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This Week’s 5: Not Your Racism Janitor

July 19, 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.

 

 

Overt

In a week where the President of the United States held a Klan rally, claiming a sitting congresswoman loved Al-Qaeda to a crowd chanting, “Send her back,” it’s easy for all the other stories of cartoonish racism to get lost in the mix. That said, it would feel irresponsible to this column not to highlight an incident in Ohio where a white security guard pulled a gun on a Black police officer for no reason whatsoever. Specifically, security guard Seth Eklund decided to confront a Deputy Sheriff Alan Gaston in full uniform, allegedly, because he was armed (as police officers in full uniform usually are). While common sense would’ve told Eklund to stand down, he instead called the police to further escalate the situation. Gaston was then put in the position of not just worrying about protecting his own safety, but also that of all the bystanders around who could possibly get hurt if shots were fired (as tends to happen to Black people being accosted by the police for no reason). As a writer, I couldn’t imagine a more on-the-nose scenario of a Black person having to be everything all at once: Victim practicing self preservation, mediator, police officer protecting innocent bystanders, etc. If this were a comedy sketch, it’d be considered too much, yet it was very much Gaston’s reality that day. Read more from the Root.

 

 

Institutional

To say our education system does a poor job of teaching about the issues facing indigenous communities is to give the education system more credit than it deserves. The only thing we do less than teaching about the history is highlighting the many ways these inequities manifest in the present. For example, consider infrastructure. There are currently 13,650 miles of road owned and maintained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. 75 percent of that road is unpaved. Recently, flood waters swept away a 40-foot chunk of highway on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, causing multiple fatalities. This incident in particular brought awareness to the fact that while these communities are often on the frontlines advocating for stronger climate change measures, they are also the ones whose needs are most likely to be neglected by the federal government. Between lack of funding, outdated rules, and other consequences of excessive bureaucracy that, frankly, many predominantly white communities have the political capital not to allow, many of these pressing infrastructure needs in indigenous communities are decades away from being met in the best case scenario, at least at current funding. It should go without saying that this is patently unacceptable. Read more from Indian Country Today.

 

 

Critical Race Theory

I’m not a fan of the term “identity politics.” While I think the concept has a useful academic purpose, it has effectively been weaponized by white supremacists and self-proclaimed allies with colonizer tendencies, to silence people of color speaking about our experiences. At the more extreme levels, identity politics has been perverted to frame issues as a false purity test that only serves to confuse and discourage otherwise well-intentioned people. This is exemplified by the re-emergence of birtherism to delegitimize the presidential campaign of Senator Kamala Harris. Specifically, clowns like Donald Trump Jr. have taken the claims of Black pundits who allege Harris isn’t “Black enough” because her father was Jaimaican and her mother was Indian, and tried to use these expressions of self-hate to hurt her campaign in the eyes of potential Black voters. To be clear, any purity test of supposed Blackness for Black people is just a manifestation of internalized white supremacy. Period. Black people are not monolithic. Perpetuating the notion that we should fall in line with some image of Blackness that we most likely are not even the ones defining, is just a means of controlling us. In an ideal world, we’d ignore this nonsense altogether for more productive conversations, but the fact is, children and adults alike go through their entire lives struggling to deal with others’ perception of their Blackness. As such, we must challenge these false, destructive narratives. Read more from the Huffington Post.

 

 

History

The parallels between the mass detention of migrants during the Trump era and the horrors of the past like Japanese internment camps aren’t lost on many people, especially those who survived those horrors. George Takei, who lived through interment and went on to become a famed actor on Star Trek, is using his platform to hammer this point home with a new children’s book. In “They Called Us Enemy,” Takei not only details the experiences of living in an internment camp and the struggles of trying to adjust to normal life even after being released, but uses the perspective of himself as a child to demonstrate how these things affected his childhood innocence. With the images of children in cages flashing across the news every week in 2019, it’s clear that this decision to write from the perspective of a child is deliberate. It demonstrates what we do as humans to get ourselves through our most trying times and how the softer narratives we try to hold onto eventually give way to the harsh reality, no matter how much we try to prevent it. “They Called Us Enemy” should be a cautionary tale but it might go down as further evidence that the white supremacist terrorism of this era didn’t happen because people didn’t know any better. They just didn’t care. Read more from NPR.

 

 

The Fragility Breaker

Where is the floor? When is too much actually too much? These are questions that have been coming out of social justice circles since the beginning of the Trump presidency, with some of us insisting that, contrary to everyone’s hopes and desires, there really is no bottom. Three years ago, if I had told the average well-intentioned white person that Trump would hold a rally with a crowd chanting “Send her back” about a sitting, Black, Muslim congresswoman, that white person would’ve told me there’s no way things would get that bad. Yet, not only did this happen after Trump was already in supposed hot water for tweeting that four congresswoman of color should go back to their countries (all four are citizens and three were born in the US), but almost immediately, politicians stood up to defend Trump and most news outlets cowered away from saying the word “racist.” In fact, they went to a handy guide of white euphemisms that many people of color have become familiar with thanks to years of being gaslighted about our experiences. It’s the application of these euphemisms that drives many like myself to avoid these discussions with white people the moment we detect that they’re coming from a disingenuous place. Contrary to popular caucasian belief, people of color are not the racism janitors and there are countless better things to with our blood pressure than try to educate reluctant and/or conditional allies. There are resources for that. With that in mind, the Root has created a helpful guide to call out these terrible excuses for racism in real time. Read more from the Root.

 

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