Our Liberation Is Bound Together

By Dr. Nicole Evans, Faybra Hemphill, Daisy Han, and Katie Kitchens

“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” ― Lilla Watson

Foreword:

Our liberation is bound together. During this time, those of us who are in this work, and particularly we as Black people, are struggling. My emotions have ranged from exhaustion, anger, sadness, fear, numbness, to flat out disbelief. How do we wrap our minds and our hearts around this without isolating ourselves, without feeling stuck and without stifling our voice in expressing what we are experiencing? Most importantly, how do we collectively move forward?

In this piece, you will see three distinct parts written to distinct audiences. Part one is written by a Black woman, Faybra Hemphill, and is addressed to everyone. She will call you to action, to be accountable to Black leadership, to use your power, and to take responsibility for your own learning. Part two is written by an Asian American woman, Daisy Han, specifically for non-Black People of Color. Part three is written by a white person, Katie Kitchens, to address the violence of white silence and white fragility.

Our experiences are different yet deeply rooted in the same societal ills of racism, and specifically anti-Blackness. Anti-Blackness, a term coined by Dr. Akua Benjamin, highlights the unique impact of systemic racism and the history of slavery and colonization on people of Black-African descent. Our way forward to dismantling, disrupting, healing, and liberating depends on excavating the roots of anti-Blackness together.

In solidarity,
Dr. Nicole Evans

Part 1: This for everyone.
Part 2: This is for non-Black People of Color.
Part 3: This is for white folks.

Part 1: This is for everyone.

By Faybra Hemphill

We’ve been here. It’s been hard; it’s been violent; it’s been terrifying to be Black in America. If you live long enough as a Black person in this country, then you get used to these ongoing, disgusting, brutal injustices against Black people. It should not take another tragedy like the murder of George Floyd for people to finally seek out Black voices. But institutionally and culturally people have failed to listen to Black leadership.

With every tragedy, there’s public outcry and a scrambling search for Black leaders. Each time a deep sense of irony is ever-present because institutions of power consistently fail to effectively engage and be accountable to Black leadership. It seems that we only look for Black leadership when it’s convenient, an emergency, and when feelings are hurt. We demand that Black leaders lean-in, share more, give more, and take care of our feelings, reassuring us with messages of positivity, unity, and hope.

In these times of tragedy and injustice as people search for ways forward, I ask non-Black People of Color and white people to ask yourself:

How have I been complicit?

How have I failed to be a radical collaborator?

Have I invested my own time and resources to achieve change?

How have I prepared myself to lead by example in my own life and sphere of influence?

This is the critical, unavoidable internal work that needs to happen in interrogating the anti-blackness within non-Black, People of Color communities, and white people seeking to be antiracist co-conspirators. My hope is that you begin to do this through the reading of Part 2/Part 3.

Here in St. Louis, Forward Through Ferguson (FTF) carries the task of amplifying Black voices and strategizing systems change as a vehicle for Racial Equity since the Ferguson uprising of 2014. FTF’s purpose is to catalyze the 189 calls to action identified in the Ferguson Commission report, an unflinching study of the root causes of the vast inequities and racial tension in the Saint Louis region, that offers systemic recommendations and measures to find a way forward. This is something I want to amplify to those who seek to gain inspiration from where we have been, and are grappling with the racialized, multigenerational disconnect between those defined as “the people” and those defined as “leadership.” There is certainly room for all of us. What counts is how we make space for each other — holding the possibility of multiple truths, listening deeply to each other, and affirming our collective humanity.

Here are three Black-led national organizations that have been doing this work and that you can directly support:

  1. The Black Futures Lab transforms Black communities into constituencies that change the way power operates — locally, statewide, and nationally.
  2. #BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.
  3. Black Visions Collective (BLVC) believes in a future where all Black people have autonomy and safety is community-led. As an organization dedicated to Black liberation and to collective liberation, BLVC builds the resources needed to integrate healing justice into all that they do.

Finally, Black authors have contributed countless precious books, articles, and reflections articulating the Black experience in America and efforts to disrupt systemic racism.

Here are some of my favorites:

In Conclusion

Listen to Black leadership. Educate yourself on the leadership landscape and what has already been happening, saving room for nuance and diversity of strategies. Invest your time and resources in people who have been fighting for Black lives for years.

If you are a non-Black Person of Color, read Part 2 and interrogate your own anti-blackness by joining a community that will hold you accountable to your learning and growth. The Embracing Identity Intentionally Racially Diverse cohort is one space you can do so with us.

If you are a white person, read Part 3 and check your privilege and commit yourself to analyzing the ways in which you are similar to Amy Cooper and the officer that murdered George Floyd rather than searching for ways in which you are exempt — do not rationalize how you are different, or how you would never do this. Read the resources shared here, take responsibility for your own learning, and hold yourself and the other white folks in your life compassionately accountable to taking action.

Part 2: This is for non-Black, People of Color.

By Daisy Han

When I learned the term and concept of “white fragility,” It felt like this sickness I had been coping with my whole life finally got a diagnosis. It has a name.

I was released from thinking it was because of me that I had to bear the exhausting weight of carefully navigating daily interactions with white people, knowing this nebulous thing (white fragility) could lead to many dangers.

What was I willing to risk and give up by choosing to question this white person’s assumed neutrality/objectivity? What could I do to backtrack if my comment activated white fragility? How can I package my feelings and express them in a way that will be palatable for my white colleague? How do I say this in a way that allows this white person to not feel personally implicated?

As a non-Black, Person of Color, I was implicitly taught to double-check and censor myself to avoid activating white fragility. It was embedded into my upbringing as a Person of Color in the United States. This racist society so effectively taught me to believe that I am defective; I am hostile/loud/abrasive/angry/not-a-team-player as I reject racial stereotyping of Asian American leadership.

Later, learning about the depth and nuances of white fragility (or what sociologist Robin DiAngelo more accurately calls racial bullying) allowed me to relinquish this notion that I was the problem because of a personal deficit or weakness. Rather, I learned that I was intentionally made to be sick and feel less than because the entire system was designed to maintain white power.

These feelings are not unique to me. People of Color are constantly navigating white fragility because of the inability of white people to tolerate racial stress and their learned conditioning to wield their white privilege when confronted with racial inequality and injustice.

Without fail and despite numerous proactive measures, this sickness manifests in every workshop we facilitate at Embracing Equity.

Almost like an anticipated earthquake, I can start to feel a rumble before the full seismic upheaval. And my instinct, honed by decades of conditioning to survive and to succeed, is to coddle the fragility.

“We assume good intent. Nobody here is a bad person. None of us here created white supremacy culture. We’re all responsible for disrupting systemic racism. All. We. Us.”

What I have had to honestly confront is the fact that as a non-Black Person of Color, I experience racism, but not anti-blackness and because of this, I am able to choose to align myself with whiteness when it comes to the specific ways in which racism uniquely impacts my Black siblings.

In many ways, my racial identity as a non-Black, Person of Color can effectively function as a shield that holds me back from examining my own privilege and actually confronting the issue of anti-blackness that runs through my socialization and my Asian American community.

We also have the power and responsibility to do something about the racism that exists as it relates to Black people. If we believe that Black lives matter and we proclaim to fight for liberation, then we as non-Black People of Color, must dismantle the anti-Blackness we have internalized.

Coddling white fragility is a way of continuing to enforce the hierarchy of white supremacy culture because it grasps onto the concept that “at least you are better off than the person who is worse off in the hierarchy.” In a system that is based on power, the inclination is to want to hold on to any little bit of power and control you have.

In my Asian American community, the popular “model minority myth” perpetuates the narrative that Asians are the “good” minority group — the ones who are obedient and work hard. What isn’t made transparent is the fact that this myth was invented by white people in the 1960s as a strategic move to divide Asians from working in solidarity with Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color.

As historian Ellen Wu explains in her book, The Color of Success, the model minority stereotype was a narrative spun by both liberal and conservative politicians. In order to present Black poverty as the moral failing of individuals rather than the intended result of a system of racist exploitation, politicians pumped up the image of Asian Americans as “success stories.” This move obscured the legacy of radical Black and Asian American solidarity modeled in the lives of Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs, and remains a persistent wedge in cross-racial coalition building.

George Floyd’s murder is the result of white supremacist violence buttressed by collusion from People of Color. George Floyd’s murder began the moment a Palestinian American man called the police to report the use of an allegedly forged $20 bill. The video capturing George Floyd’s murder is once again an example of white people using their power against Black lives and an Asian American person standing complicit next to his white partner. Officer Tou Thao unequivocally aligned himself to white supremacy, but what he fails to realize is that his own complicit anti-Black racism is part of the same system of oppression that views him as a perpetual foreigner and inferior human.

As Floyd’s sister, Bridgett Floyd said so plainly, “I would like for those officers to be charged with murder because that’s exactly what they did. They murdered my brother; he was crying for help.” The other officers, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and J. Alexander Kueng are all guilty as accessories to murder.

As non-Black People of Color, we have directly benefited from the labor and activism of Black leaders who have carried a disproportionate load of combating racism. Lumping Black people under the umbrella of “People of Color” when addressing an issue that specifically affects Black people obfuscates the unique oppression of anti-Blackness. As non-Black People of Color, what are we actually doing to disrupt anti-Blackness within ourselves and our communities? How does this value show up in our own lives and choices? How do we hold ourselves accountable to following through?

I humbly offer you three commitments from my own antiracism action plan that you are welcome to adopt into your antiracism practice:

  1. Reinvest funds on an ongoing basis.
    (1) The three Black-led organizations listed by Faybra in Part 1 are incredible organizations doing the work on the ground: The Black Futures Lab; #BlackLivesMatter; Black Visions Collective. (2) North Star Health Collective includes street medics, radical health organizers, and community health trainers. (3) The George Floyd Memorial Fund which will cover funeral and burial expenses, mental and grief counseling, lodging and travel for all court proceedings, and to assist the Floyd family in the days to come as we continue to seek justice for George. A portion of these funds will also go to the Estate of George Floyd for the benefit and care of his children and their educational fund.
  2. Resist coddling white fragility; Disrupt it.
    When you build your own critical consciousness, you will become more and more attuned to when white fragility is wielded. When you notice it, commit to calling it out, especially before a Black person has to do this labor. Remember, you have the privilege to do so with less risk than a Black person because of the pathological anti-Blackness that undergirds systemic racism in the US and the ways in which Black people are more severely retaliated against than non-Black People of Color. I give myself one or two deep breaths, and then state something along the lines of, “I notice white fragility here and I’m wondering how, in the spirit of compassionate accountability, we can disrupt this before it causes more harm to People of Color in the space.” In instances when I notice People of Color coddling white fragility, I reach out one-on-one to offer a space for processing, healing, reflection, and support.
  3. Show up — no excuses.
    When there’s an opportunity to be in solidarity and, especially when you are asked to do something/talk/support, then show up. If there are no Black voices in your immediate circle asking you to show up, then reflect on why that is. Showing up doesn’t just happen in moments where the news cycle has caught up to the constant racist violence that is a daily reality for Black people in the US; it happens a month from now, a year from now in the daily, ongoing relationship and coalition building that allows us to strategically and sustainably link arms in the fight for liberation.

These are just three ways I have committed to engaging in antiracism in myself, and I am constantly making mistakes and learning from them. Every day I remind myself of Ijeoma Oluo’s words of wisdom that, “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”

Part 3: This is for white folks.

By Katie Kitchens

Take three deep breaths.

If you are able to do so, close your eyes. Bring your attention to your body. What is happening in your body right now? Where is there space? Where are you holding tension? Is your heart beating quickly? Are your shoulders tense? Take a moment to acknowledge where your body is in this moment.

Now, watch this video. And as you do, continue to pay attention to what is happening in your body.

What is your first reaction? Shock? Horror? Anger? Shame?

I recognize a familiar feeling rising in my chest: A desire to swiftly separate myself from Amy Cooper, to bury my head in the sand and soothe myself with a narrative of difference. Something that sounds like: “of course, another white woman weaponizing fragility violently.” Something that fortifies my belief in myself as a “good” white person and separates me from those racist behaviors that I find reprehensible.

It is easy to get stuck in this place.

Goodness knows how many enraged, self-centered Facebook, and Instagram posts I’ve written in order to subtly seek absolution for the deep shame I feel about my whiteness. But this inclination is harmful and unproductive for a number of reasons.

First, it does nothing to contribute toward movements of racial justice and instead centers my need to feel not racist. In his seminal book, My Grandmother’s Hands, Resmaa Menakem discusses the perpetual adolescence of white folks who collectively refuse to take responsibility for:

“developing the full range of necessary skills for navigating adulthood. Instead of building resilience, and accepting the full pain and grief and disappointment of human existence, they outsourced some of that pain, grief, and disappointment to dark-skinned bodies” (Menakem, 2017, p. 211).

Instead of learning how to address my shame and guilt and transform it into action, I fall back on the fragility responses that return me to a sense of racial equilibrium where I can once again feel affirmed in my goodness and racial innocence (DiAngelo, 2018).

We see this tendency in responses to the video that express more concern for the dog than for the Black man in imminent danger of having state-sanctioned violence waged against him. We see it again in calls by white women for empathy, positioning Amy Cooper as fearful because she was being “threatened” by a man. Such statements are usually followed by something like “it wouldn’t matter what color he was, I would feel scared about being approached by a strange man.” And we see it yet again in the admonishment of protestors calling for justice in a system that has continually silenced and dismissed peaceful action.

These are bypassing tactics, whether conscious or unconscious, a means of not having to talk about the blatant racism enacted by Amy Cooper, the same racism that led to the murder of George Floyd. It is a means of not having to see ourselves in Amy Cooper and Derek Chauvin’s white rage. Yes, as white folks we exist in a system that has intentionally miseducated us on race and racism so that we can continue to perpetuate it.

And, it is past time that we take responsibility for our own learning, our own humanity, in order to actually show up in solidarity in movements toward racial justice.

Instead of sharing videos of folks like Amy Cooper, BBQ Becky, and Permit Patty, and trying to illustrate how I am different from the folks shown in them, I can seek to see myself within them.

I can ask myself:

How does white fragility manifest within me?

What does it feel like when white fragility shows up in my body?

When I become aware of white fragility being activated, what is my action plan?

Who is another white person who I know will hold me compassionately accountable (Sam Simmons) to addressing this manifestation of white fragility?

How will I make sure I don’t seek absolution for my behavior rather than addressing it?

How am I working with other white folks to transform white fragility into accountability and action?

My desire to separate myself from other white folks, to avoid addressing the shame and guilt I feel about my whiteness, also undermines my ability to work in partnership with my white siblings to uproot the manifestations of white supremacy within ourselves and our communities.

If I am the only white person striving for antiracist practice that I know, I’m not actually working toward liberation. I am centering myself again, focusing on my desire to be seen as a “good” white person.

Instead, I can commit to continuously engaging the other white folks in my life in conversations about race and racism. Not only on social media, or only in the presence of People of Color, but in the all-white places where white silence and white solidarity thrive.

One tool I’ve found helpful to encourage this practice in myself is setting a daily reminder on my phone that asks: “Have I spoken with another white person about race today?” It encourages me to reflect, act, and be honest with myself about when, where, and why I am upholding white supremacy.

While white fragility may conjure images of crying, wilting, and weakness, it functions as a violent tool used in the maintenance of white power. Our lack of willingness to show up collectively and address our fragility results in the continued brutalization and murder of People of Color.

In this instance, Amy Cooper weaponized her inability to emotionally regulate, her anti-Blackness, and her position as a white woman to reinscribe her power over Christian Cooper. Menakem (2017) outlines the history of the pathology of white fragility, writing:

“Americans have lived under a strange and contradictory delusion: Black bodies are incredibly strong and frightening and impervious to pain. They can handle anything short of total destruction. But white bodies are extremely weak and vulnerable, especially to Black bodies. So it’s the job of Black bodies to care for white bodies, soothe them, and protect them — particularly from other Black bodies[…] For hundreds of years, the myth has been reinforced by a second fantasy, which became the rationale for oppression and carnage: because white bodies are so vulnerable to Black ones, when a Black body is not subservient to a white one, it must be brutalized and destroyed. There can be no mercy, no second thoughts, and no halfway measures. Because Black bodies are nearly invulnerable, that brutality and destruction must be swift, and it must be ruthless” (p. 98)

This behavior is not new, it exists within a specific legacy of white women leveraging their image as weak, vulnerable and in need of protection in order to exert power (Henry, 2020; Slaughter, 2018). But Amy Cooper was not a helpless damsel in distress.

Her response to being called out for not leashing her dog (per park regulations) was to call for protection from the police, an action that she knew was a threat. You can hear it in the way she spits the words “African American” out of her mouth like a curse, an accusation. Like a death sentence. This violence plays out again, and again, and again because white people avoid recognizing the impact of our whiteness and refuse engagement in antiracist action.

Embracing Equity’s White Anti-Racist Identity Development course was born out of the need for white folks to take responsibility for our own learning around race and racism. The course was intentionally developed with accountability to People of Color with the aim of disrupting characteristics of white supremacy culture and equipping white folks with some of the tools necessary to work in solidarity toward racial justice.

It is past time for us to work toward becoming co-conspirators; we must interrogate our identities, heal our own wounds, and seek out communities where deep trust to be held accountable is prioritized.

We have two upcoming program offerings this fall ; join us and take a concrete action step in committing to anti-racism without burdening Black, Indigenous, People of Color.

FURTHER RESOURCES:

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS AND CONTRIBUTING EDITORS:

  • Dr. Nicole Evans (she/her) is the Executive Director of Urban Education and Student Engagement at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, MO. Her work at an HBCU centers around preparing future educators and building partnerships with school districts with an eye on social justice. Dr. Evans works with Embracing Equity as a Leadership Coach and consultant for the Leadership Residency program.
  • Faybra Hemphill (she/her) is the Director of Racial Equity Capacity at Forward Through Ferguson and is also an Embracing Equity facilitator. Faybra specializes in next practices of growing capacity for the successful development of anti-bias, antiracist institutions. Learn more about Faybra’s offerings on building racial equity capacity or get involved as a partner of Forward Through Ferguson.
  • Camille Nandi Young (she/her) is a believer, mover, and dreamer whose years of classroom and life experiences have made her deeply passionate about empowering young minds and uprooting white supremacy. After participating in Embracing Equity’s in-person workshop and both online programs (Embracing Identity and Embracing Disruption), Camille is excited to continue her partnership with Embracing Equity as a facilitator and collaborator.
  • Daisy Han (she/her) is the Founder/CEO of Embracing Equity and is currently a very pregnant expecting mama! She works in deep partnership and solidarity with activists and co-conspirators to disrupt systemic racism in education, and loves innovating new ways of learning and schooling with racial justice at the core.
  • Katie Kitchens (they/them/she/her) is an Embracing Equity curriculum designer and facilitator who is currently pursuing their Ph.D. in Educational Studies at Chapman University. They hope to explore racial identity development in white children. Starting this fall, Katie will be working as the English Speaking Lower Elementary Guide at the Keres Children’s Learning Center. Katie is committed to striving to uproot white supremacy in herself, community building, and working in solidarity toward liberation.

https://embracingequity.org/ — A nonprofit social change agency dedicated to racial justice through online & in-person workshops and healing community.

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