(Note: I struggle with many of the current political terms for various communities, as many are defined against the idea of whiteness, or through colonial rule, or for political expedience, or in contrast, rather than connection to each other. I continue to struggle to find terms that honor the history, complexity and humanity of groups of our human sisterhood and brotherhood better than People of Color, for example, or Black and Brown people, or LatinX, or Native American. I continue my pursuit to learn and grow and discern the path to language and identifiers that empower and draw together, while also respecting the leadership and autonomy of those communities. Though I will make reference to, in particular, the Black and Indigenous communities specifically at times, I will here primarily use the term SunKissed, and ask that it be read – in part one and part two of this piece – to include all communities marginalized through the act of being racialized.)
Rising in the minds of marginalized communities that are fighting for our lives and liberation is the conviction that it is time to slip the noose of white allegiance and focus on solidifying our connections to each other. Efforts to work with the white left have thus far been as fruitful as those to protect the West African Black Rhino or the Baiji Dolphin from extinction. History tells us that the expectation that we will secure progress of any substance through such efforts is as realistic as thinking we can weather a major hurricane on the beach if we just have the right umbrella.
In April of this year (2018), a white man classified as a Progressive wrote a hit piece about Anoa Changa, an astute cis straight Black woman who speaks regularly and brilliantly on issues that affect the national and her local community, and offers nuanced insights specific to Black and other SunKissed communities. She voices her wisdom through her podcast, “The Way With Anoa,” intermittently as a guest on other shows, and through her writing–while also mothering two children, participating thoughtfully, persistently, and with dedication in the electoral process, working as a lawyer, supporting important organizations through board membership and other activities, and offering financial and logistical support to family members.
This progressive’s article has compelled me to articulate a phenomenon that I have been observing and privately discoursing about for over a year (although twice now I have also ranted publicly in angry pieces). Like many comrades from SunKissed communities in my circle of activists, I have been intolerant of “allies” for some time. We all fully understand the obvious reasons for our complex feelings, and are beginning to urgently discuss the need for our marginalized communities to organize differently.
Because we have worked for years, sometimes decades, being undermined by our “allies” at every turn, we are frustrated. Deeply entwined with our frustration are hurt, dejection, and disappointment. And it all sits on a foundation of beautiful and justified rage. But we will not stay there. We understand that we must use that rage as a driving and clarifying force to be more strategic in the allegiances we build, and to be less equivocal moving forward. The lives we are fighting for actually, truly, and wholly depend on us.
Allies is a term from within liberal, now called progressive, communities primarily to indicate cis, straight, able white people who are aligned with this or that marginalized group, while secondarily it is also used to speak about one marginalized group that is standing with another – an act more appropriately called solidarity. For the sake of this piece and for the sake of speaking to a historically-established pattern of lies, manipulation, abandonment, exploitation, and usury, I will focus on the so-called allegiance of the white left to SunKissed communities. Further, because they present themselves as the most radical, and claim the deepest allegiance to our communities– almost as if they alone have the right to claim our friendship–I will concentrate my analysis on this group of leftist white people who call themselves progressives.
The progressive community was, for the most part, born of the insurgency of Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Sanders could, and by most white progressives would, be called the leader of the “revolutionary” progressive “movement.” But…there is no progressive movement. There is only a progressive adventure, in which white people play at politics and call it activism. And nothing happening in this adventure is truly revolutionary, since it is not at all an effort to overthrow the systems that oppress the vast majority of U.S. Citizens as well as the people, primarily those most blessed with melanin, around the world. It is instead an endeavor to get some relief from the pressure of oppression for themselves, to increase their comfort in this system that would, within the context of that comfort, continue to marginalize, murder or enslave the rest of us.
This progressive community stands firmly and without compromise on the requirement to activate certain issues. These issues – free college education for all, $15/hour minimum wage, Medicare for all, equal pay for women, environmental responsibility, divorcing big money from politics – are not the only ones they care about, but they are the primary ones they talk about, the only ones they will not compromise on, and the only ones they will fight for. These issues, they argue, affect us all, should be supported by all communities, and are properly the central issues because accomplishing them would benefit everyone. (As a sidenote, I do not agree with SunKissed activists calling themselves “progressives,” and do not include them in my use of the term here, because our activism within a racist system is radicalism, not progressivism. Progressivism, in terms of our issues, is simply more incrementalism.) Progressives are very clear that they cannot be bothered as a collective with other, more specific issues that do not affect them as deeply, such as poor public elementary and secondary education, the school-to-prison pipeline, redlining, state violence, mass incarceration, and equal pay for everyone—not just white women. These issues, they reiterate, are divisive.
Why are they considered divisive? From what I can gather, it is because they distract from those issues mentioned above that are most important in the all-knowing, all-supreme perspective of our allegiant white progressive “relatives” (another term appropriated during the caping to Standing Rock). In other words, when they say we can’t do things because these things would be divisive, they are saying that we (they include all marginalized people in this) can’t allow the murdering of Black and Indigenous children to distract from our collective ability to ensure that they would have been able to go to college if they had survived, especially since, with few exceptions, white children do survive encounters with the state. Murdering of children and unarmed men and women is not an issue that affects everyone, and so even though it is much more urgent, they put it into the incremental category, and get on right now with what SunKissed people need only as long as it also directly affects white people.
What I’ve realized is that white people claim to be our allies simply so that they can manipulate that idea into our allegiance with them around their issues. While they generally also believe it is true, the reason progressives reiterate, sometimes vehemently, that Black Lives Matter is that by aligning with us, they can better demand that we vote for their messiah candidates who will give them what they really want, which is the eventual stop to the state-sanctioned murdering of SunKissed people right after white (and luckily by nature of the concept, SunKissed people) get their healthcare. And get money out of politics. And get protection for penguins, tigers, lions, and polar bears (but not for the people who happen to be of poor, racialized communities, who get power plants, dumps, and pipelines built through their living rooms).
The irony is that if we were to focus on the issues progressive whites are comfortable rallying around–issues that, they argue, would benefit every one of us—those issues would likely not actually benefit us very much at all. What good is a $15/hour minimum wage in the face of racist hiring practices? How does that insufficient rise in minimum wage address the wage gap, another area of interest that doesn’t take into consideration any population but the white one? Where is the discussion of the wage gap between white women and SunKissed women? Where is the discussion of the wage gap between white women and most SunKissed men?
Medicare for all does not deal with hospital practices of withholding pain medication from Black patients because of racist myths about super-human pain thresholds and unjustified assumptions about a propensity for drug abuse. Similarly, progressive proponents of free college education have no interest in dismantling the culture of white-centered assumptions that saturates the U.S educational curriculum from Kindergarten through graduate school, or the implicit biases that cause educators to fear SunKissed boys by third grade and allow teachers’ low expectations of SunKissed students to result in widespread underperformance in schools that otherwise could provide the intellectual rigor they deserve.
Further, progressive discussions don’t touch on other issues that relate to obtaining a college education or increased pay. First, there’s that pesky problem again of racist hiring practices in which even Black people with a college education who have an unusual and specific connection to a position can’t get hired for the fields in which they are most particularly suited–as exemplified by hiring white curators for the African exhibits of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. In fact, a Black man with a college degree and no arrests will still have fewer hiring opportunities than a white man with no degree and a criminal record. And of course, when we bring up criminal records, that forces us to talk about the school-to-prison-pipeline, which isn’t part of the progressive free-college-for-everyone conversation. Where are the attempts to restore the option of college education while in prison?
Additionally, to go to college you must cover the cost of books, room and board, transportation, printing, and healthcare – and yes, I get that healthcare would be covered by the wins of progressives. But based on the way rules are written to block progress from communities like mine, I expect that once college is free, many of the costs that are covered by tuition, including printing (sometimes) and healthcare (sometimes) would become add-ons not covered by “free college education” and not covered through welfare systems for students in college, thus creating continued barriers that would disproportionately affect communities blessed with Melanin. But that I would imagine is something we could cover incrementally.
I never hear climate change activists talk about how, due to redlining, gentrification, and the intentional building of ghettos, communities of color are contained in areas that can then be targeted first for unwelcome, unsafe, and hazardous waste, energy storage and energy transportation. This didn’t become apparent to progressives even after all the white-savior caping to Standing Rock, an emergency that exemplifies and amplified this common practice, since the pipeline was going through Lakota territory only because it was rerouted away from its original location outside of, but near Bismark, where white residents thought it too dangerous to be installed–since #WaterIsLife.
When it comes to real transformation, it has become apparent that today’s progressives are just like yesterday’s liberals, and they will only go as hard for an issue as it cuts into their own lives, and will not examine or build around the broader issues that affect other lives. They will throw the rest of us all the way under the bus in their quest for the realization of their “revolutionary” concerns.