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This Week’s 5: Aggressive Acts of Whiteness

January 11, 2019

Author's Note: This Week's 5 is a weekly collection of stories designed to provide insight into how racism works and serve as an easily accessible resource for people trying to have nuanced discussions about these issues. For more explanation on how This Week's 5 works and descriptions of each of the categories, click here.

 

 

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Some politicians are subtle. Others are Steve King. The Iowa congressman has been flying the white supremacist flag for decades, authoring such classy moments as meeting with a Nazi-linked political party during a Holocaust memorial trip in Austria and tweeting in 2017 that “we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies.” King added yet another milestone to his resume this week when he asked the New York Times, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” The rise of the Trump Administration has certainly energized white supremacists throughout the country, but even in that context, King’s hyper aggressive effort to move the goalposts stands out. He is pushing for an America where people can feel comfortable proudly identifying themselves as white supremacists by name, even though we’re witnessing white supremacist mobs intimidate, assault, and even murder people throughout the country. Read more from Vice.

 

 

Institutional

We’re not far removed from images of police tanks and tear gas being deployed on the Ferguson, Missouri protesters who demonstrated for justice for Mike Brown. The murder of Brown, who was unarmed, on video was bad enough. It was a grotesque, but unfortunately all too familiar scene of lynching. What exacerbated the injustice were assistant prosecutors like Kathi Alizadeh who facilitated the miscarriage of justice when the case went to court. Newly elected city councilman Wesley Bell wasted no time trying to remedy some of the damage by firing Alizadeh. He also suspended two other supporters and purveyors of systemic discrimination in that respective office, including Ed McSweeney, who tweeted that the city would regret electing Bell in a not-so-thinly-veiled reference to his historic election as a Black councilman and his criminal justice reform agenda. In addition to removing people who have used their positions to reinforce institutional discrimination, Bell is also pushing to reduce penalties for marijuana possession, missed child support payments, and missed restitution payments, all of which disproportionately affect people of color. Moral of the story: Elections matter, especially at the local level. Read more from the Grio.

 

 

Critical Race Theory

In its most basic terms, gentrification is the process of wealthy residents moving into communities and pricing/pushing out poorer residents. It’s become a hot button topic in recent years specifically in regards to  white gentrifiers displacing Black and Brown communities. While some argue that gentrification has been happening forever and isn’t exclusive to white people displacing Black and Brown people, what makes that dynamic different is that there is an element, as an acquaintance once told me, of ethnic cleansing. This takes the form of not just physically displacing people and replacing culturally significant businesses and monuments, but also aggressive acts of whiteness like calling the police on people of color just because you can. A new study from Community Service Society found that summons and arrests were three times more likely in poor communities of color after large numbers of white people moved into those neighborhoods. At what point do we stop collectively pretending like this is just an innocent coincidence? Read more from the Root.

 

 

History

Many of us, myself included, are guilty of framing intersectionality as if it’s a new concept. While Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term in 1989, people have been dealing with multiple layers of oppression based on identity forever. One example is legendary Civil Rights Movement leader Bayard Rustin. As an openly gay man, he faced even more pressure than his straight male peers, not just from enemies, but also colleagues within the movement who feared that his presence in the spotlight might somehow hurt the cause. To this day, this insistence on elevating straight Black men as the faces of the movement has created an environment where many of us who study it and champion justice know very little, if at all, about Rustin. Among other things, Rustin was the organizer behind the historic March on Washington. He was a tireless advocate who knew better than most how to seize on public moments to make powerful statements. We do ourselves a disservice when we don’t study and promote his legacy. Read more from NPR.

 

 

The Fragility Breaker

Normally with this column, I try to cover five different subjects. However, this week, I’m making an exception to touch on gentrification once again. In this case, I’m talking about when white people gentrify social justice movements. To be clear, white people participating and even taking on leadership positions is not inherently problematic at all. When it takes the turn towards gentrification is when white participants get too comfortable and think it’s okay to silence and marginalize people of color. These aggressive acts of whiteness are framed as well-intentioned, but they ultimately amount to soft white supremacy. One of the most egregious recent examples is when the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute abruptly cancelled an awards gala for legendary activist Angela Davis because of pressure from “local Jewish organizations” over her advocacy for Palestinian human rights. Let’s be clear, any time you find yourself saying Angela Davis doesn’t fit the criteria for a social justice award, you look like a clown. Three board members have since resigned and the BCRI’s once illustrious reputation might be permanently damaged. It’s hard to see how this aggressive act of whiteness was worth it. Read more from the Root.

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