Today I want to take the time to philosophize what I do, why I do it, and what I hope to achieve. Part of the reason why I’m writing this is to give myself a better roadmap from which to work, and the other part is because I know people out there will come with their own assumptions of my purpose, and I might as well spell it out so assumptions don’t need to be made.
The anti-racist road has many forks, and anyone with an interest in human wellness can start on any road. Mine was linguistics. Others may be music, sports, movies, general culture, healthcare, education, legislation, etc etc etc. Because racism and white supremacy is embedded in every system, all roads will lead to the same The Arc de Triomphe: the place where you see how everything is interconnected and cannot be untangled. When we fight our individual fights in our small realms, we fight for the greater good of the humanity of all. Not only do we need to take individual action, but we also must take collective action – for it is within collective action that we have the largest voice.
Those of us who engage in anti-racist work often call ourselves ‘amateur historians’, for it is through the lens of historical context that we must view our societies and its ailments. Most people know intuitively that history is written by the winners, and as a result, the truth of history tends to be warped to paint the winners as Triumphant Civilizers rather than Oppressive Destroyers. Those who resist the winners of history are described in ableist terms such as “crazy” (see John Brown) and are often dehumanized or subhumanized. While I don’t consider myself a well-read individual, what reading I have done of first-person accounts of slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow era, and present-day tribulations have been enough to open my eyes to see how intentionally cruel the Winners of History have been and continue to be.
A few months ago I decided to make a mind-map of how white supremacy works. As it became more and more complicated, I suddenly became very self-aware of how much of a ‘conspiracy theory’ the map was turning into. As much as I want to publish what I started, I know how the multitude of connecting lines would cause people to give me the side-eye stink-eye. As an abolitionist, I’m very conscious of the skepticism and dismissiveness that people already have for me. Abolition of police and prisons is quite the radical idea, one that we have not yet tried or seen in the history of the world. A world without punishment seems like an idealist utopian fantasy, but why not shoot for the moon knowing that all progress moves at glacial speed? Studying history shows that this fight – the fight for abolition, the fight for humanity – is not a recent conception: many people have died for the cause, because if we don’t people will die anyway, and quite terribly too.
I do truly believe in a world without punishment and a world of abundance. The scourge of capitalism is using the cost-benefit analysis to fit all people and problems into one-size-fits-all boxes and solutions. Collective and individual needs will vary, and so too should the solutions. But it requires slowing down (but time is money!), being willing to see nuance (but we want quick solutions!), and having the money (but our profits!!) and resources (but our PROFITS!!) available to implement solutions that will actually address root causes. Sometimes, the only way to reset a broken foundation is to bulldozer everything away and start anew, so that the new foundation is level and sound and will last long-term.
Even in my efforts to hold elected officials and policing accountable, it is not punishment that I seek; it is humanization that I seek. American society’s use of white-washed history places blinders on many of us, especially white people. We move through life absorbing harmful ideologies that we don’t even realize we have until it’s pointed out to us. Because we are an individualistic society, people new to the anti-racism movement will inevitably become personally victimized when it is brough to our attention:
“You harbor white supremacist ideology.”
“HOW DARE YOU.”
“It’s because society taught you it.”
“YOU JUST CALLED ME A RACIST.”
“Well… I mean… we absorb racist thoughts and ideas without realizing it.”
“I AM NOT A RACIST.”
“The only way to not be complicit in racism is to actively fight against it.”
“YOU SAID I’M A COMPLICIT RACIST.”
This circular argument is neither unexpected nor surprising. We have to process our feelings, our station in society, and how we have moved through life holding onto harmful ideas that lay beneath our consciousness. It doesn’t make any person a bad person – unless, you know, they’re actively fighting to allow their bigotry to go unchecked (like the hard-right GOP and other people who love the idea of hierarchy). As a white woman who has ruminated long and hard about my own complicity, I am willing to give space for people who reflexively push back. I also give space for BIPOC to have no patience for that push back.
So, with all that in mind, here is what I’m trying to do:
Accountability in local, state, and federal government is not easy to do. It is hard, messy, complicated, time consuming, infuriating, crushing, and hopeful all at once. This is why investigative journalism exists. I do not have an interest in journalism, but I do have an interest in knowing how my governments are fucking people over. To do this, I make public records request. I’m still learning the nuance of making these requests, and I’m still learning what to do with the information that I receive.
Here’s why I’m doing it:
The place I live has had a very white population, but due to the housing crisis, more BIPOC peoples are moving to the area. The kind of investigative journalism that exists in other parts of the country don’t quite exist here. And the areas of concern that our white journalists have don’t align with BIPOC community needs.
Here’s what I’m hoping to achieve:
The local governments (city- and county-level) has a good-old-boys-club feel to it, and in order to break up the very obvious corruption (like real estate moguls sitting on city council making laws and contracts about land within city limits), someone(s) need to have the paper trail that shows nefarious deeds. The paper trail can also be used for community activists to create policy that aligns with the nuanced needs of their communities (see the Seattle Solidarity Budget). As far as I’m aware, no one (or at the very least very few people) is engaged in the records excavation necessary to move these two ideas forward.
The ultimate goal is to create a more humane society. It has to start local, because it is where I live and where my friends reside. The “shoot for the moon because progress is glacial” means that I am aware that not all my desires will be achieved or achieved quickly. All anti-racists have the same rallying call: housing for all, universal basic income, free healthcare and education, have basic needs met including accessible nutritious food and clean water, free healthcare and education, a robust transportation system, support services for our disabled friends and community members, gender equality, racial equity (reparations), culturally responsive activities and events, celebration of our differences! ET CETERA.
Can little ol’ me achieve all those things? No, of course not. That’s why community involvement is absolutely necessary to move the needle of progress forward. But for now, my nose is in local budgets and policies so we can have a solid foundation from which to build. The road I travel down is toward police and prison abolition. The road my husband travels down is educational freedom and building students to have critical thinking skills. My children will choose something that they’re interested in. My friends have their own roads to go down. But hopefully we’ll all meet up at the Arc de Triomphe with our little triumphs that we can throw into the soup of liberation. Sloppy metaphors are my specialty.