Home Actions White Nonsense First Responders: Open Thread

Use the comments section below to share your experiences confronting racist nonsense.  You can suggest ways to respond, ask for advice on how to respond, or just seek emotional support.

White people made white supremacy and it’s our responsibility to fix it.  Let’s help each other do that work.

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11 replies to this post
    • I agree with your article. When I saw it’s name on our Unitarian Universalist website, I thought it was off-putting. In other words, if I share it with my friends, they’re going to be immediately on the defensive because of “white nonsense”. I just wish the article could have been called “Is Back Lives Matter Racist?”.

  1. I called in a friend for equating being “blonde” and “Aryan” with being desirable. I could tell it made her feel uncomfortable and that her feelings were a little hurt, especially since she wasn’t sure why I was criticizing her.

    I think if I had to do over again, I would have asked her questions like “why is Aryan a good thing?” rather than telling her not to say that.

  2. When I hear my friends use the word “ghetto” to equate with something of inferior quality, I offer them another word that still works with current slang, eg “bootleg” “cheap” “sketchy.” Trying to offer words that don’t have negative racial connotations. I’ve found it’s good to not only point out the racism their words give, but also to have on hand an immediate alternative, there are thousands of ways to say anything, say them in words that don’t disempower others.

    • Zoë, I really like the strategy of offering an alternative. People are probably less likely to get defensive when an easy alternative is given to their current action.

      I also really like working on small racisms (micro-aggressions) that many of us witness everyday…and can stop! Thanks for sharing.

  3. I hear the “black on black crime!” nonsense a lot, and one thing I think we should be using in response to that is the history of policing in US cities. For much of the 20th century through today, police departments have used “containment” tactics to keep crime centered in black and latinx neighborhoods while forcing it out of white ones. When we talk about racist policing, it’s not only cops literally killing people, it’s also the failure over many decades to actually protect these neighborhoods from violent crime.

    Black community organizations have historically been way more active in trying to prevent crime in their neighborhoods than the actual police are.

    • The “But Black on Black Violence…” form of white nonsense got me thinking about something I hear a lot in Canada in relation to the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women (#MMIW), which white politicians, the RCMP (Canadian federal police force), and many white individuals have tried to blame on Indigenous men. Sometimes this white nonsense comes in the guise of acknowledging colonialism’s harmful impacts (e.g., the inter-generational legacy of residential schools, poverty and addiction leading to over-representation of Indigenous women in the survival sex trade) but the way it is expressed often has a strong undercurrent of saying that Indigenous people are broken and reinforcing racist stereotypes. It is also often used by government/police to push for increased funding for policing, for targeted crime prevention.

      There was an excellent analysis of this by Naomi, an Indigenous writer, on her blog “Kwe Today” that I found useful in thinking about how to respond to this white nonsense. In her words: “Criminalization and policing of Indigenous women’s lives creates a self-fulfilling prophecy by putting Indigenous women in these ‘at risk’ situations and then tells policing agencies that Indigenous women need more criminalization in their lives to ‘protect’ them from violence….Indigenous women in the sex trade continue to be seen as less-than human and that their status in the sex trade is seen as a ‘risk’ factor instead of policing responses being seen as creating that risk—even when the RCMP explicitly state that these same women have a lower solve rate than any other homicide victim.” (http://kwetoday.com/2015/06/25/on-the-updated-rcmp-mmiw-report-this-coffee-smells-like-shit-it-is-shit-oh-good-then-its-not-just-me)

      When we talk about racist policing I think part of what needs to be talked about is the context of racist laws that police are enforcing, and the importance of decriminalizing sex work, drug possession, and other non-violent activities. These laws are not only used by police to target people of colour, Indigenous people, and people who are living or working on the street, but also create living and working conditions that increase vulnerability to violence (by police and others). There is no shortage of resources to point people to around the ways that the drug war has increased rather than decreased violence but I often recommend Johann Hari’s book “Chasing the Scream” as I think it’s really accessible to white people and does a good job of identifying the racist ideology that has been from the start the foundation of North American drug policy. Talking about racist laws (as well as racist enforcement of the law) is also a way to talk about how white people have prioritized control of black communities (law enforcement) vs. ensuring safe and accessible housing, health care, schools, food security, etc.

      I also try to talk with other white people about how fundamentally fucked up it think it is to have a structure where we put a small group in people (police) in charge of keeping other people “in line” — too much responsibility and too much power — and how we all need to be responsible for creating communities where we can keep one another safe, and not abdicate our collective responsibility for preventing and responding to violence. This is another way to help white people stop focusing on what we tend to see as the problem outside of ourselves, and think about our own responsibilities.

      Some thoughts on the “Reasoned Response” current draft on this issue, which reads:
      Reasoned Response: Regardless of harm members of a group do to each other, harms being done to that group by others still need to be addressed. Diverting attention away from police is a classic derailment and lets abusive police officers off the hook. Police officers with hair-trigger tempers who have no respect for the law are a danger to everyone, so diverting attention away from their bad acts harms all citizens.

      I wonder about changing this a bit to focus on value for Black lives rather than making it about the safety of “all citizens”, e.g., something like, “All kinds of violence against Black people needs to be addressed and there needs to be a diversity of groups and movements working on different manifestations of violence against Black people. BLM is highlighting the urgent need to address institutionalized forms of violence against Black people, and to take action on both the systemic pattern of anti-Black law enforcement in the US and also the misdirection of funds currently being used to police Black people that should instead be put into Black communities most devastated by poverty to create jobs, housing and schools.”

      I am sure my draft can be improved and will look forward to suggestions! Thanks so much for all of your work!

      • Eko, yes, looking at the effects of oppression on a community can have the contradictory effect of further stigmatizing those individuals. I think Cornel West, acknowledged these effects truthfully but non-judgmentally when he said:

        “When you socially neglect a people, when you economically abandon a people, when you transfer wealth from them to the well-to-do, what are a people going to do?… They’re going to respond with very sad forms of despair, and that’s true for everybody, I don’t care what color you are. It’s true with Appalachia, it’s true with indigenous people, it’s true around the world.”

        On your critique of the final paragraph I wrote in that section, it is indeed getting away from a unique focus on black lives. It was a calculated choice to appeal to white people for whom risks to black lives are not uniquely motivating. I don’t think it goes so far as to be a derailment, but I definitely see your point.

        • Thanks Mary for your thoughtful comments. Totally didn’t mean to suggest that your original language was a derailment. I am never sure how much to appeal to what white people think of as our self interest (to get them to be interested) and how much doing so inadvertently reinforces the unconscious assumption that white interests are the most important interests. Tend to lean to the latter in how I approach things, but am aware that reaches a smaller number of white people…

    • Sarah, I hadn’t heard about the containment policy. It’s utterly horrifying and completely believable. (Could you link to sources?) Thanks for sharing.

  4. White people made white supremacy and it’s our responsibility to fix This statement bothers me. I am certain of the reason…I am white. I agree with everything in the statement until I read the words ‘our
    responsibility’….I am hoping that ‘our’ makes reference to everyone who is against white supremacy. If we are making reference to a readily perceived injustice shouldn’t anyone, black, white, Asian, Latino…be urged and accepted …to fight against that injustice? White people made white supremacy….true enough…but, focus on ‘white people’….then ‘it is our responsibility’….there is a line drawn between the two…do you object to white people ‘also’ trying to fix it?

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