Is it ever really divisive to resist aligning yourself with your oppressor?
By DiDi Delgado, Black Lives Matter-Cambridge
The year is 1776.
You’re a slave working on an indigo plantation in the blistering heat of a South Carolina summer. You don’t know much about indigo, except that it’s not grown in your homeland — a small village along the southern coast of Sierra Leone. For decades, your life has mainly consisted of grueling forced labor and the constant threat of physical and psychological violence.
Recently, you’ve heard stories of British battleships descending on the Colonies. White folks in the South seem terrified, and you love every minute of it. You lay awake at night and dream of Red Coats marching into “massa’s” bedroom and running bayonets through his swollen belly. You tell a friend about these dreams, but he accuses you of being divisive. So you bludgeon him to death with an iPad Mini. End scene.
I have two questions: Is it ever really divisive to resist aligning yourself with your oppressor? And where’s a cheap place I can get a replacement iPad Mini?
I try to avoid comparing contemporary racism to slavery in order to make a point, but American slavery is literally the only thing white people seem to agree is racist aside from B.E.T. And even slavery gets romanticized and downplayed with startling frequency. Recently, NPR and the Washington Post published horrendous headlines describing Thomas Jefferson as being in a “40-year relationship” with his slave, Sally Hemings. Leslie Mac, founder of the Ferguson National Response Network, rightfully countered that “This ‘relationship’ […] consisted of repeated rapes during which Sally Hemings birthed MORE PROPERTY for Jefferson.”American slavery is literally the only thing white people seem to agree is racist aside from B.E.T. Click To Tweet
If progressive media outlets are recalling chattel slavery with the fondness of a 90s rom-com, it’s no wonder white society often fails to grasp the grim realities of modern racism. It doesn’t matter that mass incarceration today is essentially slavery on steroids. It doesn’t matter that contemporary schools are more segregated than they were in the late 1960s.
And it doesn’t matter that American police and the KKK endorsed the same presidential candidate. To the average white person, the end of slavery was the end of “real” racism, and Black folks today are enjoying a much healthier substitute — I Can’t Believe It’s Not Slavery!™ Which explains why white progressives tend to interpret scathing critiques of modern liberalism as unnecessary and divisive. Liberals, after all, are the “good guys.” Except they’re not.
Last month I published an article about my incredulous feelings towards white women. To the surprise of absolutely no one, lots of folks hated it and labeled me a racist. Bigoted white men descended upon me to point fingers, while proclaiming vindication for the “election” of their new orange king. Indignant white women bombarded me through every avenue of social media to declare, “Not me!” — while simultaneously proving my point.
And Black men used the opportunity to shit on Black women and console all the sad Beckies in the comments. I was called a whore, a bitch, and a cannibal — all of which are true. But the most prevalent comments came from white liberals, who were disgusted by the “divisiveness” of a Black woman. They seemed outraged by my failure to quietly embrace their neo-liberal politics and pseudo-progressivism for the sake of unity. But beneath the surface of their outrage, they also seemed frightened.
That’s when it occurred to me. The British are coming…or rather, they’re here. And this time they didn’t come on ships, but on the winds of Breitbart and FOX News. King George and General Howe have been replaced with Donald, Milo, and Tomi. “Red Coats” have been traded in for coats of bronzer and ill-fitting neckties.
Gone are the days of muskets and cannon balls; today’s shots are fired via hyper-regressive legislation and shameless conservative tweets. For the first time in a long time, comfortable white folks are terrified. They’re experiencing a newfound sense of urgency that people of color have been experiencing since the dawn of white people. And if you’re like me, you’re enjoying the show.
It takes a special level of fuckery, however, to misinterpret my cynicism for divisiveness. In fact, my critique of white liberals is almost always on their failure to be inclusive and intersectional with their politics. I’m attempting (foolishly) to snap folks out of their complacency and get more allies and accomplices on the same page. Myself and other Black radicals are actively combatting division(!), but liberals are too busy being self-congratulatory and hurling witticisms to notice.
It’s like the Titanic is sinking, and folks in life rafts are asking those of us in the frigid water why we’re so pissed. Never mind the fact that we spent the last 400 years building the damn boat and trying to warn them about icebergs. Never mind that they waste more energy defending themselves than bothering to toss any of us a rope. So yeah, at this point I won’t be too broken up if they drown. Especially since history tells me they’ll be fine so long as I’m not.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
As was recently noted by attorney and activist, Marbre Stahly-Butts, “Unity is not the objective; freedom is.” If progressives want to quell divisiveness within the ranks, they need to start examining themselves, not their detractors. Radicals are NOT slowing liberals down. It’s the other way around. Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy. Liberals need to stop looking at themselves as inherently good, and begin reflecting on the ways they’re inherently oppressive.If progressives want to quell divisiveness within the ranks, they need to start examining themselves, not their detractors. Click To Tweet
First and foremost, stop measuring your morality in comparison with the far right. You don’t get kudos for being more open minded than neo-nazis and white nationalists. In fact, many marginalized groups are more frustrated with white progressives than they are with bigoted conservatives. And this is nothing new.
In 1963, while sitting in a jail cell in Alabama, Martin Luther King decided not to write about his jailers, but instead opted to penn a letter on “white moderates” who deemed his outspokenness “unwise and untimely.” Sound familiar? Liberals of the day felt King was being divisive. Today, liberals quote King out of context, in order to silence Black radicals; and the circle of life continues.
When we suggest that critiques of liberal movements are problematic, what we’re really doing is telling marginalized people they need to shut up and be thankful for the hand they’ve been dealt. This is white supremacy (and cis-hetero patriarchy) in action. And it actually pushes those of us with the most to lose further away from aligning with those movements.
It succeeds in doing the very thing it claims to be against — dividing and alienating. Using energy to chastise oppressed people with minimal privilege will ALWAYS be counterproductive to liberation work. Like good satire, a revolution requires directing our resistance upward, towards those in power. Anything else is just oppression in blue lipstick without lip liner.Liberals of the day felt MLK was being divisive. Today, liberals quote him out of context, in order to silence Black radicals. Click To Tweet
So what can we do?
For starters, if you’re criticized by someone you have significant privilege over:
1) Resist the urge to defend yourself. Just listen. Their criticism does not in any way harm you socially or politically. And your feelings don’t take precedent over their oppression. Ultimately, your feelings (like those of your forefathers) are the very real reason oppression persists. So the least you can do is keep them to yourself.
2) Realize that by wasting time rebuking marginalized groups, we’re actively helping those in power go unchecked and unchallenged. Our time can be better spent attacking the root causes of inequality, rather than mending our egos.
3) Acknowledge that white/cis/male fragility is just as damaging as white/cis/male privilege. In fact, they are usually one in the same. And being a white woman doesn’t let you off the hook. The more we recognize this, the less offended we’ll be when receiving valid criticism.
4) Lastly, pay reparations to thought-provoking organizers/writers, so we can replace our broken iPad Minis.