Jun 22, 2015 - An Open Letter to White People on the Eve of Their Wake Up Call, By Cindy Gomez-Schempp
Dear White People:
I know this may come as a shock to most of you but times are a changin’. Yes. I know that normally times change but everything stays the same with White Supremacy so you normally don’t have to move a muscle. But this time things are different. It is becoming increasingly hazardous to be ignorant about race and racism in America. Up to this point, white Americans have been raised generation after generation on a steady diet of misinformation, lies, half-truths about the history and legacy of genocide, land theft, and slavery upon which this country was founded and run for centuries. None of that information, however, has been necessary for the happy and carefree functioning of the average white person.
For the most part, white folks have been able to blissfully navigate their lives racist saying things like the N-word and then saying something ignorant like “that’s not racist, that is just what people used to call them! My grandparents are from the south and they said it all the time. That doesn’t make them racist”, and having no one correct them. In fact, no matter how ignorant, dismissive, or inflammatory the racist drivel that comes out of white people is, up until now they have gleefully been able to say whatever their wagging tongues enticed them to without giving a second thought to any of it, or the consequences. And, up until now, white folks have had little to no consequences for their wrongdoings. But that is also changing.
In fact, this lack of punishment, backlash, feedback, has done two very harmful things to white people. One, it has made white folks unaware that what they are doing or saying is wrong because no one bothers to tell them. Two, it has made white folks think they are invincible and can’t possibly have any consequences for the racists things they say or do. That is why this open letter is so important. I’m here as an ally to save white people some grief, shame, and possibly even the loss of your job, your reputation, or your freedom. And, although I’m not a white person I can tell you that I’m married to a white man so, you know *wink, wink*!
So you may be asking yourself why I, a woman of color, would care to warn white folks. Well, the answer is simple. I care about white folks. I’m married to one. I’m surrounded by a society filled with white folks. Also, unlike white people the majority of whom (75 percent) don’t have a single person of color in their lives, I have to interact and intimately know the lives of whites. So, as someone who knows and interacts with white folks all the time I am on the front lines of what occurs to them when they falter or fail. I get to see up close and personal the humiliation, anger, pain and frustration they experience when life deals them a “NO” card and they’ve never heard the word before. And let me tell you. It isn’t pretty. From what I can tell about white folks’ reaction to being outed as racists (for examples see: Paula Deen, Donald Sterling, and some of the Baltimore cops being indicted to name a few) they don’t take it well. They seem genuinely shocked that there are consequences to their actions and that they as white people don’t have the final say on what is racist. No amount of GoFundMe campaigns with white supremacists support will erase the place these folks are garnering for themselves in the annals of history as racists.
Sadly, most white folks are still so oblivious to the race problem in America that a vast majority deny their white privilege, most don’t know their country’s history, and almost all white people will deny they have racial bias – – even though facts, science and history have all shows most white folks (and most people of color) have racial bias against people who aren’t caucasian. If you are in doubt about that look up the Dept. of Justice reports on racism in policing and in the justice system. Look up housing discrimination and redlining. Look up voter suppression and voter ID laws. Look up implicit bias and white fragility. But, before you go do all that research, let me tell you about the ways in which your ignorance will no longer be bliss.
This is by no means one of the major penalties which you will be punished with by doing or saying something racist to a person of color, but it will be one of the more common signals of things to come! You may have noticed that social media has become a war zone when it comes to conversations on race with people firmly entrenched in one camp or another. However, for people of color, we have been trained to get used to having white folks tell us how to identify ourselves (‘Don’t call yourself a Mexican, call yourself a Mexican-American) or feel about racism (‘Don’t make it about race. This is about money or power’) or how to talk about issues affecting People of Color (PoC) (‘You’re going to hurt your cause being so angry’) or when, or where we talk.
On social media, what this means is that white people feel entitled to enter conversations about race or racism and educate PoC on what is or isn’t discrimination. They consider themselves the gatekeepers of conversation and they feel it is perfectly normal for them to censor, silence, derail, minimize, or insult PoC (knowingly or unknowingly) without any repercussions. White folks count on the submission of PoC and that they can frighten us by threatening loss of a friendship we never really had to begin with. In the past, most PoC would simply self censor themselves to avoid confrontations. Today, however, PoC are tired. No. Let me rephrase that, we are exhausted. We need to regroup, process, and comfort each other from the constant barrage of grief we are being subjected to.
Here is what you can expect to experience. 1) Butt Out! You are going to be told as a white person that your input is unwanted. This will sting as you are used to being able to express your thoughts on every matter whether or not you know a lick about it. But, remind yourself that if you can manage to follow the advice and shut your trap, you might actually learn something and not sound like a racist! 2) Stop derailing. If a PoC is talking about the effects of white privilege in society and its impact on PoC, you should not come in to the conversation to pose a devil’s advocate type question like, “Are you sure this is about race?”. That will immediately make all the PoC want to defriend you. We are tired of hearing this nonsense. To your lilly white brain, the question may seem like an epiphany. But, try to remember that to a PoC you are the millionth white person asking this stupid question and the answer is still, NO! 3) Your input on how PoC should feel or think about racism isn’t wanted, and your suggested ideas have no value. Yes. I said it, when it comes to the lived experience of people of color, your perspective as a white person isn’t the same as the perspective of PoC about their own life or experiences. You are not a PoC and you never will be. It doesn’t matter if you had sex with a person of color, or if you have biracial children, or if your best friend is black, or if you went on a mission trip to Haiti and have pictures of yourself hugging black children as your cover photo on Facebook. You are still white! Telling PoC you ‘understand discrimination’ because you know a PoC is racist. As a white person you have to accept that you don’t know and can never know what it is like to be a person of color. I know this is difficult for you because no matter how ignorant you are about a topic, as a white person you are always allowed to comment without ramifications. But try to remember that if you piss off all the PoC in your timeline who are black and brown, you won’t have anymore people to tokenize when you say “But, my friend is Black!”. And then where will you be?! And even if you go all Rachel Dolezal on us, PoC aren’t going to accept your ‘opinion’ as being equal to their own. Try to remember that the best policy to avoid being unfriended is to stay in your lane and let the PoC express their own thoughts and feelings.
Being unfriended may not feel like the end of the world, especially after you triage your wounds by having your white friends tell you how crazy it is that anyone would label you as a racist. But social media is a powerful tool. Your racist comments are on public display for people to screenshot, share, and repost all over the internet. Which brings me to my second point:
One of the ways in which people of color are fighting back is that we are sharing the racist actions, comments, or words of white people in the form of videos, screenshots, memes, and more. And it doesn’t even matter to us whether or not the mainstream media ignores PoC stories, we still make them viral on the internet and social media. PoC are putting the cart before the news horse and forcing the media outlets to follow stories PoC are making popular in the news. Sure they can put a white frame around it and call black and brown folks “thugs” and “criminals” but by the time that story even came out of Bill O’Reilly’s mouth PoC already had a hayday with it on Tumblr, Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook. What the mainstream is doing these days is Monday morning quarterbacking for white folks’ sake.
In the meantime, what’s going on is this: your racism is being recorded for all posterity. Think about that. Sure, it may seem innocuous to you now to get into a flaming war on Facebook telling black folks that if protesters didn’t act so much like thugs and animals the police wouldn’t have to beat them. Or maybe it seemed like a good idea to you to post a comment of support with your donation on a GoFundMe account for one of the cops who have slain a unarmed black child. But, you should remember how we look back with disgust at the white people in the the images from the 60s about our history of racism and slavery. Remember the indelible picture of the ugly white women screaming at the black kids trying to go to school in Little Rock? How about the picture of police using water guns or attack dogs on black children who were protesting? Perhaps you can remember the hundreds of photos of lynchings that were circulated throughout America as postcards where people smiled and pointed at dead bodies in the frame? Your racists tweets, the screen shotted conversations of your racist rant, the racist jokes you sent around the office in an email, those comments at the end of a news story about Mexican people where you said they should all go back to where they came from. Those are the new lynch postcards. Your ancestors may have enjoyed the thrill of rushing to a lynching and participating in the melee, but you on the other hand are spared having to leave the comfort of your own home! Where once white folks took souvenir body parts and snapped pics of the dead, today whites can assassinate the character of the already dead online. Today white folks can be part of the post mortem with all the others who join in the chorus and consume the looped images of dead black and brown bodies in the media. And in the future, your racist posts will be viewed and remembered in history the same shameful way as those old lynching photos were, except that now your name will be directly attached to your actions forever. But before you kick the karmic can of your racism into the future, you have to know about the third danger facing white folks right now in the present:
Doxing and Getting White People Fired
There are now some consequences for white people acting in racially discriminatory ways that go beyond public shaming; it’s called doxing and it is getting white people fired. There are now a number of blogs and websites like ‘Racists Getting Fired’ on Tumblr which are devoted to identifying and exposing the identity of racist white folks on the internet and complaining about said racists to their employers or others. Doxing also has been used to expose criminal activities to authorities. What seems like a very isolated possibility for most white people, the idea that they could lose their jobs because of something racist they did or said online or outside of work, is becoming a very common phenomenon these days.
Hacktivist groups like the world famous Anonymous have used doxing as a way to call other hacktivists and the greater internet community to come together to find the identity of someone they believe has committed an offense for which they should be outed. During the #BlackLivesMatter movement, for example, Anonymous offered a cash reward for information leading to the identity of the plain clothed white man in the McKinney pool incident video who was helping police hold down black children; hacktivits were then called to use their resources to expose the identity of that man and any personal information about him. Anonymous has also targeted websites and taken them over, made them crash, shut them down or – – like they did in at least one instance – – flooded them with pornography. After an individual is identified and the facts about their lives begin to surface (their age, address, phone number, group affiliations, past and present employment, their blog pages, social media accounts, etc.) the entire internet is then invited to use the information to hold racists accountable.
The way in which the internet has punished these racist white folks with the information gained during the doxing are varied. Some people will flood their social media accounts and blog pages or websites with negative comments or bum rush them with so much traffic that they make their pages crash. Many people will create hashtags to mock racist white people, like the #SeanToon911 hastag poking fun at McKinney resident Sean Toon who called 911 on black kids at a pool party, or the #AskRachel and #WrongSkin hashtags making fun of the Too Tan Rachel Dolezal after her story broke on the internet. Social media will react with humor, albeit at the expense of the white person being roasted, to many of the tragedies that befall white folks who are exposed as racists. But the most damaging effect that doxing can have for white people is losing their jobs. Doxing has led most people who want to expose racists to do so by calling, emailing and boycotting businesses that employ them and thereby pressuring businesses to take a position on the actions of their employees.
People are getting fired, and it isn’t just Paula Deen. Teachers, clergy, politicians, police, and folks with average jobs as checkout clerks in Walmarts are too. They are all getting fired from their jobs after internet hoards find out about and expose their racism. The most recent case to make the national news was the white Bank of America employee identified in the McKinney video as starting the pool party incident in Texas. She has now hired famous attorney Gloria Allred to defend her from what she claims were racially motivated attacks against her white fanny! But, no matter how loudly she cries ‘reverse racism’ in court she will always be that famous racist white lady from the McKinney pool party incident.
The practice of doxing may seem unfair or even unethical and cruel to white people, but regardless of the assessment you may have doxing is here to stay so you might as well prepare yourselves. Much of your personal and private information is so readily available online through a myriad of ways that it’s nearly impossible for anyone to remain anonymous these days for too long. And just because you live in a gated community, it doesn’t mean you will be able to escape the scrutiny or the stigma that will follow you around forever. Just look at George Zimmerman, if you’d like to get a glimpse of what it looks like to be someone so steeped in the twin evils of privilege and denial as to end up becoming something between a public nuisance and your own worst enemy.
Look, I’m not here to explain or prove to white folks what racism is or where it lives. I’m simply here to let white folks know that I care about them and don’t want to see a majority of them (many of them who are my friends!) end up getting hurt, embarrassed, called racists, or fired from their jobs. Besides, even if I tried to point out the racialized reality of our country most white Americans would simply tune me out. So instead I am simply using this opportunity to warn those who wish to take heed how to keep themselves out of harm’s way.
Following the advice from my above three warnings for whites is important, but there is one more that may be the most important. It comes from the the the Bible in Proverbs and says, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” In other words, white folks should take a seat and listen to PoC. Perhaps, at least, waiting to see which way the wind is blowing before popping off with insights on PoC would help. Then, when it becomes crystal clear to you that it’s no longer PC to do something (like use the ‘n-word’ for example), you will finally stop on your own and even get to tell everyone you’ve always hated the n word and no one will be the wiser.
Because let’s face it, you won’t be doing any of these suggested things out of the goodness of your heart. It isn’t as if it never dawned on whites that treating people of color badly was wrong. They had a Civil War and ended slavery because they figured that stuff out! And if they forgot about that they also had a Civil Rights Movement that followed Jim Crow to remind them. What white Americans have isn’t like amnesia, it’s more like affluenza. And what it means is that even if you don’t personally believe in racism you can still be perpetrating it on others and acting like a self aggrandizing racist jerk in the process — all while being blissfully unaware. Just keep that in mind.
In the end this advice may not save you from having to some day answer the question “Where where you when Baltimore or Ferguson were burning?” or for answering for your mortal soul to your creator on the question of “Where where you when your brother was being slain?”, or to confronting your own conscience on the question of “Is racism a problem in America”, but it will keep you from facing any immediate repercussions like having an uncomfortable conversation with black people, or feeling embarrassed. It could also potentially save your melanin deficient hides from more serious consequences like getting fired or going to jail. And, in the interest of your own white privilege, isn’t covering your own asses really what counts the most?
By Cindy Gomez-Schempp
Station manager for KPPP FM radio, Board President of the People’s Press Project, former Editor-in-chief of the High Plains Reader, and culture and language educator and consultant. She is of Mexican descent with a background as a paralegal, author/writer, executive director, activist, social service worker, community organizer, and translator.