This reflection on White Supremacy was most recently spurred by an interaction I had with San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen regarding her signature on a call for Alison Collins, a Board of Education Member, to resign. This is a complicated matter, one that has a lot of context and nuance regarding anti-Asian and anti-Black racism, all of which is missed in the public letter.
So Supervisor Ronen’s signature on it does not sit right with me. In fact, in my email to her, I wrote, “White person to white person, your signature on that letter is furthering White Supremacy.” It was an intentionally inflammatory statement meant to challenge an elected officials decision to sign a public letter calling for the resignation of a Black Board of Education Member.
She responded that I was being presumptuous.
I’ve sat with that comment all afternoon, night, and early morning. I woke up and started re-reading texts that have recently brought me a lot of clarity. As I read and reflected, I felt moved to delve more into what exactly I mean by “furthering White Supremacy”.
It’s contextual and nuanced and bold and radical. It is not comforting or comfortable. It shouldn’t be. I cannot be. For abolishing White Supremacy will require revolution.
And I am a revolutionary.
In camaraderie + solidarity,
Who better prepared than the oppressed to understand the terrible significance of an oppressive society? Who suffer the effects of oppression more than the oppressed? Who can better understand the necessity of liberation?
Paolo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
...what we practice at the small sets the patterns for the whole system.
Adrienne Marie Brown, Emergent Strategies
In a time of destruction, create something.
Maxine Hong Kingston, found in Disability Visibility, edited by Alice Wong
I’ve been politically and civically involved since I came out at 18 while in seminary to be a priest. It was December 1994, and I was the only out queer student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. In order to survive (literally, not figuratively), I needed to build coalitions with others who were not queer. I found a staunch ally in my comrade Stacey Danner, but in order to get his support I had to quickly learn how to not be a fucking racist. He told me so, point blank, no minced words.
I remember hearing him say it, too, and the immediate, “but,” that screamed in my head. I wanted to vomit it out, and as I was about to, he followed up his blunt statement with, “You’re staring again. Fucking cut it out. That’s what I’m talking about.”
The “but” never escaped my lips. Instead, it was swallowed, and its journey down my esophagus began my life-long commitment to learning how to be, not just not racist, but (pun intended), anti-racist.
Over 36 years later, I am even more committed to being anti-racist, and I have also learned that anti-racism isn’t enough. I must also be anti-fascist and anti-capitalist. I must work ceaselessly at all levels to abolish all white institutions from prisons/jails to police to museums to Hollywood to the mental health industry to borders to patriarchy to organized religion to, even, the nuclear family.
I know this requires of me a huge commitment to a bold vision that will often force me to compromise. As a white, male-perceived queer, I must compromise in order to be anti-racist. And my internalized understanding of being anti-racist includes critically questioning all of my actions all of the time through the lens of race. It is through this critical racial examination of my being that I can better understand how, why, when, what, where, and with whom to compromise because not all compromise is anti-racist. Being anti-racist requires context and nuance.
One edge that is continuing to be revealed to me as I start better understanding the intersections of being anti-racist AND being anti-capitalist and anti-fascist (which have only come into my vocabulary since the 2008 housing crisis and the 2016 election of Donald Trump, respectively) is that the insidiousness of White Supremacy—the foundation of all white institutions—means all people of all backgrounds and all political leanings further it. Everyone is complicit. Everyone.
For me, this realization is both wholly liberating and completely maddening. On the one hand, knowing that I, by the very nature of my being, am always furthering White Supremacy means that I, too, have the means to excise my being from it. Yes, it is work. Yes, it is constant. Yes, it will never end. But (and yes, it is a but and not an and) that also means I can actually DO something about it. I just have to do it. All of the time and for all time. That does not mean I won’t fuck up as… I am always furthering White Supremacy and any new revelation on how I am furthering it provides an opportunity to stop myself from continuing to do the thing that furthers it.
Which brings me to….it also being completely maddening…
When you are constantly in a state of critique on your being and actions, you begin to see the myriad ways the systems of White Supremacy are constantly present in every situation all of the time even when you open the fridge and pull out the half and half for your morning cup of coffee and realize in this exact moment you are financing the exploitation of migrant and low-wage labor across the world. It feels terrible, and it forces you to live and become comfortable with a huge amount of cognitive dissonance.
The dissonance has overwhelmed and overtaken me. It has forced me into the fetal position under my covers unable to take any actions because I was scared shitless that by me simply getting up and going to work, which was on racial equity, I would fuel racial inequity. I had a nervous breakdown in the middle of a hotel after facilitating a training on prejudice and bias for Minnesotan youth in an agricultural program. In the middle of my workshop, I was scolded for speaking about racism to youth because it was seen by the white adults as furthering racism, even though rural Minnesota was seeing more and more migrant labor tending fields owned by big agribusiness. It even pushed me out of youth development after being told that my involvement as a co-director with a queer (of gender and sexuality) Arab-American managing a peer-run worker network was a way for me to manipulate people of color by a representative of San Francisco’s Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families. (Mind you, the peer network ran on a consensus-based model for almost a decade before its dissolution.)
Still, all of these moments became opportunities for me to discover how to release my being from White Supremacy. Instead of feeling inadequate around racial equity, I returned the money and gave recommendations for Black consultants to finish the work and offered to volunteer my time to support any Black consultant they would hire. I walked in to a Board meeting for the agricultural program and told them to their face that they were racist and that I quit. I took time away from youth development and started working as a barista to reorient my labor; I needed to be paid for physical work rather than intellectual work.
I am still practicing being anti-racist and anti-capitalist and anti-fascist. I fail at it every single day. Sometimes, I learn from those failures. Sometimes, they become the thing I beat myself up about for days on end.
That is until I realize that continuing to beat myself up about my own failures rather than face them and change my behaviors is, in fact, doing the work of White Supremacy. It’s labor to excise it, undo it, starve it.
We can abolish all white institutions.
So my questions to you, dear readers and Supervisor Ronen, are:
How are you untethering your being from White Supremacy?
What behaviors are you willing to change?
Who do you really want to be?
Image description: A black and white selfie of me from the shoulders up smizing while looking straight into the camera taken after writing this post. The background behind me is blurred.