I am at the end of teaching my 8-week course on information literacy. My students’ last major writing assignment is to summarize all their blog entries into one paper. This is my example for them on my topic of racism.
At 6’4”, I’m hard to miss. Add a white shirt, suspenders, bowtie, and a fedora and I’m even harder to miss. I used to get several comments a day about my style. People would smile, nod, and acknowledge my presence. But not anymore. Not since I added a “White Silence Equals White Consent – Black Lives Matter” t-shirt to my daily ensemble. Now most white people avoid eye contact. I have become visibly invisible.
So what changed? I didn’t change. My views didn’t change. The places I go to didn’t change. The only thing that changed was my outfit expressing my own outrage of three more deaths of black men at the hands of white men. Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks. One murdered by white supremacists, one murdered by the knee of a law enforcement officer, and another shot in the back.
Sadly, white outrage at black and brown death is already passing. BLM rallies with white participation are already slowing down. The next big news story is increases in COVID-19 are back.
White immunity and white privilege have reasserted themselves. White community has already diluted the message of “No Justice! No Peace!” into “Know Justice. Know Peace.” in attempt to maintain the status quo of white dominance. This change of is another example of minimizing racism to assuage white consciousness.
But as for me, I will continue to wear my T-shirt to be a visible witness to closed minds. In fact, I think I will go order several more.
Social media lip-service alone will not solve black and brown oppression. You and I will, at the polls, in 2020. You and I will, by holding those officials we elect accountable. To abate the rise of white rage directed at persons of color and end a culture of fear, you and I must make the difference.
After the posts and protests die down, what will you and I do? After the police departments are restructured (if they are), what will you and I do? What we are seeing today regarding the murder of George Floyd is not a new event. The protests are not a new. Posts with #BlackLivesMatter are not new.
In 2014, protestors of the murder of Michael Brown at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri, resulted in riots erupting in fires. There was shock and condemnation by white community that black and brown people would set fire in their own neighborhoods. Why this reaction? Why this response? Dr. Carol Anderson says it best, “We [(Americans)] were so focused in on the flames, that we missed the kindling [emphasis added]” (Anderson & Emory University, 2018, 6:59-7:09).
The kindling was not the murder of Michael Brown, the kindling was (and remains) black and brown oppression by the power culture of white America. The kindling was (and remains), white rage directed at black and brown people. White rage are those subversive, yet legal acts, white people use to keep black and brown people oppressed. In an interview with Dr. Anderson on C-Span (Orgel, 2016), Orgel quotes Dr. Anderson on white rage then Dr. Anderson responds:
Orgel: “White rage,” you write, “is not about visible violence, but rather it works its way through the courts, the legislatures, and a range of government bureaucracies. It wreaks havoc subtly, almost imperceptibly. White rage doesn’t have to wear sheets, burn crosses, or take to the streets. Working the halls of power, it can achieve its end far more effectively, far more destructively … The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people that is the problem: rather, it is blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship. It is blackness that refuses to accept subjugation, to give up”. Tell us more [Emphasis added].
Anderson: Yes, and so, one of things that we have is a narrative in this society that if only back people would…, right? … If only they would value schools, if only they would work hard, if only they would … fill in the blank. But when you look back historically, African Americans have actually done that, but for aspiring, the response has been a wave of policies to undermine that [advancement].
White rage is white peoples’ fear that full equality in socio-economic rights for black and brown people will result in loss of white money, white property, white power, and white prestige of dominant white culture. White people fear this loss of power and control because at our core, we know that we are responsible for the racists attitudes and actions that continue to suppress and murder black and brown people with impunity. It is also that same fear inducing white rage culture that keeps liberal white people from speaking out against black and brown oppression. Fear that they will be put on the alt-right radar screen and suffer the same oppression in which they are unknowingly and equally culpable.
I close this entry with a video from the Ferguson riots (CNN, 2014). It will look familiar, because it looks like protests in the death of George Floyd. There remains the same senseless murder of a black man at the hands of a white police officer. There are the same signs, albeit different slogans. There are the same black, brown, and white faces, albeit with different names. There are the same outcries on social media as there were with Michael brown (Ray et al., 2017).
And yet, nothing has changed. Nor will anything change until white people vote out of office those white legislators who drive the dominant fear inducing white rage culture. Nothing will change until white people of courage standup, standout, and be counted in the political system and elect official who will develop, implement, and adhere to policies guaranteeing socio-economic and educational equity for black and brown people. Are you willing?
Anderson, C., & Emory University (2018, April 13). White rage: The unspoken truth of our nation’s divide [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/YBYUET24K1c
Ray, R., Brown, M., Fraistat, N., & Summers, E. (2017). Ferguson and the death of Michael Brown on Twitter: #BlackLivesMatter, #TCOT, and the evolution of collective identities. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 40(11), 1797-1813.
*Posted on 6/9, edited on 6/10 to add the CNN, 2014 reference in the paragraph starting with “I close this entry…” and correcting a grammatical error in the same paragraph.
A CONCRETE STEP YOU CAN TAKE NOW THROUGH CIVIC ENGAGEMENT IN A TIME OF CIVIL UNREST.
Like many of you, I condemn the deadly act of force against George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement personnel. During these times, we must exercise every right possible to prevent these acts. As an educator, I wanted to know how law enforcement officers are trained in use of force based upon level of resistance. Research suggests a deficiency in the training of law enforcement personnel across the country that may contribute in the use of force based upon the level of resistance. I am issuing a call to action to our elected Senators and Congressional Representatives to mitigate this issue.
Below is an e-mail I sent to my Senators and Congressional Representative. To send the same message to your elected officials, click the take action now button and you will be taken to a page where you can copy the message directly, find your senators and congressional representatives, and be part of the change.
Less than 10% of the law enforcement agencies in the United States have written policies regarding the level of force used in relation to the amount of resistance encountered that encompass the spectrum of available force options (Terrill & Paoline, 2012). Less than 30% of law enforcement agencies “instruct officers in the form of a progression of force levels via continuum but do not indicate (i.e., link) how such force should be used in response to varying levels of citizen resistance or only semilink force and resistance” (Terrill & Paoline, 2012, p. 52). These findings, derived from data from a Department of Justice funded study under Grant No. 2005-IJ-CX-0055 (Terrill & Paoline, 2012) punctuate the potential for poorly trained and inexperienced law enforcement personnel to commit violations of amendments 4, 5, and 8 of the United States Constitution (Bruder, 1988; Terrill & Paoline, 2012).
I urge you, as my elected representative, to become a part of policy change to develop national guidelines with regard to level of force used based upon amount of resistance encountered to serve as training points for law enforcement agencies across the country. Doing so is not only your constitutional obligation as an elected official, but also has the potential to protect to save both civilian and law enforcement lives.
In light of recent events, such as the death of George Floyd, I am asking you to either form, or be a part of a bipartisan committee to stem the tide of violence and be a part of the solution in ending racism.
Bruder, S. (1988). When police use excessive force Choosing a Constitutional threshold of Liability in Justice V. Dennis. St John’s Law Review, 62(4), 735-750.
Terrill, W., & Paoline, E. A. (2012). Examining less lethal force policy and the force continuum: Results from a national use-of-force study. Police Quarterly, 16(1), 38-65.