White America: It's Time For Us To Get Involved.

In case you haven’t noticed, we are in a complete state of racial unrest and crisis, and now, more than ever, is the time for white people to spring into action.

First, and most importantly, we as a society cannot continue to look to people of color to solve the massive problem that is systemic and institutional racism. Expecting people of color to solve the race problem in this country is like expecting poor people to solve the problem of wealth disparity in this country. It is not the responsibility of the oppressed to relieve themselves from oppression—it is the responsibility of the oppressor. In this particular context, we are talking about systemic and institutional racism, and those who most benefit from this system in the United States are white people. Us. You and me. You don’t have to be a blatant racist, attending KKK rallies, and screaming racial epithets in the streets to benefit from systemic racism. Every white person, regardless of intentions and actions, benefits from being born white in this country.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s be clear about what I am referring to as systemic and institutional racism. One common misconception that many people, especially white people, have about racism is that it is about individuals and individual actions. This misconception is what prevents many white people from accepting any responsibility for the horrible conditions in which we find ourselves today. They believe that if they don’t think racist thoughts, or say racist things, or commit racist actions, then they must not be racist. That is simply untrue. Your first step toward moving away from this fallacious argument is to understand and accept that racism is systemic. In my own work, I define racism as a system of subjugation and oppression that is pervasive throughout U.S. structures and institutions, and that works to privilege some people based on perceived group membership. I do not believe that whites and people of color participate in the system of racism with the same level of influence and effect. Since whites are positioned within U.S. society in positions of higher status and authority and have unearned privileges afforded to us simply for being white, I argue that we are more heavily implicated in the dismantling of racism and white privilege.

If this is still hard for you to accept, please do some more reading and have a very honest conversation with yourself, and then come back and finish reading this blog. If you haven’t yet been able to accept the very well-documented fact that white people benefit every day from systemic and institutional racism, then you’re not going to accept and receive the rest of what is to come in this blog. You have some more work to do, and that is okay… but you need to do it soon. For the rest of us, those who fully realize and accept the fact that we benefit from our own whiteness, whether we want to or not, then let’s take a long hard look at the reality in which we find ourselves and come to a mutual agreement that it is time for action.  

A quick forewarning: I’m going to say some things that may be hard to hear and that might even make you feel a little defensive or angry. I assure you that I have nothing but care, concern, and respect for my fellow white brothers and sisters; however, far too much time has been spent worrying about white people’s feelings and creating “safe spaces” for whites to enter racial dialogues and it has gotten a bit out of hand, in my opinion. Yes, doing work around racism, whiteness, and privilege is difficult and emotional, but I assure you—it pales in comparison to the difficulties people of color experience every day in this country. So, let’s allow ourselves to be uncomfortable, let’s deal with some hurt feelings, and let’s push past the defensiveness and be willing to act, to do something, because we are no longer willing to accept the hatred, bigotry, and racism that has plagued this country for far too long.

Before I get into the ten suggestions I have compiled for every white person to start taking action, let me make clear that I believe every white person—no matter how rich or poor, old or young, educated or uneducated, can and should step up and work toward dismantling systemic racism and fight for equity and social justice. However, I must also make clear that I do believe that those of us with more privilege—those whose invisible knapsacks are bursting at the seams with privilege (thank you, Peggy McIntosh, for that invaluable analogy)—bear even more of the brunt because our privilege allows us access to resources and connections that those with less privilege do not often have at their disposal. Thus, this list contains suggestions for every white person to take action against systemic racism and white privilege, but those of us with more privilege should strongly consider doing many of these things, and more.

#1. Start having difficult conversations with white people in your circles. What kinds of conversations have you had lately with your white friends, neighbors, colleagues, family members, etc.? Are you talking about the senseless killing of countless black men by police officers? Have you discussed the Black Lives Matter movement and why people need to stop trying to switch the focus to “All” Lives Matter? Do you talk with each other about how important it is for us to work together in numbers to evoke change? These are important conversations that we need to have with one another as whites… we’ve got some serious problems in our house and they need to be cleaned up—by us, not by someone else.

#2. Stop looking to people of color for information, guidance, and leadership. Remember how I just said these problems are in our house? That’s right—they are our problems, which means we are responsible for them, and that means that we need to start solving them. In order to do that, we need to take responsibility for educating ourselves, creating solutions ourselves, and leading others to action ourselves. If you are confused, unsure what to say, overwhelmed with emotions, or just don’t know what to do, try to figure it out on your own first. If that doesn’t work, look to other whites involved in the fight for their help and guidance. It is not the responsibility of people of color to explain things to us, to make us feel better, to help us solve these problems, or to lead the movements toward change. They have their own problems to worry about and their own movements to lead and it is unfair to ask them to help us, too.

#3. Speak up when you witness acts of bigotry, racism, privilege, etc. This one is going to hurt a little—but when you remain silent in the presence of discrimination and injustice, you are complacently endorsing those words and actions through your own silence. It is this complacency that allows the system to keep churning and to keep oppressing people of color. Use your privilege to speak up, call out the action, and (when possible) educate those involved on why their words and actions are not okay. I realize that this can sometimes mean putting your job, your friendships, your family relationships in jeopardy, but if we continue to remain silent, the system of racism will never stand a chance at being dismantled.

#4. Check your own privilege, language, assumptions, and biases. Yes, sometimes we all need to put ourselves in check. When you read that news article or watch that news coverage about what is going on in this country right now, what assumptions do you find yourself making about the people included in that story? What words do you use in conversations and on your social media feeds when talking about race and racism in this country? What types of articles and memes are you sharing and hitting the “like” button for on social media? Why aren’t you saying anything on social media or in conversations at work about what is going on in the country right now? Now is a great time for some self-reflection and for each of us to check ourselves.

#5. Talk to your children about race, social justice, and valuing difference. I acknowledge that I am not a parent, but I have read enough literature to feel confident in the assertion that these are important topics to talk about with your children, no matter how young they are. Obviously, the conversations will be very different depending on the age of your children; however, the conversations need to happen or they will get their information from someone else. Even worse, they may begin to wonder why you haven’t talked to them about this stuff yet. If the system is to be dismantled, we need the younger generation to buy-in now and continue this very important work when we no longer can.

#6. Start organizing meetings in your neighborhoods, your communities, your churches, and your schools. Conversations are important, but so is organization and action in numbers. We can only do so much as individuals working alone or in small groups to combat injustice, and it can start to feel lonely and overwhelming. This is why we have to remember that there is strength in numbers, and, rather than waiting for someone else to get something going—do it yourself! Organize a meeting, spread the word and ask others to help spread the word, and work together as a group to come up with solutions and actions that you can do together. It does not take much for a movement to gain momentum.  

#7. Contact local government members, vote in local elections, show up to political meetings. Sometimes we get so caught up in the presidential election and arguments about the candidates that we forget that local politics and government is where the real action and change occurs. When is the last time you researched your mayoral candidates and voted in the election? Have you ever attended a city council meeting or written a letter to your city council members, mayor, state senators, or governor? There are plenty of local ways we can make our voices heard and something tells me that when large groups of white people start showing up and speaking up, politicians may listen a bit more than they have so far to large groups of people of color… just a hunch.

#8. Attend protests and rallies… but not if you aren’t willing to be arrested. This suggestion may not be popular and some may disagree with me. I definitely encourage white people to show up to Black Lives Matter protests and rallies, and to even hold their own protests and rallies. However, all too often we see people of color being targeted and arrested at these protests. Those who led the fight for civil rights (and those who continue to fight today) believed so strongly in what they were fighting for that they were willing to be arrested or tear gassed or beaten by police if it came to that. I hope that protests and rallies remain peaceful; but, when confrontation with law officers occurs, white people should be the ones at the front of the lines, holding their ground, and forcing officers to arrest them first. Let the media start writing headlines and talking on television about the countless white people arrested at the recent Black Lives Matter protest, and perhaps we might change the perceptions and shift the conversations people are having about this movement. This may not be something everyone is willing to do… I get that. That’s why there are plenty of other suggestions on this list that might be better for you.

#9. Read, read, and then read some more. It is imperative that we educate ourselves and be able to make accurate, coherent, and logical arguments when having conversations with other whites and when calling out discrimination and injustice. There is nothing worse than engaging in a battle of wits with someone who is unarmed. Read everything that you can get your hands on, including things written by academics, bloggers, journalists, and your peers. If you are only reading news from one site or only read the same handful of blogs, your information is skewed and, thus, so too will be your viewpoints and arguments.

#10. Listen, listen, and then listen some more. All too often when we engage in conversations with people of color, we seem to do way too much talking and not nearly enough listening. I know you may want to make sure people know you’re trying, or that you want to be an ally, or that you’ve been in a similar situation and can empathize, or that you can be trusted, or any other number of things, but here’s the thing—sometimes it just isn’t about you. Sometimes we really just need to shut up and listen. You would be surprised at all that you could learn and how much trust you could earn if you would just hold your tongue, and listen.

This list is by no means exhaustive and I am certainly not the first to make any of these suggestions; one can easily find lists just like this written by countless people of color. However, this is definitely a good place to start for many whites, like me, who are frustrated, angry, and sad, but are ready to turn those emotions into action and are looking for a place to start. Additionally, I welcome any and all conversations and opportunities for action with my white brothers and sisters who took the time to read this blog and need a little bit of support and encouragement. You can find me at www.whiteprivdoc.com. 

What Rachel Dolezal Reminded Us About Racial Identity

The swirling dust that surrounded Rachel Dolezal has finally settled a bit and, luckily for her, Caitlin Jenner emerged, which gave the media storm a new direction in which to swirl. Although the dust has settled and the media trucks are no longer camped out in front of Rachel’s house, the conversations about race that her story ignited are ongoing. Thanks to the recent article in Allure that features white models with afros along with a tutorial for white women to create their very own afro, we are reminded that this long-standing issue of white people appropriating blackness (or what they believe to be blackness) is still lingering like that awful party guest we wish would just leave. And we still need to keep talking about it, no matter how uncomfortable it may make us (white people).

After the fifth or sixth person asked me in person, via Facebook, and via email “what do you think about this whole Rachel Dolezal thing?” I realized I needed to write my next blog so that I could attempt to answer this very question. To prepare myself for writing this particular blog, I needed to read everything I could get my hands on about Rachel and watch every interview that she gave in order to attempt to understand her better. I also discovered a series of video recordings of an interview that she did with a university student who was doing a thesis project on what it means to be a black woman. I found these videos to be the most fascinating of all my research because it was Rachel just being herself before the media storm erupted. When the story first broke, I can honestly say that I didn’t know how I felt about it—I had so many mixed feelings. The easiest answer was and still is—it’s complicated. The whole thing is complicated. Rachel’s story forced us all to acknowledge the complex, contested, and varied meanings of constructs like race, culture, whiteness, blackness, identity, appropriation, and passing.

Rachel’s identity was not called into question until her estranged white parents contacted the media and “outed” Rachel as a white woman. Thus, the firestorm began. Most of us then saw the video footage of the ambush interview with Rachel where she looked like a deer in headlights when asked if she was African American and if the black man in the picture on her Facebook page, whom she identifies as her father, is actually her father. This left many people wondering, how can she be a black woman if these white people are her biological parents? In her most recent Vanity Fair interview, Rachel still maintains that she identifies as a black woman. The phrase that she uses most often to explain this identification is that she strongly identifies with “the black experience” and has for quite some time.

Let’s begin to unpack some of this. First, we should start by looking more closely at race as a construct, and what it means to use the terms white and black. I argue that race is a system of classification and categorization within an established hierarchy that is constructed socially and ideologically and is influenced by social, historical, and political contexts. Group members are positioned by others based on racial ascriptions, and the social realities and consequences of living within raced bodies are experienced both materially and ideologically. These racial ascriptions are typically attributed based on a combination of skin tone, facial features, and hair and have very real consequences for those living in a racialized society, like the United States. **Note: While I also believe gender to be a social construction that is based upon an established hierarchy and that has real consequences, it is not the same thing as race and has many different social, political, and historical contexts than race. Therefore, I do not believe people should compare Caitlin Jenner’s story and experiences to Rachel Dolezal’s story and experiences. These two situations are apples and oranges and, while they are both fruit, they have too many differences to be compared equally.

The racial classifications of white and black originated and were constructed in the United States and, thus, also have long histories of social, political, and historical consequences in this country. The one-drop rule made it impossible for any person to claim to be white should they have any African ancestry, or “one drop” of African blood. The very creation of this rule reminds us that it was (and still is) a privilege to be considered white and that the label white has been used to include some and exclude others, like a membership. Hence, many journalists, scholars, and cultural commentators wondered, “Why would a white woman change her appearance and attempt to ‘pass’ as a black woman?” I don’t think our focus should center on why she did it, rather, we should focus our attention on what the realities are of someone making a choice like this, why many are outraged by her choice, and what we can learn from her story.

One of the realities of this situation is that we need to have more frank conversations about identity and the policing of others’ identities. One thing I do agree with Rachel on is her argument that identity is fluid and ever changing. If we are the arbiters of our own identity(ies), as I believe we should be, then what are the consequences of other people policing Rachel’s identity? There is no simple answer to this question when race is involved. As I stated earlier, this story calls into question the complexity of constructs like blackness, appropriation, and the black experience. A white person can certainly learn black history, listen to black music, appreciate black art, learn to style black hair, and become an ally in the fight for equal rights… but these very things do not make that white person black, nor do they equate to living the black experience. Rachel has said that she does not see her black identity as a costume that she can just put on and take off. I would have to disagree with her on that point. As a white woman, I do not have any first-hand experience with racial discrimination, subjugation, oppression, and persecution. I have read extensively about these topics, have listened to countless first-person stories of these experiences, have witnessed these things happen to my fiancé and other people whom I love deeply, but yet none of these important facts will EVER allow me to know first-hand how these experiences truly feel.

Rachel did not fully come into her identity as a black woman until her mid-to-late twenties. Up until that time, though she claims she always struggled with her identity, she lived her life as a white baby, a young white girl, a white adolescent, and a white young woman. Our racial identity is ascribed to us every day when people look at us, and when one looks at all of the pictures that have emerged from Rachel’s earlier life, she looks like a white child/girl/young woman. Thus, we can safely assume that people read her as white. Therefore, when Rachel sits in a room full of black women, she cannot honestly and authentically identify with these women as they all tell personal stories of growing up as a black child/adolescent/woman in this country and share their countless experiences of discrimination, oppression, subjugation, and persecution because of their ascribed and avowed identity as a black woman. Those lived experiences unite those women in a way that Rachel could not possibly ever understand in any real way. If she were to decide one day in the near future that she’s tired of being a black woman—she’s tired of dealing with daily discrimination, she’s tired of being excluded from the benefits that come with being white, she’s tired of having to deal with the daily obligations of being a black woman, whatever the case may be—she can change her mind and go back to being a white woman. She can take out the braids she’s put in, she can remove all of the self-tanner/stay out of the sun, she can stop using the vernacular she’s adopted, she can re-acknowledge and show everyone her white parents, and she can re-instate her membership in the exclusive white group. The black women in that room could not make this privileged choice and become white whenever they should choose to do so (and I would go so far as to argue that most wouldn’t, even if they could). That is why I disagree with Rachel’s statement that her black identity is not a costume that she can put on and take off, and is also, in part, why so many have reacted strongly to her story, such as this black woman who grew up in Spokane, Washington.

So what has Rachel’s story taught us/reminded us about racial identity? Namely, that it is so darn complicated. We need to continue to think and talk about what it means to live in a raced body in this country. We need to examine identity politics more closely and have more discussions about the policing of others’ identities. We need to remember that there are very real social, political, and historical consequences to being white and being black in this country **Note: race is clearly not just about white and black—there are far more racial categorizations and identities that are just as important—but this story deals specifically with white and black, hence I only mention these two identities in this blog. While the dust may have settled around Rachel’s story and the media machine has moved on to other sensational and splash-worthy stories, I haven’t stopped thinking about her. Thank you, Rachel Dolezal, for reminding us that we still have so much work to do when it comes to race in this country. 

It's not about individuals--it's about a system

I was inspired to write my next blog while watching the most recent episode of one of my favorite shows, Scandal, that aired on March 5th, titled “The Lawn Chair.” For those who do not watch the show, Shonda Rhimes decided to take on the recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island and dedicate an entire episode to the topic of racism within the police force throughout the United States. This particular episode featured a young black male who was shot by a white police officer who suspected him of stealing a cell phone—the description given of the “thief” was a young black male, and this officer saw someone who fit this very general description walking down the street carrying a brand new cell phone. While questioning him, things got heated and the young man reached into his pocket—we later find out he was reaching for the receipt to prove to the officer that he purchased the phone. The officer claims that the young man was reaching for a knife, which he says that he saw, and he, under threat of his own life, opened fire on the young man. Turns out that the officer planted a knife that he took off another suspect under the young man’s dead body to bolster his falsified story. Sounds familiar, right? The episode culminated with a fantastic scene in the middle of the police station where Olivia Pope confronts the officer with evidence that he planted the knife and the officer then proceeds to deliver a very well-acted monologue (in my humble opinion) that, to me, epitomizes the complexity of systemic racism and white privilege. For those who did not see the episode: Here is the monologue:

 “God, what the hell is it with you people? Yeah, you people... I didn't misspeak. You people have no idea what loyalty is, what respect is. You're here because you were supposed to help us, and you spent every second of it trying to tear us down, tear me down, push your own damn agenda! The truth is, those people in Rosemead have no respect for anything or anyone. No, they're like you. They just take whenever they want, and they have no problem turning their backs on the people who gave it to them... people like me, who strap on their boots every day, kiss their wife and kids goodbye, and trek 40 miles into a city where everyone, including little babies, are taught to look at us like the enemy! They are taught to question me, to disobey me, and still I risk my life for these people. Every day for seven years, I have allowed myself to be disrespected and hated by these people, all to protect them from themselves. I mean, all I hear about on the news are dirty cops, cops who shoot innocent black kids. It's crap! There were 84 murders in this city last year. Were all of those cops shooting innocent black boys? Hell no. Those were blacks turning guns on each other, and yet somehow I'm the animal! Brandon Parker is dead because he didn't have respect, because those people out there who are chanting and crying over his body, they didn't teach him the right values. They didn't teach him respect. He didn't respect me. He didn't respect my badge. Questioning my authority was not his right! His blood is not on my hands!”

This particular “rant” by a white police officer who had just shot and killed a young, innocent black male represents many arguments that I have heard white people make before—even some that were made by the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner—I read them on their social media pages and heard them paraphrased by their lawyers/representatives. And, if I’m being honest, some of the arguments resonate with me—specifically, the ones about respecting the badge of a police officer. I was taught that very same thing as a child and was also taught that police officers are there to serve and protect the people, namely, me. What I wasn’t taught, and what I learned much later in life, is that all people aren’t “served” and “protected” in the same way and with the same level of tenacity and respect. Respect should be earned, should it not? Therefore, respect is not automatically given simply because one is wearing a badge. Why not?

Well… imagine for a moment that you grew up hearing those same messages about police officers, but your interactions with police officers seemed to contradict those messages. What if you grew up and constantly saw police officers who did not live in your neighborhood, did not look like you in any way, and who came into your neighborhood to question, harass, frisk, yell at, and arrest your neighbors and family members? What if you grew up learning to fear police, rather than seeing them as people who were there to protect and serve? What if every day that you left your house, your mother feared for your safe return—not because you looked for trouble or had ever gotten into trouble, but because she knew that you matched the description so often given of someone who had robbed, hit, car-jacked, raped, killed someone, and she worried that you might speak out of turn or argue with the officer, and then, well, who knows what could happen? What if that had been your upbringing, and not the one that you actually had? Perhaps you could see how one might not be so inclined to automatically give respect to someone simply because they wear a badge.

The words that this officer said during that rant serve as a clear reminder that the problems we have with our judicial system and with our militarized police force are not about a few racist individuals who need to be relieved of their service. The problems detailed in the recent civil rights investigation into the Ferguson police force are not the result of a few bad apples spoiling the bunch. It really isn’t that simple—we can’t just point the finger at a collection of individuals and say, “well, they are bad people” or “they are clearly racist, but there are plenty of other police officers who aren’t racist.” It is not about individuals… it’s about a system.

People—racism is a systemic problem and is steeped in our institutions, our laws, our policies, our practices, and our discourse. One of those institutions is our judicial system. These findings in Ferguson are not unique, they are not because of a few bad cops, and they will not be fixed by simply “cleaning house” and hiring a new police force in Ferguson. While that would certainly be a great start—it does not get at the systemic issues at hand. This is about much bigger things—it’s about the standards and practices for hiring police officers, it’s about the way officers are trained, it’s about the real reasons why no one, including any superiors, stopped the racist jokes from being circulated around that station, it’s about the norms and expectations that allow and encourage officers to racially profile, it’s about the lack of attention on the mental health of officers who put their lives on the line every day for all of us… it’s about so many things, and all of them are part of a much larger system.

This does not mean that the situation is hopeless, however. So often, I hear my students say “But if it’s this big system, then how will it ever change?” and “How can one person have any effect on this system that is so much bigger than just one person?” These are totally valid questions and I understand how things can seem insurmountable and, even, hopeless. When I’m feeling that way, I remind myself that people built the system and, therefore, people can eventually tear it down. Systemic racism was not built in a day, people… so… it won’t be torn down in a day, either. It’s going to take persistent, little chips at the system to one day make it crumble. Our own individual actions, the actions of social justice groups, the actions of families, the actions of community outreach organizations—these are the little chips that we’re going to make at the system to force it to crumble. And one day… I believe that it will. 

To read the report from the civil rights investigation of the Ferguson police force, click here

White people riot too—when our sports teams win/lose

In the wake of the riots in Ferguson, we’ve seen media coverage, tweets from outraged citizens, and Facebook posts galore, most of which include the words “thugs,” “hoodlums,” “uneducated,” “gang members,” “criminals,” “idiots,” and a slew of other racial slurs about the “looters” and the residents of Ferguson and the entire St. Louis area. Many people (most of whom are white) are conveniently using the aftermath of this entire tragic series of events as a convenient reason to point the finger at people of color (specifically black people) and say, “See… they are ruining their own community and promoting violence, which just goes to show that we are better than them.”

Let’s be honest here… that is the underlying message every time a white person posts a link to an article about the rioting in Missouri, or the Tea Party re-circulates a three month-old story about a white couple in Springfield being brutally attacked by young black males (which was completely unrelated to the events in Ferguson), or conservative media outlets write article after article about the fiscal amount of damage done in Missouri that (white) tax payers will now have to take upon themselves to repair. However, in a rush to point the finger at outraged black citizens, whose anger and frustration with the justice system has boiled over after a refusal by the grand jury to indict Darren Wilson (which, by the way, does not indicate guilt or innocence, only that a trial should occur), what many white people have forgotten is that we pretty much invented rioting.

Sure, we use clever names like “The Boston Tea Party” to refer to historical events, but lest we not forget—that was a riot. By white people. In the 1700’s. Over their outrage that they should be taxed by members of a party in which they had no representation. And what was their response to this feeling of outrage? Why, to riot, of course! And while this riot may not have been particularly violent against other human beings… that was just the beginning of our long and storied history in the United States of America of white people rioting. We have rioted over the ratification of constitutional documents, over a scarcity of jobs between off-duty soldiers and civilians, over land seizures, over objections to grave robbing, over the use of the Bible in public schools, over anti-black sentiments and actions, over the price of food, and even over our sports teams. The term “riot” itself has multiple meanings that can range anywhere from peaceful protests to brutal massacres. What is clear, however, is that rioting has played a central role in the history of this nation. In the wake of hurricane Katrina, the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, and now the tragic death of Michael Brown, race has become a central component in all of our discourse about these recent riots. Therefore, I believe it to be important that we examine and address why the discourse surrounding these most recent riots is vastly different than the discourse surrounding the thousands of riots conducted over the past two hundred-plus years by predominantly white rioters.

A staff writer for BuzzFeed posted an article on November 25th titled “17 reasons white people riot” and the comments section is FILLED with white commenters outraged over how racist this article is—how dare someone write an article specifically calling out white people for their rioting. Ummm… isn’t that what every post, tweet, article, comment, and the like have been doing for the past several days? Making broad generalizations about black people and shaming them for their outrage over systemic injustices? Let me answer that question… Yes. One does not need to use the term “black” or “white” to make an issue about race. Posting articles with pictures of only black rioters, using words like those I mentioned above (thugs, hoodlums, savages, etc.) to describe the people rioting, making comments about “them,” “they,” and “those people,” and proverbially shaking your head in disgust at “their” actions says it all.

Are these the same reactions people had just this past October when baseball fans in San Francisco rioted after their team had just won the World Series? Two people were injured by gunshots, one person was stabbed, police officers had glass bottles hurtled at them, cars were overturned, and fires were started. After discussing all of the damage that was done and the injuries that occurred throughout the downtown area, one Associated Press article simply stated, “The San Francisco Police Department maintained a heavy presence, but also a cool distance as marijuana smoke wafted over Civic Center Plaza and jubilant fans set off fireworks and popped open cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon that someone was selling out of a cooler.” Yes, you read that correctly—the would-be rioters were referred to as “jubilant fans.” Sounds pretty jubilant to me—until all that rioting happened.

How about in 2012 when the University of Kentucky Wildcats won the NCAA Championship? Their team won the national championship and to celebrate, fans and students set over 50 fires, overturned cars, one man was shot, and 20 people were transported to the hospital with injuries. In response to this, the Lexington Police warned fans and students that, “unruly behavior would not be tolerated,” according to ABC News. The President of the university encouraged students to celebrate respectfully and said that, “rowdy behavior detracts from the success of the players who worked tirelessly to represent UK at a national level.” Unruly and rowdy behavior. That’s how we refer to whites when they riot.

When looking through the online comments surrounding the coverage of these two riots, they look markedly different than the comments we have been seeing in response to Ferguson. Here are a few from the news stories about the San Francisco and Kentucky riots:

“Okay I'm a student at UK and all the news is making the students look like a bunch of idiots when in reality only a handful of them are. Most everybody was celebrating in a safe and non-violent way but the students that flipped the cars and stuff made everyone look stupid. I promise we're not just a bunch of classless rioters.”

“This riot was at least 10 times as bad as the riot after Joe Paterno was fired, yet these fans were "just celebrating" because they "deserved it." while every Penn State student is an idiot for standing up for what they believe is a wrong. Biased much?”

“I'm appalled at the way the media is making our town look and it puts a damper on what should be the happiest week of our college career. However, I would like to thank the Swat teams and city/campus police for making this championships one of the best nights of my life!”

“Here come the motorcycle cops. At least where I am there are no more hooligans. Maybe they went off to the restroom or charge their iPhones”

“These helicopters over #noevalley are getting to be a little too "Apocalypse Now" for my liking. #sfriots

“It's the sign of the times. Badly behaved drivers on the road, badly behaved sports fans, selfish, self-centered people.”

“The human being just ain't what it used to be.”

Compare the comments above to just a few of the online comments from coverage of the Ferguson riots:

“Enough with trying to make Michael Brown into Gandhi. Protesters need to find a better poster boy for police brutality than a strong-arm robber who attacked a cop and paid for his stupidity with his life. If protesters or Ram player's want to accurately honor Michael Brown. They should be carrying a box of cigarellos instead of putting their hands up since the grand jury found that claim to be a lie.”

“Michael Brown was a thug/criminal has everyone forgotten that? He did not deserve to die, however he chose to disobey orders from a Police Officer, would the outcome have been the same if that officer had been black?”

“Protesting, looting, and burning property in honor of a violent thief who attacked the police: WHO ARE THE REAL TURKEYS' THIS THANKSGIVING!!!!”

“I love watching the rioters in Ferguson. Makes me feel secure in my knowledge about human nature. Thank you, Ferguson rioters, for being who I knew you to be.”

“An appropriate testimonial to the life and death of Michael Brown, himself a thug and looter. The cops should have been using live ammo on this rabble. They are not social protestors - they are criminals looking for an excuse.” 
“Why are we letting a few hundred dirt bags run wild? Just another consequence of the new Democratic world where laws mean nothing. You can thank too the Democratic policies of the last fifty years which enabled this scum to breed and produce children they could not feed.”

The media coverage and comments above are but a few responses to recent rioting, yet they sound so very different from one another. I urge all of us to think long and hard about why the discourse that occurs when whites riot over sports teams, pumpkin festivals, and the taxation of tea is vastly different than the discourse that occurs when people of color riot over flaws in our criminal justice system, police brutality against men of color, and systemic racism. If rioting is rioting, then why don’t we regard all rioting in the same way? And if, as so many claim, race was not a factor in Katrina, the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and the shooting of Michael Brown, then why is it so ever-present in all of the discourse surrounding these events from the media, from Facebook posts, from Tweets and hastags, and from the blatant vitriol people continue to spew all over the internet? Short answer… all of this is most definitely about race and about the double standard that we constantly perpetuate when we refuse to hold whites to the same level of accountability that we are quick to hold people of color to in this nation. Whites riot, too… although it rarely has anything to do with oppression or injustices—it’s usually because our sports teams won/lost.  

For more information on rioting, you can check out Paul Gilje’s book “Rioting in America” here or a recent article published by Salon titled “11 moronic reasons white people have rioted” here

A Facebook chat among friends...

A good friend of mine from undergrad sent me a message a few weeks ago on Facebook asking me a question that she had been pondering and that question dealt with race. I felt honored that my friend trusted me enough to ask this question and respected my opinion enough to seek my thoughts/advice. With her permission, I am sharing our conversation (I'm not sharing her identity), because I believe her questions to be pretty common among whites and, perhaps, our dialogue could prove helpful to others who have pondered something similar. 

Friend: OK, deep topic time. I've only recently begun to understand the concept of white privilege. That won't surprise you, given what you know of my background, geography, and general lifestyle. And I ask you these questions *because* you know those things about me, and so you understand my context. So. I read consistently articles like the one you posted yesterday which make suggestions like exposing yourself to other cultures, making new friends, etc. And I read consistently that people want to be understood and appreciated for whatever culture, race, etc with which they identify. But I also consistently understand a theme of "it's none of your business." You know: "I'm a proud, self-identifying fill-in-the-blank person, but your questions about that are micro-aggressions...I want to celebrate my unique and beautiful heritage, but anything you say to insinuate that we're not alike is racist." How is someone like me (or any of my very white children) supposed to make connections within what seems to me to be an environment of contradictions?

Me: Thank you for trusting me with these questions! I have given them all a lot of thought and here are my thoughts: I feel like you're asking about interactions with people from a different racial/ethnic/cultural background and what you feel to be contradictions in their comments/attitude about getting to know them, learning about their heritage, etc. is that correct? The first thing that i would point out is that any time a white person, no matter how good her/his intentions may be, is attempting to "learn something" about a person of color (especially a black person) there is going to be a lack of trust there as well as some skepticism about the white person's motives. For good reason... just look at the history of our country to understand why that lack of trust/skepticism would be there.

Secondly, a mistake that I often see well intentioned white people make is that they ask all of these questions, through the guise of "I just want to know more about you/your background/your heritage," etc. and the expectation is then placed on the person of color to teach YOU about these things. From my experiences, this can be annoying and exasperating for most people of color. They already know pretty much everything there is to know about whiteness, white people, etc. because they HAVE to in order to survive and be successful in this world, and because it's everywhere--on tv, in the movies, in commercials, in textbooks, in magazines, etc.

So--now you want to know something about the cultural background of this person you just met in your neighborhood, at your child's school, at the gym, etc. Well--once you've found out a few details about that person's background, do the initial legwork yourself. Learn some things on your own about the area where that person comes from, the history(ies) of that particular ethnic group of people, etc. Rather than take the easy route and just ask a bunch of questions, show some effort on your part and do the legwork first, THEN, come into a conversation with that person knowing a bit already, and then, the questions that you ask will be based in some type of knowledge, they will show the person that you genuinely want to learn more, and that you have already taken some effort to learn. Then, also be willing to share some things about your ethnicity/heritage/background to establish common ground and gain trust before peppering the other person with questions. 

Additionally, in reference to your children... the learning needs to start with them, as well. One way to get involved on that front is to ask the leaders at their schools about the books they are reading... are they being exposed to authors who are non-white? Are they learning histories about non-whites from the perspective of THAT particular group, rather than the history of that group according to an old white guy? This is another way that parents can learn and have great conversations... when your kids come home and say "guess what we learned about Nigeria today..." you then learn some things about Nigeria and can engage in great conversation with your kids about different cultures.

I don't know the context of the conversations you were citing in your message, so i can't speak to why anyone would say the things you quoted, but i can say that one thing to ask yourself is, "what kinds of questions was i asking this person and what type of relationship/trust had I established with this person before asking these questions?" The fact that you're even thinking about these things and asking these questions is wonderful. Keep asking them, keep pushing yourself, and know that you can talk to me about this kind of stuff ANYTIME. 

My friend responded and shared the initial blog that "had her spinning" and I read it. She also admitted that after reading my message and then re-reading the initial blog, she didn't have the same reaction to it as she initially had. You can read the blog that sparked our conversation here.  I completely agree with everything this blogger said and have witnessed many of these questions asked of friends of mine, firsthand. One reason that I believe some well-intentioned whites may not understand why their seemingly innocent questions are taken offensively, or as micro-aggressions, is because they can't empathize. Most whites don't get questioned about their racial background, or suspected as possibly not being the parents of their white children, so it's tough to empathize. 

I hope our conversation and the initial blog my friend read are helpful to you, or at the very least, get you thinking and/or dialoguing with someone else about this topic.