A letter to white liberals, my family and friends,
Donald Trump’s rhetoric, and that of the people who support him, makes each of you uncomfortable.
I share your discomfort, anger, sadness, and, at times, terror over what might come as Trump rolls out his nightmare vision of technologically armed white supremacist government.
But I am writing with a frank reminder and an urgent plea.
First, the reminder: radical queers, trans people, black people, Muslims, incarcerated people, Native Americans, immigrants and the undocumented, people with disabilities, and those who live at the intersections of these identities—all have lived with this discomfort and terror for decades or centuries. So, to watch this may feel like a nightmare unfolding, but its contours are not new.
Unfortunately, marginalized people have often appeared in liberal and Democratic efforts as tokens, people whose lives and value have been invoked in order to win elections but whose humanity has been negated by actual policy. In particular, too many liberals have been complacent toward mass incarceration, police violence and global militarized capitalism, which have kept whole groups of people vulnerable and unsafe in the U.S. and around the world.
Even before this election, we have been asking for something bigger, something more visionary than token diversity: A world in which Black lives really do matter. A world in which trans bodies are celebrated and safe. An end to white supremacist policies of incarceration and border control that take many lives each year. Economic justice and a rebuke of neoliberalism and privatization of basic needs like water, a demand that people across the globe have access to land, work, water, shelter and power.
These are beautiful possibilities, full of hope and solidarity. And yet when we ask for those things as a comprehensive vision, we are portrayed as absurd, as outsiders with impossible dreams.
Now another group of would-be outsiders, unabashed white supremacists, has just proven that that they can win through normalizing their messages and pushing their leaders to do the same. Still, some liberals refuse to normalize our messages, our demands: we are called unrealistic for wanting to transform the system toward justice. But Trump and the people he surrounds himself with are transforming it right now, to suit their own vision of post-liberal white supremacist capitalism, unimpeded by the civil and human rights of people like us.
Now for the plea: The Democrats on Capitol Hill will stop this, you hope. Perhaps this is possible. But those of us who have been disappointed and betrayed by the Democratic Party elite too many times before will not sit idly by and wait for it to happen again. We will not allow ourselves to be silenced in the name of compromise; we will not accept it when we are told that by asking for a voice we are impeding progress. There has been too much of that already.
When we look to history, we see that when the left has shifted left, it has not been because we accepted compromise, but because we demanded change. Queers at Stonewall advanced the unrealistic demand that queers not be bashed by police in nightclubs; Black people advanced the unrealistic demand that both slavery and Jim Crow segregation end; people with disabilities advanced the unrealistic demand that they be allowed to participate in public life.
Please do not be cowed and intimidated by political elites who continue to insist we must compromise with them in order to be “realistic.” These are the people who have guided us into global climate change and an imminent mass extinction, carrying the torch of compromise into oblivion. Any suggestion of making deals with a man who endorses racial profiling, despises freedom of religion, and panders to people who contribute to a culture of death for me and the people I love is unacceptable.
These compromises build Donald Trump’s power, and they play out in the deaths of people in my community and my friends’ communities, through murder, drugs, police violence, incarceration, poverty, illness and suicide. Real people’s bodies have already been in the crosshairs.
If you feel lost in the face of all this, perhaps you can find solace in a different path.
What would that look like? You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t have to be your idea, your organization, your network. There are already many pathways toward working accountably in solidarity with oppressed people: for example, you could join a national organization of white people standing in solidarity with organizers of color, called Showing Up for Racial Justice. Its focus is a blend of self-education and turning out in concrete ways to support racial justice efforts led by people of color. The people I know with SURJ in swing states devoted many Saturdays leading up to the election door-knocking and engaging in deep conversation with other white people about racism and white supremacy. They are running a hotline this Thanksgiving for white people ready to confront their families about racism. They saw this coming; they developed tactics to prevent it; they did not win, in part because they didn’t have enough people. If you didn’t see this coming, I hope you will consider joining them now, or starting something similar of your own. It is not too late.
Some of you have asked me what new tactics might be. I think we need to look no further than the most successful and visionary social justice movement leaders of our time, Black Lives Matter. Did you know they have an expansive platform that goes beyond police violence? Their tactics: to reframe the national discussion through tireless media production affirming their message that all Black lives matter. To stage disciplined and strategic protests *each time* a black person is executed by police. To push those in leadership on the so-called left, such as Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, to shift their stance away from silence, a tactic that brought their issues to the fore repeatedly in 2016. To demand accountability for the deaths of black people. To lead within the movement by centering black women and trans people’s leadership, rather than add it as an afterthought. Theirs is an inclusive, broad vision for justice.
The reasons that Black Lives Matter is not perceived by most of the public, particularly the white public, as the visionary and strategic civil rights movement of our time have everything to do with media coverage and with white supremacy. I ask you—implore you—to walk past your doubts about this movement and actually read, listen, and talk about what they have said and advocated for. Not what you believe they stand for; not what you feel about police officers as individuals; what they actually do stand for.
I beg you to take this seriously: Donald Trump talks openly about establishing a registry for all Muslims in the United States. Don’t try to parse his words on this, or on the wall, or on the deportations, so that you can feel better this weekend. A religious registry is quite literally how the Holocaust began.
You are thoughtful people. I know each of you has asked yourself, during the Nazi Holocaust, a lynch mob, Japanese internment—where would I be? Who would I be? Surely, you think, none of us would be marching people to the gas chambers or hanging someone from a tree. But neither will most Trump supporters. I have met them and spoken to them and I assure you: Most of them are normal white people, not rabid lynchers with swastika tattoos. Most of them will be bystanders, allowing it to happen by not speaking out. Bystanders are the most dangerous kinds of people, unstoppable in their silence. Would you have been a bystander then? Will you be one now?
Now is the time to ask yourself that question. Police unions, whose members are already routinely engaging in killings of black people and people with disabilities in the streets, have been empowered in their lack of accountability by Trump’s win. Where will you be each time another person is killed through legal lynching? Where will you be when our friends are marched down to the Muslim registry? Where will you be standing as an environment of murderous attacks on trans women is retrenched by this administration? Where will you be as pipelines, newly unregulated factories, coal mines roll out contamination into our rivers and into poor kids’ lungs and water unabated? Will you stand with us as a centerpiece of your stance? Will you trust the leadership of those who have already been in the crosshairs?
The culture of violence against the most oppressed is going to increase, and the movement to support them in the most basic ways is small. We need people: we need you.
Action can be as simple as writing a letter; giving money to organizations that center the leadership and safety of the most marginalized; a few hours of your time phone-banking. It can be as tedious as attending meetings, trying to help organizations build and grow (and I believe in this work! We must show up with joy, art, celebration, pleasure, to make activist meetings less tedious!), or it can look like forming an affinity group and protesting on the front lines. You ask what you can do: I say, almost anything is better than nothing.
But I feel very strongly that our actions now must stand for a wilder, more hopeful vision—of social and racial justice, of radically inclusive community, of decarceration, police abolition, and transformative approaches to violence and harm, of open borders, food access, and an absolute stop to the destruction of the climate and earth’s waterways. Find the people who are asking for these things and have been, and stand by them now. The left has parried, shifted, pandered, and left so many lying in the dust of neoliberalism, so many homeless and in prison and dead; that some of those people won’t turn out a vote for the party now shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Now is the time to leave behind the politics of complacency with white supremacy, and shift towards a vision of collective liberation that centers the oppressed. It takes people to build a movement: we need you to be those people. I ask you to consider what could change if we all believed that we could win. I ask you to imagine a world without the anger, sadness, and terror so many of you felt on the morning of November ninth.
If not now, I sincerely ask you, when?
Some organizations to consider supporting financially or with your time, not a conclusive list!!!
[for stopping deportations]: Families for Freedom http://familiesforfreedom.org/about
Not1More Deportation http://www.notonemoredeportation.com/
[for addressing Islamophobia]: Council on American Islamic Relations https://www.cair.com/
Arab American Action Network http://www.aaan.org/
[for supporting prisoner solidarity]: Black and Pink http://www.blackandpink.org/
Equal Justice Initiative https://eji.org/
[for moving money and wealth]: Resource Generation https://resourcegeneration.org/
[for working in mostly-white spaces to address racism]: SURJ http://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/about
[for reproductive justice]: Forward Together http://forwardtogether.org/about
[for media justice]: Center for Media Justice http://centerformediajustice.org/about/our-people/staff/
[supporting Black-led struggle]: Color of Change https://colorofchange.org/
Black Lives Matter http://blacklivesmatter.com/
[supporting Native-led struggle]: NoDAPL Solidarity https://nodaplsolidarity.org/
Or find out what’s going on locally! Who is fighting deportations already? Who is taking anti-racist action in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and Muslim- and immigrant-led groups? I’m sure your support could be useful in some way. Reach out and find out how!