White Reform

*Warning: This post is mostly satire, aimed at challenging (and changing) pervasive and destructive narratives that are applied to people of color while ignoring and even downplaying violent behaviors in whites. While written in jest to expose the level of hypocrisy and hatred embedded within white supremacist ideology, something must really be done to dismantle a system that kills black and brown bodies around the world. We need a collective movement, comprised of various strategies, people, and ideas, including new, liberating theologies centered on the experience of people of color, immigrants, and women, that will shake the beast that is white supremacy to its core, freeing us all from it’s grip.*

I try not to listen to anything Donald Trump says. Everytime I do, I walk away with a severe headache and a profound sense of hopelessness for our nation. And so, for the sake of my sanity, I mostly tune his rhetoric out. This week, however, my strategy has proved to be futile as news outlets and social media focus in on Trump’s latest mumbo gumbo. The unfortunate target of his vile, hate speech this time? Muslims.

It is no secret that Trump has a deep disregard for people of the Muslim faith. On the campaign trail, he has expressed a desire to essentially stomp out Islam and those who are connected to it, in order to purge the world of ISIS. Since the San Bernardino shooting last Friday, where it is suspected that Muslim radicals engaged in a mass shooting that killed 14 people, Trump has only doubled down on his rhetoric going so far as to insist that Muslims be banned from entering into the United States.

In one speech, Trump targeted all Muslims to address the actions of a few. Although people from both aisles of the political divide are denouncing his actions, this is something that will likely yield disastrous results in the Muslim community – both in the U.S. and around the world. Missing from his speech, of course, was any action directed toward the other mass shooters in 2015. By some estimates, there have been 355 mass shootings in the U.S. this year, including one on the same day of the incident in San Bernardino, the shooting at Planned Parenthood several days prior, an incident in Minneapolis a few weeks ago when five people protesting the execution of Jamar Clark were shot, the mass shooting in Oregon in October, and the shooting of the Mother Emanuel 9 in June. Most of the suspects in these cases have been white men. And yet there hasn’t been any speeches, by Trump or others, calling white men in.

In addition to the mass shootings, there have been other ongoing acts of violence by white men in our society. In 2015 alone, 1,109 people have died at the hands of the police, exceeding 2014 numbers before the year has come to a close. Overwhelmingly, the officers in these cases have been white. And in 100% of these cases, no officer has been convicted – though more officers have been charged in recent years due to the efforts of Black Lives Matter and others raising this issue in the nation’s consciousness. Of course, these numbers do not take into account the number of people who have been brutalized by cops without death nor the number of women who have been sexually violated by police officers. Nor do these numbers consider the ways in which practices and policies – so often passed and implemented by white men – make life a living nightmare for communities of color and indigenous communities around the world, contributing to a slow, agonizing death of sorts that seldom makes the evening news but is just as deadly, and far more prevalent than guns.

Of course, not all white men are mass gunmen and not all white cops are would-be killers of black and brown bodies. Even still, these occurrences, suggest that there is something at play that goes beyond gun control and police reform. The deeper issue is the culture of violence that is pervasive among white men, violence that often goes unchecked because they are white men. Besides the increased presence of police cameras, which has not seemed to pay off like some said it would, police are not held accountable for their sins against people of color. And mass shooters, if they are white, get escorted to the nearest Mickey D’s and get off on mental health charges instead of having to seriously deal with the ways that they have terrorized the American society. Vigilantes like Zimmerman often go scot free, and if they are charged, it is often for a lesser charge in order to ensure that they are not actually punished for acts of terror and white supremacy.

How will a society, no a world, that is terrorized by angry white men find healing and wholeness? What can we do to ensure that these disastrous things come to an end, and that when they do happen, white men are actually held accountable for their actions?

I propose something called White Reform. In the same way that our country passes policies and programs to address problems in communities of color and indigenous communities, it is time that we flip the script and put white people under the microscope for once in order to get at these tenuous social ills caused by white supremacist ideologies that exploit the life and liberties of others to satisfy the blood hungry appetites of white men. Below, I have briefly outlined a few bold steps that can move us forward today:

  1. The government should start a new initiative focused on improving the outcomes of white men in our society. Call it, “My Whiter Brother’s Keeper,” if you like. Invest millions of dollars in the initiative and award local municipalities who come up with the best strategies for solving the white problem. Emphasize the need for mentorship in order to address the fatherlessness problem that exists in white single-parented households. Challenge and condemn promiscuity among white teenagers; blame white musicians and sexual icons for their role in increasing violence and other inappropriate behavior.
  2. Commission a report that will study the extent of the white problem and put forth a call to action that will outline tangible and measurable steps to get to the bottom of the culture of violence in the white community. Nonprofits should start hiring organizers who will work in the white community. Foundations should invest money to support the efforts of these nonprofits. Invent lots of programs, throw money at them, but make sure that the actual money stays in black and brown communities. Audit and scrutinize organizations run by white people because they might not use their limited funds correctly.
  3. Invest in social services and other medical interventions to figure out why so many white male shooters are mentally unstable since guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Conduct focus groups and listening sessions where people of color do all of the talking and are the experts, but be sure to have a few white people in the room who won’t challenge what is being said, to analyze the factors that contribute to the mental instability.
  4. Early childhood education, all education for that matter, must explicitly teach white children to not be racist. Teach real American history, lifting up the true narratives of American Indians and African Americans. Reveal this country’s practices and policies that have cut people of color and indigenous communities out of opportunity, and let children know that these practices have taken root not only in the south but in the so-called progressive north where liberalism and tolerance abound. School districts that have comprehensive lesson plans that yield results should be awarded with dollars to improve their education programs.
  5. White parents should send their children to inner city schools to make sure they get a good education. Simply being next to black and brown children will improve their life outcomes.
  6. Train educators how to handle white rage and misbehavior. If they teach in Minnesota or other Northern states, they should take note that the rage will be more passive in nature and appear less dangerous but it is just as harmful as in your face, overt racism. Social workers and psychologists must learn how to best work with these people. If all else fails, tell their parents they have a learning disability and insist that they take harmful drugs so that they sit still in class.
  7. Equip all of the suburban and rural schools with medical detectors and security guards. Ensure that no white student or adult walks through the doors without being screened to make sure they are not in possession of a firearm or other explosive. Do not tolerate the slightest incidence of misbehavior from white children; use suspensions as a disciplinary method.
  8. Universities should start offering White Studies at a bachelor and master’s level. The programs should emphasize the social ills created by whites living away from people of color for so long. Black and brown students should be admitted into the program as well. They should become the experts in White Studies, even though it is the lived experience and daily reality of whites.
  9. Take a paternalistic approach to all policymaking, programs, and other efforts aimed at solving the white problem. After all, people of color know what is in the best interests of whites and can even speak for whites if they have one white friend, family member, or grew up living next to whites.

Of course, not all white men need to be reformed. There are many, outstanding white citizens who are a testament to their race who are nonviolent, anti-racist, and simply fantastic human beings. Use these men to be the models for the rest of them. Bring them on talk shows, news outlets, and quote them addressing the white problem so that others in the white community can be influenced by their good behavior. However, use disagreement among these leaders in the white community as an opportunity to humiliate them and discredit their movement. Write articles and op-eds pointing out the inconsistencies in vision and approach as a means to justify their continued marginalization.

Is this plan discriminatory? Perhaps. But something must be done to get at the culture of violence exhibited by angry, white men. Our society must be rid of white oppressor behaviors that continue to steal from our children, rape our women, and kill our men. Contrary to white supremacist ideology, we must take a collectivist approach here and prioritize the needs of the community over one, lone individual. And until we have a handle on the problem, perhaps we should pass policy reforms that will keep white men from voting and achieving political power over people of color and indigenous folks. Relegate them to certain neighborhoods, separated from the rest of us so that they cannot harm others. And if they still do not get in line, threaten stricter social reforms, mass incarceration and deportation.  

ReDEFINING Beauty, Love, and Black Men

Thanks to all of you who have participated in the ReDEFINING series over the last month. To date, we have had five different authors submitting their stories. And they have been immensely powerful, candid ones too. In case you missed it, here are snippets of the latest two which were both posted this week, hosted at redefiningus.com:

Yes, She Will Date You Too!
by Ambrea Pinnell:

…My husband reminds me of my beauty when I can’t see it. I still get the “I like what I see” look from him. When I tell people these things, they are surprised to learn that my husband is white. How can a white man truly love and appreciate the beauty of a black woman? But it happened. And it continues to happen every day. It’s wonderful to see so many white male celebrities begin to openly talk about, date and marry other women of color: Robert Pattinson and FKA twigs, George Lucas and his lovely wife, Justin and Keisha Chambers, Michael Fassbender, Dirk Nowitzki, and Robert DeNiro, just to name a few. I love how they are starting to challenge what is beautiful in the media. Women of color are attractive and finally it is not only black men who are seeing that! Read more >

Black, Educated and Unemployed in America 
by Tope Adedayo:

Yet an interesting phenomenon occurs when people of color prove that we can break through the barriers. When we prove that against all odds, we can get the education and the training and don’t quite fit the statistics of being poor, black and lazy, we still end up being cut off from employment opportunities. In fact, a black man with a college degree is less likely to find employment than a white man with a criminal record. How do we explain this? And I’ve heard it all. You’re overqualified. You don’t have enough experience. Your resume and interview are great; we just decided to go another way. You need to network more. You need to jump more. But the reality is that no matter how high I fly, they never intend to allow me to make it. Read more >

We have several amazing writers on deck over the next few weeks. Be sure to follow @ReDEFINING_ or subscribe to Redefiningus.com to make sure you don’t miss a thing! And we are still looking for more storytellers. If you have a story you just need to tell, we want to hear from you! Please email ebanna22@gmail.com for more information. 

ReDEFINING Blackness: In Search of a New Identity

10days_400px1This article is the third piece in the ReDEFINING Blog Series. ReDEFINING aims to dismantle the dominant, destructive, and inaccurate perceptions of people by crafting a new narrative for ourselves and defining who we are and who we want to be. For more information about the series and how you can participate > 

“You don’t act black.”

I still remember the first time someone said those words to me. I was in the sixth grade, walking past a group of black girls who were clustered off in a corner of the gym. In spite of my best efforts, I never seemed to fit into their group. They were the popular ones and I was this quirky girl with Urkel-like glasses and braces. I preferred basic white sneakers that matched all of my outfits to the latest Air Jordans. While everyone else sung the words to the latest R. Kelly lyrics, I couldn’t stand them, understanding at 11 years old what a misogynist, destructive individual he was to women everywhere comparing us to the likes of a Jeep (um, no thank you).

All of this aside, because none of it defines blackness, I fail to understand what it exactly was that prompted their accusatory remarks. “Ebony, you don’t act black. You act white.” Their words cut deep into my soul. No one had ever said these things to me and yet I knew exactly what they meant – that I wasn’t one of them. I knew that I wasn’t a part of their group; I wasn’t a popular kid and I could accept that. But I couldn’t accept not being counted as a member of the black community. I wasn’t quite sure what to do but I went into defense mode and tried to prove that I was just as down as everyone else. I brought some of my music to school just to prove that I was listening to the same things everyone else was, R. Kelly aside. I tried to dress more like everyone else but failed miserably because my family couldn’t afford to keep up with the latest status symbols (I also failed because back then I had no sense of style and was pairing flowery vests with bright orange t-shirts, true story). I even tried talking like some of the other kids. When they questioned me as to why I didn’t swear, I gave it a whirl. Briefly. The words always felt clumsy on my lips.

I wish I could tell you that this was a one time occurrence but it wasn’t. Throughout the rest of my school years, including college, and into adulthood, people have consistently accused me of not acting black enough. When I chose to study missions and pastoral studies at a Christian college in Minneapolis, the other black students wondered why I wasn’t pursuing Urban Studies as if it was the only appropriate major for the handful of black kids who attended that school. When I baked and brought a sweet potato pie to a staff meeting at church, people congratulated me and exclaimed, “Ebony, wow, you really are black!” When I share my story, on the few occasions that I am asked, about my upbringing and where I was raised – on 37th and Lisbon, between two crack houses, in the 90s – people either doubt my words or ignore them. When I failed to answer a piece of trivia correctly regarding a movie that has been popular among black folk over a few decades, someone threatened to revoke my black card and questioned if I was really legitimate. I laughed it off saying that my mother screened out movies like those when I was younger and they laughed too. But deep inside I was seething, crying because I so desperately wanted to be accepted among my own.

Read the rest of the post at redefiningus.com >

ReDEFINING Strength: It’s Okay to Grieve

This article is the second piece in the ReDEFINING Blog Series. ReDEFINING aims to dismantle the dominant, destructive, and inaccurate perceptions of people by crafting a new narrative for ourselves and defining who we are and who we want to be. For more information about the series and how you can participate > 

Guest post: Irna Landrum

I’m sitting next to my mother. She is quiet and her breathing is labored. I’m holding her left hand, and I catch a glimpse of her right hand. It’s balled into a tight fist, resting furtively on her thigh. She clenches her fist tighter and lets out a weak breath. Her cousin Betty, who I call Auntie, whisks her out of the packed room. I dutifully follow.

My mother sits in a folding chair, now clutching her chest. Her fist is still clenched. Auntie Betty tells me to go fetch my mother’s purse. We exited so quickly that we left all our belongings where they were. I slip back into the somber crowd and retrieve Mama’s purse. Auntie digs around in it until she finds something to make this moment better–nitroglycerin tablets.

Almost two years ago, my mother had a cardiac arrest. When she feels extreme tightness in her chest, she reaches for nitroglycerin for some relief, trying to stave off another heart attack. She was now taking this pill, struggling to steady her hand enough to get water into her mouth. My mother was dousing herself with pain meds instead of releasing some of the pain and grief she trapped in her body. Mama didn’t want to make a public show of mourning the death of her older brother. She was trying to be strong.

Read the remainder of the post over at redefiningus.com >

 

“I’m American, Too” – My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant

This article is the first piece in the ReDEFINING Blog Series which aims to dismantle the dominant, destructive, and inaccurate perceptions of people by crafting a new narrative for ourselves and defining who we are and who want to be. For more information about the series > 

Guest blogger: Daniel Perez

I wish I did not have to write this piece, but I do It is indeed necessary that I write this piece because I am sick and tired of hearing about the myths and misconceptions about undocumented immigrants that the media feeds the public at large. The media would tell you that I, as an undocumented immigrant, am a law breaking, non-taxpaying, and job-stealing person receiving welfare for me and my family.

However, you and the media would be wrong. I, like the majority of undocumented people, have been paying federal, state, property and income taxes since we began living and working in this country. Even without a social security, paying taxes was possible through an Individualized Tax Paying Number (ITIN) given to me by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). You see, the U.S. government loves my money but hates to provide people like me with a path towards legalization.

Read the reminder of Daniel’s piece over at redefiningus.com >

Announcing New Blog Project: ReDEFINING (and Call for Submissions)

1.

A little over a year ago, an Indian-American woman took home the Miss America title for the first time ever. No sooner than the crown landed on her head, people took to Twitter to criticize the pageant for choosing a person of color to be a representation of beauty, intelligence, and what it means to be an American. Some Indians also took issue with her darker complexion. saying that had the pageant taken place in their home country, she would have never taken home that title.

2.

In 2013, Slate magazine published an article advocating for Santa Claus to receive a cultural and racial make-over. Says the article written by Aisha Harris, “America is less and less white, but a melanin-deficient Santa remains the default in commercials, mall casting calls, and movies. Isn’t it time that our image of Santa better serve all the children he delights each Christmas?” But Fox News’ Megyn Kelly didn’t agree. On her show, The Kelly File, she invited three other guests to share their opinions on the matter. During the show, Kelly decided to clear up matters for the kids watching at home and categorically affirmed Santa’s whiteness (never mind that Santa is make believe). Kelly decided to take her comments to another level and stated that Jesus was white just in case anyone was beginning to doubt that a white man could emerge from the Middle East.

3.

For the last two months, communities across the U.S. have been mourning over the death of Mike Brown. Brown, an African American 18 year old, was unjustly killed by white officer Darren Wilson as his hands were raised in a universal sign of surrender. To date, the officer has not been brought to justice and many entities have gone to great lengths to assert his innocence. Many of those same entities, including the media, have likewise been quick to vilify Brown in order to justify his death.

4. 

Framing. The power of one individual, organization, or other entity, to shape a person’s perception of reality through the use of language, images, and feelings. The media is one such entity, which takes the narratives and experiences of individuals (and communities), and interprets what those narratives mean for their audience. The narratives are not always necessarily negative; sometimes they can be powerful, accurate and true. But many, many times, the narratives that are being told about a community, about a culture, about a particular race have negative implications, especially when the narrator is not from the community they are trying to describe.

Such has been the case with all of the examples listed above. In the examples listed, a powerful force has defined what it means to be beautiful, what it means to be accepted, what Jesus looks like, whose face is represented during Christmas, who is innocent, and what it means to be black. To be sure, the media isn’t at fault for all of these inaccurate depictions of people and ideas; politics, economics and religion have played a significant role here, too. All have contributed to the common and hurtful depictions of people around this country and the world.

5. 

Last year, I watched a TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie entitled “We Should All Be Feminists.” In the context of talking about feminism, she also mentioned that culture is not a constant but changes and is being reinvented, reimagined every day. This talk helped me to better understand the role each and everyone of us plays in creating and maintaining culture. And if we can create it, we can also change it!

In that vein, I present to you a new blog project that I will be hosting this fall: ReDEFINING. ReDEFINING aims to dismantle the dominant, destructive, and inaccurate perceptions of people by crafting a new narrative for ourselves and defining who we are and who want to be. In this series, we will redefine culture, redefine race, redefine humanity, redefine women, redefine undocumented immigrants, redefine beauty, and redefine religion just to name a few. Interested in participating? Email me at ebanna22@gmail.com. One piece of prime importance: Since the object of this project is for people to offer their own stories, it is important that the blog piece speak to one’s own experience instead of speaking on behalf of the experience of another.

Be sure to follow @ebonyjohanna or #ReDEFINEMeNow so you don’t miss anything. 

*Artwork from: http://wineandpaintparties.com/