Police Brutality Action Kit (Created by Showing Up for Racial Justice – SURJ)

Police Brutality Action Kit, cross posted with permission from: showingupforracialjustice.org/archives/2016

Created by Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ)

Click here for a PDF version of this toolkit.

By Tes One Artwork used with permission.

By Tes One
Artwork used with permission.

Showing up for Racial Justice(SURJ) was formed in 2009 by white people from across the US to respond to the significant increase of targeting and violence against people of color in the aftermath of the election of  Barack Obama.  The killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO; Eric Garner on Staten Island, NY; Ezell Ford in Los Angeles, CA; and John Crawford in Beavercreek, Ohio  are the latest in a long series of extrajudicial (outside the law) killings of people of color in the United States.  We mourn the loss of life, see the impact on communities of color and believe that white people must partner across race and other differences to create social change. SURJ is here to provide resources and support for white people to make this happen.

We look to each other to change the world we live, in one conversation and action at a time, and our efforts are to build a broad and deep movement of white people to work in partnership with communities of color for real racial justice in the US and everywhere. Please join us as we build on a long tradition of white people engaged in racial justice work in our local communities, our states, and around the world.

What We Can Do: Table of Contents and Quick Links

As white people, we must show up in the struggle for human rights and dignity, and demand an end to targeting people of color. This can happen in small and large ways every day.

Below are actions you can take in response to these murders and violence against people of color, ranging from one minute to a lifetime of action. Please join us in making a commitment to take one or more of these actions in this important time.

Education:

  • Get Informed

Short Actions:

  • 1 Minute Action: Join SURJ

  • 2 Minute Action: Sign petitions

  • 3 Minute Action: Tweet

  • 5 minute Action: Post a picture or video on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+, etc.

Medium Actions:

  • 10 Minute Action: Donate to a racial justice organization

  • 15 Minute Action: Get your ideas out there –  on social media

  • 30 minute Action: Engage people in your life: talk about it

  • One Hour Action: Write about it – letters to the editor or online comments

Long-Term Actions:

  • One Hour+ Action: Take part in direct action or hold a house party

  • Ongoing Action: Support Demilitarizing the Police

  • Ongoing Action: Join a local organization and/or get involved with SURJ

Audrey Ward, Organizer at We are Guahan, Mother: “As white people, it is not too much to commit our lives to ending racism. It is, in fact, only right in the light of our history, and through our collective vision and action it is possible. In my shock and grief I can only recommit myself and work hard for a better world for my daughter — and all the children who deserve safety, love, security, opportunity, and the basic right to walk home in a hoodie and not get shot.”

Get Informed

Read about and watch videos on police brutality and the struggle for justice in Ferguson and in other cities across the country facing police violence.   Discuss them with white friends, family, and organizations. Check out these links:

Videos:

Articles:

Blogs/News:

-Erin Zipper, Graphic Artist– “On this day I consider myself utterly lucky to have had the company of many people who refused to accept these misgivings, rather than do what is considered “polite” in our culture and passively ignore them, or worse to join me in slipping into a denial where they can believe wholly that they are not any kind of problem. Because this evening has made it very apparent to me that I would rather be called out, embarrassed, shamed, flunked, fired, pummeled in the street, or called the worst of the worst — a racist — by my closest friends, colleagues, or people on the street than to be allowed by them to continue nurturing ideas, intentionally or unintentionally, taught to me from birth or not, that support a system where an armed white man can stalk an unarmed black teenage pedestrian from the protection of his car, get out of it and confront him against the orders of the police department, respond to that teenager’s alarm and defensiveness by murdering him, and not only walk the streets as a free man after a rigorous trial in our court of law, but set a precedent that allows others to do the same.”

ONE MINUTE ACTION: Join SURJ

SURJ is a national volunteer-led organization of white people engaging other white people in racial justice work. We have chapters across the country and are always looking for new members. To join,go here and we will connect you with other people in your area.

TWO MINUTE ACTION: Sign petitions

Petitions are one way for us to show a united force. Please take a minute and sign these important petitions.

Harmony Goldberg, Writer & Educator: “It’s not about being “surprised” by the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the brutal murder of a child, an innocent Black teenager named Trayvon Martin. On a conceptual level, I understand that – more than baseball or apple pie – racism is what defines the United States of America. But I will never stop being shocked and heartbroken at this nation’s absolute and profound disregard for the lives of Black people.”

THREE MINUTE ACTION: In just one click you can spread the word through twitter

Use the hash-tags:

#ferguson, #blacklivesmatter #handsup #mikebrown #Showup4RJ

Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons  #blacklivesmatter #Showup4RJ

An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere #ferguson, #blacklivesmatter, #Showup4RJ

White privilege is the difference between life and death. My white son will never be murdered by Darren Wilson. #JusticeforMikeBrown #blacklivesmatter #Showup4RJ

Speak out against racial profiling.  No more Michael Browns. #blacklivesmatter  #Showup4RJ

Every 28 hours there’s another #mikebrown. http://mxgm.org/report-on-the-extrajudicial-killings-of-120-black-people/ #blacklivesmatter  #Showup4RJ

Has anyone ever followed you with a gun because you looked like a threat to their neighborhood?  #Showup4RJ #whiteprivilege #justiceformikebrown

5 Minute Action: Spread the word through art

Share one of the following images on your Facebook page or (via other social media outlets) and write a message about why it is important to you as a white person. Thanks to the artists who have offered to use their artwork for this project. Visit their websites to see more of their art. Paste the link onto Facebook, Twitter or Instagram if you post the picture.

10 MINUTE ACTION: Donate to a racial justice organization

There are thousands of organizations across the country that are working to combat structural racism in different ways, nationally and in local communities around the country. Ferguson, and St Louis are but one example of grassroots-powered organizing.  These organizations depend on the donations of people: 85% of funding for non-profits comes from individuals. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it is a valuable action to contribute your money to make sure that this organizing, educating, and mobilizing continues. Think about the work that you find most inspiring. Do you think national or local work is more important? Legal strategies? Education? Mobilization? Policy change?

15 MINUTE ACTION:  Social Media

Write down your thoughts on police brutality and the ways to stop it.  Send them to your friends, family, and organizations through Facebook and other social media. Post them on our Facebook page.

30 MINUTE ACTION: Begin to engage people in your life in dialogue about race

Malcolm X: “Don’t be in such a hurry to condemn a person because he doesn’t do what you do or think what you think. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.“

It is tempting to separate ourselves from other white people who disagree with us on this or other racial justice matters. It can be painful to know that someone you know or care about holds views that you know to be biased. However, as white people committed to racial justice, a powerful way to create change is to engage other white people in dialogue, to see talking about race with them as our responsibility. Think back to how your analysis and perspective were shaped:

– Listen well to what the other person is saying, and why they see things the way that they do.

– Ask questions to help clarify.

– Withhold judgement.  The goal is to move them forward, not to prove something about yourself.

– How did the people in your life move you through dialogue? When was it about the presentation of facts that you didn’t know, and when was it about shifting a framework, asking questions, or a deeper connection?

The following are some suggestions for how to respond to conclusions white people often come to around police brutality. The goal is not to read these as a script, feel free to modify as makes sense for your conversations and life. We also included some questions that spark deeper conversations:

Comment: “But the murder of Michael Brown was an exception.”

Response:  “ There is a pattern of police violence against black men, especially young ones.  In just the last few weeks, 4 unarmed black men have been gunned down by the police.”

Discussion question: How has police brutality affected your community?

Comment: “We should let the legal system take its course.  If the policeman did something wrong, he’ll be convicted.

Response: “The legal system is biased against people of color. For example, African Americans are twice as likely as whites to receive the death penalty.”

Discussion Question: “How do you see bias in the criminal justice system playing out in your neighborhood, town, region?”

Comment: “Demonstrations don’t accomplish anything.  In fact, they make things worse.”

Response:  “If it had not been for the visible community response, we would never have heard about Michael Brown.  Most police murders of black men never come to light.  Besides, demonstrations are a form of peaceful assembly that is protected by the Bill of Rights.”

Discussion question: “How do you think we can show that all lives–including African Americans and other people of color– matter?”

Comment: “My TV station shows scenes of violence and looting during the demonstrations.

Response: “There was a small amount of this behavior by only a few demonstrators.  The news media features what is sensational, leaving out the peaceful actions of ordinary people.”

Discussion Question: “How does the media distort our perception of current events, especially the ones involving people of color?”

Comment: “Well, it’s too bad about Michael Brown, but what does it have to do with me?”

Response:  “Police brutality is a threat to our basic freedoms, including the right to live in a peaceful society governed by the rule of law.  White people need to stand up for racial justice, in public ways.”

Discussion Question: “What do you think could make the legal system work for all people?”

Comment: “But what can I do about it?  I’m just one person.”

Response: In American history, individuals coming  together have made real changes,  such as the end to slavery, Jim Crow laws, and DOMA.  In fact, things don’t change without attention, pressure and mobilization.  The police brutality toolkit produced by SURJ suggests actions ranging from one-minute to one-hour and beyond.”

Discussion Question: “What can we do today to engage more people more deeply?”

ONE HOUR ACTION: Do some writing

Letter to the Editor ( LTE) : Write an LTE about why this is an important issue for you and what needs to change.   Post it on our Facebook page.

Click here for tips on writing an LTE.

Here are some writing prompts:

  • As a white person, this case matters to me because…

  • I am standing up and raising my voice to say enough is enough because…

  • Michael Brown would still be alive today if…

Claudia Horowitz, Stone Circles: “Now is an opportunity to check ourselves through some honest reflection and let that lead us to thoughtful action.”

1 HOUR + ACTION: Take a day off your usual grind and spend a few hours in the street!

For any action, meeting, or in-person event please take pictures or a short video and upload it to theSURJ Facebook page.

Go to a local action: There will be ongoing actions, check here for updates.  See if there is a local action near you and go with some friends. Make some signs to get your message out. Great messages to use:

Black lives matter  —–     Showing up for Racial Justice  —-

Racial justice,  not racial profiling  —–     Abolish “Stand Your Ground” —-

Civil rights don’t expire at sundown —–  White people who believe #black lives matter

Poster from SURJ contingent in NYC, July 14, 2013

At the action: engage with other white people. Talk to them about why they are there and whether they’re involved with local racial justice efforts.

Hold a house party– Bring together friends and family to discuss Ferguson, police brutality,  racial profiling, and the criminalization of people of color.

Use YouTube videos, a short movie, or an article on police brutality and Ferguson to spark conversation with people in your community. Or go to a movie with a racial justice theme — likeFruitvale Station, about the killing of Oscar Grant by the transit police in Oakland, California — and meet for discussion afterwards.

In addition to the videos listed earlier, here are some other videos to show:

Additional Resources:

Racial Profiling Resources, Rights Working Group

It IS about Race: Study Finds Significant Racial Bias In ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws, Lorraine Devon Wilke

Report on the Extrajudicial Killing of 120 Black People, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement

Ongoing Action: Demilitarize the Police

The growing issue of police militarization in United States communities is reaching frightening new levels.  Call on Congress to end the Department of Defense supply of excess equipment to local police departments.

Ongoing Action: Join a local organization; get involved with SURJ!

We meet a lot of white people who care about the issue of equity and justice, but often feel alone and isolated in their neighborhoods, communities, and families. Within SURJ, many of us have also felt ostracized for not going along with the “norm” of how racism happens. That is part of why we come together–so that we have a like-minded, like-valued community who deeply cares that every single human being deserves to be treated with love and respect–and that with a supportive community we are able to take a stand, speak the truth, and be part of creating a better America and beyond.

Contact us to be connected to a local SURJ group or help form a local chapter.

Conclusion

Australian Aboriginal activists: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.“

This is a historic moment. There is an opportunity to decide what type of person you want to be — someone who stands up against injustice in all its forms or someone who sits back and watches. What values do you want your peers and colleagues, family members and spiritual community, children and grandchildren to learn from you? As a white person, you have the opportunity to dig down deep and find the person you want to be and live it out loud.

Will you stand up for what is right? Will you dare to speak above the status quo? Will you rise to the challenge of being your best self?

PLEASE DO! We need you! We need your voice, your brilliance, your heart, your soul… we need you to be part of this moment, right here, right now, to create the world we want to all live in. Be bold with us, be courageous with us! No one is free until we are all free!

About Us:

SURJ is a national network of white groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice. Through community organizing, mobilizing, and education, SURJ moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability. We work to connect people across the country while supporting and collaborating with local and national racial justice organizing efforts. SURJ provides a space to build relationships, skills, and political analysis to act for change.

We look to each other to change the world we live, in one conversation and action at a time, and our efforts are to build a broad and deep movement of white people to work in partnership with communities of color for real racial justice in the US and everywhere. Please join us as we build on a long tradition of white people engaged in racial justice work in our local communities, our states, and around the world.

Stay in touch:

Email: showingupforracialjustice@gmail.com

Web: showingupforracialjustice.org/   Twitter: ShowUp4RJ

Facebookwww.facebook.com/ShowingUpForRacialJusticesurj

Thanks to Dara Silverman, Meta Mendel-Reyes, Sam Hamlin, JLove Calderon, Murphy Stack, Carla Wallace, Becky Rafter, Jade Walker, Cynthia Newcomer, Maggie Potapchuk, Lauren Taylor, Cole Parke, & all of the artists & writers who contributed.

We need to lock arms amidst all of this.

These are just a few of the insights put forth by  in a recent article on the Huffington Post, What White People Can Do About the Killing of Black Men in America:

“There are a lot of events vying to occupy the American mind these days such as Gaza, Iraq, Ukraine, the immigration crisis, hate crimes against Sikhs, Ebola, and Robin Williams’ death. But in one way, the ability to switch among these traumas is a white person’s ‘luxury.’…

“Black Americans are rightfully outraged, but it will require all Americans to be mobilized before the racism that undergirds these killings will end and the deaths along with it. White Americans like me have to stop channel surfing all the outrageously bad news from around the world and focus on the death that is happening in our own cities to our fellow Americans…

“I also pressed Rev. Lee on what he would like to tell white Americans on how to show solidarity. I was humbled by his response:

We need to lock arms amidst all of this. If the police feel they are above the law with any one group, they will feel they are above the law with others. We need to learn from the civil rights movement. It wasn’t just black folks, it was everybody, because it wasn’t a black problem it was a moral issue. We are remembering 40 years after the Freedom Summer. That wasn’t just black people risking their lives, it was a community that went down to Mississippi because they knew that when any group within the nation is marginalized then we can’t be the nation we want to be.”

As Criss Crass further expands in Ferguson and Resistance Against the Black Holocaust:

The people of Ferguson did not create this crisis. Centuries of white supremacy, a police system evolved out of the slave patrols, unchecked state violence against communities of color, mass incarceration of over two million, epidemic poverty, and the murder of a teenage boy named Michael Brown created this crisis. The people of Ferguson have created hope and possibility, through their resistance against the nightmare of the Black holocaust, that another world is possible. Do you stand with them? Or do you give your support, well intentioned or unintentionally as it may be, to the enduring reality of the Black holocaust?”

However you understand or frame this situation or the people involved, now is the time to link arms.
Ways to support the resistance in Ferguson:

White Females* in Food Justice: Maintaining or Challenging the System?

Join us for our next workshop!

White Females* in Food Justice: Maintaining or Challenging the System?

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Sunday, August 10, 1-5pm

$35-60 sliding scale (work trade and scholarships available)

Location given upon registration (near W Oakland BART)

Description:

Are you passionate about food justice?

Do you lead, work at, volunteer at, or otherwise support a food justice organization in your neighborhood or community?

Do you sometimes question if the food justice work you are involved in is only a band-aid solution to deeper, more systemic problems?

In this interactive workshop, the White Noise Collective will lead a guided exploration of what Paul Kivel terms “the buffer zone,” a range of jobs and occupations that structurally serve to maintain the wealth and power of the ruling class by acting as a buffer between those at the top of the pyramid and those at the bottom. The buffer zone serves a threefold function: taking care of people, keeping hope alive, and controlling people. In this workshop, we will question to what extent our involvement in the food justice movement (in all its forms: food security, food justice, and food sovereignty) exists in the buffer zone.

We will focus on common patterns among those socialized as white females* and how that influences our food justice work. We will dynamically interweave examination of systemic analysis, historical patterns, and our individual participation and insight. How are we as white females* within the food justice movement maintaining the status quo, and what potentials and models exist for subversion within the buffer zone to shake the system towards greater equity and justice?

Women Farming (5)*What we mean by “white female”: When we say “white woman,” we are not necessarily referring to a personal identity. We are referring to a dominant or mainstream identity with certain images, messages and narratives that have been used to uphold systems of oppression.

We gear our work at the intersection of white privilege and gendered oppression, but we understand that not everyone navigating at this intersection identifies with these terms. We invite participation from people who do not specifically identify as white or female and we aim to hold a space that respects participants who have come from a broad spectrum of racial and gender identities, including those who identify as genderqueer, transgender, mixed race or who identify as having experienced white/light-skin privilege and gender(ed) oppression.

 Register Here.

 

Creating “Safe” Neighborhoods: A reflection on my neighborhood’s private patrol — and what to do with my disapproval

Like many Oakland progressives, my political alarm went off last year in response to the trend towards middle income and affluent neighborhoods hiring private security guards. For Oakland at least, the private patrol debate is relatively new, but it raises many familiar concerns about racial profiling and the feeding of racialized fears by misrepresenting the dangers of city life. Here I reflect on my learning from engaging in the patrol debate in my own mostly white, mostly home-owning neighborhood.

neighborhood-watch

Since the hiring of private security strikes me as yet another example of those with class privilege investing precious time and money in methods that disproportionately target black and brown people and contribute to the increased privatization of our lives,  I felt grateful not to be in a neighborhood contemplating a patrol — but soon enough it was my turn. In mid 2013 some people in my area began meeting to plan the hiring of our own security guard.

night-out-bazant-eng_275Bringing the beautiful poster shared by Justice for Families in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin had helped me identify like-minded neighbors at our street’s National Night Out gathering (an event which I had thought of simply as a block party but learned was promoted by the Association of Neighborhood Watch, which in “primarily white middle income areas…uses the coded language of ‘fighting crime’ but in practice… often amounts to monitoring the movement and activities of people of color in and out of their racially exclusive enclaves”). One such neighbor and I, fearing the increased racial profiling that a private patrol could bring to our doorsteps, put our heads together in an attempt to organize a more community-oriented plan to address neighbors’ safety concerns – one that we ultimately hoped could address the racialized and misinformed nature of many of their fears.

We canvassed a four-block area around our houses in the Oakland foothills to share the nature of our concerns and to propose that we work together to create our own improved sense of security – a plan we believed was more inclusive, empowering, and effective than having a security guard. We’d planned to invite residents from an even bigger area to a meeting at my house, but managed only the four blocks when the energy of the four kids we had in tow ran out. It turned out to be a good thing that we’d started small, since we packed my living room with standing room only at our meeting. Our discussion went overtime as our neighbors shared what they loved about our area and what they would like to improve. But it quickly became clear that most of those attending did not share our organizers’ dream to overthrow the patrol plans.

Instead, many attended because of the momentum created by our neighbors organizing the private patrol. They attended because safety was of concern to them, because they wanted to connect with each other, because they care for our neighborhood, and because they happen to know us (I’ve lived here for over 12 years and my co-host, Cory, is often on her busy corner with her two highly-social four-year-olds).  Cory and I spoke to our group from a belief that we had much of the means in our own hands to address desires for improved safety, and that hiring a patrol would merely increase the disconnect between our actions and their consequences, such as expanded targeting of people of color. However, we we were up against fear as the dominant motivation for attending the gathering. Fear of being mugged, fear of having homes broken into. People had different levels of interest in looking at the greater causes of crime in Oakland, such as studies showing that “high rates of criminal violence are apparently the price of racial and economic inequalities.” But irrespective of their concern for the causes of crime, most of the neighbors in my living room that night felt that hiring a patrol was a simple, appealing deterrent.

OaklandPrivatesecurity2-thumb-640xauto-9541Looking around our city, we could see ourselves as part of a pattern. People we respected were questioning the patrols. As Zach Norris of the Ella Baker Center points out in a Colorlines article, “Bay Area residents pushed for more police in the streets and for longer sentencing, starting in the 1970s—but that hasn’t translated into making for a safer community for those who are being displaced or for those who are moving in.” But at the same time, the majorities in affluent/gentrifying neighborhoods moved quickly to establish patrols, without taking into account the disapproval. In other words, once again there has been a push for a more “policed” response to fear, one that is not guided by a plan to treat the safety of all people equally, nor to address, in particular, the concerns of people of color who are so often made less safe by these efforts.

In our case, many of the people we had felt were “on our side” were deciding to give the patrol a try, even while expressing enthusiasm for our community-building efforts. And the most vocal opponent of private security of all in our neighborhood, a white male, wrote long accusatory public emails to the patrol board but declined our efforts to meet with him. An anonymous angry anti-patrol letter was mailed to all of us on “Season’s Greetings” stationery. Many neighbors were upset by the secretive nature of the letter and were not inclined to take the content seriously. Cory and I were in agreement with much of the letter but confused about how to build on its sentiment. Many people asked – directly or indirectly — if the letter was from me. And meanwhile during that period, dismissed by a potential ally and suspected by longtime neighbors of behaving in direct contrast to my efforts to be out-spoken, we hosted more meetings which revealed we were outnumbered by those who were enthusiastic to try the patrol. While maintaining a continued desire to address our concerns about the private security – which received a comfortable majority vote and is now in place in our neighborhood — we decided that a fight to prevent the patrol would be unsuccessful.

So what were our other options, in the face of what we felt would be a losing battle against the patrol? How could we continue to build community and trust while at the same time maintaining a vocal disapproval of a program the majority of our neighbors pay for every month?

We continue to ask ourselves these questions, and continue to host community-building meetings which have come to include small working groups focusing on several topics of concern. Some of the projects which have arisen feel closer to my heart, such as a thoughtful one by the “Extending Support Beyond our Blocks” group. Interested in “being helpful,” but concerned not to impose their own understanding of need, this group approached the rec center down the block to ask if there was something the center would like from our group. The resulting project, then, which invited neighbors to help decorate for our local rec center’s winter fundraiser, maintained the centrality of the rec center’s autonomy, and at the same time supported relationship-building with an organization many of us walk past every day and which therefore stands to benefit all of us.

But it is the projects that don’t feel close to my heart that have offered the most significant learning opportunities for me. For example, the “Safety and Security” committee chose to begin with an element of security unrelated to crime: gutter cleaning. Our most popular event to date, the committee organized neighbors to troop from house to house cleaning gutters, while others stayed back with the kids and set up the potluck. Participants were downright giddy with the pleasure of doing physical work as a team and helping out grateful neighbors who wouldn’t want or be able to do this work themselves. A group of gutter-cleaners even organized themselves later to help an ailing neighbor to clear masses of dead leaves and fallen fruit. While this activity feels in itself a far cry from the political work I had intended, I have come to see a connection between the gutter cleaning and my broader concerns. My neighbors, like all of us, lead diminished lives due to the racism that teaches us fear of our streets and the commercialism that promotes our increased isolation. The pleasure that we are finding in working together is, I believe, a step towards an understanding of what brings people a deeper sense of security: connections with others. My hope is that a taste of the community that is so hard to come by in our fearful society can provide an opening for me to pursue discussions, with my neighbors, of a key white anti-racist principle: the losses that racism causes to white people.

My own committee, the smallest, focuses on “human rights and language” concerns. Much of my time has been spent in one-on-one discussion with the head of the patrol board, in an effort to share feedback from those of us against the patrol and to mitigate some of the problems of having the patrol. We’ve had some requests honored: to not have racial descriptions reported by email of people allegedly engaged in “suspicious activity;” to not have security company signs posted around the neighborhood. Fortunately, we did not have to request that guards not be armed, as there was broad agreement on that point from the outset. These conversations have been fascinating and have taught me a lot about finding common ground with people who are in various ways my political opponents.

There are certainly times when we oppose people with whom we disagree so significantly that compromises do nothing to serve our agenda. This does not feel like such a case. I will not give up, but I recognize that I do not yet have a large enough group of allies in my neighborhood to win a campaign against private security.  While I can do other sorts of political work outside of my neighborhood, if working effectively within it is also important to me then I must acknowledge my role here, as a political minority on this issue as well as many other issues. And working with my neighbors is important to me, much in the same way that family members are often important to us. These are the people I see every day, for whom I’ve come to have affection not only as individuals but as a collective that holds the power to shape a life closer to the one I dream of for all people, a life in which we accept and benefit from our interdependence.

I am not talking about withdrawing to my privileged neighborhood and abandoning the fight against injustice for teatime discussions of “political differences.” I am not talking about letting the Zimmermans and Dunns of the world live next door to me without consequence. I am talking about a commitment to accountable, persistent, one-on-one conversations within my sphere-of-influence: similarly privileged white people whose will to change, like mine, is essential for progress towards social justice. So my agenda is not to “go along to get along,” but to continue advocating for greater awareness of the effects and dangers of racism and classism, in sustainable dialogue with my mostly white, potentially anti-racist neighbors.

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Questions of where to go next and how we might push back against the private security and other related problems continue for us. And yet the small-scale work of investing in neighborhood relationships – both with an intent to pursue difficult conversations around race and class as well as for the intrinsic value of stronger community – offer us continuous lessons on the nature of the struggle.

 

Here are some of the questions that have been raised for me as part of this process:

  • How do we engage our neighbors in localized democracy when we are all accustomed to specialists taking action for us?
  • How can our neighborhoods do a better job of including marginalized voices than do most institutions?
  • How do we best acknowledge fear and recognize the legitimate dangers, and at the same time question the fears we’ve been taught?
  • What do we make of responses that private security is safer for people of color than allowing potentially violent residents to take safety into their own hands?
  • What would improved community-run safety programs look like, given what we already know about police and racial profiling?
  • How might a locally organized security team hire help without the privilege of the insurance that private patrol companies hold?
  • How do we best connect the relatively new debates about private patrols to longer-standing conversations around racial profiling, privatization, and other relevant topics?
  • What are the most successful methods for people with white skin privilege to engage other white people in their lives in acknowledgement of and reflection on that privilege?

Reclaiming Mother’s Day

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 5.32.16 PMAs Mother’s Day approaches, the White Noise Collective is once again faced with more questions than answers about this national holiday with a rich but forgotten history. We all agree that the current mainstream celebration of Mother’s Day — adorned with endless plastic, fuzzy and floral ways to express your annual appreciation to your mother — are at best a capitalist co-optation of a holiday that was originally meant for a completely different purpose.

Harnessing fierce maternal love in all its forms, we offer this blog with a compilation buffet of food for thought and critical reflection on the his/herstories of Mother’s Day.

In its inception, Mother’s Day was intended to be a day for women across the world to band together in opposing war and promoting peace. As Ruth Rosen writes in her article about reclaiming Mother’s Day, ”The women who originally celebrated Mother’s Day conceived of it as an occasion to use their status as mothers to protest injustice and war. Women political activists of this era fought to end lynching and organized to end child labor, trafficking of women, and consumer fraud. In their view, their moral superiority was grounded in the fact of their motherhood.” But, “the gift card and flower industries also lobbied hard. As an industry publication, the Florists’ Review, put it, ‘This was a holiday that could be exploited.’” And so it was. And so what do we do today, when to either celebrate it or not both feel like compromises we don’t want to make?

Well, before the anti-capitalist mothers among us run into the streets, burning Hallmark cards and calling for all mothers to join us in protesting the vast injustices in the world, let’s ask ourselves some critical questions.

Mother’s Day & Capitalism

Initially, what does it mean to honor the work of mothers (as well as all female-bodied and female-identified people), whose labor, body sovereignty and worth is devalued so systemically in our political and economic climate? What would it look like to deeply honor ”maternal work” (or what is considered “maternal work”), which is systematically taken for granted, invisibilized and exploited? Silvia Federici explores the many ways that capitalism relies upon the exploitation and unwaged labor of women through “glorifying” the sacrifices of femininity/motherhood and naturalizing housework, domestic work and reproduction as “women’s work,” all to then profit annually off of “honoring” her. Perhaps honoring our mothers should happen more than one day a year and include things beyond cards and flowers, such as fair wages, affordable housing, protection of reproductive rights and body sovereignty, open borders, prison abolition (because 10 million children have experienced parental incarceration at some point in their lives) and so much more.

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Mother’s Day & Exclusion

Next, what does it really mean to use the status of “motherhood” to fight against injustice? Are there ways in which the valuing of motherhood devalues the experience of women who are not mothers? As Anne Lamott critiques, in her article, Why I hate Mother’s Day, “Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha!” And are there groups of women who don’t have full access to Club Motherhood — who aren’t REALLY believed and understood to have the experience of motherhood? Who are they and how can we all take to the streets together — without uplifting the moral authority of ONLY those most visible “mothers”?

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Thinking about who has access to Club Motherhood conjures a slew of questions — What about trans and gender-nonconforming parents? Women who gave birth to children who were then adopted? Women who experienced pregnancy, but never gave birth, or never gave birth to a living child? People of all gender expressions who care for children, but did not give birth to them? People who have adopted children; relatives and friends who raised a child they did not give birth to; partners in relationships where both people identify as women and one partner did not give birth to their child; step-parents and unmarried partners of people with children from previous relationships? These are all examples of people who often don’t get to waive their motherhood flag with full support of our society, and of our movement work.

Mother’s Day & Racism

And what if we move beyond all of this to also recognize the ways in which Mother’s Day is both raced and classed through oppressive ideas about what makes a “good” mother? What mainstream images do we get when we think about (or even internet search) “mother”? What mothers do we see portrayed positively in the media? From welfare racism to stereotypes about teen moms, who is excluded from the “honorable” forms of motherhood and how do we transform this? As Tope Fadiran Charlton poignantly details in her article, The Impossibility of The Good Black Mother, “from the pediatrician’s office, to the grocery store, to the streets I call my own, it is not the myth of the Good Mother, but that of the Bad Black Mother, that renders my motherhood at turns invisible and suspect…When I respond to questions about my motherhood, am I simply challenging notions that I cannot be a Good Mother, or falling for the siren song of “proper” Black motherhood made in the image of polite, white-washed femininity? The lines are blurry.” Indeed.

So…the central question is, as we reclaim Mother’s Day, how can we all take to the streets together — waving our many different flags of maternal love and motherhood? How can we ensure that we are not working to lift up some on the backs of others? And, if we do choose to celebrate Mother’s Day, how can we make it just one part of a larger movement toward liberation?

Resources for further reflection on this day, and throughout the year:

Inclusive, intersectional, anti-racist feminist class war – Many shades, second sex - Discusses the need for inclusive, intersectional, anti-racist feminist organizing for reproductive justice and body sovereignty

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The Anti-War Roots of Mother’s Day - Further explores the transformation of what started as a pacifist holiday into a nationalistic celebration of the Mother in order to build support for American intervention in World War I and to sell the American mother on the notion of “patriotic motherhood.”

Trans, Masculine-of-Center and Gender-Nonconforming People Are Mothers Too - Describes a campaign launched by the California-based nonprofit Forward Together to “reflect the diversity of motherhood and parenting” and to ”change the way we think, feel and act in support of mothers in this country who are otherwise often invisible, targeted or stigmatized.”

There Is No Escaping Mother’s Day for Birthmothers - A vulnerable reflection through the eyes of someone who has experienced multiple forms of loss related to Mother’s Day

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Opting out of Motherhood - 5 things child-free women want moms to know (plus the Cameron Diaz version)

Mother’s Day Hypocrisy – Commentary on a billboard selling cleaning products for Mother’s Day and pointing out the ways this perpetuates misogyny

WPC 15

As the White Privilege Conference launches in Madison this week, the White Noise Collective is reflecting on all of the amazing and difficult learning that happened for us last year at WPC 14 in Seattle. We continue to explore ways in which we can end up perpetuating the same white supremacist mentalities we aim to bring awareness to and disrupt.

Read more of our learning and reflections from last year: http://www.conspireforchange.org/?p=1054

Best of luck and learning to all of you in Madison this year!

Dispatch from Northern California – Our Commitments in 2014

In late January 2014, for the first time since our birth in 2009, the entire current White Noise Collective core met for a full weekend retreat in coastal Northern California.  The blissful sunshine, gentle wind, and migrating whales inspired a weekend of tough questions, deep introspection, big dreams, new plans, and renewed commitments.  We hope this post, which summarizes the growth we underwent at our retreat, serves to put our intentions to the world, makes transparent our commitments, and increases our accountability to those of you who provided valuable feedback on our 2014 survey.  On the survey we sought general feedback, and also asked you all:

1. In your wildest dreams, what would you like the White Noise Collective to do in 2014?

2. More specifically, which of the following would you like us to do or provide in 2014?

  • More Dialogues
  • More Workshops
  • More Resources
  • More fb postings
  • More Blogging
  • Training and allyship with organizations
  • Other (explain)

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Retreat AgendaOur retreat began with a jam-packed agenda, and along with it a conscious commitment to maintain flexibility so that our ambitious agenda didn’t interfere with the opportunities to have deep, necessary, and potentially transformative conversations.  Those conversations were ever-present, and while much was completed, not every agenda item was checked off.

 

We initiated our retreat with the motivating question: how do we want the world to change because of our work (in one year?  in 500 years?).  Through powerful dialogue we arrived at our shared vision, which we now host in our “About us” section.  We share a vision of working toward a world in which:

  • All people who experience gendered oppression and white/light skin privilege will feel inspired, empowered, and equipped to act up and be fiercely and creatively committed to social justice and racial justice movements, especially those led by people of color
  • All people who experience gendered oppression and white/light skin privilege will feel connected to a supportive community in order to foster self-awareness, self-reflection, responsibility, shared power and the literacy and skills necessary to actively dismantle oppressive structures of power

  • “White feminist” movements, people in helping and buffer zone professions and all people will recognize and stop perpetuating colonial and racist practices

  • We will experience a world free of white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity and other oppressive ideologies

From this discussion three powerful values arose: connecting everyone engaged in radical liberation movements (and particularly individuals who identify with whiteness and femaleness within these movements), building our collective consciousness about oppression and injustice, and moving ourselves and our communities toward action.  We examined the work we currently do–and the work we hope to do in the future–and explored how it all relates to these three values.

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We explored our individual and collective capacities, asking ourselves how to remain humble in our work while choosing projects that recognize our availabilities and limitations.

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Given our clarified vision, values, and capacity, we reviewed feedback from the survey and made a few plans for the coming year.  This year, we commit to:

  • Continue to offer free, monthly dialogues February through July and September through December
  • Create a new opportunity for longer-term engagement in dialogues that move dialogue participants toward action.  We are affectionately calling this opportunity the White Noisemakers.
  • Host three sliding scale fee workshops this year to grow our community, with thematic focuses on Cultural Appropriation, Theater of the Oppressed, & White Female Socialization in the Buffer Zone
  • Explore and refine our values around money and financing the White Noise Collective
  • Explore accountability and a possible advising group
  • Continue to write individually and collectively around topics that move us and publish our writings on our blog
  • Creating curriculum and teaching tools
  • Engage in creative collaborative projects

2014 is an adventure in waiting.  We hope you can join us.

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Calling In: Questions we have for the One Billion Rising campaign

As Valentine’s Day approaches (a day that often inspires much activism from women), the White Noise Collective took an opportunity in our February dialogue to reflect on white feminism: What issues are white feminists largely drawn to, how are those issues expressed, in what way is white privilege showing up, and what patterns are helpful to explore?

What better place to start this inquiry than with One Billion Rising, founded by white feminist Vagina Monologues writer and founder of V-Day Eve Ensler?  In 2013, One Billion Rising claimed to be the biggest mass rising in human history, and 2014 aims to exceed that record.

Numerous powerful analyses exist exposing the ways in which One Billion Rising overlooks the root causes of gendered violence, reinforces police-state and prison-state responses to gendered violence, and recreates colonial paternalism and the white female savior complex by giving a “voice to the voiceless” and centering a white women in the global movement against gendered violence.

Natalie Gyte, in Why I Won’t Support One Billion Rising, draws attention to the fact that “In asking women to dance in order to overcome violence and rape, focus is displaced and root causes are overlooked, it completely diverts the world’s attention away from the real issue of gender based violence and rape with a pleasing-to-the-eye coordinated dance.”  She goes on: “The focus for white, western feminists should be on gender equality at home, where there are enough problems for a lifetime of activism. But, if the white saviour complex were to endure, that the best form of action would be to lobby their own governments to stop their patriarchal, neo-colonial influence in so-called ‘developing countries’.”

In the article One Billion Rising, Eve Ensler, and the Contradictions of Carceral Feminism at the Prison Culture blog, the author points out that “Ensler has positioned herself at the center of global anti-violence organizing where she gets to ‘learn’ from indigenous women through world traveling,” and “It’s instructive that Ensler chose to be inspired by Congolese women’s dancing rather than their years of painstaking and dangerous community and political organizing against violence and for economic justice.”  Furthermore, the author adds that “Ensler and her collaborators were either unaware or didn’t care that the state itself is a major purveyor of gender violence…For years now, women of color activists, organizers, and scholars around the world have been making the case that state & structural violence are constitutive of violence against women and girls.”

At Rippdemup blog, Eve Ensler’s White Feminist Low Blow, the author notes that “Ensler’s language basically masks a Western Liberal project of “giving voice” to the oppressed. But as Arundhati Roy has said, ‘We know of course there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.’ ”

Despite growing press coverage and airtime promoting One Billion Rising, Eve Ensler has yet to be called out or challenged on these points.  In the spirit of Black Girl Dangerous’s Ngọc Loan Trần, we’d like to call Eve Ensler in instead of calling her out.  We call her in to a dialogue and in to a community accountability process with us as fellow white women committed to ending racial discrimination and gendered violence.  In doing so, we’d like to distinguish between calling out the movement and calling in Eve Ensler.  As Sarah Milstein says in 5 Ways White Feminists Can Address Our Own Racism, “We cannot credibly or successfully seek societal change when we ourselves create the same injustices we rail against. In other words, the problems we face as women are often the problems we create as white people.”

This is an invitation to Ensler to better align this chosen action with her expressed intentions.  We honor that the movement One Billion Rising can be coming from a place of genuine intention to end gendered violence.  It speaks to many victims of gendered violence, as evidenced by the comments in Natalie Gyte’s Huffington Post article.  It involves extensive and meaningful participation from women of color both domestically and internationally.  Kimberlé Crenshaw is on the V-Day Board and has written about the connection between One Billion Rising for Justice and the opportunity the event presents to expose the intersections of gendered violence and classism, incarceration, militarism, colonialism, and environmental degradation.

As Crenshaw herself says, “As the energy and excitement continues to build, it becomes ever more clear that global movements are not, at the end of the day, top down affairs. No one can create, own, or direct a movement that spans 179+ countries and thousands of demonstrations. For an uprising of this magnitude to even be thinkable, the situation has to be ripe and the key stakeholders already in motion to connect the local into the global.”

But what is lost or compromised when the local is absorbed by the global?  Lauren Chief Elk of the Save Wiyabi Project, in An Open Letter to Eve Ensler, offers a reflection on Eve Ensler’s previous V-Day work in addition to One Billion Rising: “You asked me what would it mean to be a good ally. It would have meant stepping back, giving up the V-Day platform, and attending the marches and vigils [organized by Indigenous women activists in Canada]. It would have meant putting aside the One Billion Rising privilege and participating in what the Indigenous women felt was important.”

Ours is not a critique of Eve Ensler as a person.  However, we believe in holding Eve Ensler accountable to the ways that this chosen action, and her positionality within it, can actually perpetuate the systems that reinforce gendered violence.  We hope calling Eve in might give her a chance to revisit how to act against gendered violence.

One Billion Rising is big.  People around the world are tuning in.  Perhaps because of One Billion Rising, people are thinking about gendered violence in a new way.  This is true, and also, One Billion Rising is not promoting a racially just, anti-colonial, and truly liberatory movement to end gender-based violence.

The brilliant Andrea Smith proposes a series of questions asking us to move Beyond Eve Ensler and envision what a “justice based movement to end gender violence could and should actually look like.”

We’d like to call Eve in, and ask her those same questions, among them:

  • How does One Billion Rising reinforce and reify the gender binary?
  • How does One Billion Rising rely on the state to rectify violence?  Does One Billion Rising recognize the state as the primary perpetrator of gendered violence?
  • How does One Billion Rising fail to recognize the role of western imperialism in promoting gender-based violence?
  • How can these things be changed?

On Valentine’s Day 2012, Eve was interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now about One Billion Rising.   And again on Valentine’s Day 2013.  Ensler and Crenshaw were both interviewed on Democracy Now on February, 3 2014, sharing equal time in their discussion of the One Billion Rising for Justice 2014.

Democracy Now has a legacy of racial justice investigative journalism.  The show regularly interviews representatives of front-line communities.  We’re willing to bet that Friday, 2/14/2014, Eve Ensler (and perhaps Kimberlé Crenshaw) will appear on Democracy Now again.  Contact Amy Goodman and the Democracy Now team and ask Amy to call Eve in.  Ask Amy to question Eve on the colonialism, paternalism, and centering of whiteness we see in One Billion Rising.  We call on you to call Eve in.

The Democracy Now production team can be reached at +1 (212) 431-9090, or via this link.

What do you want from us in 2014?

Hello 2014!  Hello White Noise Collective Community!

This year, like every year since our humble beginnings in 2009, we are asking for your insights, ideas and feedback to shape our work so that its as relevant and fabulous as possible. Help us achieve new heights and be more responsive and strategic about where we direct our collective energy and (mostly) free labor by taking our QUICK survey.

We will print out your words of wisdom on Jan 16 (please complete before then) and take them to a retreat with us to pour over and think together about.

Thank you so much for participating!!!

We heart you, WNC

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The Last Thursday in November

“The killings became more and more frenzied with days of Thanksgiving feasts being held after each successful massacre. George Washington finally suggested that only one day of Thanksgiving per year be set aside instead of celebrating each and every massacre.” (Susan Bates)

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We often think of Thanksgiving as a time of family, football, giving thanks and gorging. I used to be of this mindset until learning more about some of the actual roots of this holiday. What I learned was that Thanksgiving has little to do with an amicable meal shared between the Pilgrims and Indians. While there is a documented meal shared at one point, and this is often what is referenced, the “National Holiday” was originally a marker of the celebrations of the massive genocide of Indigenous peoples across the Eastern coast of the US. Judy Dow (Abenaki) and Beverly Slapin gives an amazing run down of many of these “origin story” myths we were taught about our country and some of the actual truths that they mask.

In our White Noise dialogue this month, we discussed these dangerous and false mythologies surrounding Thanksgiving. With Halloween, and all its racism, sexism and cultural appropriation still lingering in the air, and Christmas, with its rampant consumerism right around the corner, we shared how overwhelming this time of year can be for those of us trying to resist the dominant and oppressive norms of the culture in the US. When the truth is that the labeling of Native peoples as “hostile” and “savage” was used as an excuse to rationalize the massacre of people in order to clear land and settle it, and when these same narratives are now being used to justify widespread atrocities against communities of color across the globe, while ignoring ongoing oppressions against Native communities, then we have to start thinking about the risks of remaining complicit in these colonial narratives. In what ways might we be perpetuating injustice when we continue to celebrate and give thanks on this day?

We tried to dig in deep to why these mythologies are so ingrained into our culture and why our friends and family often become defensive when we start to question why we celebrate this holiday. It seems that taking a critical look at Thanksgiving is often interpreted as an attack on the family and “tradition.” Which makes some sense when you think about the ways our social fabric is woven around the celebration of these holidays – many people are only able to get enough time off to see family around the times of the most colonized and consumer-based holidays. But the sugar-coating and institutionalization of these myths doesn’t erase the real histories of these holidays. And it doesn’t erase the fact that we remain complicit in perpetuating these dangerous mythologies if we don’t learn the truth and strive to shift our individual and collective choices in how and what we celebrate.

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Do we really want to continue to celebrate a holiday that commemorates the largest genocide in human history? In what ways is it similar or different than if Germany celebrated the Holocaust with an annual, national feast? What are we really teaching our kids when we encourage them to dress up as Pilgrims and Indians? Thinking critically about Thanksgiving is not an attack on the family. I believe our families (biological and chosen) are stronger when we learn together and when we work together to create a world we want to live in.

We each left the dialogue with one of these commitments:

1) To continue to learn more about our own ancestors and histories of colonization

2) To continue to learn more about the histories of the Indigenous peoples on the lands where we are living and where we are from – in ways that do not exotify, romanticize or vilify them – simply seeking the truth (for those of us in the SF Bay Area, start with Ohlone, Muwekma Ohlone, Miwok, and Ione Miwok)

3) Whether or not we participate in gatherings, to continue to initiate difficult conversations with family and friends about the real origins of this holiday – and to do so with respect and curiosity

4) To interrupt when Native Americans are referred to in the past tense

5) To learn more about active/current Indigenous struggles and ways we can support them (start by learning about Idle No More, American Indian Movement, the Shellmound Protest in Emeryville, the Glen Cove Protest in Vallejo, Free Leonard Peltier, the Alcatraz Occupation or the Top 10 Tribal Desires of 2013)

la-trb-san-francisco-thanksgiving-gathering-on-0016) To go see the 6th Annual Thangs Taken: rethinking thanksgiving in order to explore the complex history of Thanksgiving and support critical dialogue and cultural development of Native communities or support the annual Alcatraz Island Sunrise Ceremony

If you’d like to join us, here are a few resources to support learning and conversation. Know of other great resources? Share them below in our comments section.

Videos:

Don’t Celebrate Genocide aka Thanksgiving - various clips of protests

“What the White Man celebrates as a day of Thanksgiving, we have absolutely nothing as a culture to celebrate. That’s why we consider it a Day of Mourning.” “There’s gonna be a parade that marches down by the rock. These people are gonna be dressed as Pilgrims. In one hand they’re going to have the Holy Bible and in the other hand they’re going to muskets. Now what does that tell you?”

National Day Of Mourning {The Truth Of So-Called Thanksgiving} anti-thanksgiving-event

Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the US thanksgiving holiday. Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. Thanksgiving day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture. Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression that Native Americans continue to experience.

The Truth About Thanksgiving by Susan Bates

The true story of thanksgiving and not the Disney fairy tale told to you when you were growing up… ”The killings became more and more frenzied with days of Thanksgiving feasts being held after each successful massacre. George Washington finally suggested that only one day of Thanksgiving per year be set aside instead of celebrating each and every massacre.”

Critical Perspectives about Thanksgiving:

The Birth of A Nation: Giving Thanks for Colonization and Genocide from Aztlán Reads

No Thanks to Thanksgiving from The Final Call
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Thanksgiving: Celebrating the Genocide of Native Americans from News Junkie

Columbus What? Oh You Mean, Happy Imperialist Resistance Day! by The Angriest Black Man in America

“It is shameful that European culture was so narcissistic and self absorbed that they didn’t imagine a world outside their own and when they ‘discovered’ it, they couldn’t handle or respect that fact that someone had already ‘discovered’ it.”

Applying the Conversations to Parenting and Education:

Why I’m Not Thankful for Thanksgiving by Michael Dorris

Rethinking Thanksgiving: Myths and Misgivings by Vera Stenhouse

Rethinking Columbus Curriculum by Rethinking Schools

“Why rethink Christopher Columbus? Because the Columbus myth is a foundation of children’s beliefs about society. Columbus is often a child’s first lesson about encounters between different cultures and races. The murky legend of a brave adventurer tells children whose version of history to accept, and whose to ignore. It says nothing about the brutality of the European invasion of North America.”

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The First Thanksgiving History Assessment by Stanford History Education Group

The People vs. Columbus, et al. by the Zinn Education Project

Beyond the So-Called First Thanksgiving: 5 Children’s Books That Set the Record Straight on the Indian Country Today Media Network

A Little Satire

Illegal Immigrants by 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors

Totally Biased: Hari Kondabolu’s Columbus Day Wish

 

**Thanks to Zara, Nicole, Kelley and El Carbo for edits and contributions!

 

Liberate Halloween Action Kit!

They’re ba-ack! (shudder) With Halloween quickly approaching, and costume shops like Spirit Halloween opening their doors, many of us are cringing at the thought of another Halloween full of racism, sexism, heterosexism and the full range of offensive apparel we annually witness.

In response, we offer up a toolkit to those who wish to be a part of resisting the dominant paradigms that plague this season. Let’s make this be a season to reclaim and expand our expressive imaginations from being steered into narrow, tired, offensive and uncreative marketing channels.

Not sure what exactly is so offensive about certain Halloween costumes? 

The Sexy Debate

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The “sexy” costume phenomenon is complex. On one hand, women ought to be empowered and have the freedom to dress as they wish without fear of the all-too-common repercussions – slut-shaming, violence and objectification. We ought to be able to dress as we wish without having to fear that we are reproducing tired, binary gender stereotypes. We ought to be able to have a deep, healthy and vibrant sense of our own sexuality without fear of being told we’re asking for trouble by being suggestive. Girls ought to be allowed to explore their sexuality without increased risk of unwanted advances and harassment. On the other hand, these consequences are real. And if you look at any Spirit or costume catalog – sexy costumes are becoming, more and more, the ONLY option, to the point of absurdity. Even for female toddlers. On some level, they are all variations of the same costume.

As Halloween continues to become an increasingly hyper-commercialized event, currently an $8 billion industry, the sexualization of female costumes, the narrowing of conventional beauty standards and the ways this is connected to the oversexualization of women and girls, and the general sexist devaluation of women in society IS a problem. If women and girls are only allowed to exist as no more than sexual objects, who exist for the pleasure of others and should feel best about themselves when dressed suggestively, but who are blamed for the violence perpetrated against them because they dressed suggestively in the only costumes available on the market, while men are held to a different standard, then sexy costumes AS A PHENOMENON are not necessarily empowering. They are something else entirely. On top of this, many sexy costumes on the market today have a heavy amount of racism and cultural appropriation woven in – which is definitely not empowering.

The Issue of Objectifying Other Cultures

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“There are many good reasons not to wear a costume that relies on racist stereotypes or caricatures. Costumes like these communicate negative ideas and assumptions about people of that race or ethnicity, and as this year’s posters say, that stigma stays with people of color long after you take the costume off. Wearing racist costumes also creates a hostile environment for people of that race, who may not appreciate seeing their identity, culture or community mocked and distorted while they’re trying to relax and have a good time. Costumes like these demonstrate disrespect and ignorance on behalf of the costume-wearer. Finally, they aren’t funny or creative. Really. This is one widely celebrated holiday where creativity is actively encouraged, and all a racist costume does is prove that the wearer knows how to recycle old, tired bigotry. They’re similar to racist “jokes:” unoriginal and offensive.” (By Sarah Appelbaum)

A few costumes to avoid:

Suicide Bomber, Geisha, Gangster, Redneck, Gypsy, Native American, Indian Princess, Illegal Alien, Sugar Skull, Muslim Terrorist, Hitler, Any Victim or Perpetrator of Sexual, Homophobic or Racist Violence, Any Costume in which you are Dressing as a Stereotyped Person from Another Race or Culture, Anything that Stigmatizes Mental Illness or Poverty, Oversexualized Version of an Otherwise Interesting Costume

Want to take action? Yes!

1 – Come up with a costume idea for yourself that isn’t racist, sexist or otherwise offensive. Use the checklist. Do the same for your kids: What Your Kid’s Halloween Costume Says About You

2 – Print out this handy front and back flyer, cut into 3, and hang on or tape to offensive costumes in stores.

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3 - Take a picture of you doing #2.  And/or, take a picture of costumes you see that reclaim creative, fantastically weird and spooky imagination. Email us your photos at whitenoisecollective(at)gmail(dot)com.  We will post it on our Tumblr: Get Creative This Halloween. Spread the word!

4 – Talk to people. Identify your sphere of influence, and have the difficult conversations. What an opportunity for a learning experience. Here are some tips: How to Inform a Friend Their Halloween Costume Is Racist

5 – Hand the Appreciation or Appropriation? flyer out to folks wearing costumes mimicking Native people (throughout the year, music festivals in particular).

Check out these resources for more in depth thinking:

Costume Mirrors: Halloween and beyond - a blog from our collective that takes a critical look at the harm of the stereotypical representations and the ways they maintain oppressive norms and stigmas
The one stop for all your “Indian costumes are racist” needs! - an updated piece from the Native Appropriations site about the ways “Indian” costumes are hurtful and dangerous
Seven Racist Costumes to Avoid This Halloween - a great piece from Colorlines that lays out an all too common variety of racist costumes to avoid
Racy, Sexy, and Culturally Appropriate-y: It’s Halloween Again, Folks! - a dynamic piece breaking down some the patriarchy and racism that shows up in Halloween

Trying to think of some more creative costume ideas? Here you go:

Things You Can Be On Halloween Besides Naked!!!
I Am Not Your Halloween Costume
Creative Costumes of Still-Practiced Pagan Rituals of Europe
20 Incredibly Bizarre Vintage Halloween Costumes
22 DIY Halloween Costumes For Kids, Adults And Even Pets That You Can Make This Weekend 

Strategies to Engage White People Around (Im)migrant Justice

In our June dialogue, we convened white female and gender minority racial justice activists to examine personal and political histories of immigration to this country, and to generate steps for action, engagement and dialogue with other white people towards contributing to the inspiring momentum of the immigrant justice movement. It was fantastic for the White Noise Collective to be joined by special guest, organizer and facilitator extraordinaire Dara Silverman of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), who led us through a three-part process of familial exploration on a timeline of US history, expression of values and stakes white people may have in immigrant justice, and concrete practice with role playing conversations. SURJ is a national network of white people committed to racial justice, originally organized in 2009 to begin to explore ways that white individuals could step up to the challenge of confronting the contemporary manifestations of racism across the US. SURJ’s focus is on reaching white people who are already in motion and have political analysis, but may be unsure where to go, to engage more deeply in racial justice campaigns. In 2013, SURJ committed to a campaign focused on (im)migrant justice.

This piece is offered to share the insights and potentially helpful frames, strategies and talking points that emerged from this collaborative process. Acknowledging that skill-building capacity is a muscle to use and practice, we are all strengthened by political community that takes action together.

Where Do We Come From As White People: Fighting the United States of Amnesia

In her condensed and powerful essay “Raícism: Rootedness as Spiritual and Political Practice” (Medicine Stories: History, Culture and the Politics of Integrity), Aurora Levins Morales makes blazingly evident the necessity for the practice of what she terms raícism (from raíces or roots), rooting ourselves in the concrete histories of our people(s), to bear witness to “our specific, contradictory, historical identities in relationship to one another”.  As an ongoing practice of accountability, which makes power structures and our agency within them more visible and tangible, she states, “Mapping the specificity of our ethnicity also reveals hidden relationships. European Americans in this country need to find out in relationship to whom they became white.” The work of individual and collective memory for people of European descent/dissent, can be a particular type of swimming upstream in US dominant culture, where the politics of forgetting has allowed white people to not recognize the construction of whiteness, as the true “melting pot” of European ethnicities, and defined against the necessary Other in a system, country and economy built on racism. As Cornel West explains, “Without the presence of black people in America, European-Americans would not be “white”– they would be Irish, Italians, Poles, Welsh, and other engaged in class, ethnic, and gender struggles over resources and identity.” To see the diversity of family immigration stories, class circumstances, as well as recurring themes across generations, and their direct connections to landmark American policies over “300 years of affirmative action” that increasingly solidified a system of white supremacy, dissolved cross-race class solidarities and erased Old World identities, ethnic markers, legacies. Assimilation is not looking back, “making it” within the unequal opportunity race of the American meritocracy dream.

We began with a timeline on the dry erase board from 1700-2000, and had short conversations about what we each know about our family’s immigration history. What were the aids, blocks, and benefits? Writing these on three different colors of post-its, we placed them on the timeline and stood back together.  Themes of poverty and consolidation of wealth stood out.  Within our small group, we had ancestors who came to the US as aristocrats and as indentured servants, who came in the 1700s and as recently as a generation ago. All became white. In the context of this timeline, we see how access to land with the Homestead Act (1862) and the Federal Housing Administration (1934) offering low interest for first time home buyers, contributed to intergenerational asset-building and structural (unearned) advantage.  Class mobility, assimilation and the creation of race and white identity to divide and conquer class bonds and shared interests and power, all came into sharp relief.  It was fascinating to witness how common themes of intergenerational trauma, alcoholism, assigned identities (such as who was considered more or less intelligent) and belonging/not belonging were among our small sample of individual histories, pointing to larger phenomena that continue to shape the present, uphold structures of inequity, and live intimately within us.  What are the parts that get invisibilized or don’t get talked about in daylight or at the dinner table? What mythologies of wealth exist in our families to explain how they achieved what they did? This exploration could have gone on for much longer, and should and will, as we work to make history personal and visible in the present, connecting to immigrant justice issues and conditions from our lineages of intertwined oppression and privilege.

One additional excellent tool to make these histories come alive and see with greater clarity the (dis)connections in our ancestors’ conditions of immigration and today’s brutal realities is the Entry Denied interactive teaching tool. Would your grandmother or grandfather be denied entry today? As this site says, “Millions of Americans have grown up with a defining family immigration story. But while our families may have endured hardship coming to America, the simple fact is that most of our immigration stories would not be possible at all under today’s immigration laws.”

As Levins Morales offers, “Questions about our place within the megastructures of racism become intimate and carry personality. It becomes possible to see the choices we make right now as extensions of those inherited ones, and to choose more courageously as a result.”

White People Have Multiple Stakes in Immigration Justice

photo-563As we moved into the second part of the evening, a discussion of how to engage and mobilize others, one participant raised an important question, why do white people need to “have a stake”? Is that a hook? Merely instrumental? An appeal to enlightened self-interest? Do we assume that identifying stakes are necessary because justice is not, in itself, compelling and urgent enough?  Keeping this critique close, but acknowledging the racist propaganda of dominant media frames that we are contending with, we generated various stakes, issues or values that could be a bridge to other white people – could mobilize different forms of caring, open hearts, stimulate minds, and spark and stoke action.

As a partial list-in-progress, we created this in hopes of contributing to the proliferating interpersonal and national conversations taking place around (im)migrant justice:

  • Militarization – people are both caged out and caged in by borders; we don’t want to live with militarized borders, as they are and increasingly so
  • How are the economic effects on other countries made invisible? Policies of the US, multinational corporations and free trade agreements (such as NAFTA)?
  • What are personal effects of immigration policies in my/your/our family history? What causes a family to migrate away from home?
  • Forgetting (histories of becoming white) and invisibilizing (structural racism) work in tandem
  • Militarized and rigid borders lead to traumatization and breaking apart of families. For an excellent groundbreaking report on this widespread reality, see the Applied Research Center’s: Shattered Families: The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System, with key findings and policy recommendations
  • We don’t want to value money over people
  • Undocumented labor may depress wages in certain historically working class jobs/industries sectors (sensitive issue to raise as this may get spun into reinforcing the right-wing refrain of immigrants taking jobs) – valuing and documenting everyone’s work leads to greater value and greater working class power
  • We need health care workers to be at their best, yet the reality is that wages and standards are so low – not being cared for can compromise care labor
  • Our standard of living is dependent on a constant flow of immigration/movement across borders
  • More just immigration and direct paths to citizenship means more people paying into Social Security system
  • Immigration is changing the demographics of the south, with polls showing that immigrants vote progressive and if enabled and supported to vote – the entire south could swing to left – greatly shifting the needle of the entire country
  • Just as our family belongs here, we believe all families belong here
  • Relationships are forced apart because of immigration policies
  • Redefining and reclaiming “family values” and American values
  • Christian values, love thy neighbor as thyself
  • Stolen land, stolen bodies, stolen souls – histories of white supremacy
  • Controlling, surveilling and policing bodies – does and can carry over into white communities
  • Think of all the people in your life
  • National wins around climate require involvement with and mobilization of undocumented Latino communities, who are generally in favor of more radical climate change policies, presenting lucid analyses, and stark insights from climate refugees

Listening is a Big Part of Organizing

Think of someone – which of these statements or ideas would resonate with them? Is there a way to humanize this issue or connect it to someone they know? What do they care about? One of the key points we kept returning to is that asking questions is always a helpful strategy, as is a stance of sincere curiosity, as we remember that the goal is not to win someone over, but to engage a conversation around this issue, and trust that the next step can arise.  How do we work on our own defenses that may get triggered, and return to a question to re-open the channel of transformative communication?  This is a practice and is very much ongoing.  We will not “get it all right” or “have all the answers” (watch out, white socialization!) in one conversation. By having a different interaction, how does the environment start to change?

In the words of Ella Baker: “each one, teach one”.

Organizations and Campaigns

We Belong Together: Women For Common Sense Immigration Reform

National Domestic Workers’ Alliance

Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Association, Caring Homes and Just Workplaces

Voice of Art: Migration is Beautiful

DREAM Act

UndocuBus: No Papers, No Fear

 

 

Reflections on White Women by White Women in Light of the Zimmerman Verdict.

While the “social media moment” may have passed, the Zimmerman verdict represents just one of countless examples in an on-going pattern of unrecognized white privilege lending justification to violence against black men.  The need remains to continue the conversation about this case, particularly with respect to this pattern. One element of the pattern that is specific to white women is our stereotyped role as virtuous victims who need protection from “bad guys.” Looking at the Zimmerman trial with an eye to this narrative reveals how the verdict was shaped by the white female judge’s decision to frame the case in terms of Zimmerman’s fear, the white female jurors’ description of their key decision as a response to fear, and the significance of the white female neighbor in justifying that fear.

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The virtuous victim narrative runs throughout the history of our country, reinforced to this day by media representations of white women. The narrative of white girls and women as victims in need of white male protection from some evil force is part of the fairy tales many of us have grown up with. As familiar as we are with this storyline, it’s mostly a myth, manufactured and leveraged to justify violence against men of color whose real victimization is rendered invisible. Sure, many of us socialized as white and female have been victimized in real, horrendous ways. As women, we must face the daily reality of living within a rape culture. But, as Bonnie Berman Cushing explains, “white people are five times more likely to be attacked by another white person than by a black one and two-thirds of the rapes committed in the US are by white men.” Yet these are not the proportions that the media would have us believe.  For example, the vast majority of media coverage of missing children focuses on the disappearance of “pretty” white girls and under-reports on the disappearance of (or violence against) children of color, yet The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that in 2002 51% of missing children were boys, and 47% were racial minorities. In another example, the Jessica Lynch story, the 2003 media sensation reporting that a lovely white female army Private was rescued by US soldiers from demonized Arab male predators was turned immediately into a movie and used to justify ongoing war and brutality, despite  Private Lynch’s own denunciation of the rescue as a lie: she had in fact been injured in a car accident, helped by a Native American female army member, and treated with excellent care by Iraqi doctors until the US military “rescuers” arrived and broke down the door of the hospital, followed by a camera team. These examples and countless others contribute to a narrative that reinforces both sexism and racism, and teaches white women to see themselves as less powerful than they really are.

The use of the white female virtuous victim narrative to justify genocide of Native Americans and lynching black men and boys may seem to be over. However, the Zimmerman trial gives us a striking example of the ways this justification is still in effect. Incompetence –arguably intentional– on the part of the prosecution (led by white female Angela Corey who said the case “was never about race”) did little to counter the defense’s method of calling on the virtuous victim narrative to prove their case. We’ll look here at how the white female judge, jurors, and neighbor invoked the story of white female fear, giving Zimmerman the complementary role as protector and usurping the place of the actual victim, Trayvon Martin.

trayvon-martin-george-zimmerman-trial-day-12Let’s start with a look at the judge:

Early decisions made by white female Judge Debra Nelson directed the course of the case by refusing to allow the term “racial profiling” or any discussions of race in the courtroom. (As if a white person killed at the hands of a black man who allegedly feared for his life would receive the same verdict) Additionally, she disallowed discussion of the “first aggressors” law, even though Zimmerman initiated the encounter. Florida’s self-defense law prohibits ‘initial aggressors’ from using force if their own conduct has provoked that force; so, if a defendant ‘initially provokes the use of force’ against himself, he cannot claim to have acted in self-defense, unless he withdraws or retreats.” Had Judge Nelson allowed racial profiling into discussion, there would have been ample grounds for discussion of Zimmerman as a first aggressor.The specific focus on the fatal final moments of the episode required the white female jurors to focus on a question likely to evoke their empathy on behalf of Zimmerman–namely, was Zimmerman legitimately afraid for his life? Notice that the question asked the jurors to put themselves in Zimmerman’s place, and to judge the legitimacy of his fear–without having to consider whether or not race (or implicit bias) might influence that judgment, or how Zimmerman himself precipitated this close encounter with Martin. Judge Nelson’s use of her vested power in framing the case thus focused on the sense of powerlessness familiar to white women in their accustomed social roles. Here, then, is the contradiction to address: white women using their social power to deny black men justice–by accepting, unexamined, the socialization that casts them as intrinsically weak.

A case could certainly be made that Zimmerman was racially profiling Martin by considering him so suspicious to be worth following. “Zimmerman told the 911 operator, ‘These fucking punks’ and ‘these assholes, they always get away,’ when he spotted Martin walking down the street in Sanford, Florida, that fateful evening. ‘Looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something,’ Zimmerman said. ‘Something’s wrong with him.’ When an investigator later asked Zimmerman what he meant by those words, the shooter replied, ‘I don’t know.’”In other words, because Zimmerman was never charged with being a first aggressor, he never had to defend his decision to follow Martin. In his own words he was unable to justify what was wrong with Martin walking around in the afternoon, and yet he decided to follow Martin, with a concealed weapon, even after the 911 operator had advised him “We don’t need you to do that.”

It is deeply troubling that the question of “first aggressor” and the question of racial profiling were not included in the arguments made during the case. Surely we could have allowed the jurors to consider the full story of the events, rather than focus on the encounter between Martin and Zimmerman as if it took place out of context of the build-up to their struggle. It is also troubling to hear, in most mainstream coverage, that this case is not about race. Judge Nelson’s denial of racial profiling as relevant in the courtroom continues in a long tradition of white people failing to look at and acknowledge the alternate universe that black men in particular inhabit. Despite studies confirming the disproportionate number of black men who are pulled over for questioning, jailed for drug use, or treated suspiciously in stores or on the street, white people continue to argue that we live in a “post-racial” America. And white women, in this case as in others, continue to find themselves making decisions out of fear — a fear that is reinforced by our culture’s myth that white women are endangered victims.

Next, let’s go to the 5 white female jurors:

InsightBirdCageArtWebB072113The final decision to acquit Zimmerman for his shooting of an innocent 17-year-old was made by a predominately white female jury. Perhaps more revealing of the virtuous victim narrative than the juror’s final verdict, however, were the combined post-trial interviews of all five white, female jurors. These overwhelmingly similar statements offer important lessons about the role of white women in validating and upholding a culture of laws that unjustly devalues the life of black men and children, while simultaneously expressing stereotypically maternal emotions of sadness for such an “unfortunate event.”

The so-called “jury of mothers” expressed “anguish” and “heavy hearts” for the family of Martin and for their role in convicting Zimmerman not guilty. Juror B37 also shared that her prayers were with “those who could modify the laws that left me with no verdict options other than ‘not guilty.’” The remaining four jurors released a similar statement expressing that Martin’s death weighed heavily on their hearts, but that they did what the law required them to do and wished for privacy and a return to their normal lives.

We do not doubt the truth of their sadness. But at the same time these statements illuminate a commonly held story about our perceived passivity and powerlessness as white women – which is the other side of the insidious coin of the white female virtuous victim narrative. An arguably less violent, but tremendously damaging aspect of the narrative serves to trap us by our self-image as victims, living in unnecessary fear with a paralyzing (though false) sense of powerlessness.

BAPTIST-CHURCH-ZIMMERMAN-RACISM-SIGN-570White females are socialized to believe it more appropriate to express sadness than anger, distress than outrage. Moreover, as white people, we have learned to blindly accept and, consequentially, act upon our bias and our privilege. The result in the case of Martin and Zimmerman is an expression of individual sadness towards Martin’s family and an utter failure to name a larger sense of sadness or even righteous anger at the parallels of  Martin’s murder to the killing of black people by police officers or vigilantes that happens every 28 hours.

While the jurors claim to have had their hands tied about the range of choices available to them, they were free to act on their conscience. They would not be killed, and likely not imprisoned for standing up to the judge’s ridiculous assertion that race can be left outside of the courtroom. Instead, even after the trial was over the jurors played right into this sacred narrative, and announced themselves as victims. Their response was not anger at the dis-empowered position they had been placed in, or recognition that racial profiling prevents black mothers from moving on from this case the way the jurors themselves aimed to.

And finally, let’s look at the neighbor:                                      George Zimmerman Trial

Zimmerman’s former neighbor, a white woman, testified about a break-in of her house by two young black men which had led her to move out of the neighborhood: “I was locked in my son’s bedroom and he was shaking the door knob trying to get in. I was sitting there with a pair of rusty scissors and my son in my arms.” In the closing arguments of the case, the defense played on the sympathy they suspected a predominantly white female jury would have for the white female crime victim. The neighbor became a key element of the closing arguments, making clear that the make-up of the jury was critical to the defense. The defense showed the jury a picture of the neighbor in order to highlight the role Zimmerman was playing, as protector of a frightened white woman who had been victimized by black men. Then they showed the jury a picture of Trayvon Martin without his shirt on, and argued that the jury should pay attention to the strength–thus threat– he was capable of. As Mychal Denzel Smith of The Nation pointed out, the defense team “literally invoked the same justification for the killing of Trayvon Martin that you would during lynching,” that “George Zimmerman was protecting, not just himself , but white womanhood from this vicious, black thug.” In short: white women are afraid. This black man is strong and causes a threat.

The judge’s dismissal of race in order to focus on a scenario in which a black male allegedly imperils a white life, the disempowered dismay reflected in the juror comments as they spoke of their decision on the case, and the fact that the picture of a white female former resident of the neighborhood was considered to be relevant even as Martin’s friend’s testimony was not considered credible because “of her education,” are all examples of white women making important life-altering decisions, from a deeply embedded racism enabled by a distorted sense of powerlessness and lack of responsibility.

The current narrative of white women as victims and black men in particular as aggressors ultimately serves to divide and conquer, making enemies of two potential allies in the critique of white patriarchy, and thus benefitting those who remain in power. Only our rejection of the myth that we are victims in need of saving will allow us to fully claim the power available to us as we wrestle with the interdependent systems of white supremacy and patriarchy. Claiming this power can free us to be actors for change, rather than victims of a system that uses us to perpetuate inequality and violence.

- Written by collective members Alanya, Levana, Julia and Lissa, photo addition and editing by Beja

For additional resources, not embedded in the article, check these out:

We Are Not Trayvon Martin tumblr

The Racist Mind by The Rinku Sen on Colorlines

White Fear of Black Men by Bonnie Berman Cushing

If Zimmerman was…: Really, is no one going to say it? by thedrstiletto

Trayvon Martin and I Ain’t Shit by Questlove

Hey, White Liberals: A Word On The Boston Bombings, The Suffering Of White Children, And The Erosion of Empathy by Black Girl Dangerous

Justice for Trayvon Action Kit by SURJ

HUNGER FOR JUSTICE – 7/31 Day of Solidarity with Hunger Strikers

The White Noise Collective has added our name to the list of organizations that support and endorse the California Prisoner Hunger Strikers. We do this as an act of solidarity and to stand in opposition to the structural racism of the prison industry. As part of that endorsement, we are sharing this announcement about an upcoming way for all of us to show support and solidarity. Please join us in making a call to Gov. Brown and encouraging him and the CDCR to negotiate. -the WNC

image003Hunger for Justice

On Wednesday July 31st, people around the world will fast and take other action in solidarity with the California Prisoner Hunger Strikers. Join family members of hunger strikers along with James Cromwell, Angela Davis, Mike Farrell, Danny Glover, Elliott Gould, Chris Hedges, Alice Walker, and Cornel West. We fast knowing that the criminalization that killed Trayvon Martin, and the criminalization that justifies the torture of prisoners in solitary confinement are one and the same.

We fast in solidarity with the demands of the hunger strikers. And we fast to get justice for Trayvon and for people of every gender, race and religion who have been killed by state and vigilante violence. Support efforts everywhere for Justice for Trayvon Martin.

“We have taken up this hunger strike and work stoppage… not only to improve our own conditions but also an act of solidarity with all prisoners and oppressed people around the world.”   -Hunger Strikers in the Short Corridor Collective at Pelican Bay State Prison SHU

Join us to help win the 5 demands of the California Prisoner Hunger Strikers:
1. End Long-Term Solitary Confinement
2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Gang Status Criteria
3. End Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse
4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food
5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming

On July 30th the families and loved ones of prisoners on hunger strike are visiting Sacramento to demand that Governor Brown pressure the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to enter into negotiations with the hunger strikers.

Call California Governor Jerry Brown and let him know you’re fasting in solidarity with the strikers, ask him to meet the strikers demands: (916) 445-2841, (510) 289-0336, (510) 628-0202.

Cities and countries participating thus far: England, Germany, the US (Jackson Mississippi, Los Angeles, Oakland CA, Philadelphia PA).

“Hunger for Justice” convened by members of: Alexandria House; Alliance for Global Justice; Anti-Racist Action-LA; Brandywine Peace Community; California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement; California Coalition for Women Prisoners; California Prisoner Solidarity Coalition; Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB); Critical Resistance; DCFS/DHS-Give Us Back Our Children; Ecosocialist Horizons, Every Mother is a Working Mother Network; FACTS Education Fund; Fair Chance Project; Flying Over Walls; Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement/ Nat’l; Freedom Archives; Global Women’s Strike; Hank Jones – San Francisco 8; Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace; International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network; LACAN; LA Laborfest; Lives Worth Saving Gang Intervention; Malcolm X Grassroots Movement; Martin Luther King Coalition of Greater LA; National Hood Alliance; Ordinary People’s Society/ Alabama; Palestinian Youth Movement; Payday men’s network; Peter Laarman/Progressive Christians Uniting and Justice not Jails; Prodigal Child Project, Alabama; Project South; Queer Strike; Rev. Louis Logan; Ruckus Society, Scientific Soul Sessions; Sin Barras; Theresa Shoatz – Maroon Philly Committee; Transgender, Gender-Variant, Intersex Justice; US PROStitutes Collective; White Noise Collective; Women of Color/Global Women’s Strike; Youth Justice Coalition.

Endorse, support, and/or join the “Hunger for Justice”
Or contact: hunger4justice2013@gmail.com

WE ARE ALL PRISONERS OF INJUSTICE!

I Am Not Trayvon Martin, but I sure look like the jury. Reflections on racism, the Zimmerman verdict and white women jurors.

20130714+Zimmerman+ProtestAs we collectively mourn for Trayvon Martin and feel outrage for him, his family and all people who live in fear of a criminal (in)justice system which is designed to entrap and persecute them or their loved ones, we must reflect on the dynamics of racism and fear in our culture that not only allowed, but encouraged, Travon’s murder. From the We Are Not Trayvon Martin tumblr:

The Trayvon Martin case isn’t about an isolated incident but about a pattern of behavior.  It’s assumed that racism some how magically ended in the 1960’s. Instead, we’ve slapped a fresh coat of paint over it and then remarked about how great it looked.  But the problems didn’t disappear.  

And we must have a conversation about the System of White Supremacy and the white women jurors who released George Zimmerman. As one of our collective members posted earlier today on facebook, “White Supremacy let Zimmerman go, but it was a jury of almost all white women who did White Supremacy’s bidding.” The Daily Mail reports:

A jury of six women, five of them white and the other a minority, decided George Zimmerman was not guilty in the shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin. Now, many are questioning how the all-female jury affected the outcome of the trial.

Why is this? Let’s be clear here. This had nothing to do with safety, with standing your ground (if it did, Marissa Alexander would not have gotten sentenced to 20 years for standing her ground), or with the hoodie he was wearing. It had to do with Trayvon Martin being black. As Angela Davis illuminates:

Trayvon’s blackness wasn’t something he could hide, so it wouldn’t have mattered whether he’d worn a hoodie or a t-shirt that fateful night. It mattered that he was black, and it mattered that the person who shot him had a vendetta out for black men before Trayvon ever set foot in the neighborhood. It matters that in 2012, there are more black men in prison today than those who were enslaved in 1850. It matters that blacks, in particular black men, are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and underrepresented in colleges… It matters that blacks are less likely than whites to abuse drugs, but more likely to be convicted of drug crimes. None of these statistics are due to a genetic predisposition to violence, poor health and underachievement, instead as a direct result of the disenfranchisement of blacks that has occurred in this country for more than 200 years at the hands of slavery, Jim Crow Laws, discrimination, and the institutionalized racism in our schools, banks, businesses, courts, and prisons that has torn apart our families and fractured our community. Just like Trayvon Martin, race mattered for Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Emmett Till, and hundreds more we will never know the name of who died because of their skin color.

And it had to do with most of us, and white women in particular, being socialized to fear blackness. In her article, White Fear of Black Men,” Bonnie Berman Cushing explains:

History, psychology and media all play a significant role. The myth of the predatory Black man stands on the shoulders of centuries of stories and images shared from one generation to the next, sometimes directly and sometimes in coded messaging (such as admonishments to lock the car in certain neighborhoods or clutch your pocketbook closely on certain elevators and streets).  Our collective fear of the Black man has a rich and detailed history, one that by this time has practically been encoded in our national DNA.

She continues by quoting M Gibson:

Fear of the black man didn’t just start overnight, and it didn’t just happen during the course of our lifetime; like any singularity it has to have a beginning. Its origin has been embedded in this nation’s consciousness since the Nat Turner revolt; a pathological fear that the oppressed will one day rise up and inflict vengeance upon the oppressor.

We live in a society that labels any black, brown or poor body that doesn’t completely assimilate into white cultural norms, behaviors and dress codes as a criminal. We live in a culture that has a double standard with regards to whose lives it values and whose lives it finds dispensable. And we live in a society that tells women that they are victims and should be afraid. Then pop culture, marketing and the right-wing and mainstream media do everything they can to perpetuate and profit off of these fears and stereotypes. gisele-lebron-vogue-032807race-king-kongYou don’t have to look very far for examples of black men being shown as monsters and criminals and white women being portrayed as victims in need of rescue. The defense attorneys, along with every other mainstream force in this country, did everything it could to socialize those 6 women into being so afraid of Trayvon Martin that they would see Zimmerman as a hero, as the man that made their streets ‘safer.’ Even though “white people are five times more likely to be attacked by another white person than by a Black one and that two-thirds of the rapes committed in our country are by white men” (Cushing).

So what do we do as white people and as people socialized as white women? Are we going to remain complicit in a society that devalues the families and lives of people of color or are we willing to commit to doing something? Are we going to fight to change the values, laws and narratives of this society into something more just?

zimmerman

Each of us must decide our own step forward. We can start by taking leadership from people of color, and people of color led organizations who have been organizing for years to fight the racist criminal (in)justice system. We can talk with other white people and have difficult conversations with them. We can counter hostile and racist remarks through-out the media that are continuing to label the very non-violent protests of this verdict as violent mobs. This is our problem, our ancestors created this mess and we are perpetuating it with our inaction. We need see this fight as our fight, and not leave it solely up to the people most targeted by violence to solve this for us.  White women can work to directly counter mythologies of themselves as victims and Black men as aggressors. Cushing offers this:

I understand I will have to check my racist assumptions and continue to unlearn the lessons I have inherited about Black men for the rest of my life.  I will always need to remind myself I have been socialized to collectivize the violence of Black individuals and individualize the violence of whites. I will need to intentionally counteract that socialization.  This is part of my legacy as a privileged white woman in the United States, and I take it on both sadly and gladly.

We must do something. We must learn to categorically reject what we are being taught. Because who knows which of us will be on that jury next. Or in whose name the next injustice will occur. Actually, we know. We know who will most likely be on the next jury, and we know who will most likely experience the next injustice and in whose name it will happen. Unless we do something.

(Thanks to Levana and Zara for adding to and editing this post.)