Sit Down, White America; You're Drunk!
Please, can we let this be enough?
Could we please let the long, blood-spattered history of white privilege just end, right here, right now? Could we possibly take a page from the 12 Step community, admit we have a problem, and then take concrete steps to make sure we don’t spend our lives poisoned by it? “We admitted we were powerless over racism, and that our privilege had become unmanageable.”
See, I know what it feels like to face the end of an addiction. Sometimes, just when it looks like you might break out, and that change is really happening, you “backslide”. You relapse. Two steps forward; one step back. Only the sad truth in America today is that for some, it feels like no steps forward – only more of the same – violent death for the “crime” of being black in America.
It felt like we might actually be making some progress, when in 2008 we elected a black man who said, “Yes, we can!” to the Presidency of the United States. He was not just a change of direction, he was a symbol of that change, and to some extent, therein lay the problem. Because after eight years of prosperity; eight years of relative peace and cooperation in the international community (cleanup of the wars he inherited notwithstanding); eight years that saw us making actual strides towards taking care of our most vulnerable and cleaning up our priceless planet, racist White America pushed back.
Unable to stay quietly in the shadows any longer, the fallen angels of our worst nature banded together and rallied around a Barnumesque con-man who knew just how to pull their strings: he mocked the disabled; called Mexican-Americans “rapists” and “criminals”; he was unrepentant when a video surfaced of him bragging about sexual predation. Most importantly, he made his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again”, which to the White American at the base of his support meant, “Make White Privilege Safe to Enjoy Again.” And it worked. And the mechanism that the wealthy landowners who wrote the Constitution put into the Constitution to ensure their votes would carry more weight than that of the “unwashed masses” in the cities – the Electoral College – put the wealthy property owner who lost the popular vote into the Oval Office, where he has done everything within his power to make it as if the Presidency of Barack Hussein Obama never happened.
But Barack Obama WAS our President, and every time he speaks, he reminds us what “Presidential” looks like. And it looks nothing like the painted narcissist currently befouling his old office. Oh, sure, he is still anathema to that portion of MAGA-hat wearing White America that has crawled from under its rock to openly and defiantly reclaim white privilege. But the longer the Racist-in-Chief is on the job, the worse he looks; the worse America looks; the worse the values his supporters cling to like a wino to a bottle of Night Train look.
But in the meantime, there is the body count. There are the names like George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and a list of modern day lynchings that goes on and sickeningly on. There is the pervasive unease that Black America experiences merely by living, that we who are white can know nothing of. Not safe while driving; not safe while walking; not safe while exercising; not safe in what White America refers to as “the safety of their own home”. Not safe, period. Combat and domestic abuse survivors can attest to the disabling power of the anxiety that comes with never feeling safe. It comes with a breaking point. And sadly but understandably, for many in Black America, that point is now.
So, White America, this is what we in the recovery community refer to as “an intervention”. Since the black community’s other, more docile attempts at drawing attention to police brutality directed towards persons of color was simply being criticized or ignored, it is now time for sterner measures. We may not like those measures, we may not agree with those measures, but claiming those measures are not necessary is a drunk staggering through a field sobriety test at the scene of a deadly car crash with a bottle in one hand. We are embarrassing ourselves, killing our neighbors, and insisting we have every right to do so, because we’re white. But we don’t.
Sit down and STFU, White America; you’re drunk.
So, how do we get clean and sober from a history of privilege and violence? Well, again borrowing from the Steps, perhaps it could look like this:
We have to admit we have a problem (racism/privilege), and it is time we stopped attempting to manage it.
We need to admit that it’s going to take something bigger than us to get our minds right. We might like to think that is a Higher Power (like God), but a glimpse at both American history and at the sycophantic Evangelicals who surround the Racist-in-Chief demonstrates that religion in general, and mainstream Christianity in particular is much more a part of the problem than it is the solution.
We need to actually give up the power and control to a collective consciousness of righteousness, led by our Black, Latinx, Asian, Native American, and “other” citizens.
We need to get honest with ourselves about our underlying racisms, sexisms, and “otherisms”. We need to understand the pieces of our lives they have their hooks in. Most of all, we need to understand what it is we are afraid of. Admit this to ourselves and to each other, and abandon our white fragility. Our desire to not listen to the wrongs inflicted on people of color in the United States is NOT more important than our need to listen to the stories of those who are suffering.
We need to first become willing to let go of our racism and the privilege that it has bought us, and then we need to actually let go of it. We do this by speaking up when we witness oppression, by calling out other white people when they make subtle (or not so subtle) racist jokes or comments because they assume we all agree with that kind of evil, by believing people of color when they tell us their experiences, by advocating for people of color with whom we come into contact. Be the person who calls out Uncle Chester when he makes that racist remark. Be the one who speaks up at work for the colleague of color who was not included in key decision-making meetings. Learn how to effectively intervene in the face of public, racist attacks – which, sadly, happen all the time. Videos on how to do this are all over YouTube, and if, like me, you are a 6’2” white guy, your physical presence and credibility may actually make the difference between life and death for a beloved brother or sister.
We need to make a long, long list of all the persons our racism and privilege has harmed, and then we need to actually make real amends to those persons. Not just a “We’re sorry….”, but REAL amends. Reparations amends. As white people, we should advocate for reparations for those people of color whose ancestors fueled our ancestors’ wealth, and whose oppression enabled our ancestors’ ascendency. Yes, it’s a big price tag. Yes, it should be.
We need to continue to monitor our individual, corporate, and community practices to catch new outbreaks of racism and privilege and stop them in their tracks; making amends immediately. Boycott businesses with racist practices. Sign petitions against businesses who discriminate. March as allies in protests, in person or virtual. It is not the task of black America to educate us about racism. It is OUR task to educate ourselves so that we can be better allies, friends, and neighbors.
We need to stay united in critical conversation and in sacred community with all of our brothers, sisters, and non-gendered siblings to continually improve our conscious contact with the great WE ARE. Our privilege has all too often allowed us to avoid these conversations, and we use the specious “spiritual” justification that we don’t want to be exposed to the negativity. But our brothers and sisters of color don’t EVER get to opt out of that world of “negativity.” Refuse to look away.
We need to unabashedly share the message of unity, equality and peace with all of our soul-sick white family, and practice the principles of justice, love, compassion, and peace in all of our affairs. This isn’t accomplished through some artificial “color-blindness,” which is really just another way of saying, “I see all people as if they were white” (which is both not true, insulting, dehumanizing, and impossible). Celebrate the diversity in our family; see people for who they are, with their unique backgrounds and experiences.
My friends, I know how hard it is to change, and how much it hurts to admit that we’ve been wrong; that we’ve been the cause of hurt for others. But I promise you, what is beyond the pain of change is worth it. And just as I owed my family better than the drunk I once was, we, White America, owe our human family better than the power and privilege-drunk murderers we are now. And if we don’t wake up and get sober now, I hate to think of what it will take.