A Responsibility of Talking to Each Other (Part 2)

“Why should white settler people oppose and work against racism and colonialism?”

In re-reading my previous post, I got to thinking, “do I even really outline my reasons for why I’m doing this program, in the big picture?,” such as why I feel passionate about anti-racism and anti-colonialism? I think that’s an important place to start, or continue, so I am going to write some reflections on that here.

These thoughts are incomplete and I wish to balance my desire to post and engage in dialogue with recognition of the weight of what I am writing about and my continual ongoing learning process. I also recognize that it’s all too easy for me to give up and remain silent.

These thoughts are all from and influenced by people in my life and authors, scholars and teachers and a wide variety of sources, some of which I have listed here and here, some of which I’ve no doubt not acknowledged or forgotten, but would gladly search for if anyone would like further information, resources or links. This post is also inspired by other Anne Braden Program participants’ writing at the Braden Journal.

Killing in the name 

“Killing in the name of!/ Some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses/Well now you do what they told ya/Those who died are justified, for wearing the badge, they’re the chosen whites.” – Rage Against the Machine

In the past, I found it easier to look at racism and colonialism as something that was “bad” but not as something that benefited or privileged myself, my family and other white people. Coming to see and understand white supremacy and white privilege as the flipside of racism has helped me to think differently about larger systems of oppression, both historically and now. White people have long been the beneficiaries of racist violence, invasions, wars, massacres, land grabs, enslavement, policies, laws, organization, and nearly countless atrocities committed in the name of assumed superiority, domination, racism, colonialism, slavery, hatred, profit, greed, often under the guise of words like “development”, “betterment”, “help”, “progress”, “liberation” and “civilization”.

A common theme in our readings has been the creation of whiteness in order to solidify groups of people with immense differences, such as working class or poor Europeans and wealthier, ruling class Europeans. “Whiteness” as a concept served to give a new identity to a large group who previously had not been unified under one such title. This enabled people with more power, usually upper-class or ruling class Europeans, to give out privileges such as stolen land, voting rights, better jobs, and freedom from slavery, based on this shared whiteness.

So, people who had previously faced persecution, such as people from Ireland and Southern and Eastern Europe, were now being lumped together under “whiteness” to ensure a critical mass of people protecting the rights and interests of the wealthy and privileged white elite – and now the relative privileges accorded to all white people. Fanning the flames of colonialism, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment by white elites ensured that solidarity between poor and working class white people and Indigenous people, slaves, and workers of color did not flourish and that power seized by violence, genocide and theft was maintained.

Collective stake in liberation

“If you’ve come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Aboriginal activists’ group, Queensland, 1970s

Just as there has been white affirmative action for centuries, there has also been manufactured white solidarity. Has this allegiance benefited all white people? Yes, whether it be from the allotments of “free” land, stolen from Indigenous people, freedom from slavery, or jobs overseeing those who are enslaved and all of the contemporary ways that white settlers continue to prosper due to their position in this racist and colonial society in what is now called “North America”. This also occurs at different degrees as huge gaps divide those in poverty from the wealthy. These privileges also depend on a brutal dehumanization of people of colour and Indigenous people in order to flourish. What are the possibilities if this manufactured solidarity based in white supremacy was replaced instead with solidarity based in interconnected struggles for liberation and a recognition of collective humanity?

I can remember a classroom discussion years ago about how colonizers must close off their hearts in order to colonize. This has stuck with me as I go through this work, in remembering the impact that doing and living racism and colonialism has on even those who benefit from it. How much of white peoples’ collective humanity has to be continuously eroded in order for these dehumanizing systems of oppression to remain in place?

The possibility of different worlds

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” – Arundhati Roy, from “Come September”

Some of the most meaningful and important relationships that I have in my life are with people of color and Indigenous folks, such as the people acknowledged above as those who have contributed so much to how I think about and understand the world. I can’t adequately describe the importance of these relationships, which racism, colonialism and white supremacy suggest are not important or valuable. In fact, these systems actively work to disrupt possibilities of connection and relationship-building, through various means, including formal or informal segregation, fear-mongering, and a promotion of racist ideologies.

Systemic and institutionalized racism and colonialism continues to silence, kill and imprison millions. But as long as there has been oppression, there has been incredible resistance. The resistance to colonialism, racism and oppression that is led by Indigenous communities and communities of color, by individuals and collective groups, has the potential to create or renew worlds that offer entirely different ways of relating to one another, that do not lead to the destruction of all life on this planet and that include the possibility of dignity for all people. This is the kind of vision I want to work and organize in support of and as a person for whom so much of the violent creation of “North America” was designed to benefit, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to work in support of these other possible worlds and the long-standing and on-going struggles led by the people and communities most impacted by racism and colonialism.