#WhitesAgainstTrump: Following Up, Following Through, and a Call To Action
For many white people, November 9th 2016 marked a turning point in their view of America’s trajectory of human rights progress. However, for Americans of color in particular, this trajectory was never taken for granted and the election of Donald Trump was, in many ways, anything but a surprise. Since election day, countless opinion pieces have been written attempting to understand why and how Donald Trump, with his message of populism and white nationalism, captured the hearts of so many voters. While many feel despair and fear at the uncertain course ahead, there is also reason for hope and, most importantly, the requirement for action. Among the many valuable analyses offered, why do we choose to continue to focus on racial justice, and why is anti-racist white organizing an important tool in the Trump America?
Prior to the election, a network of dedicated white anti-racist activists across the country tried to prevent the reality of a Trump presidency. These efforts failed. If we are going to be effective in bringing about a more just and equitable society, quite simply more white people need to step into anti-racist action in this country. The role of white people is not that of “savior” but rather to recognize that we, as white people, also suffer under the current white supremacist system, and we too, need to be freed. While white people are profound beneficiaries of white supremacy, there is also a moral and psychological toll exacted through generations of the perpetration of dehumanizing violence and the breakdown of empathy. Of course, it is also in the self-interest of white people to be able to work effectively in multiethnic coalitions, to not be pitted against people of color to fight over scarce resources, which sabotages unity in demand for better wages, clean air and water, access to good education, housing and healthcare. White anti-racism efforts serve to recognize, repair, and reclaim a new way of being white in the world that rejects white supremacy and works to dismantle it. We work in concert with people of color so that we may all be liberated from the oppression of violence, injustice, scarcity of resources, and the failures of human empathy that we see around us. Not in more than a generation has it been so clear to wide swaths of the American citizenry that their liberation is at stake.The great indigenous activist, Lilla Watson, famously said, “if you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, let us work together.”
White People 4 Black Lives emerged in Los Angeles in 2014 as a white, anti-racist activist collective. We were responding to the explosion of anti-Black violence nationally, and the failure of our “criminal justice system” to redress its own endemic racism. Our immediate desires were to support the Movement for Black Lives, the L.A. chapter of Black Lives Matter, and to “call in” other white people to help end white supremacy and all manifestations of institutionalized racism. Soon after, we affiliated with national SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), which had organized in 2009 to address the anti-Black backlash and rise in visible racist attacks following the election of Barack Obama. We have work to do and the uphill battle will be steep. We are calling upon our fellow white people of conscience who may be questioning the status quo, wondering how we got to a Trump presidency, feeling motivated to take action but hesitating out of fear of getting it wrong or having no idea what to do in this crucial moment in time.
To white folks who have been activated by a Trump presidency and looking for what to do, here are a few suggestions:
- Read and Learn: Due to the whitewashing of American history in schools, and politicians who push a color-blind agenda, race is often never discussed in white homes or communities. It’s no wonder, then, that white people so often struggle for adequate understanding, context, and vocabulary to describe the various forms of racism and their impacts on individuals and society. It is important for us as white folks to commit to self education; we don’t want to put the burden of this work on people of color. It’s not their responsibility to carry us through our anti-racist education process. There are many great works by people of color as well as white anti-racists to draw from. A great tool is the Black Lives Matter Syllabus, but don’t stop there.
- Be mindful of language: Many Facebook posts following Trump’s election were filled with statements of shock and dismay, particularly from white people, many of whom were seemingly unaware of how pervasive white racist sentiment still is in this country. During the campaign it was easy enough for us with white skin privilege to dismiss Trump’s followers as “fringe,” while people of color were warning that white supremacy is indeed a real and viable political strategy and still infests the hearts and minds of enough white people to get him elected. We must be mindful of the language we use on social media and elsewhere; our shock as white people only serves to discount and minimize the lived experiences of the most marginalized. There are many thoughtful pieces circulating from people of color who want white folks to move from “shock” into action.
- Find an existing organization and get involved: There are many white folks who are newly engaged and activated because of a Trump presidency, and this is wonderful. Unfortunately, though, racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and islamophobia were problems in America long before Trump’s candidacy. Fortunately, amazing networks, organizations and individuals already exist with years and decades of experience working for social justice and human rights. Before trying to reinvent the wheel, check if there’s a local group already doing the work that speaks to you. Chances are they can use more hands and resources; your time may be best utilized supporting an organization that’s been around awhile. You can find local white anti-racist chapters across the country here.
- If you can’t find an organization in your area, start one: There are many places in the U.S. that still lack infrastructure for anti-racist organizing. Those areas will need some heavy lifting when it comes to transforming hearts, minds, and institutions. Starting from the ground up is hard, but rewarding. There are toolkits for starting your own chapter here.
There’s value in remembering that there are many justice advocates who have been working for decades during more and less hospitable Presidential administrations. State oppression is, perhaps, an existential given of modern life. We are in a period of renewed visibility of the oppressive structures and it may get worse before it gets better. History serves both as a caution and as an inspiration.
Finally, we have reason for optimism and hope. Current social, economic, environmental, and racial justice movements are alive and well. They are also intersecting with each other, supporting one another, and working together in ways that previous issue-oriented movements did not. Based on this, we envision the potential for a mass movement broader and deeper than even the Civil Rights, Anti-Vietnam War, and Women’s Movements. White anti-racism is a key ingredient to a mass movement. Demographics alone require meaningful and substantial white participation in large-scale social movements if we want to see real change.
White People 4 Black Lives (WP4BL) is a white anti-racist collective and activist project of the Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere (AWARE-LA) and operates within a national network of white anti-racists called Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). WP4BL is rooted in acting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter: Los Angeles locally, and the Movement for Black Lives nationally. If you are in Los Angeles and would like to get involved, send an email to whitepeople4racialjustice "at" gmail.com