Before we start I want to highlight a project. While I make fun of hashtags all the time I started one #CongressNeedsLoveLetters. Take a moment and send a postcard to a Representative or Senator and tell them what you care about. We need to be vocal, practice resistance, and show gratitude. More information here.
“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they. Do not go gentle into that good night.” Dylan Thomas
This poem was shared at the memorial service for Al Sugiyama, a beloved Asian American activist. The speaker reminded us Al did not go gently, he fought and raged against racism and cancer until his end. In this current political climate we must continue to rage in the right direction.
It’s only been a week since our last blog post and so much has changed. Last Friday, 27 January 2017, after we posted our blog post, President Trump signed an executive order banning people from seven primarily Muslim countries. Suddenly people who were legally allowed in the United States were no longer allowed to enter the country, despite having legal clearance to travel and in some cases reside in the United States. It is noted the ban is supposed to “keep America safe,” but in reality the policy is targeting people and prejudice against Muslims. It is akin to Japanese American citizens being rounded up and put into prison camps (a.k.a. internment camps) during WW II; once was legal became illegal because of a political action playing off of fear and intolerances. The ban has affected many, and has made many people afraid of what might happen next. Protests happened all over the country. Immediately after the ban was announced a protest started at Sea-Tac Airport, a larger rally on Sunday evening as well, and around Seattle smaller acts of resistance are sprouting up.
We need to slow down and ask is our rage directed in the right places or are we doing things to feel like we’re doing something to do something, versus fighting for rights, to rage against injustice, and to bring visibility to hidden problems.
Earlier this week I was at a school for a meeting about race and equity. One of the agenda items was a grassroots welcome rally movement at schools where parents and students would hold welcoming signs, the principal had reservations. On the surface, it sounds like a feel-good-nothing-bad can happen sort of event, but the cringes by parents of color were telling. Crowds of people holding signs doesn’t always send a welcoming signal to people of color, and immigrant families who may not be literate or fluent in English may not understand what the rallying is about, worse they may feel targeted or ‘othered’ by the rally. A Facebook event page grew and had comments for the event and a vocal minority saying, whoa slow down. The tone policing from the do-gooders to the people saying slow down was classic, telling, and obnoxious.
Parents of color asked online and in person why do we need signs saying #WeAreAllImmigrants, We Welcome ALL Families, We Love Diversity, and I Love my Immigrant Neighbors. The messages of showing up in unity between white people and others sends a silencing message. This quote from the blog Black Girl Dangerous explains why: “‘unity’ pushes a violent doctrine of sameness. It allows for individuals in positions of relative dominance to set agendas that more marginalized and disenfranchised individuals and communities are dogmatically expected to follow.”
I’m cringing at these messages because they are coming from a dominant white perspective of wanting to affirm people of color. It is white people saying “I see you, person of color/refugee, and I like you.” I don’t want my kids to learn to seek out white people affirmation. I want my kids to authentically feel like they belong to a community, not through some artificial event where white people are in control and want to be seen as doing good. I also want my kids of color to earn validation, not be given it because of misplaced energy and rage against President Trump’s asinine executive order.
I get the need to rage, the feeling is palpable. The messages of do something, resist, and fight are out there. To our white allies please realize raging in the wrong way comes at a greater cost to communities of color than you may realize. As people of color we spend a lot of time nicely or pointedly explaining how damaging or hurtful these “I want to be a good white person” actions and messages are. People of color also spend a lot of time dealing with white anger, tears, fragility, or defensiveness when white people feel hurt because people of color are rejecting their efforts. This isn’t a good use of time or energy. This is energy we could invest into communities of color, rather than dealing with white-do-good emotions. It must be exhausting for white people trying to uphold the illusion of being seen as good and then expending emotional energy resisting people saying no thank you to the illusion. I see the exhaustion and relentlessness white people feel around fighting to be seen as doing good, if you need permission to stop please give it to yourself. And please stop fighting people of color who are telling you to listen.
White people, please stop doing things to say you did something or to post to social media, stop doing things to affirm people of color, stop for a moment and collect yourselves. If you want to be helpful stop and learn about race. Stop and invest time in building relationships outside of your bubbles.
One way you can constructively rage is to learn. We all need to continue learning about race and how it impacts our lives and upholds the current systems and led to the craziness we’re in now. Instead of placing your rage in doing potentially more harmful things, put that energy into a constructive activity:
- Become conscious of who you are listening to, break out of white echo-chambers.
- Take in media from people of color.
- Spend authentic time with communities of color – don’t creep and try to buddy up to a person of color on the bus (that’s just weird).
- Make a long-term commitment to volunteering with a poc embedded organization, research carefully so you’re not joining an org just serving pocs. Please do not parachute in and then leave or think you’ll change and save people.
- Focus energy on undoing systemic and institutional racism, for an easy activity take part in the #CongressNeedsLoveLetters campaign mentioned up top.
- Listen to people of color when they push back it is for a reason and seek to understand those reasons.
Gentleness and rage, we’ll need both to survive the next few years.
Posted by Erin Okuno