries as well as Jews and Catholics arriving from Eastern and Southern Europe and Ireland. The Klan was a powerful political force in America, electing congressmen, senators, and governors (including here in Oregon). Their great victory was the Johnson-Reed Act, also known as the Immigration Act of 1924. Johnson-Reed put strict quotas on immigration from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, while encouraging immigration from Northern European countries like Norway and was on the books until it’s repeal in 1965. In a 2015 interview with Steve Bannon in Brietbart, future Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the 1924 law as an effective immigration plan. So, to be clear, the 1920s Klan wanted less immigrants coming from “these shithole countries” and more coming from Norway. Does that sound the least bit familiar?

This isn’t just me jumping on the shithole bandwagon. Trump is a textbook racist in so many ways that future textbooks on racism will be dedicated to him. But I’d like to focus on just a few, what I call Triple D racism; denial, defensiveness, and denigration.

“I’m the least racist person there is.”

Usually, when someone says, repeatedly, that they are not something, they are. But this is more than that. People who are actually anti-racist do not say they are not racist. We grow up in a racist society and we internalize that racism. I never say I’m not racist. I oppose racism but I still have racism in me and I am actively working to purge it. Like a recovering alcoholic who never says they are not an alcoholic, I will always be a racist.

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The least racist person there is would never say they are the least racist person there is. They would say they are racist but they are working every single day to rid themselves and their world of racism. Have you ever heard Trump discuss his white privilege or his implicit biases? No, of course not. What has he done to dismantle institutional racism or even his own internalized racism? I mean besides eat a Taco Bowl on Cinco de Mayo. Anyone who believes Trump’s claim to be the least racist person is as ignorant as he is about how racism actually works.

He should spend sometime with real white allies in the struggle against white supremacy if he wants to know how to sound less racist. He’s not even a good con artist.

“So much Fake News is being reported.”

Trump is a big baby. An orange snowflake. Instead of doing the people’s work, he spends his time on Twitter whining. This is a common reaction when white people get called out on their racism. They (we) reactively go into defensive mode. “I did not say that!” “I’m a good person!” “You’re lucky to have me!” This guy doesn’t see the opportunity he has. He’s too busy circling the wagons so he can kill some injuns.

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Racism is a deeply rooted facet of our society. Each time it appears in front of us there is a learning opportunity. Remember when President Obama hosted the “beer summit” after a white cop thought black Harvard professor was breaking into his own house? That’s how you do it. Trump could have made serious points here but instead he read through some staff-written script to honor MLK and then split for the golf course.

White people, listen to me! When you are accused of being racist don’t get all defensive and shut down the dialogue. Repeat after me. I’m sorry. Please help me to see this issue the way you see it. I want to understand this complex and traumatizing issue through your eyes. Thank you for helping me to grow and be a better person.

Can you imagine Trump saying that this week? There’s a better chance he’ll release his taxes.

On the attack

Of course what Trump does best is go on the attack and hit back “ten times harder.” A year a go he was attacking civil rights icon John Lewis for failing his “crime infested” congressional district in Atlanta (which we Atlantans know is one of the nicest, most livable parts of the entire South). Now he’s going after “Dicky” Durbin for spilling the beans on his latest locker room talk. Remember when, during the debates, Hillary Clinton accused Trump of being a Russian puppet. His response was, “No, you’re the puppet.” That’s the third-grade level of thinking going on here. Na na ni boo boo, stick your head in doo doo.

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Trump and his troll army at Fox News are deft at attacking their critics. Unleash the MAGA drones and make all opponents’ lives hell. (It’s the main reason I declined to appear on the Tucker Carlson show last month.) It serves to silence dissent and protect his authoritarian approach to governing. Trump is already pushing to revise federal libel laws so he can go after tell-all authors like Michael Wolf, whose best-selling book, Fire and Fury, paints a more than unflattering picture of Trump and his dysfunctional White House. Hell hath no fury like a small-handed rich guy scorned.

Getting it

It’s crystal clear that, when it comes to race, Trump just doesn’t get it and doesn’t want to get it. This a guy who in 2014 tweeted, “How is ABC Television allowed to have a show entitled “Blackish”? Can you imagine the furor of a show, “Whiteish”! Racism at highest level?” Um, you could totally have a show called Whiteish. How awesome would it be to have a sitcom that confronted issues of white privilege? (ABC, I’m available to write it.) But Trump’s brain farts are a great example of dichotomous lower-revel thinking.  Nuance must just sound “French” to him. As a rich white guy, he doesn’t get the race problem because he’s never had to and as president he could, but he’s got a tee time at 1 pm and then there’s all his “executive time”  he needs to catch up on Fox & Friends. Courting his racist base makes him feel more secure in his own racism. Merry Christmas!

Both Bill Clinton and Barak Obama promised more dialogues on racial reconciliation under their administrations and both failed miserably. But just the idea that white people need to take part in exploring how they benefit from racism, even if they are the “least racist person you ever met,” was a start. The white people who don’t want to be bothered with such silliness are now driving the nation. An NPR/Harvard poll last fall found that 55 percent of white Americans now feel whites are discriminated against. This is Trump’s base and they want to make America 1924 again.

If we hope to move forward, we’re going to have to talk our way out of this shithole. The sad part is that our president is an obstacle not an ally in our struggle against racism.

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Look out, I’m about to use the “N” word. Appropriately???

December 15, 2017

So much of this year has been about checking myself instead of wrecking myself. Maybe 90% checkin’ Donald Trump, 10% checkin’ myself. Is my implicit bias in play? Am I playing my male privilege card? Am I making heteronormative assumptions? Is my allyship performative? Am I expressing internalized racism? It can drive a nigga crazy.

Much of the work in 2017 has been confronting the rise in “polite racism” in the mainstream, from the “white nationalist” bullying by the alt right to the plantation talk of our more orange-than-whte president. But some of it has been done in the mirror. I’ve been thinking a lot about the use of the “N word,” not by Trump supporters or racist skinheads or rappers, but by me. I don’t ever us it as a pejorative. I was called “nigger lover” often enough as a white kid in Georgia who refused to board the cracker train to know when that word is used to hurt. But just the fact that I could use it in that sentence I just wrote, points to the shield of my white privilege.

There’s also a lot of talk this year about “triggers.” I’ve discussed it with regard to rape culture. A rape victim is not going to watch Saturday Night Fever (or Game of Thrones) the same way a non-rape victim will. We are better now at understanding the reality of collective trauma holding people back in their footsteps. Assholes call people who care about such things “snowflakes.” Decent people understand that being aware of triggers is practicing empathy. Well, I’ve been a bit slack with the n****r trigger. My white privilege says it’s not my problem. It’s just a man-made word.

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Because I’m an academic who studies racism and, specifically, white supremacism, I assume people know my anti-racist agenda and that that somehow permits me to use racist language when I am “making a point.” I remember one time in a criminology class I was teaching at Portland State when I was going off on how horribly sexist and misogynistic it was that the term “pimp” was being exalted in pop culture. This was somewhere between the time of Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’” and “Pimping” your MySpace page. I was trying to make the point that the sexual exploitation of women by pimps was not that different than the dynamic of slavery. So I said, “Pimps have their ho’s, just like slave masters have their niggers.” Yep.

Two young African-American male students looked at me like I just pushed a TNT plunger. Now, aside from the fact that there is a world of sociological difference between a poor black street hustler and a wealthy slave-holding plantation owner, I thought I had carte blanch to use that word, because I’m, you know, down. In my Intro Class at Emory I’d make students mix tapes with The Last Poets’ “Niggers are Scared of Revolution” or would bust into random lyrics from NWA’s “Fuck the Police.” “A young nigga on a warpath, and when I’m finished it’s gonna be a blood bath.” Because I was making a point. About racism! John Lennon and Patti Smith recorded songs in the 1970s using that word, why couldn’t I use it too? (Answer: They were established artists making powerful statements to large audiences. I was a grad student.)

The thing is, I have never heard that word the way my black students heard it. And they were hearing it from the mouth of a white man. It’s gonna sound different. It’s gonna carry more historical and cultural weight. It’s gonna hit harder. Somebody on Facebook can call me an idiot and whatever. If my father calls me an idiot, it’s gonna be a gut punch. Context matters, even if you are a dope-ass woke white brotha. You don’t get a pass. Even if you went undercover to study racist hate groups, you don’t get a pass. Even if you voted for Obama (Twice!), you don’t get a pass.

I would justify it by saying these obviously smart black students understood the role of context, the point I was trying to make. I make a similar case about the “F word.” If I say, “F word,” nobody is thinking, “Gee, which F word does he mean? Fellatio? Feminism? Furby?” No, it’s fuck. So if I say, “the N word,” the word “nigger” is magically placed inside people’s heads, so why not (in the proper context) just say it? The reason is that is sounds differently in one’s head when it came out a white man’s mouth first.

 

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I always loved the bit from comedian Lenny Bruce from the early 1960s about the “N word.” It was recreated brilliantly by Dustin Hoffman in the 1974 movie Lenny. Bruce just starts using the word in front of a live audience at a comedy show. Then he starts adding other racial slurs, kike, mick, wop. His point is that it’s the suppression of the word that gives it the power to hurt and maybe we should take those words away from the racists.(Paging Dr. Foucault.) Comedian Richard Pryor did that as well. When I was a kid in Stone Mountain, we’d secretly listen to his comedy albums, including That Nigger’s Crazy and Bicentennial Nigger. The difference was Pryor was black, Bruce was not. Then, in 1979, Pryor went to Kenya and wrote, “There are no niggers here. … The people here, they still have their self-respect, their pride.” And he vowed never to say the “N word” again.

A lot of white people wonder why black people can use the word when they can’t. They want to rap along to the same Kendrick Lamar songs but they might have to censor themselves if in mixed company. “I’m the realest uh huh after all. Bitch, be humble.” Again, context matters and it’s complicated. Part of if is black people reclaiming the word from racists and getting a slice of privilege because whites can’t say it. Lenny Bruce was right. You can reduce it’s power to hurt, but you can’t remove it. The other thing is that things are different inside the family. I used to call my little brother names all the time, but if you called him names, oh, we were going to have a problem. Whether it’s “nigger” or “nigga” (Tupac turned it into an acronym for Never Ignorant About Getting Goals Accomplished), context matters. Whose mouth it is coming out of matters. Intent matters.

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When I was in grad school, I read the the late great Dick Gregory’s 1964 autobiography, Nigger. It’s about the struggle to overcome the worst Jim Crow America had to offer. In it he writes, “Those of us who weren’t destroyed got stronger, got calluses on our souls. And now we’re ready to change a system, a system where a white man can destroy a black man with a single word. Nigger.” I began assigning another autobiography to my students soon after that, Malcolm X’s. One of the most powerful lines in that 1965 book was when Malcolm asks a black audience, “Do you know what they call a negro scholar? Ph.D.? Professor? They call him a nigger.” This is not just a slur. You can’t even compare it to “kike” or “wetback” (also assaultive words). It’s a word with centuries of brutal oppression woven into its six letters. You just don’t throw a word like that around.

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In 1990, my roommate and I went to go see Public Enemy perform in Atlanta. (Opening acts: Heavy D & the Boyz and MC Hammer). Two white guys at the Omni Colosseum in a sea of black hip hop fans. We heard, “Hey crackers!” a few times. My first thought was, This what it must be like for a black guy to be at a Garth Brooks concert. But then I realized those two words are in no way equivalent. One word was sort of classist, and the other had centuries of genocidal violence and institutional disenfranchisement behind it. There were no black nightriders burning down the homes of cracker families to discourage then from getting too uppity.

I’m teaching two sections of Intro Sociology at Portland Community College this winter and I’m assigning The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I thought that, in the wake of Black Lives Matters and Trump’s racist plantation rhetoric, it was time to return to its vitally wise pages. But I won’t be using the “N word” to make any points. People of color are experiencing enough collective trauma right now in Trump’s America, enough deja vu, with out me adding one more pin prick to the daily tally of micro aggressions and macro assaults. They’re not snowflakes, but enduring humans. My apology for using that word, even in “context,” doesn’t make up for the cumulative impact of the result. I’ll quote a white guy who once said, “Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.” I know there are some white people who are just so sad they can’t say it. It’s complicated. If you can’t figure it out, best leave it alone. Just don’t say it. Now about that “B word.”

NOTE: I’ve already gotten shit from well-meaning white people for using the “N word” in this post. I’m gonna guess that 100% of African-Americans reading this will get the point. White radicals, I’m shooting for a 65% comprehension rate.

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Are you helping or are you just acting like you’re helping? Performative allyship

December 8, 2017

When I agreed to be on a public panel on racism and white allies, I had no idea it would be such a learning experience for me. I thought I was on the stage to share my expertise with a packed room about “what works” and “lessons learned.” Instead, it became a lesson in how not to respond when called out in one of those not-so courageous conversations. “But I’ve spent my life fighting racism! Racist skinheads have attacked me!” In my mind, suddenly I was there to defend myself. Well, I got schooled. Welcome to the next chapter in getting it.

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Point number one: None of us are perfect. When I talk to white people about this work, I tell them you are going to mistakes so prepare yourself for it. Wrong words used, wrong inferences made, wrong facts stated. I never included the other part of that – How you should respond when you do make a mistake. It’s so easy to get defensive. “But I’m an ally! I don’t even have to be here!” And it’s easy to forget that white people can walk away from a cause that people of color are in every single day off their lives.

Point number two: I can’t be the only one who struggles with reconciling their intellectual self with their emotional self. How many liberal sexual harassers have said, “This is not who I am!” Well, for those of us who don’t live inside your head, it is who you are. But I get the feeling. My ideas about the world and my behavior don’t always match up. I see the world through a feminist lens but I can be sexist. I’m a committed anti-racist, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune from my own internalized racism. This “woke ally” still has a little boy from Stone Mountain, Georgia inside him, whispering in his ear. “Say it. It’s just a joke.”

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I’ve written about how that panel turned into a bit of a shit show when I felt like I was being attacked by a black activist. You can watch the video of the event here. (I can’t watch it. I know what mistakes I made.) The short version is that I got defensive and made it all about me instead of using the moment to unpack any harm I was doing. I should have said, “Thank you for expressing this. Could you please help me to understand what micro aggression I’m engaging in?” Instead I just laughed. How could I be acting racist? Then, afterwards, I turned to Twitter for some classic spleen venting. Then I wrote a blog about “Woe is me” and how hard it is to do this work. “Wahhhh! I should have become a stock broker. Don’t hurt my feelings! I worked for Jesse Jackson!” It was an honest expression of frustration but it missed an important point. This isn’t about me.

While some anti-racist activists probably just wrote me off at that point as a “clueless white person,” others reached out to me. I had coffee with Donna Maxey, the long-time organizer of Race Talks. These monthly conversations are vital work in undoing the harm of racism in our community and she is a true shero. She saw me responding from a place of desperation, about my current transition in life, and a need to be seen as bringing value to the world. Then three white activists invited me to a conversation about performing allyship as opposed to actually fighting racism and it was like a thousand light bulbs went off above my head. An hour can change your perspective.

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I’ve written about Queer Theory in this blog and the concept that we perform gender. As Judith Butler wrote, gender is something we do. Well, so is being an ally in liberation struggles. For some people it is just a performance, not a real commitment to the endgame. “Look at me, I’m performing anti-racism! I marched in a protest! Selfie!” And then they put a Black Lives Matter sign in front of their gentrified house that used to be the home of a family of black lives. I’ll admit it, that night at Race Talks for sure, some of my allyship was performative as hell.

We met at the library in downtown Portland for this summit. I think we were all nervous about how it would go. My previous willingness to be combative on the issue probably didn’t give them much hope. They graciously allowed me to record our talk for an upcoming episode of my Recovering Asshole podcast. Fortunately for them, I recognize that Randy Blazak’s worst enemy is Randy Blazak. I was there to listen with an open heart and not get my hackles up, which is more in line with my emotional training. Hackles.

The next hour was an enlightening conversation about mainstream frameworks of response verses true anti-racist responses. Not only did I recognize the responses of others, I recognized some of my own. How have I responded when called out on my own racism? This is an example from Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s work on white fragility.

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 10.52.43 PMThis is just a piece of it (the whole thing is here), but each step of the process is about turning off one’s ego and being open to growth. This is an issue that’s always been challenging for me. Because of my own childhood story, I immediately go into defensive mode and the first response is to battle. Sitting quietly with my feelings before responding has never been a default position. Fighting has. So I understand how I could have done harm by turning the exchange at Race Talks into a sparring match instead of an opportunity for growth. I thought the packed room wasn’t there to hear these two guys go at it. In reality, they could have learned a lot about how to be a good ally if I had provided a good example of how to actually navigate those uncomfortable situations.

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I see this same response from the conservatives in my circle. If they get called out for their racism, they immediately shut down, of talk about their “black friend,” or say they are being misconstrued, instead of just listening. They are afraid to say, “I might be wrong,” or “Help me to see your point.” Everything just ends. And white liberals do the same damn thing. “You are judging me! Look at my liberal credentials! I have a blog!” Shut up and listen.

There are some real red flags that you’re a performer and not a true ally. When you’re with bunch of white people and somebody says something racist. If you don’t say something, you might be a performer. If you get miffed because nobody said “thank you” for your contribution to the cause, you might be a performer. And you’re not willing to take a back seat and just listen, you might be a performer. If posting an anti-racist statement on Facebook is about as a big a risk you are willing to take fight racism, you might be a performer.

During our talk, one of the white allies talked about how important my voice was on this issue because I have such a large audience that listens to me, through my public speaking, my podcast, and this blog. One of the other folks there pointed out how I puffed up when that was being said. It is true. I’m bit of a performer and it is good to get recognition for trying to be part of the solution to all this. But we don’t do it for the recognition. We do it because it needs to be done. It’s not a show starring me. It’s the hard work of dismantling oppression. It’s what needs to be done for us to be truly free.

I think at each step of our lives we have the tendency to think we are fully formed. When I graduated from college at 21, I thought I had it all figured out. I would never know more  about how things worked than I did on May 13, 1985. That seems laughable now. I continue to learn the importance of listening instead of just responding. Listening and hearing. It applies to my role as a husband, a parent, a friend, and an ally in the struggle to bring us out of the darkness. I am but one, but we are many.