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This is what white people can do to end racism

Study what your forefathers did, then do the opposite

Protesters barricade the street with bikes at City Hall in New York on June 30. Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

By Brando Simeo Starkey

Four hundred years later, America’s congenital demon still bedevils it. A nation built for white people, though reliant upon Black sweat, remains unable to exorcise the paradoxical evil inherent in its birth. Time after time, this country reproduces its sins rather than atone for them. Yet, with protesters capturing the streets amid a global pandemic and coercing public opinion to swing in their favor, one hopes the day of reckoning has finally come.

The video-captured killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers jolted not just America, but the world. Black Lives Matter, a movement conceived in the blood of unarmed Black men, convinced the masses of its central thesis — America devalues Black life. Change of some sort appears imminent.

But to really complete the unfinished business of Reconstruction and the civil rights movement, white people must fight it out with each other over what being a respectable white person means. The victors need to allow only the anti-racist to be considered worthy of inclusion in the group. White folk must create an environment that compels other white folk to learn lest they incur the social wrath that accompanies not behaving like a respectable white person.

Many white folk continue to pose the question: “What can I do?” The answer is simple. Study what your forefathers did. Then do the opposite.

At about 3 a.m. on Sept. 61875, a white married couple, William Haffa and his wife Alzina, woke up to the furious barking of their dog in their Hinds County, Mississippi, home.

“Who is there?” Alzina Haffa hollered out. No answer. She repeated herself. Again, silence.

When William, who had moved the family to Mississippi from Philadelphia in 1870, asked, someone outside responded, “We will let you know who is out here.”

“My God,” Alzina Haffa exclaimed, “they have a yard full of men,” referring to the 50 to 70 armed goons surrounding their place.

Immediately after the Civil War, the state’s majority-Black population, intensely Republican, had dominated Mississippi politics, ousting the Democratic Party that drove succession from the Union. The native white population vowed to reclaim the throne and install a new post-slavery racial caste system. To obtain power, they terrorized the Black population and their white allies like Haffa.

Three months after moving to Mississippi, the white men they rented their land from asked Haffa whether “he was a friend to the white people or to the n—–.” Haffa responded that “he was a friend to anyone, be he Black or white, that was deserving of his friendship.” The landowners threatened him.

The respectable white people killed a traitor and other respectable white people covered it up. Northerners knew such atrocities occurred, but the respectable white people there condoned it.

A couple of years afterward, Black voters elected him as a justice of the peace. White men beat him and his wife in their home.

He later started teaching at a Black school. And the torment persisted. Living under ever-present menace, he never went anywhere alone.

Throughout American history, white people have defined, on matters of race, how a respectable white person behaves. In 1870s Mississippi, Haffa was not a respectable white person. He aligned against the local white population and the ambitions of white supremacy. The goons encircling his home that night behaved consistently with the norms and mandates of the broader white population. They were the respectable white people.

“Men, what have I ever done to you?” Haffa asked, though he knew the answer.

The goons shot him three times through an open window.

“I am going to die,” he told his wife while lying his head on her shoulder right before his last breath.

The respectable white people killed a traitor and other respectable white people covered it up. Northerners knew such atrocities occurred, but the respectable white people there condoned it.

Through this nefariousness, we see how white people disciplined each other, how a respectable member of the race treats Black people. This behavior is taught. This behavior is learned.

After the Civil War, if respectable white people had demanded of each other to treat Black folk as their social, civil and political equals, this country wouldn’t have a race problem today. Instead, white America relegated Black Americans to the bottom of the racial caste system that only endures because respectable white people have nursed it since its infancy.

Over the course of two days in June 1947, Judge Julius Waties Waring, in a federal courtroom in Columbia, South Carolina, heard oral arguments for a lawsuit brought by Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP that challenged the South Carolina Democratic Party’s all-white primary.

In 1944, the Supreme Court invalidated Texas’ all-white primary lawthat limited the state’s Democratic primary to white voters. South Carolina, like other Southern states, enforced a similar law. Winning a Democratic nomination in the South, a one-party region, guaranteed a general-election victory. South Carolina Gov. Olin Johnston called a special session of the state legislature, prodding lawmakers to create a new scheme to exclude Black voters from the only elections that mattered. “White supremacy will be maintained in our primaries,” Johnston said.

To defeat the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Texas case, the South Carolina Legislature treated the Democratic Party as a private club that could create any rules it wished. Waring, however, nixed this ploy, finding that it violated the Constitution. “It is time for South Carolina to rejoin the Union,” he wrote in his opinion.

For turning against the caste system and seeing the humanity of Black people, the respectable white folk of South Carolina vilified him. “Waring and his wife have been ostracized by white Charleston society,” the Associated Press wrote, “because of their championship of equal rights for Negroes.” Respectable white people burned crosses on his lawn and fired shots into his home. The federal government paid marshals to guard his property, protection from respectable white people.

Waring was the deviant. His antagonists were the valued members of the group.

In 1951, Waring pushed Marshall to directly attack separate but equal education for children. Part of a three-judge panel that heard Briggs v. Elliott, Waring dissented from the majority opinion that upheld Jim Crow schools. “Segregation is per se inequality,” Waring wrote. Three years later, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court agreed. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 followed, ridding the caste system of valuable underpinnings that kept it functioning.

After retirement, Waring, persona non grata in his home state, moved to New York. Only 12 white people attended his funeral in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1968, though about 200 Black folk did.

After the civil rights movement, respectable white people preserved the caste system. From statehouses, respectable white people stole Black voting power through gerrymandering. Respectable white people gorged on tough-on-crime rhetoric, leading to an incarceration explosion. For decades, respectable white people defied judicial desegregation mandates, banishing Black students to inferior schools. Respectable white people fled cities en masse in favor of suburban white enclaves, leaving Black folk in cash-strapped and resource-deprived cities. Spurred by respectable white people, state budgets were slimmed down, preventing mayors in those suddenly Black-majority cities from using the power of the purse to improve Black lives. Black folk gained some measure of upward mobility, despite employment discrimination by respectable white people.

The legal underpinnings of the racial caste system sank, but from the northern border to southern border, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, respectable white people kept it afloat.

On April 22, 1870, Frederick Douglass spoke at Tweddle Hall in Albany, New York, to celebrate a wondrous occasion, the ratification of the 15th Amendment. The slog for racial equality, Douglass believed, reached the finish line.

“But what does this 15th Amendment mean to us?” Douglass asked. “It means that color is no longer to be a calamity,” he answered. “That race is to be no longer a crime; and that liberty is to be the right of all.”

Across the nation, Black people commemorated the ratification. In Detroit, Black folk conducted “one of the most interesting and important celebrations that ever took place in that city” where “the sidewalks, roofs of buildings, balconies and windows along the line of the procession,” according to the New Era, “were thronged with spectators.”

One hundred and fifty years later, however, American streets are now crammed with Black folk and their allies protesting police brutality and all manner of racial trauma heaped upon Black existence.

Since the close of the civil rights movement, America has improved on race. The ranks of respectable white people who oppose anti-Black bigotry have swelled. The chants of “Black Lives Matter” echo on the roads of Utah. When a white woman attempted to sic the police on a Black bird-watcher in Central Park, New York, she was not the respectable white person in the tale — the respectable white people criticized her. Practicing explicit racism, unlike the times of the Haffas and Waring, generally conflicts with respectable white personhood.

But respectable white people who act to further the caste system as long as their racial animus remains hidden are a sizable contingent within the white population.

Prosecutors still try Black defendants for alleged crimes more often and seek harsher penalties than comparable white defendants. Real estate agents still discriminate against Black buyers seeking to move into white neighborhoods. Secretaries of state still close Black polling places to prevent Black voting. Respectable white people dominate these vocations, proof that the opponents of Black progress remain in their labs, concocting anti-Black schemes. But when they are charged with racism, respectable white people exonerate them.

Some white folk face censure for thinly veiled racist acts, but they still retain their powerful perches. When NBA superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant maligned President Donald Trump, Fox News’ Laura Ingraham told them to “shut up and dribble.” When New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees reiterated his antagonism toward kneeling during the national anthem, however, she declared, “He’s allowed to have his view about what kneeling and the flag means to him.”

Some respectable white people denounced her. Yet, Ingraham continues as a respectable white person making millions of dollars a year for a cable news show with millions of viewers per day. The racial caste system survives because of people like her.

White folk once functioned like a syndicate to maintain the racial caste system, policing each other to preserve a world of privileged whiteness. They must now reverse course, become a syndicate that furthers the cause of true equality. All of the tools that white folk brought to bear in furtherance of the caste system must be harnessed to create its antithesis, an anti-racist world.

“We are a great nation,” Douglass said as he neared the conclusion of his speech in 1870. “Not we colored people particularly, but all of us. We are all together now. We are fellow citizens of a common country.”

For this country to live up to its founding conceit as articulated in the Declaration of Independence — that all men are created equal — America needs respectable anti-racist white people to wage war for the soul of their race. And win.

That is what white people can do.

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Dear White Friends

By Gregory R. Owens Sr

Dear White Friends,
“White people’s number one freedom in the United States is the freedom to be totally ignorant about those other than white. The number two freedom is to deny you are ignorant”. Jane Elliott.

Use your freedom to teach other white people about the institution of racism and white supremacy in our country. Then and only then will we start to become a more perfect union.

Black people are tired of being burdened with feeling as though its our job to teach white people about racism.

White supremacy is the institution your ancestor’s created in America, and it’s the institution you continue to benefit from while denying blacks of racial equality.

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Colin Kaepernick tried to tell white America

Kap’s words and actions in 2016 are as important now as they were then

By Martenzie Johnson

There’s been a lot of misinformation and conjecture over the past four years when discussing former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his decision, in the summer of 2016, to sit and later kneel during the playing of the national anthem.

But let’s take it back to the beginning.

On Aug. 26, 2016, before a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, Kaepernick was spotted by multiple media members sitting on the San Francisco 49ers team bench as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played ahead of kickoff. Immediately after the game, NFL Media reporter Steve Wyche asked the then-28-year-old about why he was sitting during the anthem.

Kaepernick responded: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. … To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

With the recent events taking place in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, and in Louisville, Kentucky, following the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman, both at the hands of police officers, it’s important to go back to Kaepernick’s words and actions from 2016, especially as uprisings have taken part in multiple cities since Monday.

After Kaepernick’s quotes were published following the 2016 preseason game, there was immediate backlash from a sizable portion of the population. Kaepernick was labeled anti-cop, anti-military, so on and so forth. A league executive called him a “traitor.” Kaepernick received countless death threats. Despite helping lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl three years before his demonstration, Kaepernick hasn’t been signed to an NFL team since he became a free agent in 2017. All because his simple words – that law enforcement should be held accountable for killing citizens – urged white Americans to look at themselves in the mirror after centuries of being able to ignore the plight of black Americans.

What Kaepernick said and did was controversial, but only for those who see controversy in asking for basic human rights for African Americans that allegedly were afforded to them under the 14th Amendment nearly two centuries ago.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem before an NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys in Santa Clara, California, Oct. 2, 2016.MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/AP PHOTO

The first three weeks after initially sitting for the national anthem, Kaepernick clearly explained to the media the reasoning behind his protest.

On what would make him stand for the anthem again: “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

On whether his message was against the armed forces: “The media painted this as I’m anti-American, anti-men and women of the military, and that’s not the case at all. I realize that men and women of the military go out and sacrifice their lives and put their selves in harm’s way for my freedom of speech and my freedoms in this country, and my freedom to take a seat or take a knee, so I have the utmost respect for them and I think what I did was taken out of context and spun a different way.”

On whom he was protesting for: “I couldn’t see another ‘hashtag Sandra Bland, hashtag Tamir Rice, hashtag Walter Scott, hashtag Eric Garner,’ the list goes on and on and on. … At what point do we do something about it? At what point do we take a stand and as a people say this isn’t right? You have a badge, yes. You’re supposed to be protecting us, not murdering us, and that’s what the issue really is and we need to change that.”

With those comments, Kaepernick wasn’t some “traitor.” Instead, he became a black light for identifying the racists who live among us.

Kaepernick precisely said police shouldn’t be able to kill unarmed black people without consequence. But some people in the country, when told of unlawful and racist actions by the police against black people, chose to ignore the “black people” portion of the protest and took umbrage at accusations of racism. Hit dogs, after all, will holler.

Fast forward to this week, and everything Kaepernick laid out four years ago is still happening. As Floyd was apprehended by police on Monday, a white Minneapolis officer can be seen on video later released on social media digging his knee into Floyd’s neck as Floyd screamed, “I can’t breathe.” In March, Taylor was killed by Louisville police after officers charged into her apartment after midnight while looking for a man who did not live at Taylor’s residence. Taylor was shot eight times by the officers.

Kaepernick began his protests in 2016 following the highly publicized deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, respectively, silently protesting to bring awareness to police misconduct and racial inequality in the country. His tactics were deemed inappropriate by many.

In light of the alleged killings of Floyd and Taylor at the hands of law enforcement, communities in Minneapolis and Louisville (and other cities, including Los Angeles) have reacted with anger. Since Floyd’s slaying on Monday, people in Minneapolis have protested every day, burning down multiple buildings, including a police precinct.  On Thursday night, seven people were shot at a protest in Louisville while demonstrators took over streets and caused some property damage.

The criticism was swift.

“How do we build trust between the community and the police? Let’s go steal s— from Target. Looters are the absolute scum of the earth,” tweeted former Packers and Detroit Lions offensive lineman T.J. Lang about the Minneapolis demonstrations.

“How does looting, rioting and destroying your OWN community bring justice for anyone?” asked Fox News personality Tomi Lahren. (At the time of his initial protest in 2016, Lahren tweeted that Kaepernick should “leave” America if “this country disgusts you so much.”)

To some, violent riots aren’t the right way to go about social change. Property damage or looting, the thinking goes, does nothing but push more people against your cause. Never mind that Martin Luther King Jr., one of the “good ones” to some in white America, once said that “a riot is the language of the unheard.”

But negative reactions to recent protests add an extra level of irony when thinking about Kaepernick. If burning down businesses and disrupting traffic on highways are the wrong ways to protest, would a silent, nonviolent protest that intelligently lays out its arguments and demands suffice? Perhaps one that prioritized sitting down over standing up?

Nearly four years ago, Kaepernick caused a national controversy when he said that it was wrong that police officers can get away with killing people. In the wake of Floyd’s killing, many in the sports world have spoken out: LeBron James, Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders. On Friday, four days after Floyd’s death, the former Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, who was fired from the force on Tuesday, was charged with third-degree murder. Nearly three months after Taylor was killed, not a single Louisville officer has been arrested or charged.

Kaepernick told us this was wrong. America chose not to listen.

”Until people are shameful of their privilege, nothing meaningful will change.” Gregory Owens Sr.

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George Floyd’s mother was not there, but he used her as a sacred invocation

With his dying breaths, Floyd called for her as an assurance of memory

A memorial was created for George Floyd on May 27, as protests over his death continued in Minneapolis. Steel Brooks/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

By Lonnae O’Neal

The video frame of George Floyd on Facebook, handcuffed on his stomach as a Minneapolis police officer presses his knee into Floyd’s neck, feels narrowed.

Floyd lies immobilized, groaning on the pavement as cars rush by, police radios beep and bystanders gather, yelling that Floyd’s nose is bleeding, that he is subdued, cursing and entreating the officers. “Let him breathe, man!” one bystander yelled.

Please, man!” Floyd begs as he is ground into the pavement. His pleas mix with the ambient noises around him. They are the disjointed sounds from the clash of belief systems and competing visions of sovereignty, of ownership, of authority over black bodies compressed into the narrow frame of Floyd’s last moments.

“Momma!” Floyd, 46, calls out. “Momma! I’m through,” the dying man says, and I recognize his words. A call to your mother is a prayer to be seen. Floyd’s mother died two years ago, but he used her as a sacred invocation.

“He is a human being!” comes an anguished plea from someone in a desperate attempt to engage the officers’ reason or compassion or oaths of office. But in that moment, those officers are beyond the reach of humanity. Not Floyd’s, but their own.

I didn’t want to click on the video. I didn’t want to see another police snuff film. I didn’t want to watch whatever it is that compels someone to put his knee into a man’s neck, until he can no longer draw breath. But I heard this black man had called out to his momma as he lay dying, and I too am a black mother. One of the ones since time immemorial who have to answer the sacred call. Who have to answer the call for the divine sisterhood of black mothers. Even when they are not our own, we are asked to bear witness.

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I was in the delivery room with my son, in pain with no medication, save the one that magnified my contractions. As my vision narrowed, I focused on a point above me and I heard the nurses talking about me as if I wasn’t there. I stared at the ceiling and over and over I called out for my mother. There are moments when it feels like life hangs in the balance, and in those moments, we want to go back to the beginning, when we were known.

Dying soldiers called out for their mothers, according to Civil War battlefield reports. Last year, an article from The Atlantic cited a hospice nurse. “Almost everyone is calling for ‘Mommy’ or ‘Mama’ with the last breath.”

We are the ballast. The anchors. A way for those who are close to the edge to find their way back, or their way home. This is true for black mothers, who are especially tested and learned in all the dread fates of black bodies. We are the hedge against the people who don’t see us. We are an assertion of black life.

For black people who feel they are about to be taken from themselves, we are the assurance of memory, of justice, of 10-hour waits to cast our ballots at polling places. We will not be moved.

I have often imagined 14-year-old Emmett Till calling for his momma, Mamie Till-Mobley, as he was kidnapped, tortured and killed over the false witness of Carolyn Bryant Donham. The black mother’s answer was to throw open her son’s casket and change the nation.

It is the duty of black mothers made sacred by all the ugly Karens (Beckys, Katies, et al.), who threaten to call the police on black people because they understand the country we live in. It has been made sacred by all the admonitions, and prayers — all the side deals we try to cut with our God when black boys cross streets, or play in parks, or get into cars, or grow into men who do anything at all while being black.

It is made sacred by our need to protect against all the people who think they hold dominion over black lives. Who overpolice or underfund, or over-report, or wag their fingers in our faces. The vacant-looking father and son with rifles in Georgia, the masked female portfolio manager waving her cellphone in New York, the reptilian officer who has learned how to kneel a man to death in Minnesota, may not see themselves. But we, the black mothers, see you.

As bystanders scream at Minneapolis officers, “He’s dying. You’re f—ing killing him,” Floyd is no longer moving, though he is not yet dead. In the ways black people have trained themselves to look at these things, in his final breaths, he has already won.

To call out to his mother is to be known to his maker. The one who gave him to her. I watched the Floyd video, for us, the living. It’s my sacred charge. I am a black mother.