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 Issue of Objectifying Other Cultures


“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)

The Sexy Debate


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 marketed to women, to the point of absurdity. Even for female toddlers. On some level, they are all variations of the same costume.

halloween-costumes-boys-and-girlsAs 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.


Just 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.



3 – Take a picture of you doing #2.  Post your photos on Facebook, Twitter & beyond using #HauntSpirit #ThisIsRacist #NotBuyingIt #MyCultureIsNotACostume. Tweet @SpiritHalloween that we want more creative choices.

Indian Warriortoolkit 3toolkit 2

And/or, take a picture of costumes you see that reclaim creative, fantastically weird and spooky imagination. Tag them #GetCreativeThisHalloween. 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 or Cultural Appropriation mini-zine  (cut & fold instructions) out to folks wearing culturally imitative costumes or 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
Picking a Halloween Costume? Watch This Cupcake Tutorial First – Using cupcake-making as a metaphor, Kat Lazo has a fabulous new video that breaks down the way that Halloween has become a sad excuse for cultural appropriation, misogyny and a lot more.
65321_413375668729729_772169773_nThe 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!!!
Conceptual Physics Costumes for Halloween
I Am Not Your Halloween Costume
50 Unique and Weird Costumes Ideas
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 

White Women’s Tears and the Men Who Love Them

This illuminating breakdown of the deep patterns of what has been named “white women’s tears” is cross-posted from the Good Men Project, by Robin DiAngelo, anti-racism and diversity trainer, educator and author.

There has been much critique lately of “white tears.” This term refers to all of the ways, both literally and metaphorically, that white people cry about how hard racism is on us. In my work, I consistently encounter these tears in their various forms, and many writers have provided excellent critiques. Here, I want to address one specific manifestation of white tears: those shed by white women in cross-racial settings.

As the meeting started, I told my fellow white participants that if they felt moved to tears, to please leave the room. I would go with them for support, but asked that they not cry in the mixed group.

Thefollowing example illustrates both people of color’s frustration with those tears and white women’s sense of entitlement to freely shed them. When another police shooting of an unarmed black man occurred, my workplace called for an informal lunch gathering of people who wanted to connect and find support. Just before the gathering, a woman of color pulled me aside and told me that she wanted to attend but she was “in no mood for white women’s tears today.” I assured her that I would handle it. As the meeting started, I told my fellow white participants that if they felt moved to tears, to please leave the room. I would go with them for support, but asked that they not cry in the mixed group. After the discussion, I spent the next hour explaining to a very outraged white woman why she was asked not to cry in the presence of the people of color.

I understand that expressing our heartfelt emotions—especially as they relate to racial injustices—is an important progressive value. To repress our feelings seems counter-intuitive to being present, compassionate, and supportive. So why would my colleague of color make such a request? In short, because white women’s tears have a powerful impact in this context, effectively reinscribing rather than ameliorating racism. To make sense of how this happens we have to first understand what racism actually is.

Therefore, as white people who want to interrupt this system, we have to get racially uncomfortable and be willing to examine the effects of our racial engagement.

Contrary to dominant culture’s definition of racism as isolated and individual acts of meanness based in racial prejudice, sociologists recognize racism as a system of racial inequity between white people and people of color, with white people as the beneficiaries of that system. This system does not depend on individual actors with bad intentions. Because most bias is implicit (or unconscious) and built into our institutions, racism is reproduced automatically. In order to interrupt racism, we need to recognize and challenge the norms, structures, and institutions that keep it in place. But because they benefit us, racially inequitable relations are comfortable for most white people. Therefore, as white people who want to interrupt this system, we have to get racially uncomfortable and be willing to examine the effects of our racial engagement. This includes not indulging in whatever reactions we have in a given cross-racial encounter—such as anger, defensiveness, or self-pity—without first reflecting on what is driving them and how they will impact others.

White Fragility is the term I use to describe the inability of white people to respond constructively when our racial positions are challenged. Because we so seldom encounter this challenge, we are thrown off balance and withdraw, defend, cry, argue, minimize, ignore, and in other ways push back in order to regain our racial equilibrium. These emotions and the actions that result from them are always political because we are not outside of culture. Our experiences are filtered through a particular cultural lens. This lens determines how we interpret the experience. In turn, our interpretation drives our behavioral responses. These behaviors affect those around us. We are not unique individuals interacting in a social vacuum. We have to look beyond ourselves and recognize our socio-political context. Our emotional reactions in cross-racial settings and the behaviors they inform have an impact to which we must attend.

White men of course, enact white fragility, but I have not seen it manifest as literal crying… Their fragility manifests as varying forms of dominance and intimidation.

White men of course, enact white fragility, but I have not seen it manifest as literal crying in these settings. Their fragility most commonly manifests as varying forms of dominance and intimidation:

  • Control of the conversation by speaking first, last and most often;

  • Arrogant (and disingenuous) invalidation of racial inequality via “just playing the devil’s advocate”;

  • Simplistic and presumptuous proclamations of “the answer” to racism (“People just need to…”);

  • Playing the outraged victim of “reverse racism”;

  • Accusations that the legendary “race card” is being played;

  • Silence and withdrawal;

  • Hostile body-language;

  • Channel-switching (“The true oppression is class!”),

  • Intellectualizing and distancing (“I recommend this book…”)

All of these moves function to get race off the table, regain control of the discussion and end the challenge to their positions.

Yet because of its seeming innocence, one of the more pernicious enactments of white fragility occurs when well-meaning white women cry in cross-racial interactions. The reasons we cry in these interactions vary. Perhaps we were given feedback on our racism. Not understanding that unaware white racism is inevitable, we hear that feedback as a moral judgement and our feelings are hurt.

A classic example occurred in a workshop I was co-leading. A black man who was struggling to express a point referred to himself as stupid. My co-facilitator, a black woman, gently countered that he was not stupid but that society would have him believe that he was. As she was explaining the power of internalized racism, a white woman interrupted with, “What he was trying to say was…” When my co-facilitator pointed out that the white woman had reinforced the racist idea that she could best speak for a black man, the woman erupted in tears. The training came to a complete halt as most of the room rushed to comfort her and angrily accuse the black facilitator of unfairness (even though participants were there to learn how racism works, how dare the facilitator point out an example of how racism works!) Meanwhile, the black man who was the victim of her micro-aggression was left alone to watch.

…a white woman was offered a full-time position as the supervisor of the women of color who had trained her. When the promotion was announced, the white woman tearfully requested support from the women of color as she embarked on her new learning curve.

A colleague of color shared an example in which a white woman was offered a full-time position as the supervisor of the women of color who had trained her. When the promotion was announced, the white woman tearfully requested support from the women of color as she embarked on her new learning curve. She likely saw her tears as an expression of humility about the limits of her knowledge and expected support to follow. The women of color had to deal with the injustice of the promotion, the invalidation of their abilities, and the lack of racial awareness of the white person now in charge of their livelihoods. While trying to manage their own emotional reactions they were put on the spot; if they did not make some comforting gesture, they risked being viewed as angry and insensitive (see abagond).

The following are some of the reasons why white women’s tears in cross-racial interactions are problematic:

  • There is a long historical backdrop of black men being tortured and murdered based on a white woman’s distress and we bring these histories with us. Our tears trigger the terrorism of this history, particularly for African Americans. As my colleagues of color have said, “When a white woman cries, a black man gets hurt.” Not knowing or being sensitive to this is another example of white centrality, individualism and lack of racial humility.

  • Whether intended or not, when a white woman cries over some aspect of racism, all the attention immediately goes to her, demanding time, energy and attention from everyone in the room when they should be focused on ameliorating racism. While she is attended to the people of color are yet again abandoned and/or blamed. As Stacey Patton states in her excellent critique of white women’s tears, “Then comes the waiting for us to comfort and reassure them that they’re not bad people.” That is analogous to first responders at the scene of an accident rushing to comfort the person whose car struck a pedestrian, while the pedestrian lies bleeding on the street.

  • In a common, but particularly pernicious move of perverting the racial order, racism becomes about white distress, white suffering, and white victimization.

  • Because we so seldom have authentic and sustained cross-racial relationships, our tears do not feel like solidarity to people of color we have not previously shown up for. Instead, our tears function as impotent reflexes which don’t lead to constructive action.

  • Tears that are driven by white guilt are self-indulgent. When we are mired in guilt we are narcissistic and ineffective; guilt functions as an excuse for inaction.

  • White tears are a reminder to people of color that white people don’t notice racism on a daily basis; we only notice racism when the media presents it to us loudly enough. We need to reflect on when we cry and when we don’t, and why. In other words, what does it take to move us?

  • Since many of us have not learned how racism works and our role in it, our tears may come from shock and distress about what we didn’t know or recognize. For people of color, our tears are an enactment of our racial insulation and privilege. But because we see our tears as specific to us as individuals, we take offense when people of color find them problematic. In turn, based on past experience, people of color who question us can now anticipate some form of backlash.

  • Our tears are a reminder that as white people, we have not had to think about the impact of our actions. While white women cannot cry in the white male-dominated corporate culture without penalty, in cross-racial interactions we are in the power position. Thus, we have not had to rein in or control our racial responses and can indulge in them whenever and however we want. In fact, we feel completely entitled to require people of color to adapt to us and our white fragility. Much like white women in a white male-dominated corporate environment, people of color have to manage their feelings in ways that keep white people comfortable or suffer the consequences.

“[Black people] are only allowed to have feelings for the sake of your entertainment, as in the presentation of our funerals. And even then, there are expectations of what is allowed for us to express. We are abused daily, beaten, raped, and killed, but you are sad and that is what is important.”

I asked the woman of color I referred to in the opening of this article if I had missed anything in this list. This was her response:

“It’s infuriating because of its audacity of disrespect to our experience. You are crying because you are uncomfortable with your feelings when we are barely allowed to have any. You are ashamed or some such thing and cry, but we are not allowed to have any feelings because then we are being difficult. We are supposed to remain stoic and strong because otherwise we become the angry and scary people of color. We are only allowed to have feelings for the sake of your entertainment, as in the presentation of our funerals. And even then, there are expectations of what is allowed for us to express. We are abused daily, beaten, raped and killed but you are sad and that’s what is important. That’s why it is sooooo hard to take.”

The men who love us

In addition to the general dynamics discussed thus far, White women’s tears in cross-racial discussions have a very specific effect on men. I have seen our tears manipulate men of all races, but the consequences of this manipulation are not the same. White men occupy the highest positions in the race and gender hierarchy. Thus, they have the power to define their own reality and that of others. This reality includes not only those whose experiences are valid, but they originate from a woman who is fundamentally valid herself. In the white racial frame, not all women are deemed worthy of recognition. For example, contrary to popular white mythology, white women have been the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action, not people of color. I believe this is because when forced, white men could acknowledge white women’s humanity; white women were their sisters, wives and daughters. And of course through these relationships, white women’s increased access to resources benefitted white men.

By legitimating white women as the targets of harm, both white men and women accrue social capital. People of color are abandoned and left to bear witness as the resources meted out to white people actually increase-yet again-on their backs.

White men also get to authorize what constitutes pain and whose pain is legitimate. When white men come to the rescue of white women in cross-racial settings, patriarchy is reinforced as they play savior to our damsel in distress. By legitimating white women as the targets of harm, both white men and women accrue social capital. People of color are abandoned and left to bear witness as the resources meted out to white people actually increase-yet again-on their backs.

Men of color may also may come to the aid of white women in these exchanges, and are likely also driven by their conditioning under sexism and patriarchy. But men of color have the additional weight of racism to navigate. This weight has historically been deadly. For black men in particular, the specter of Emmett Till and countless others who have been beaten and killed over a white woman’s claims of cross-racial distress is ever present. Ameliorating the woman’s distress as quickly as possible may be felt as a literal matter of survival. Yet coming to the rescue of a white woman also drives a wedge between men and women of color. Rather than receive social capital that reinforces his status, a man of color put in this position must now live with the agony of having to support racism in order to survive.

In conclusion

White people do need to feel grief about the brutality of white supremacy and our role in it. In fact, our numbness to the racial injustice that occurs on a daily basis is key to holding it in place. But our grief must lead to sustained liberatory action. Because they are indicators of where we need to work on our racial identities, our emotions can serve as entry points into the deeper self-awareness that leads to this action. Examining what is at the root of our emotions (shame for not knowing, guilt for hurting someone, hurt feelings because we think we must have been misunderstood), will enable us to address those roots. We also need to examine our responses towards other people’s emotions and how they may re-inscribe race and gender hierarchies.

While we cannot control how our tears impact others, we need to find ways that don’t privilege our immediate emotional needs over the needs of people of color. This work should take place with other white people or within an authentic, mutual relationship with a person of color who has agreed to assist us.

As we develop our racial consciousness we learn how to express our emotions in ways that do not continually center whiteness. While we cannot control how our tears impact others, we need to find ways that don’t privilege our immediate emotional needs over the needs of people of color. This work should take place with other white people or within an authentic, mutual relationship with a person of color who has agreed to assist us. Affinity groups are especially constructive spaces to do our grieving. Contact Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) or European Dissent for information on how affinity groups work and where to find them.

We can assume that our racial socialization sets us up to reproduce racism regardless of our intentions or self-image. Our task is figuring out how that happens, not if. Crying in racial discussions is often viewed from a white perspective as a supportive gesture of shared experience. But in the context of cross-racial discussion about racism, no form of white engagement that is not informed by an antiracist perspective is benign. Going against our reflexive and unexamined responses is difficult and often counter-intuitive, but it is necessary and will result in the least harmful and most authentic engagement.

– See more at:

White Women, Patriarchy and White Superiority

This piece is by longtime educator and social justice practitioner Tilman Smith, published on Dr. Shakti Butler’s World Trust site (a phenomenal resource for racial justice educators). Her articulation of the intersection of whiteness and femaleness deeply resonates with White Noise in this ongoing work to critically examine and courageously shake up the ways in which, as Smith so clearly expresses,

It is in those moments when I feel most challenged around my oppressed identity as a woman that I call on my areas of internalized superiority. This is an invitation to all white women to explore when and how we are doing this in the hopes of causing a little less harm to both others and ourselves.

Her recent article is cross-posted below, with World Trust’s “infinity loop” of analysis applied to it, with questions for reflection and discussion:

system_of_inequityWithin the World Trust frame of the System of Inequity, the relational elements among the internal and external components of Racialization are named. In this piece written by World Trust collaborator, Tilman Smith, she shares a personal story of the weight and invisibility of her own internalized white supremacy. 

World Trust is committed to envisioning and creating a world that flourishes. We engage one another, and the general public, in an ongoing, exploration of a system that churns out inequities through a simultaneous focus that engages the deeply internal work and the external structural change that is necessary to create a world that works for everyone.

White Women, Patriarchy, and White Superiority

As a white woman, there is a fleeting moment just after a person of color describes the racist behavior of another white woman, but before there is any additional commentary, when I feel as if a stone has been dropped into my stomach. It hurts just enough that I almost feel it hitting bottom; but it also happens so fast that I could ignore it if I want to. It is in this split second that I have a possibility of understanding how white supremacy works within me.  The reality is that I most often choose to ignore it and move the conversation away from me and towards the noted offender. I do this for several reasons; to try to be a true listener, to offer information if asked, and more surreptitiously to avoid any connection to culpability. But, after many years of actively listening to these stories there is no ignoring the pattern of white women such as myself to behave in mean spirited ways when we perceive that we are out of control, feeling under-appreciated, and/or on the verge of being called racist.

Because of countless similar conversations, I have spent years focused on this behavior pattern in white women, and have landed on the idea that these behaviors stem from the collision of our internalized sexism and our internalized white superiority. The strategies that white women have learned to survive sexism (control, certainty, linear and dichotomous thinking patterns, passive aggression to name a few) rarely are helpful in our efforts to be anti-racist and cross-cultural. It is often in this collision that we behave in mean-spirited ways that we profess to be innocent but whose impacts have painful consequences for people of color.

These stories are always easier for me to explore and to “diagnose” when they are about other white women; there is even a degree of satisfaction when I can present my very best anti-racist analysis with succinct words like white privilege, white superiority, and white supremacy. It is all of a sudden much fuzzier when I sense that I am the perpetrator of this meanness.

An example of this happened at work not too long ago, when I was in a meeting with a mostly white women and one woman of color, and we were tackling a difficult situation that I determined to be time sensitive and had heavy financial implications. The fact that I had this situation framed in such a way and was insisting that we move forward in a linear and speedy fashion were indicators of how deeply I have internalized white, male organizational culture.  We were moving forward, except that the woman of color, who is my elder, colleague and friend, kept putting up what I considered to be road blocks to a timely solution. I became frustrated and impatient, but instead of stopping to ask why she was doing this, my voice became louder and my remarks became more sharply directed at her. While this strategy resulted in meeting my immediate needs, meaning it allowed us to move towards a “reasonable” solution in a small amount of time, it also resulted in my colleague literally recoiling from me and shooting me a look of deep betrayal. Here was that moment when I could have felt that stone dropping to the pit of my stomach if I had been open to it. But, I had no analysis at this point; no pithy words to describe my own racism and internalized superiority. That stone sat in my stomach, and over the next few days, I tried relentlessly to pry it loose with rationalization, defensiveness, and righteousness.

But it stuck, and so I talked to my colleague. She described my face in that moment as becoming contorted, so much so that she barely recognized me. Her response wasn’t a fear of my power, but a recognition of the speed with which my racism and white superiority trumped all else. I didn’t want to recognize the ugliness in me that caused my colleague and friend to see me as a malevolent, contorted person. No part of me wanted to analyze the institutional and structural support that situated me to behave in such a disrespectful way.  My internalized sexism told me that she didn’t understand the pressure I felt, and that we’d all be in trouble if we didn’t find quick solutions!  My internalized white superiority told me that she was lucky that I was looking out for all of us, and that only I could save us from disaster! And, of course she was right. My insistent denial that I had behaved in a mean-spirited way and caused her this pain didn’t mean that it didn’t happen.

In order to stop the meanness, I have to be willing to give up my need to be regarded as a good, nice, pure, perfect person and explore the confluence of sexism and white privilege that encourages me to hold on to these identities. It is in those moments when I feel most challenged around my oppressed identity as a woman that I call on my areas of internalized superiority. This is an invitation to all white women to explore when and how we are doing this in the hopes of causing a little less harm to both others and ourselves. This is an invitation to sit with the stone.

Using the Infinity Loop Frame with Tilman’s Experience:  


In Tilman’s story we see her reflect on how she has internalized messages of white superiority and see how that bias influences her treatment of her colleague.  We learn some about the emotional chain of reactions Tilman experiences and how much processing and analysis it takes for her to unravel the confluence of privilege, bias and the effects of living within a patriarchal society that Tilman experienced internally which manifested in external behavior with her colleague.

These patterns aren’t unique to Tilman and her colleague. Unchecked, these patterns permeate work environments and other institutions.  In this way, one interaction at a time, one work place at a time, one institution at a time, white superiority becomes embedded in our culture and in our structures and generates the messages, the patterns of relating, that create the internal biases and ways of being that create experiences like Tilman’s and her colleague’s.  All parts work together to perpetuate and continue to churn out inequity.

Questions for Reflection:

Do you recognize some of the elements of this story? If it you were in the white author’s position, how might you have responded?  If you were the person of color in this story, how might you have felt/responded?  After reading and considering the content of this article, what might you do differently if you found yourself in a similar situation as that of the white author or the person of color?






The Charleston Imperative: Why Feminism & Antiracism Must Be Linked

White Noise has signed this powerful statement currently circulating, which speaks to our deepest commitments and reasons for existence as a collective.

Click Here to sign the statement 

Posted from The African American Policy Forum (AAPF):

The Charleston Imperative: Why Feminism & Antiracism Must Be Linked

As we grieve for the nine African Americans who were murdered in their house of worship on June 17 2015, those of us who answer the call of feminism and antiracism must confront anew how the evils of racism and patriarchy continue to endanger all Black bodies, regardless of gender.


As antiracists, we know that the struggle against racial terror is older than the Republic itself. In particular we remember the work of Ida B Wells who risked everything to debunk the lies of lynchers over 100 years ago. Today, we see that fierce determination in Bree Newsome who scaled the 30-foot flagpole at the South Carolina state Capitol and brought down the Confederate flag. As feminists, we recognize how racism has been — and is still — gendered. Patriarchy continues to be foundational to racial terrorism in the US, both in specious claims that justify the torture of Black men in defense of white womanhood, and in its brutal treatment of Black women and girls. We also recognize that while patriarchy and racism are clearly intertwined, all too often, our struggles against them are not.

If the reaction to the Charleston massacre is to be realized as something beyond a singular moment of redemptive mourning, then neither the intersectional dynamics of racism and patriarchy which produced this hateful crime, nor the inept rhetorical politics that sustain the separation of feminism from antiracism, can be allowed to continue.

As antiracist feminists of every color, we refute the patriarchal, racist practices that endanger Black people across the nation. In so doing, we also insist that the extremism of Roof’s declaration that Black people “must go” because they are “taking over our country” and “raping our women” should not obscure how anti-Black racial logics are embedded in the routine decisions made by millions of people every day. Decisions about where to live, how to identify a “safe neighborhood” or a “good school,” whom to police, and to whom police are to be accountable, also rest on a longstanding demonization of Black bodies. These choices, grounded in ideologies of Black threat, frame separation from Blackness as a rational choice. The narratives that routinely diminish the life chances of African Americans are not yesterday’s problems. Dylann Roof was born in 1994, yet murdered nine Black people having thoroughly consumed narratives that continue to denigrate Black people over half a century after the supposed fall of white supremacy. The continued assault on Black churches–several which have been burned to the ground since the Charleston Massacre–tells us that even the most extreme expressions of this denigration are not isolated.

We must recognize, at last, that racial violence, including the cycle of suffering and slow death that hovers over Black communities, is structural as well as individual. Equally significant, racial violence has never been focused on males alone. A clear indication of the way that white insecurities can unleash murderous impulses against all Black people, is that Roof murdered six Black women as well as three Black men. In his perceived defense of white women, Roof killed Black mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives and daughters. To would-be purveyors of Black genocide, there are no collateral victims. Every Black body is a threat; every dead one is one step closer to their ultimate goal.

Feminists must denounce the use of white insecurity — whether in relation to white womanhood, white neighborhoods, white politics, or white wealth — to justify the brutal assaults against Black people of all genders. Antiracists must acknowledge that patriarchy has long been a weapon of racism and cannot sit comfortably in any politic of racial transformation. We must all stand against both the continual, systematic and structural racial inequities that normalize daily violence as well as against extreme acts of racial terror. Policy, and movement responses that fail to reflect an intersectional approach are doomed to fail. We want a loving community across difference. In the memory of Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Daniel Simmons Jr. and Myra Thompson, we commit to a vibrant, inclusive, and intersectional social justice movement that condemns racist patriarchy and works to end its daily brutality and injustice. Anything less is unacceptable.


Moving into Radical Self-Worth to Better Support our Movements — part 1 in a series

our liberation is intersectionalIn our struggles to take down white supremacy and patriarchy, we must each heal the ways we have internalized these systems of oppression. Otherwise, we end up recreating them — even in our liberation movements. This healing means different things to different people. We write this piece in particular for those of us who identify at what we often call the intersection of race privilege and gender(ed) oppression. The two primary authors of this piece identify as white, queer women (though those labels never seem sufficient), but we recognize that people invested in this conversation might identify elsewhere on the spectrums of race and gender. We write this in hopes of starting a conversation that we think has been missing. We write it because we need to acknowledge that not having this conversation is causing real harm to our mental health, to our resilience, and to our ability to sustain hope. We write it specifically for ourselves and for those who will benefit from it. We write it not to re-center whiteness, but to create more space for #BlackLivesMatter and other movements for racial justice by dismantling some of our barriers to showing up more fully in the movement.

What we want to talk about is shame. Some have argued that a certain amount of shame is healthy. What we’re talking about, however, is a sense of complete worthlessness that we, the authors in particular, have internalized as we have become politicized about our whiteness. While we can only speak to our own experiences, the longer we do this work, the more we hear stories from our comrades that mirror ours. And the more we hear about how this self-doubt and self-hate negatively impacts our ability to show up as whole humans to the struggle to dismantle patriarchy and white supremacy.  We believe this self-doubt and self-hate is actually weakening revolutionary movements by requiring people of color to invest their time, emotional labor, and energy to validate and take care of broken white folks (thereby re-centering whiteness).

The source of these feelings is somehow simultaneously simple and exceedingly complex:

White people, and people who identify with white or light-skinned privilege, perpetuate violence in many ways–from direct, overt, modern-day racism to denying or simply being ignorant to centuries of slavery, colonialism and the exploitation of people, land and resources that have accumulated wealth and maintain systems of racial inequality.  White people benefit from countless economic and personal privileges on account of our whiteness, and thoughtlessly express micro-aggressions and support racialized stereotypes, cultural appropriation, and derogatory images of people of color.  As white people engaged in struggles for racial justice, some of the ways we resist white supremacy are to follow leadership of people of color, step back, create space, elevate voices of people most impacted by injustice in our movements for justice, and work with our white families, colleagues, and neighbors to build an understanding of white supremacy and a commitment to dismantling it.

Women, and people who identify with gender(ed) forms of oppression, experience direct violence in many ways–from the genocide of women in witch hunts across the globe to the rape and slaughter of women during imperial wars and in conflict zones to sexual harassment, domestic violence, rape, and gender-based murder during times of peace.  Women also experience constant forms of violence through objectification in the media and reproductive control. Feminism, throughout its various waves andno more rape culture forms, has sought to push back against this violence. Some of the ways we resist misogyny, patriarchy, rape culture, and other forms of gendered violence and oppression are to raise our voices, get louder, push back, celebrate our existence, strive to believe deeply and fully in our self-worth, and contribute to movements that impact our bodies and minds.

Essentially, whiteness enacts violence and femaleness endures violence. People socialized as both white and female, therefore, are simultaneously perpetrating and experiencing violence. And we are not being taught how to hold this juxtaposition. Whiteness, as a concept, and white supremacy, as a system of racial oppression, are terrible, destructive forces that have been used to justify centuries of violence, genocide, enslavement, disenfranchisement, and colonization. Whiteness is a thing worth hating. And there is mounting evidence of the strong relationship between violence and shame, which often means that people socialized as women are experts at self-doubt and self-hatred.

Many of the manifestations of feminist and queer liberation movements we have witnessed and participated in, and even some of the racial justice movements, seem to be in conflict with our efforts to resist white supremacy. We see these patterns, and we want to change them. But, if we are going to make meaningful and sustainable change, then we need to dive deeper into the causes and do something both about the ways we show up in these movements as well as about the deep shame and self-hate we often feel about our whiteness and our value within these movements.

white-silenceThere are white women and gender nonconforming people who are making important contributions that illuminate our role in overcoming white supremacy–inviting us into the movement, creating amazing analysis of the role of white womanhood within systems of violence, and creating models of accountable action. But who, among those socialized as both white and female, are effectively role modeling a radical, feminist, anti-racist version of self-love and self-care that heals the shame, fear and self-hatred that contributes to our continued role in systems of oppression?

While it feels vulnerable and scary, especially in the intense world of online call-out culture, we’d like to step into radical self-love and self-worth. We offer these big, painful questions in hopes of inspiring answers that will generate healing:

How do we hate the ways our white supremacist culture has socialized us to behave, hate white fragility, and yet believe deeply in our right to exist and our value to the world and our movements? As people bearing whiteness, how do we simultaneously love ourselves completely and not enable white supremacy? How do we effectively fight the entitlement, the taking up space, and the violence of internalized white supremacy without giving in to the shame that we are taught to feel as people socialized as women? In what ways can we be present and show up, in our white bodies, that don’t cause harm, violence, and perpetuate white supremacy simply through our existence? How can we find a courageous voice that acknowledges both the ways that female voices have been silenced and the ways white voices have been used to silence others? Who are our role models, and if we cannot find the role models we are seeking, how can we become them?

We know we have left many questions unanswered and there is so much more to explore. This piece is intended to be a springboard, and we invite those who identify as having experienced socialization as white and female to join us in continuing this conversation. We will be meeting, writing, and posting about connected themes in the coming months. Be in touch if you would like to join our community conversations, or if you have something to contribute to the next parts of this writing series.

We are indebted to the participants of our May 2015 dialogue, at which we discussed Internalized Worthlessness, Radical Self Love, and How Not to Throw Each Other Under the Bus.  The questions, themes, and resulting writing pieces stem from the contributions, lived experience, and insights of this group.

I Don’t Want to Be an Excuse for Racist Violence Anymore: White women’s passive role in racist attacks like Charleston

This insightful article is cross-posted from New Republic:


We cannot talk about the violence that Dylann Roof perpetrated at Emanuel AME last Wednesday night without talking about whiteness, and specifically, about white womanhood and its role in racist violence. We have to talk about those things, because Roof himself did. Per a witness account, we know that he said: “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country.” “Our” women, by whom he meant white women.

There is a centuries-old notion that white men must defend, with lethal violence at times, the sexual purity of white women from allegedly predatory black men. And, as we saw yet again after this shooting, it is not merely a relic of America’s hideous racial past. American racism is always gendered; racism and sexism are mutually dependent, and cannot be unstitched.

As Jessie Daniels writes at Racism Review, white womanhood has been and remains essential to the logic of American white supremacy. In anti-black racism, and particularly in the south, the defense of white womanhood was, in the recent past, used as a justification for the most horrific violence against black people, and particularly black men. Daniels quotesPhotography on the Color Line, Shawn Michelle Smith’s book about photographs of public lynchings, in which the 1935 lynching of a black Fort Lauderdale man named Rubin Stacy is described. Stacy, described as “a homeless tenant farmer,” approached the home of a white woman named Marion Jones to ask her for food.

“On seeing Stacy,” Smith writes, “Jones screamed. Stacy was then arrested, and as six deputies were transporting him to a Miami jail, a mob of over one hundred masked men seized and murdered him. Finally, Stacy’s corpse was hung in sight of Jones’ home.” Stacy, Daniels argues, was murdered because he supposedly represented a threat to the sexual purity of a white woman, a perception that also depends on the centuries-old belief that black men are more sexually powerful, and more sexually predatory, than white men. And white men were all too ready to enact that racist violence in the name of protecting Jones’s fragile and immensely valuable white womanhood. “All an individual white woman like Marion Jones had to do to activate the network of white fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins who would come to her ‘defense’ and murder a black man who was asking for help was scream,” Daniels writes.

That lynching happened in 1935. If you have a parent or grandparent who is 80 or older, it happened in his or her lifetime. Daniels notes that contemporary examples of the defense of white womanhood look horribly similar to the murder of Rubin Stacy. She points to the 2013 shooting of Jonathan Ferrell in Charlotte, North Carolina as an example. After crashing his car, Ferrell extricated himself, and knocked on the door of the first house he came upon, to ask for help—as any of us might do in such a situation. “A white woman, thinking it was her husband knocking, answered,” Daniels writes. “When she saw Ferrell she shut the door, hit her alarm and called the police. Ferrell, who was unarmed, was shot ten times by a Charlotte police officer.”

There is an important distinction between white women, a people, and the concept of white womanhood—one that holds that a white woman is the best thing you can be in America after a white man, and that it is the responsibility of white men to protect your virtue at any and all costs. This white supremacist and benevolently sexist ideology depends both on the subjugation of white women by white men, and on the subjugation of all people who are not white—by white people (including white women).

It isn’t just black Americans who are policed by this dual invocation of racism and sexism, and by the holding up of white womanhood as a paragon of purity. When Donald Trump announced his bid for the presidency last week, he dredged up a common fear about immigrants crossing the border from Mexico: “They’re rapists.” To protect the women of America—the white ones, because when we say “women,” we usually, by default, mean “white women”—we must practice this exclusion on the basis of race, Trump implied. This highly selective concern about preventing sexual violence is dependent on the peril of white women; Trump failed to mention that 80 percent of girls and women crossing that border are raped as they make the journey. Those girls and women aren’t white. Gender is always raced, and race is always gendered.

That said, the distinction between women and womanhood should not let individual white women off the hook for how we benefit from and participate in racism. That we are victims of sexism does not erase our culpability in American racism. If anything, the powerlessness we feel as a result of sexism too often urges us to hold on to, and exert over others, what remaining power we have. For white women, that means the power gifted to us by the color of our skin. Few white women resisted lynching in the early 20th century. A gendered and raced pedestal isn’t always comfortable to stand on, but it comes with a lot of perks and not a small amount of power. When contemporary black feminists critique white feminists for failing to recognize, interrogate, and cede their own racial privilege, that complaint is rooted in history. The bonds of sisterhood can be strong, but too often, they have been weakened by some sisters’ willingness to continue benefitting from whiteness (or worse, their stubborn refusal to recognize that they do). While white women are people and white womanhood is an idea, it’s an idea that white women reinforce.

It was, and remains, necessary for white women to decry the violence that is done in our name. It is on us to dismantle racism with just as much commitment as we dismantle sexism, for one cannot happen without the other.

This is also not to say that we should make this horrific event all about white women, or all about white womanhood. It’s not. So often, the defense of white womanhood against black men results in violence against black women, and this time is no different. Six black women were shot dead in Charleston this week because of the centuries-old and still going strong perception that white women are in peril from black men. The reality is that rape, like most violent crime, is more likely to be intraracial than interracial. If we’re genuinely concerned about a sexual threat posed by black men, we should be focusing our energies on the safety of black women. A five-year-old girl is alive because she played dead, and, as Dr. Kali Nicole Gross wrote in Jet last week, “that the girl had the presence of mind to play dead among the bodies of likely family and friends, perhaps more than anything else speaks to the perils of being Black in America and the violence that Black people, especially Black women and girls face daily.” Six black women—Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, and Susie Jackson—are dead because Roof claimed to want to protect white women. White womanhood might be an abstract idea; the murder of black people is not.

In this raced and gendered hierarchy, black women continue to be the least valuable, the lowest rung on the ladder. As Rebecca Carroll argued last week in The Guardian, those women were shot because the belief that white women must be protected at all costs depends on the belief that black women aren’t truly women, that they’re barely people. That they’re disposable. Racism is always gendered, and gender always raced.

What Roof did on Wednesday was the latest in the long line of acts of violence against black churches; of American mass shootings by white men with guns; of anti-black terrorism designed to make black Americans and their families and friends live in perpetual fear. What was perpetrated at Emanuel AME was all those things.

It was also the latest in an unbearably long line of lethality meted out in the name of white womanhood—in my name, and maybe in yours. In the name of my purity and virtue and perfect femininity. We must not ignore the role of white womanhood in this act of white supremacist violence, or in any other. We must not find a way, yet again, of avoiding talking about whiteness. And until white women decide that we will no longer be used as an excuse for violence, until we decide that we will no longer tacitly condone and benefit from the violence, we will continue to have blood on our pale, “perfect” hands.

The following lists were not a part of the original article, but we compiled them in order to inspire action and encourage further learning:

Ways to take action: 

  1. Join a national action by Southerners on New Ground by calling in to conservative talk radio shows across the country and speaking out against white supremacy
  2. Send your condolences to the families of those lost and the people of Charleston
  3. Read this response by #BlackLivesMatter and use it as a conversation starter with white people to talk about the deeply embedded anti-Black racism in this country.
  4. Learn about the organizations doing Black liberation work close to where you live, and offer support to their work by volunteering and/or donating.
  5. Sign this petition to remove the Confederate flag from all government places.
  6. Tweet at (@nikkihaley) or email Gov. Nikki Haley and tell her to take the Confederate flag down from the South Carolina state house. Then advocate to take down confederate flags from all government buildings.
  7. Donate to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund for Emanuel AME Church to support burial & rebuilding costs. Mail checks to:
      Mother Emanuel Hope Fund
      c/o City of Charleston
      Post Office Box 304
      Charleston, SC 29402
  8. Follow Showing Up for Racial Justice, a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice. They will have continue announcements about actions and opportunities.


  1. #Charlestonsyllabus: a great list of readings for people who want to educate themselves or others about the history of racial violence in this country and contextualize the history of race relations in South Carolina and the United States in general. They also offer insights on race, racial identities, global white supremacy and black resistance.
  2. Narratives of White Women Used to Uphold Racism and Patriarchy: A Partial Timeline by Zara of the White Noise Collective
  3. Kentucky Organizer: Ending White Supremacy Is in Everyone’s Interest By Chris Crass
  4. How Not to Respond to the Murders in Charleston by Andrew Rosenthal
  5. Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter movement by Alicia Garza
  6. Protocol and principles for white people working to support the black liberation movement

On Rachel Dolezal, White Privilege, and White Shame

Rachel Dolezal Isn’t the Most Important Race Story in Spokane.

But she does seem to be an unraveling puzzle that continues to elicit curiosity, outrage, and comment. From Mia McKenzie’s discussion of Blackness and Blackface, to Kai M Green’s willingness to give Rachel a little more benefit of the doubt in discussing the similarities of race and gender constructs, to Lisa Marie Rollins’ explanation of what transracial actually means, plenty has been said already. It is a story with endless complexity.

While I find all of this interesting, what interests me specifically about this situation is the white shame of Rachel Dolezal’s identification as Black. In her interview with Melissa Harris-Perry earlier this week, Rachel Dolezal clearly self-identified as a Black woman. Her interview revealed a belief that all one needs in order to identify as Black is to “feel” and “live” the “Black experience,” which of course implies that she believes herself to be able to determine and author what is the “Black experience.”

Darnell L Moore, who believes that Rachel’s identification is indeed “cultural theft,” states that there is “a stark difference between racial indeterminacy, or the idea that race is not fixed and individuals may have multiple racial identities, and racial misrepresentation.”, What he points out, more importantly, is that:

The fiasco is a glaring example of white privilege in action. During a moment when so many are finally speaking out about the unceasing police abuse brutalizing Black Americans… news of Dolezal is now taking up much-needed space in media and public dialogues. The constant re-centering of racial conversations on whiteness and the excessive focus on white lives are two of the most prominent features of white privilege.

And there is white privilege at play in this story. A lot of people have pointed out the white privilege of Rachel’s decision to pass herself as Black, and have especially highlighted the difference between her “passing as Black” and the passing as white that has been done by Black folks in the context of a country that has systematically enslaved, lynched, murdered, and mass incarcerated Black people. Amanda Seales is quoted with “a friendly reminder that a Black person passing as white was once a criminal offense.” The joke on the street is that the consequence for Rachel’s passing as Black, given our society’s pattern on rewarding white people for their harms against marginalized communities, will be a book or movie deal.

For Rachel to say that her passing as Black was in some way linked to her survival (as she did) feels disrespectful because the forces that threaten the survival of Black folks under a system of white supremacy should not be compared to the the threats (real or perceived) that Dolezal experienced regarding her identity. And to say that one only needs to have “a spiritual, visceral, instinctual connection” with another culture or ethnicity in order to identify as that culture or ethnicity is to deny the reality of the many people who cannot pass, or who do not have that choice, or that privilege.

don't shoot

But there is still something deeper here about whiteness that is not being addressed.

In Black Looks: Race and Representation, bell hooks states that the “commodification of Black culture by whites in no way challenges white supremacy when it takes the form of making Blackness the ‘spice that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.’” In another piece, Consuming Commodified Blackness (page 21), bell hooks relates this to the experience of whiteness, which is what has been less critically discussed in relation to Rachel Dolezal: “There’s a way in which white culture is perceived as too Wonder Bread right now, not edgy enough, not dangerous enough.”

What is interesting is the possibility that Rachel coded her experience of herself as Black because it was not, perhaps, plausible for her to conceive that her experience could be held within the realm of whiteness.

Many have spoken to the positive impacts Rachel could have had in the struggle for racial justice through an accountable relationship with her whiteness. This is true, of course. For her to have held her own experience and identity, to have been in deep and authentic relationship with Black folks, to have struggled for racial justice, to love Blackness without fetishizing, consuming, or appropriating it, but to remain white, would have supported a shifting in what is defined as white. That would have been revolutionary. But she didn’t do this. She left whiteness as it was, and instead positioned herself within Blackness. As Mia McKenzie puts it, “I hear people saying that Rachel Dolezal hasn’t done any harm and this isn’t true…To put Blackness on as a costume and parade around does harm to Black people. In particular, what Rachel Dolezal has done is harmful to Black women… It’s insulting…Appropriation isn’t solidarity.”

But what’s also true is that whiteness and white supremacy are pathological, and Rachel is not alone in wanting to distance herself from it (we actually just discussed this in our last monthly dialogue). Our culture is lacking in a mainstream understanding of the historical and categorical ways that colonization has taken hundreds of cultures and created this thing called whiteness, vacuuming almost all of the radical, indigenous and complex narratives and histories out of it. Whiteness is a painful thing to own.

And the more you understand and face the realities of whiteness, the more it feels like carrying around the plague. Rachel’s brother, Ezra, described Rachel’s actions as “self-hating.” I admit there are many times I have hated my whiteness, even wished I wasn’t white, just so that I could be spared of the responsibility of repairing the centuries worth of damage my ancestors have done. In this way, Rachel is the shadow of white people, and perhaps this is why it is so easy to throw her under the bus, and to make her a spectacle and an individual rather than a manifestation of the sick world in which we live. She is one epitome of collectively disowned white privilege. She is a manifestation of white shame, akin to every white woman wearing a headdress at a music festival, because she cannot find anything within her own culture to make her feel unique, beautiful, and worthy of love. And so she finds it, however ignorant, harmless, or malicious her intention, within another culture. As Rebecca Carroll elaborates, “it’s apocalyptic, white privilege on steroids: ‘Look at me! Look what I can do! I can just take this race and culture because I want it!’ It’s a hyper-internalized colonization mentality.” While we must hold her (and every person) accountable for the individual choices that have been made, we must also recognize that, in some ways, she is connected to every colonized white person who looks to other cultures for the answers.

This is, in fact, one of the mechanisms of colonization: to force people to abandon their own cultural practices in order to survive. Criminalize and punish them for displaying any cultural uniqueness (this can be seen in many examples – everything from mob violence against the Irish, to forcing First Nations peoples and immigrants to abandon their own languages in order to learn English, to the increased risk of violence that Muslim people face if they wear hijabs). And, once we are completely assimilated and subsumed by colonization, well, then those who stand to make a profit shine a mirror on our emptiness – on the big hole that colonization left inside us. Offer us an array of mass marketed, highly consumable, one-size-fits-all, exotic cultures and identities available for purchase, to be put on by choice, but void of history, context, or connection to ancestors.

The tidal wave of Rachel Dolezal will eventually roll away, but the collective illness and the fragility complex that produced her will linger until white people collectively own the shadow of our shame. As Ali Michael puts it,

It seems like a good warning. The ‘Rachel Dolezal Syndrome’ is a potential pitfall for any white people on the journey towards recognizing the truth of what it means to be white and accepting responsibility for it. But we cannot not be white. And we cannot undo what whiteness has done. We can only start from where we are and who we are.

If we, each and every white person, do not actively work to redefine the defaults of whiteness, to address the damage we have done, to reclaim the beauty, the strength, and the outrageous crimes of our ancestors, to learn to be in deep relationship within our complicated identities and communities, and to commit to dismantling the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy and all systems of domination and exploitation, then we are the reason that Rachel Dolezal is inevitable.


**Many thanks to Zara, Kelley, Ellen, Lissa, Julia, and Desi for feedback and editing. And to Desi also for inspiring me to write it. Thanks also to WNC dialogue spaces for feeding these ideas.

A Letter to White People Using the Term “Two Spirit”

Thank you for taking the time to read this. This letter was written by white allies in support of certain Native members of our community who have already put a lot of time and energy into trying to explain why it’s a problem when people without Native/First Nations heritage use the term “Two Spirit” to describe themselves.

We know that you care deeply about this issue because you are still reading this letter. This means you have not yet closed your mind to what we are saying. Let us begin by acknowledging that we live in a world in which we collectively face so many adversities – wars, poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and the list goes on. One of the hardest challenges we face is understanding our privileges in the face of our oppressions.

In our culture, trans and gender non-conforming people have very few options with regards to how to identify. Many white people who use the term “Two Spirit” are doing so out of a desire to resist the dominant binary and find a way to describe a feeling deeper than words. There is nothing wrong with this impulse. The impulse to find and create language is an act of resistance and resilience. Language comes from the colonizers, and can become its own prison if we are not constantly creating new words and uncovering ancient ways to describe our reality. It only becomes a problem when we are stealing, rather than creating or reclaiming these words. It is especially troubling when white, US-born people steal words or ideas from Native/First Nations tribes and people because our entire existence on this land is already based on centuries of theft (not just of words, but of land, resources and lives) and very current imbalances of power.

Whether or not you choose to identify as “white,” if you appear white, then you are probably treated as if you are white by those you encounter. This means that you have white-skin privilege and do not wake up every day having to brace yourself for the inevitable and extreme racism you are likely to encounter – everything from the increased chance of police violence to the higher level of pollutants in your neighborhood. However, if you have white-skin privilege and are of European ancestry, it also means you likely wake up in a vacuum every day, void of your deep ethnic heritage and without first-hand knowledge of the customs of your people. European cultures were the first ones colonized hundreds of years ago in the rise of capitalism and Christianity.

One of the main methods of colonialism/colonization is to force people to give up their unique cultures in order to assimilate. The benefit of this assimilation could be safety, economic-prosperity, or simply survival. Though many European cultures included space for non-binary gender identities, and even idolized them, these were demonized by the Church as it increasingly relied on the use of patriarchal governing styles and violence against non-conformity to achieve control. This resulted in the western culture we have today – one where gender and sexuality is defined in terms of strictly enforced binaries.

Our queer, trans and gender-fluid ancestors were murdered in the Inquisition, the Witch Hunts and many lesser known instances of violence because their subversion was seen as dangerous. Dual-spirited gods and goddesses, once worshiped as doubly powerful in many cultures, were transformed into consorts of the devil. Check it out:

  • In Europe, MTF priestesses served Artemis, Hecate and Diana. Early traditions thrived longest in Greece, and the mythology of the day incorporated tales of cross-dressing by Achilles, Heracles, Athena and Dionysus, as well as literal and metaphorical gender changes.
  • tiresiasThe blind prophet Tiresias is often mentioned as a figure who had lived many years of his life in each different gender, and was said to have possessed acute wisdom for it.
  • The tale of an FTM character, Kaineus (Caeneus), who was viewed as a “scorner and rival of the gods” and was driven into the earth by the Centaurs, is an example of Greek mythology attempting to subvert earlier trans-oriented legends.
  • And Cupid was a dual god/dess of love, originally portrayed as intersex…
  • The Amazons, a group of warriors often in conflict with Greeks and later mythologized, seem to have been thought of as trans, and Pliny the Younger referred to them as the Androgynae “who combine the two sexes.” They carried double-edged axes which may have been symbols of intersexuality, as were those carried by the South American tribe that inspired the naming of the Amazon River.
  • In the Klementi tribe of Albania, if a virgin swore before twelve witnesses that she would not marry, she was then recognized as male, carried weapons, and herded flocks.(

We offer this history because we know that to take something away without putting something in its place leaves a big, empty hole in our identities/spirits. Our intention is not to take something away from you, but rather to invite you to give something up willingly that someone else developed as an act of cultural resilience. What we are asking you to give up is attachment to the term “Two Spirit,” because it is a term sacred and specific to Native/First Nations people. And it also comes with its own deep history of gender violence, patriarchy, resistance and reclamation.


If you are not a member of a First Nations tribe, then it is not liberatory to use the term “Two Spirit.” If you did not descend from their ancestors and their struggles, and if you do not understand the history of their tribes or their words, then they are not yours to use and your use of the terms is theft, or what is called cultural appropriation. All to often, we appropriate words, customs and clothes from other cultures without the context to really know their implications. Of course we are not saying that the term is or should be patented in some way, but we are asking you to consider the similarity between using this term and, say, wearing a headdress. Consider the impact, rather than your intention.

However, what white people do have is centuries worth of gender non-conforming ancestors to start reclaiming and infinite possibilities of words and terms to create! This is just the beginning. Let’s work together to find new words. (In addition to already established terms like genderqueer, gender nonconforming, transgender, how about we add dual-spirited, non-dual gendered, multi-gendered, transcendent gender… What else? Leave ideas in the comments section!)  

Here are a few links offering more history on European (and other culture’s) gender non-conformity:

Also, there is a lot of great reading available to further inform you about Tribe-specific and spiritual beliefs related to Two-Spirit identity:

This letter was not written alone, but in collaboration with several queer, white folks in the SF Bay Area community. It is shared here in order to support ease of online access for others in our community.

Love for All Mamas

For this Mother’s Day, we wanted to share these inspiring images from the Strong Families campaign at Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

“The image of mothers that is widely celebrated excludes mamas based on their sexual orientation, race, class, immigration status, and more. In particular, mamas who are imprisoned, and mamas whose children are incarcerated do not get to see the beauty and power of their relationships represented in most Mother’s Day cards.”



I Support the #BaltimoreUprising

Cross-posted with permission from Catalyst Project:

“This is not just Baltimore’s problem, like it wasn’t just Ferguson. This is racism in America.”

Dear Friend,

I’m from a majority Black and highly segregated city near Baltimore. Wilmington, Delaware had the longest domestic military occupation since the Civil War when the National Guard occupied the city for 9 months in 1968 after Dr. King was assassinated– the longest occupation until New Orleans post-Katrina, that is.

Old money white wealth stays across town from row homes in impoverished Black neighborhoods cut through with the interstate. Wilmington’s not at the level of destitution that Baltimore has been dealing with, but it’s so easy for me to imagine that what is happening right now is in my hometown. Just as all these same problems of systemic violence, and people resisting it, is happening here in the Bay Area, and in my other home of New Orleans.

Photo above by Devin Allen, a 26-year-old resident of West Baltimore

Photo above by Devin Allen, a 26-year-old resident of West Baltimore

This is not just Baltimore’s problem, like it wasn’t just Ferguson. This is racism in America.

Seeing videos of young Black people in Baltimore calling out the media and the cops; hearing about how school kids were basically set up and dropped into a police trap Monday and have been getting teargassed and tazered all week; learning more specifics of the depths of police brutality in Baltimore… we have no choice but to move forward, towards deep change.

There is no going back, there is no suppressing this, there is no telling people to wait because justice will take time. People know there are no significant attempts at justice being made by the “authorities.” Rekia Boyd’s killer was acquitted this week. There can be no more George Zimmermans, no more Johannes Mehserles.

And even as the street rebellions in Baltimore forced the state’s attorney to indict 6 police officers in Freddie Gray’s murder yesterday, people across the country continue to rise up today because we know that jails can never be a path to justice.
Black people across this country are saying in every way they can that the clock has simply run out on the continued abandonment of Black communities, from state violence to economic disinvestment. We give thanks for the tremendous dignity, humanity and power in Black resistance.
There is a line in the sand. To my white friends, if you are still not sure which side you’re on, I remind you that lines mean you must take an active step to one side or the other. I hope you will join the side of healing and justice. Our own humanity depends on joining with Black liberation struggle, and the call is way too clear for anyone to ignore.
Real change comes from grassroots people’s movements. If you’re not already part of collective action, now is the time. For more resources on how to organize white people in this political moment, visit here.


Clare Bayard,

Catalyst Project


Southerners on New Ground: On the role of white people in the movement at this time

We are excited by the recent post from SONG (Southerners on New Ground):




It opens with a powerful quote:

“White people are taught that racism is a personal attribute, an attitude, maybe a set of habits. Anti-racist whites invest too much energy worrying about getting it right; about not slipping up and revealing their racial socialization; about saying the right things and knowing when to say nothing. It’s not about that. It’s about putting your shoulder to the wheel of history; about undermining the structural supports of a system of control that grinds us under, that keeps us divided even against ourselves and that extracts wealth, power and life from our communities like an oil company sucks it from the earth. The names of the euro-descended anti-racist warriors we remember – John Brown, Anne Braden, Myles Horton – are not those of people who did it right. They are of people who never gave up. They kept their eyes on the prize – not on their anti-racism grade point average. This will also be the measure of your work. Be there. There are things in life we don’t get to do right. But we do get to do them.” -Ricardo Levin Morales, 2015, for Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) work

They go on to share a tool they use as a starting point for developing more connection, unity and shared work inside of their white membership at SONG – across broad class, ability, locations, ethnicity and levels of experience.

It includes basic assumptions and principles, such as:

“• It is our job to dismantle white supremacy. Beyond personal, familial or community interactions we have to advance community organizing and confront power at sites of violence, fear and scarcity.

• We understand liberation work to be an inherently interdependent combination of the following: Identity + Consciousness + Vision + Work.

• We unapologetically side with oppressed people. Our relationships, organizational culture and strategies must reflect that. We are pro-Black, pro-working class, pro-queer, pro-trans, and pro-Feminist”

They then do a great job laying out visions for the positioning and conduct of white folks doing movement work.

Check it out!!






On the Horizon: What to Expect from WNC in 2015

The first weekend in December, 2014, the White Noise Collective core gathered for our second annual retreat.  The weekend was full of growth, reflection, community-building, struggle, and evolution.  We want to extend our gratitude to those you to those of you who offered us direct feedback through our 2014 year end survey, and let you all know what is on the horizon for the White Noise Collective in 2015.

WNC Retreat Reflection

In 2015, the White Noise Collective will honor the legacy of two powerful core members who will be moving on from direct leadership roles and into advisory and support positions with the core.  Levana and Kelley are critical parts of the growth and blossoming of the White Noise Collective, and we truly stand on their shoulders as we continue this work.  We’ve also welcomed our newest core member, Julia, into the fold.WNC Retreat_Parking Lot

In direct response to movement mobilizing and calls for direct action and engagement by movement leaders of color in the Black Lives Matter movement, 2015 will see a shift toward mobilizing, organizing, and direct action for the White Noise Collective.   As members in the White Noise Collective deepen our movement work and as the collective seeks to generate more of our own movement mobilizing, we will continue to hold space for deep, critical, and engaged reflection on the roles of white privilege and gender(ed) oppression in our movement work.

WNC Retreat

This shift will take many forms: WNC is now on twitter (!) and is connecting to virtual broader-based movement organizing.  Additionally, the WNC has formed an Action Listserve for WNC affiliated folks in the Bay Area to get connected to opportunities to take action around racial and social justice in the Bay.  Whereas our regular listserve is very low traffic (one quarterly newsletter and one email per month for dialogue RSVPs), this Action Listserve will be higher traffic and will present multiple opportunities for direct action and campaign building for racial justice.

WNC Retreat - Mapping our Community

We are excited to continue our community dialogues, which include monthly themes and more active facilitation and which serve as an open, educational and exploratory space for folks with a wide range of experience facing issues of racism, sexism and movement work. While 2014 saw a repeat of many of our most beloved and juicy dialogue topics, in 2015 we will be infusing our community dialogues with new and present themes.  Spring 2015 will focus on violence, safety, (dis)comfort, and the virtuous victim narrative.

This year, the WNC has created a new dialogue space specifically for movement activists and organizers.   With this space we seek to develop a new container that nourishes and challenges collective members not just as individuals but as racial justice movement activists/organizers. This space will not be for action planning or organizing. It will be specifically geared to support us in deeply examining the ways our socialization as both white and as female (whether or not we currently identify this way) is currently impacting our movement work and relationships.

Intentions have been set in 2015 to develop and offer new workshops, contribute new blogs and develop curriculum, and set aside time for our own individual and collective creative pursuits within this work.

We are excited to see where the growth of 2014 can take us in this new year.  Onward in struggle and solidarity!


Showing up and Honoring the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

The #BlackLivesMatter movement is expanding and deepening across the nation, and spreading around the globe.  This sign, hashtag and rallying cry are filling streets, newsfeeds, imaginations and institutions.  And white-identified folks eager to engage, enraged by injustice, and inspired by the movement are showing up in large numbers and in different ways. As white allies act, and reflect on action, it is key to understand what is being asked for by Black leadership, what is useful, powerful, and what is detrimental. Many brilliant Black organizers have commented on the ways white folks have co-opted or redirected movement energy from #BlackLivesMatter, or distracted from the movement by generating overwhelming media coverage on the “violence” of property destruction.

Today, as millions across the country prepare for a weekend of marches and mobilizations nationwide, we wanted to cross-post this piece by Alicia Garza in The Feminist Wire, to learn from and listen to one of the founders of this movement.

In preparation for our own Millions March in the San Francisco Bay Area, the WNC has created this #BlackLivesMatter mini-zine as a resource to hand out and intervene with other white folks in emergent street mobilizations whose messages and actions are disconnected from, distract from, or whitewash the movement.  Feel free to print, fold, and distribute this resource in your own marches and street mobilizations (use this guide to fold).  Also, check out this resource from SURJ (Showing Up For Racial Justice), about acting up with accountability as white folks. It is time to show up and honor #BlackLivesMatter.

A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement by Alicia Garza


BLMAnd, perhaps more importantly, when Black people cry out in defense of our lives, which are uniquely, systematically, and savagely targeted by the state, we are asking you, our family, to stand with us in affirming Black lives.  Not just all lives. Black lives.  Please do not change the conversation by talking about how your life matters, too. It does, but we need less watered down unity and a more active solidarities with us, Black people, unwaveringly, in defense of our humanity. Our collective futures depend on it. – Alicia Garza

To say that I’m “too political” is to say that I love too much.

A galvanizing Black leadership has emerged from Ferguson in the weeks and months since the murder of Mike Brown and non-indictment of Darren Wilson which has stoked the fires of resistance across the nation-state, joining with histories of rebellion on this land and across the globe. This wave of uprising against injustice has shown a powerful strength in its messaging, its demands and its ability to continue to dominate the airwaves with important information about racismpolice brutality and white rage against Black progress – an essential movement if we are to have real conversations or effect meaningful change.

i cant breathe

(Note: We would prefer the above graphic to read “I won’t see,” not “I can’t see”)

There is a clarity with which Black organizers and writers have continued to put out calls to white people to both own their privilege and step up in this movement, from demands to stop whitewashing #BlackLivesMatter into #AllLivesMatter to specific guidance on how to behave in the streets (ie – white people: don’t say “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and don’t do a staged “Die In” because the police aren’t shooting and killing white people) to requests that white people say no to business as usual and start having difficult conversations to change hearts and minds of other white people . As Carl Gibson shared, “as white people who aren’t seething with racism, we have the duty to show solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters in the aftermath of the Ferguson decision.”

But, as Janee Woods shares, in 12 Things white people can do now because of Ferguson, “a lot of white people aren’t speaking out publicly against the killing of Michael Brown because they don’t see a space for themselves to engage meaningfully in the conversation…but think about it like this: staying silent when you witness oppression is the same as supporting oppression.” As white people, we must have the difficult conversations. We must be a part of the learning, a part of shifting the narratives, a part of flooding Facebook, just as much as we must be out on the streets, putting our bodies between Black and other POC activists and the police. From our family meals to social media, everywhere that we speak, we must speak about racism and structural violence or else we are complicit in the system not changing.

Which is why I am excited by SURJexcited by this event in Oakland (organized by white activists with the guidance of the BlackOut Collective and BlackLivesMatter), excited by Sally Kohn, excited by Laci Greene, and excited by my friend, A’s, recent post on Facebook (below). In our December WNC Dialogue, we discussed Difficult Conversations, from Ferguson to Palestine, focusing on and role playing how to engage with dismissive family members, white neighbors who think what’s going on doesn’t affect them, and white people who are interested in the idea of racial justice, but afraid to show up in the streets and join the movement. And while our strategies in different situations may change, we recognized the need to understand the values and humanity of those we are in conversation with – if we actually want to support them in moving in our direction. This post demonstrates a beautiful, engaging and vulnerable process of “coming out” to friends and family as a white person who cares and who will speak and stand in solidarity:

“Dear friends and family,

Today I want to come out to you.

I am a white, able-bodied, thin queer person who is often extended conditional cis-privilege, and I am coming out to you as someone who cares and loves others and believes we all should have the same rights and opportunities.

Perhaps you’ve seen some of my posts about subjects involving the judgement and oppression of others. Perhaps you’ve seen many of them, because I’ve shared them believing you’d be interested, or perhaps you’ve seen very few of them because I believed you wouldn’t understand them.

But today I’m coming out as someone who cares about you and loves you and wants to share these things with you because I believe you are good people who care about and love others and who want to learn how to be even better.

I see how you share posts about your religion, because you want your loved ones to see your truth. I see your posts on disease and illnesses, so that we may know how others suffer and how to end such tragedy. I see your posts on your loved ones and your achievements, so we may see what you are proud of and the love you have in your life.

I too, post these things.

I post pieces on current affairs, so you can see the truth of the world.

I post pieces on racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, fatphobia, and more, because I want you to see how others are suffering and treated unfairly and how we can end such injustices and tragedies.

And I post pieces about those I love and those I don’t know who usually aren’t celebrated in mainstream media, because they are people who deserve to be honored, and they are loved too.

Perhaps you have found or will find my posts “too political”, or you find me “too aware”. I hear you. But when you say or think those things, know that when I am “too aware,” it’s that I really care about this world and the people in it. And to say that I’m “too political” is to say that I love too much, because my politics are love and justice.

I care about you and I love you, and so I share what I have learned and what I am learning about. I believe you care about and love me too, and I hope that together we can talk about any of these topics in a respectful and loving way, which may be difficult and involve strong emotions.

Please feel free to come to me with any questions about my posts, and please know that I will also talk about these things in person because they are important to me and to the world. And if I feel that you’re being hurtful in any way and I ask you what you mean when you say certain things, know that I’m asking you out of love and concern, because I believe you don’t wish to be hurtful or oppressive.

So, friends and family, I come out to you again, as a person who loves and cares about others, and believes we are all capable of being loving and caring.

Thank you for listening.

Please feel free to share and to add your own identities and privileges to your version.”

Hear this call. Take a moment to “come out” and to reach out to the people in your lives. Invite these conversations, even with people you believe won’t listen. Now is the time.



Many thanks to A Raymond for permission to feature this post and for all you do, on and off FB. Thanks, as always, to other WNC folks for edits and inspiration.

Update on the Indictment

We want to share thoughts and resources regarding the Darren Wilson Indictment released tonight. If you haven’t heard yet, the grand jury concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to indict police officer Darren Wilson of a crime.

Here is a brief FAQ on what that means. If you are interested in plugging into actions, please check out this tumblr page from the Ferguson National Response Network and the Ferguson Action page that share very comprehensive listings of planned actions around the country. There are also many groups raising money for bail funds, organizing and different acts of resistance that are in need of financial support (such as here, hereherehere or here). And you can find updates here and all over the internet.


While many have us may have been socialized on the merits of staying calm, and while we can feel real fear about the violence of protests, it is important to think about who is being told to stay calm during these moments. Tory Russell, co-founder of the Hands Up United organization, spoke poignantly about the disparity in who is asked to stay calm:

“I am urging calm. I’m urging calm for the police officers to not pepper spray me, tear gas me, mace me and shoot rubber bullets… People need to urge the police to be calm. Stop hurting kids, stop traumatizing our communities.” Russell went on to remark that everyone is asking Ferguson protesters to stay “calm” but no one is requesting the same of the police or the FBI or the KKK, who have threatened to use “lethal force”against people in that city. “Why don’t you keep calm and serve the communities?” he asked the police.


And while Marissa Alexander gets 3 years for firing 3 warning shots, the police continue to militarize and the Zimmermans and the Wilsons of our world walk free. This may not be the time to stay calm.