Black by Popular Demand – Activist by Choice

The Subtle Racism of “Post-Racial” Activism

My bus is all but parked, its frame quivering and growling as the engine idles. I look up from my book at the packed seats around me: an array of glowing white faces in the dark of night. Two white faces talk across the aisle a few rows in front of me, one pale to the point of translucence, the other light tan with soft undertones of yellow. I hear the word “Ferguson” as teeth peek out from behind pink lips stretched into a grin. I can’t imagine what there is to grin about.

Cold air swirls around my ankles and sneaks up my coat; a shiver follows it up my spine. The bus doors are still open and the bus driver is standing at the front of the bus. How long have we been parked here while I sat engrossed in the words of my book? I slide over to the center seat, both to look ahead of the bus and to better hear what conversation about Ferguson elicits such humor and levity.

JeffGoldblumAhead of the bus, several police cars have blocked off the street as hundreds protest behind them. Jeff Goldblum’s voice lectures me in my head, “chaos theory: a boy dies in Ferguson and it moves hundreds to action across the country.”

“I guess they were, like, really mad about Ferguson or something?” I wonder how she’s managed to cram every linguistic marker of “disaffected rich kid” into one sentence, but Portland is where rich-parented Californians go to be jobless hipsters and baristas posing as writers, so I’m not particularly surprised. However, I don’t manage to catch much of what she’s saying amidst the clamor outside and the vibrating engine of the bus.

Perhaps she redeems herself later on in her story. But this is my story, not hers. My story stands up, walks by her, and steps off of the bus. I cross the street lawfully, taking the crosswalk right next to the stationary cavalcade of police cars. Two cops eye my laptop bag cautiously as I step between them. Self-preservation kicks in and stops the snarky jibe about having a bomb before it can escape my lips.

I take my place in the roaring crowd and emotions – dozens of conflicted thoughts – surge through me. At first, I feel comfortable. I grew up in Los Angeles, going to prep school after prep school, and the white faces that surround me are the faces I see every day. But everything is slightly off.

It starts with the chants. When I first arrive, I hear the chant that will come to define the night:

No Justice, No Peace
No Racist Police

What should be a protest event in solidarity of systematic violence against black men has become an anarchist’s rallying call against our authoritarian government. Make no mistake, the key words there are “no peace” (a call to anarchic unrest), and “no police”. Some chanters – apparently uncomfortably cognizant of the complete lack of black folk around them – have even started replacing the word “racist” with “fascist”.

Why is this a problem? Because Ferguson (and the events surrounding it) have never been about police. Every officer in the USA could behave with complete racial sensitivity and it wouldn’t have stopped George Zimmerman (a civilian) from shooting Trayvon Martin to death. In fact, it was an emergency dispatcher who told George Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon Martin, acting with common sense and restraint.

Yes, police happen to be among the best armed and most legally protected people in America, making police killings of black men the most newsworthy, but it is not the police we should be condemning, but the widespread racist fear of black men, allowing their murderers to claim “self-defense” even in cases when it is they who are armed, or even the instigators..

But the Portland rabble has moved on:

All cops in the ground
Justice for Michael Brown

RiotsWoah. That escalated quickly. Do they not see the cops just across the street, cordoning cars away from us and allowing us to have this protest? I am not the only one to notice this: the other scattered black voices around me – 8 by my count – fall silent at the same points, their faces conflicted and suddenly lost in confusion instead of sadness or righteous anger. We yell out “no justice”, knowing it to be the reality of our situation. We hesitate on “no peace”, valuing unrest and protest, but fearing the violent phrasing could turn on us at any moment.

The ability to protest vocally and physically without being perceived as a threat is yet another aspect of white privilege. “Fuck the police” may only be perceived as a harmless counter-cultural statement in the mouths of white youth, but in our mouths, it could easily be cast as incitement for a riot.

 

 

 

CopI step out of the crowd to clear my head, and approach a pair of officers, one male, one female. They bristle slightly as I approach, and I flash my hands up and slow down.

Can I take a picture with you two?

The man smirks at me.

Like a selfie?

After some camera woes, he teases me, joking that I just want a picture of his partner. I thank them for their service and return to the protest, quelling my own.

An eloquent young man has begun reading from an essay he has apparently been carrying around in his pocket for just such an occasion. He speaks and means well as he details the increasing militarization of police departments across America. He traces this back – accurately – to the War on Drugs, and the use of SWAT teams largely in drug busts, as opposed to the expected hostage situations.

CRACK COCAINEHe then goes on to ignore the fact that the War on Drugs has been used as a systematic form of violence disproportionately against African-Americans since its inception, from higher arrest rates despite slightly lower drug use, to higher sentencing rates for drugs associated with black communities (crack vs cocaine).

He steps down at the end of his speech, and somebody starts the same tired chant up again “ALL COPS IN THE GROU-”

My voice cuts across his, equal parts bitter assertion and desperate plea.

Black Lives Matter!

The other black protesters – three black men in their 30s, one black woman in her 40s, and two biracial women in their 20s – join in with me immediately. It’s a familiar mantra. A few scattered white voices join in, but it is almost as though they find the word “black” uncomfortable to say. They even seem to have trouble catching the cadence. While we black protesters are saying:

Black. Lives. Matter.

Our few white supporters have joined in with

Black. Lives. Mat. Er.

I chuckle to myself over an unspoken joke about white people and rhythm. Much as “fascist” began to replace “racist”, I begin to hear a new chant under my own. I don’t know where it starts, but I hear it from two locations: the hecklers across the street and a fellow protester behind me and to the left:

All. Lives. Mat. Er.

At once, my vague discomfort coalesces into a clear idea. Portland is not comfortable with race. Unable to focus on race, they have fixated on another property of the Ferguson riots: authoritarian police brutality. I grow to hate that chant, not the least because it shuts down legitimate racial grievances.

Fast forward 24 hours and the protest has grown to thousands. As we march around the city in righteous rage, I realize the lack of connection between predominantly black Ferguson and predominantly white Portland. For the first time, I understand the outrage at cultural appropriation: an appropriation of my fears and concerns, without the actual consequences. They are playing a game, a game that has no real consequences to them, but could end my life.

The words “Hands up, don’t shoot” are so trivial on white lips and tongues as to be meaningless, when the Aurora shooter can walk out of a theater after having killed 12 and wounded 70, take his bulletproof vest off, put his hands up and surrender. Upraised hands are the universal sign for surrender; only when exercised to black men do they lose that power.

The march draws to a close, and a speaker says the most relevant words: the words many black men in the audience have been thinking:

Now we are here in solidarity with Michael Brown and all victims like him. We are here in peaceful protest, and we should remain here in peaceful protest. We have made our point. And if any here are endeavoring to break this peaceful protest, I say to you, get your own night. Get your own protest1.

A moment of silence begins for Michael Brown, leading into a group hymn: we shall overcome. Inevitably, a voice rings out from the crowd:

Let’s fuck shit up!

The gentleman next to me murmurs to his friend next to him

When are we gonna blow shit up?
We’re never gonna blow shit up…

Soon, a group of mostly white anarchists have decided that the protests of the night have not “done anything”. A large group of them begin shouting over the singer, calling for the protesters to “fuck shit up”. They soon break off and head to start their own protest. I put my hand on the shoulder of one in front as he passes me through the crowd. He turns to me, a white guy with dreadlocks and a rasta-colored bandana, disdain written plainly across his face, and snaps, “you got something to say?”

In that moment I realize the gravity of my mistake: a young black man choosing to challenge the right of a white man to do whatever he sees fit. I am not Trayvon Martin tonight, but I could be on another night, under a different context. I decide to choose my words even more carefully than I always do, my voice hoarse from hours of shouting.

If you go out there and fuck shit up, how do you think this will reflect upon our protest? Ferguson and many more killings like it happened because white conservatives have an unreasonable fear of black men. If this protest turns violent, what do you think they will remember? Another night where black men struck them with fear. Your actions reflect on us. Find your own protest.

With no personal soft spot for religion, I find it odd to be agreeing with the preacher from before.

I honestly don’t remember his response or our resulting argument. I remember snippets about police brutality and how this could have happened to anybody. I remember it escalating in tone and content. But most of all, the one thing I remember word for word is the last thing he says:

Your skin tone reflects poorly on you.

The crowd  falls silent around me. My face burns with shame and anger and frustration all at once. I throw my hands up in dismissal and turn my back on him, one hand clenched in a fist. An instant passes, but I spend hours fantasizing about turning around and introducing my fist to his jaw. A tentative voice interrupts me.

I’m sorry, what did you just say?

I turn around, and the swelling crowd has swept him away. Somebody asks me if I’m ok, and I flash a lopsided grin and a snarky comment. I clench my teeth and swallow the mounting bile in my throat, and step outside the crowd. This isn’t the only such argument I see. A white guy in his late 20s argues with a black woman of 60.

He says “the tactics of the civil rights’ movement do not work”.
She responds with “and how would you know? I was there”.
He responds with “well I’ve studied it a lot”.

She turns away briefly and laughs, and I can’t help but see parallels to my previous encounter. A realization that even in a protest that is supposed to empower and offer solidarity to black voices, black voices are shut out by whites uncomfortable with the realities of race.

I know for a fact that the tactics of the civil rights’ movement work, because 50 years ago, my parents’ marriage – the basis of my very existence – would have been a crime. Despite all that, here I am today.

Another white guy finds it necessary to argue with a biracial woman about the necessity of violent protest. A black man walks by and says “if you wanna get shot, go ahead”. The white guy goes on to argue that it’s the responsibility of whites to be on the front lines with blacks in violent protest. What he neglects to realize is that the front lines are only dangerous to those with the wrong skin tone.

RifleLater that night, two (white) men at the protest are briefly pulled aside for having a rifle and a handgun. According to the Oregon Live, police “separated the men from the crowd as police checked if they had valid state concealed firearm licenses. Once police found their licenses were good, the men were allowed to continue on the march.”

In a hectic protest where several arrests were made and bottles and rocks were hurled at officers, they had the presence of mind to stop, check for permits, and allow the men to continue marching with their guns. Meanwhile, John Crawford is shot holding a toy gun in Walmart without so much as a warning.

White Portland has nothing to fear on the grounds of issues like Ferguson because those issues exist solely in the context of black Americans.

I continue to follow the protest around Portland for the rest of the night, snapping pictures. While hundreds of cops appear to be mobilized, many in riot gear, I find myself impressed and relieved at their restraint, and no major injuries are reported.

Cops-1

Meanwhile, in predominantly black Ferguson, tear gas has been used extensively not only on peacefully protesting civilians (as many phone-shot videos will show), but also on journalists.

Portland, thanks to its lack of racial diversity, can afford a different kind of racism: pretending race isn’t a factor. But by doing so, they unintentionally erase the all-too-real concerns of black Americans, subsuming them under blanket anti-authoritarianism.

The stark contrast would be funny if it weren’t depressing: a white man with a rifle amidst a protest is checked for a permit and then left alone, while an unarmed black boy is shot to death in the streets.

1: The follow-up protest was ultimately led by a few young black men (Micah Rhodes being one of them). However, if you look at how it played out, the impact of people running counter to their intent was great. For example, as articles have noted, they did not want to block I-5 (http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/12/ferguson_protests_create_new_g.html).

Three examples of what I’ve been talking about with anarchists just wanting to wreak havoc, often over black voices. Ignore the source, video is still video…

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59 Responses »

  1. Great article. Maybe the best I’ve read about the protests.

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  2. Thank you for this. You were incredibly generous to describe the racism you experienced as “subtle”.

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  3. My husband and I recently visited Portland… We loved it so we started to shop around for apartments. I was looking at spots and I showed a spot to a Portlander and they responded with, “no, not there… That’s where the black people live.” I was shocked, I’m from San Diego where being white is the less common skin color so I pretty much never hear anything like that. It stunned me to hear such an intelligent person say such an ignorant thing so frankly. Like stating “bad part of town” and “black people live there” in the same sentence was not super messed up. But that person was only one of many white people who told me that while I was there, “stay west of 82nd street because east of that is where the black people live.” Black lives DO MATTER!!! We all know that white lives already matter but SO DO BLACK LIVES! And where they live matters too! And where they go to school and raise their babies, white people are not better or more important than anyone. We white folks obviously don’t understand your fight and for us overpriveleged white Americans, I want to apologize. I understand only as much as you can tell me… And I promise to never pretend to understand what it is like to be black. And I swear that I do not fear you, I do not hate you and I’m doing my best to raise my children to do the same. Wonderful article, perfectly told story… Thank you.

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  4. If a cop didn’t shoot that guy, someone else would have. He had just robbed a store and reached for the cop’s gun. The “martyr” for these protests is a sack of crap, and it’s hilarious to me that any black voice in portland is instantly celebrity. This kid has no idea what he is talking about, the protesters are just there to stir up shit. There is nothing to accomplish here except for the exercise of one’s own narcisism. I think it’s incredibly sad that the United States is even giving this bullshit any credit at all. A man reached for a cops gun and forced his own death. He would have been dead soon anyway based on the way he acted. With a figure head like that, what could you say about the followers? Pathetic sacks of shit..

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    • I feel quite amused that I went out of my way to describe this sort of racism as “subtle” and less about Portlanders holding direct antipathy towards blacks but about co-opting movements thanks to the assumption of their own social importance at a rally that ultimately isn’t about them.

      Then here comes this guy calling blacks “pathetic sacks of shit”.

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    • Are you aware that you sound like a member of the KKK, for real? Even George W. fucking Bush thinks cops are going overboard on black people, which means that you are actually to the right of George W. Bush. Man, this rise in public awareness is really bringing out some of the worst people.

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    • yes, we “know” that is the case because cops are incapable of lying or being discriminatory. its not like he did something reasonable like train a sniper rifle on a federal officer (like white dude’s at the Bundy ranch.. its not like he was an 11 year old boy playing with a bb gun in a park shot within 2 seconds of the cops arrival. no, that was a different black child. oh, if only he were white parading around a crowded walmart with a loaded ar15, he’d be alive today. not like eric garner, who was summarily executed for selling loose cigarettes. nothing to accomplish here. unless you know anything about history or civil rights- but you obviously don’t. You’re simply an idiot beyond help. hang yourself in your closet and see if anyone but your mom notices.

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    • Yes, please, tell us more about narcissism.

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  5. first of all, you’re on to something here and you’ve done a pretty good job of illustrating it, and i appreciated the piece, and it made me think a lot, but i have a few responses i think might be worth considering. i don’t mean to discredit, but rather to inspire more thinking, ultimately leading to progress

    why can’t this be about both the systemic violence against and an unacknowledged societal fear of black people as well as an illustration of citizens being treated as the enemy by police across all races? i don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. i don’t think white people are co-opting black people’s issue/event/whateveryouwanttocallit by making connections to multiple issues. and frankly, one could make the argument that by ignoring the police issue, you’re the one doing the co-opting, and it might make people defensive and less willing to consider your legitimate points. (disclaimer: call me insensitive, but i’ve ever really been convinced that “cultural appropriation” in any form is a problem, i acknowledge there are legitimate related concerns, but i tend to see that particular issue more as cultural mixing, often involving a certain amount of respect or flattery, and i think it’s neither good or bad in and of itself)

    relatedly, the piece suggests otherwise, but i believe there actually is an issue with how police treat ALL people, including black and white people, from the way they initiate interractions all the way through the use of deadly force. i’m not denying that black people have it worse, and that white people are far LESS likely to get killed, and that i’ll never be able to fully understand the black experience, but that doesn’t mean that the concern is illegitimate that ALL people are too often treated as the enemy by police and that ALL people are TOO likely to be killed. these terrible things happen to all races, and just because they happen more often to black people shouldn’t mean that we can’t make progress on both problems. it kind of comes across as “i have it worse than you, so your problems don’t matter.” that tone makes people defensive, can come across as narcissistic, and i think it’s unlikely to persuade many. it also rings of the (incredibly stupid) argument that more blacks are killed by other blacks than by the police, so we should only talk about how to fix black people. i doubt that’s what you intend, but when you’re trying to persuade, i think it’s best to come with a tone of empathy and to intentionally avoid a belittling or accusatory tone toward your target audience and what they can identify with. i think it’s more effective to connect by making arguments your target audience can identify with than to tell them what they can’t identify with. the confrontational alternative often results in a devolving conversation and fortifying adverse positions.

    last point – i realize i can’t comment on your experience, but using the dips$!t anarchists in Portland as an illustration of how white people are reacting to Michael Brown and Eric Garner seems to be about as maddening as others using the dips$!t liquor looters in Ferguson as an illustration of how black people are reacting.

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    • Just read a lot and be quiet for a couple of years, and maybe some deeper thinking on this matter might come to you.

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      • Thanks, that’s all that needed to be said here. Silently LOLing at the irony of a white person lecturing a black person and calling them “narcissistic” for centering the concerns of black people in protests against…police unlawfully shooting black people. How many white anarchist crusties have been gunned down by police lately? And how many grand juries have refused to indict police officers for killing white people lately? I’ll wait….

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        • Not to mention, how many white people were out protesting in the streets about police brutality before black people kicked off in Ferguson? Feel free to join in our movement, but hijacking it in order to talk over us and demand your own concerns be given center stage is just RUDE.

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    • I’m actually totally with you there, or at least I would have been very recently. As I said, this is the first time I’ve really understood what cultural appropriation is and why it’s problematic. Let me try and explain what changed about my mindset in the past few weeks.

      There are certain cultural expressions that are associated with black culture. Expressing those cultural expressions as a white male is a form of counter-culture, with the implicit intent that that’s not who you *really* are. It is the ability to step back from that cultural expression the moment it becomes something you don’t want. For example, if I talk in ebonics, I will be seen as stupid, and in some way less worthy of living (as case after case like Trayvon Martin’s or Michael Brown’s have indicated) in a way that a white male will not.

      (I am using male simply because obviously the female experience will not draw a perfect parallel, and I want to make my point as specific as possible).

      A perfect example of this is in the contrasting coverage of – predominantly white – mass shooters and the recent set of young black men murdered by cops. In the latter case, their external actions are seen as in some way “justifying” their deaths. Why was he on pot? Why was he walking alone at night? On the other hand, in the former cases, their primary actions are seen in some way as divergent from their normal lives “how could it come to this?”

      This comic is a perfect example: https://medium.com/the-nib/fear-of-a-black-victim-a17595dcd9c4

      The reason it is problematic at the moment is that it drowns out the race-related voices. We can talk about police brutality any time, but there are only certain times when it is politically safe to talk about race. As such, it feels important to get as much done as we can while our political and social momentum remains.

      Finally, it’s not that white people *don’t* experience brutality at the hands of the police, it’s that their experience is not *defined* by brutality at the hands of police. That is not to say that their brutal interactions do not matter, but that bringing them to this context is a bit like going to a cancer support group and saying “THERE ARE OTHER DISEASES TOO”.

      Yes, there are, but just for once can an issue not be about how it affects white people? It feels like the “affirmative action takes spots away from qualified white people” jive again…

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      • Great, valuable article! I learned a lot, and am sort of convinced to never move to Portland…

        But as for that last question: “but just for once can an issue not be about how it affects white people?” I don’t know if this answer will satisfy you, but as another commentor mentioned, it really depends on who you organize with and who decides to show up. I’m no ideologue, but I’ve known quite a few and imagine that a street protest in Portland is full of anarchists and socialists, the types of people who have a broad view of things and see racist police as integral to systems which they seek to transform or do away with altogether. For better or worse, they’re the types of people who go to street protests no matter the issue, and it’s important to recognize that without those types the Civil Rights movement and many other mass social movements (the 8 hour day, women’s suffrage, etc) probably would not have been as successful. According to them (many of whom I imagine are un/underemployed), “the system” isn’t just a problem for black people. Racism, the police, and capitalism exist symbiotically and need each other to thrive.

        But I mean, really, anybody who shows up to any kind of protest shows up because they genuinely understand that an issue impacts their lives in whatever concrete or abstract way. While racist police clearly impact brown people more than whites, it would be ignorant and frankly insulting to ask whites to repress thoughts about how it affects them, and Portland is predominantly white so I honestly don’t know how to handle that on the street. Nevertheless, I recognize it is super ignorant and probably racist for a white protester to not recognize police brutality as a black issue, even if they themselves have been victimized by police. Maybe what’s lacking is simple political education? Or maybe Portland leftists really are that racist? It sounds like a really weird dynamic, but compared to other predominantly white communities at least something is happening.

        Anyway, I’ve never been to Portland so I won’t comment more on local politics. I would just encourage you to talk about this and organize with other locals who feel the same way as you. I doubt that simply complaining on the internet is going to get it done.

        I will say this, though: White and mainstream American culture is all about self-actualization and individual identity (a form of internalized colonialism that whites themselves are responsible for coming to grips with and largely haven’t, even on the left), and I guess latching onto the whole revolutionary/activist thing is one way of doing that. Please feel free to call us out on that kind of narcissism, but also please understand that many, if not most, white people are sincere about their beliefs and could use some guidance learning how to be valuable allies. Loving, accepting attitudes will prove way more fruitful than confrontational ones…

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      • The problem you pointed out, that the white anarchist protests in Portland are drowning out the race-related voices, is interesting. It’s important for the anarchist protestors to recognize that the statement that Black Lives Matter bears significance more-so than say, that All Lives Matter, especially right now after two police brutality instances against black males. Thanks for sharing that point of view.

        I think it’s a combination of both issues that warrants a special consideration beyond just racism against blacks or police brutality. Just protesting against white-on-black crime won’t stop racists from racially prejudiced action. Police brutality by itself doesn’t have the same gravity as state sanctioned racism. So maybe we should be finding a way to protest together rather than white-washing or black-washing the situation.

        I’m not black or white, and I’m not a complete anarchist either. We can talk about police brutality at any time, and we can talk about racism at any time. I’m glad that people are talking about both.

        Finally, I’ll leave you with one point of view from an anarchist that you might find interesting.
        http://humaniterations.net/2012/02/29/you-are-not-the-target-audience/

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        • Interesting, certainly. I think I agree with their central hypothesis (that government monopoly of power is based on the illusion of control) but not that that’s a bad thing. Gradual change through social change has been a powerful tool in Northern European countries, for example.

          But it may be that the American political system is doomed to fail minorities, thanks to its bipartisan, winner-takes-all system. I’ll have to think on that.

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  6. Very good article. Many of these chants are from the last wave of protests in Portland ten plus years ago. We can never control who shows up for street protests, but we can control who we organize with, and figure out how to deal with these things. Portland is abysmally racist.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I always thought that by “no peace” they mean there is currently no peace (i.e. racism and murder), just as “no justice” means there is currently no justice.

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  8. While I think this article makes some valid points it’s also not entirely accurate. The break away march (which while blocking traffic was by no means violent) was lead by a few young black men. I was also next to a group of black folks who started a “fuck the police” chant.

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  9. Wow, this was solid. I lived in Portland for many years, and I could recognize many of the moments you described and several of the people in those videos. I live in Oakland now, and I am afraid that I see the effect of what you were talking about being replicated even here; the co-opting of moments meant to be a place for voices of people of color, and white folks insist instead on it being about smashing things. “With friends like these….”

    Keep up the good job you’re doing. I highly appreciated this piece.

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  10. Thank you for this.

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  11. Thank you for your perspective one what you’re seeing in Portland. Our mutual friend Sarah sent me a link to your blog.I find it interesting that here in Minneapolis, the tone of the white people protesting is different from what you describe in PDX. The conversation here seems less about police militarization and more focused on dismantling systematic racism, but not exclusively. I look forward to reading more.

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  12. White privilege at its finest. Let’s line up all the crusty white anarchists who’ve been gunned down by police recently, line up all the PoC who’ve been gunned down by police recently, and see who has a bigger stake in the issue of police brutality. It’s the height of privilege to be able to choose to do drugs, refuse to bathe for a month, walk around looking like a filthy trash bag, act a damn fool and scream “fuck the police!” at cops in full riot gear…and STILL be safer and more protected than any black man in America. I just can’t with these ignorant fools.

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  13. Outstanding. I’m saddened by so much of this but also not surprised too.

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  14. Thanks for this. It made clear a lot of the uneasiness I’ve been feeling around the white response to these issues. There’s a rally and a march in my city (in NC) tonight, but after reading this post and watching the organizers (only one of whom is a POC) post flyers, signs, etc. on the event’s FB page, I realized that the “black lives matter” message was *already* being drowned out in favor of “all lives matter” and “end police brutality.” As a white male, I want to be an ally for the black lives matter movement, I want to shut up and listen when appropriate, and I want to lend my voice where it’s most effective. But at the same time, I don’t want to show up to some misguided rally and be yet another white face appropriating the message. Serious dissonance here. Pointers?

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    • I think it’s hard for people .whose voices are used to dominating to step back and listen.

      I myself had a similar issue in academia, where male voices often dominate. There was no easy solution, short of forcing myself to talk less and listen more, and realize that being a “good” academic meant fostering discussion, not seeming smarter than everybody.

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  15. The slogan “No Justice, No Peace” is NOT an “anarchist rallying call against our authoritarian government”! It emerged from the (Black-led) December 12 Movement, after Yusuf Hawkins and other slayings of Black youth in NYC in the late ’80s. And does Gustaf really have a problem with the word “fascist”? There isn’t a fascistic element to racist trigger-happy policin’?

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  16. This is really amazing. I have been thinking a lot about my problems with “Fuck the Police” being shouted by white people at protests. I wrote an article about a Ferguson protest around the same time as this one. I was amazed by the responses of the White people reading it. I was amazed at how often I was put down for suggesting that some white behavior was problematic by avowed “anti-racist.” I had to close commenting. It was just too much. I commend you for replying to all of this. I look forward to reading more of your stuff.

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    • Just a few days after this post a white male cop was discharged but not charged with murdering a white woman after turning off his camera to shoot her. Nobody said a blip about it anywhere.

      So what’s your problem with white people saying that phrase?

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      • My problem is that these protests are under the banner of #blacklivesmatter, and Black people tend to want the police to come when they call. black people saying f the police is generally [though not always] meaning do a better job, dont be racist. Young white people chanting F-the police are more likely to be anarchist who dont want police. It means different things to different communities. If people want to protest the killings of white people by the police then they should. If they do they can say f the police. But as long as we are talking about policing the Black community, then it should be the black community who decides on the relationship they want with the police. I understand that police violence effects everyone but this movement is not about police violence. It is about anti-black racism.

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        • It’s a large protest by people with different reasons. It’s not just about anti-black racism, it’s just as much about police killings and unaccountability.

          Check out this database. It shows that blacks are being killed in a larger proportion to the general demographics, but it’s clear that every race is involved. How many of these killings were swept away without due justice?

          http://www.fatalencounters.org/spreadsheets/

          In San Francisco there’s a large number of hispanic males who get killed by the police every year. You’ll see crowds protesting against police killings in SF, Oakland, and Berkeley, and I’m sure you’ll see some signs that say #blacklivesmatter, and people shouting “F the police”. I think they’re all justified responses. It’s about racism, state power, accountability, and everything else. Yeah, black lives are taking the brunt of it. But it’s not just about anti-black racism.

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  17. Hey, as the eloquent young man, I’m sorry that there was subtle racism in my avoidance of the reality that police have been systematically used to oppress the black population in America since the days of slavery, which is absolutely true.

    There is an amount of individual ignorance of perspective that in aggregate becomes a collective racism, and we are responsible for engaging with that – and this article is a perfect critique in that regard.

    I agree that my speech did not focus on the racism of the police. As a white cis-gendered male, arrested by the Feds when I was 17 and sent to jail, my experience with them has been one of excessive militarization, and that is the perspective that I can truly represent. I cannot truly represent with the same personal experience the racism of the police – I am not a primary source for that. I also wrote this speech months before the events of Ferguson from my own personal fervor. I do acknowledge and agree that I should spend more time expanding on the racism of the police in the speech when I give it in the future.

    At the same time, I do believe that while Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Aaron Campbell, John Crawford and others are instances of the racism of the system, the militarization is a reality that subsumes the racism, and it is a reality that will affect everyone. I do believe that the racism of the system is a symptom of the greater ills of our capitalist system that promotes racist white heteropatriarchy as a maintainer of the class system and so while we Anarchists are not trying to diminish the voices of the Black Community, we also feel it is necessary to show how these things interrelate. This battle is about the racism of the system, and we should be chanting Black Lives Matter, but this war is larger than racism and I think that is important to keep in mind as well.

    My involvement and personal perspectives come as a result of my encounters with the police, and while I am trying to read as much as I can, it is hard for me to be a representative for a perspective that I am fundamentally separate from. I do my best to be an ally across the boundaries of race, gender, and class and maintain a consistent eye towards my own actions. But I also know that I am a racist, a misogynist, and a classist, because I cannot escape the environment I was raised in. I do my best, and sometimes we fail or it’s at least unclear how we could have done better.

    Thank you for your critique, I am taking it to heart.

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    • Thank you for your response! I saw your comment on Facebook, and thought I recognized your face, but didn’t want to assume.

      I’m glad that you emphasized that racism/misogyny/classism are everywhere. Racism permeates society, such that even people of color – myself included – cannot help but accidentally enforce it.

      In the coastal cities, gone is the direct, pernicious racism of the past, and in its place is a more subtle racism: the centering of the white experience, post-racialism, and implicit biases.

      Having gone back to southern Ohio to visit family, I can distinctly say Portland is my type of city, and I much prefer people who understand that racial bias exists even in themselves compared to people who insist we’re “past that” in light of recent events.

      However, the most important critiques are those aimed at people with whom you share values and respect, so I’m glad you’ve chosen to take this as a chance for self-improvement rather than an attack (I really did think it was a well-written and well-spoken piece).

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    • I agree that police brutality is interwoven with racism, and anarchy is interwoven with the struggle for black rights (just ask the Black Panthers). Think of it like Black History Month. Yes, it’s a forced event which in many ways simply comes across as a sort of reverse bias. But it’s fully necessary to account for the implicit white bias in our collective history, society, and education.

      While I myself am not an anarchist, I am liberal to a degree which is rare in America (being a Swedish socialist myself), and so I relate strongly to the feeling that people simply aren’t listening/close at all to where they need to be.

      Thank you again for your mature response to this piece. I had honestly intended it to be a small rant that would reach my small audience of friends and gamers, and somehow it spread far beyond what I’d expected. As a result, I was quite thankful not to have identified anybody from my story (as I think most people at the protests meant well, despite being misguided in ways), but am glad you feel comfortable identifying yourself.

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  18. I was born in Mississippi, reared in Alabama – and can say truthfully – Portland, Oregon is the most racist place I’ve ever lived.

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  19. all you sad loser ferguson / michael brown supporters are a bunch of low life anti american losers !!! The 2 cases involved bad blacks commiting crimes you stupid fucks !!! do you not get it ??? whats wrong with you sick fucks !!! get over your skin color and just live a good clean life and stop with the whining BS !you are the death and destruction of the USA !!!

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  20. I have read many articles presented to me by my son trying to help me understand the message. The confusion to me is there are many views from the black community on the meaning and the “white community” which is black versus everybody else. All are great views to consider and I have learned so much. I did not recognize the strife outside of my daily life of work, raising family and surviving day to day. One reader responded with a great comment, just shut up and listen for a few years. I’m listening, a lot of people are listening. Please do not believe the protests, articles and commentaries are falling on deaf ears. Nothing a white person says or try’s to comprehend will be right. We simply need to listen, learn and make changes with the guidance of those hurt. How do we get along with each other, neighbors, fellow shoppers, coworkers not knowing exactly where we are going wrong? Does the guy standing next to me at the grocery store harbor anger toward me for my skin color, how do I look him in the eye not knowing where we stand? Going back to the basics of loving our neighbors as ourselves so we can unite as a community, then I can know where and how you want me to be. There is so much confusion in the white mind for those that are not racist. My son tells me I am prejudice, not racists. That hurts, but it is my desire as with millions out there that only want peace and that comes through understanding and a desire to unite. Please address this for those in the community, how do you get change and understanding? If I offend you as a white person by saying or acting ignorantly, then be kind and patient. All cultures expect one thing from the other, love, understanding.

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    • Most modern evidence suggests that the way to overcome bias is through exposure. This rings true to me.

      When I took the IAT 2 years ago (5 times, mind you, as I couldn’t believe my results), I got “significantly prefers white faces”. While my family in the states is black, almost every school peer I have had from 1st grade through my bachelor’s degree was white.

      I was one of those guys who thought Cosby sounded pretty reasonable: all black people had to do was talk and dress right and get an education and people wouldn’t be bigoted against them.

      Trayvon Martin was the beginning of a lot of hard realizations for me, the most significant of which being that black men were inherently perceived as threats. I started realizing that I didn’t look down on white people my age with fragmented language, while judging black people my age for “making us look bad”.

      I was heavily involved in Ferguson protests, and I found myself meeting like-minded black people. Not just black people I deemed “ok” because they were softspoken nerds, but black people with minimum wage jobs. Out of curiosity, I retook the IAT about 2 weeks ago, and found that I had a slight preference for black faces (a more standard “black” result).

      It may be that the integration projects of the past may have been the solution to racism, and the continued white flight that followed has only served to reinforce racial prejudice.

      Like

  21. Came upon your blog and happened upon a protest at an intersection. I did notice the white protestors and even some asian protestors as well, not being comfortable saying, “Black Lives Matter.” and listening to white anarchists who do want to “FUCK THINGS UP!” Ugh. My son’s half black but I don’t want to be associated with white anarchists and such, co-opting a culture once again. I find that just as racist.

    Like

Trackbacks

  1. SINDR-WORKS
  2. Black Lives Matter | BloggingSL
  3. #BlackLivesMatter: Teaching My Son About White Privilege and Intersectionality | Thirty Days of Autism
  4. Black lives matter: Speaking truth to power in the US | ROAR Magazine
  5. Black Lives Matter: Speaking Truth To Power In The US | PopularResistance.Org
  6. Black lives matter: speaking truth to power in the US « WORDVIRUS

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