Racism is whites’ problem to solve.

If you’ve been following links about policing here or elsewhere, you will know that American society is by far the most incarcerated in the world, that black and brown people are enormously overpoliced compared to whites and given harsher sentences than whites for the same crimes, and that young black men in particular are killed by police at rates 21 times greater than their white counterparts. Many liberal-minded whites I know seem incapable of grasping the enormity of the injustice of all of that—which may be understandable given that their interactions with police have been generally much different, but is not excusable on those grounds. Of course many less-than-liberal-minded whites are openly defensive and hostile in response to anyone calling this what it is—systemic racism—in favor of all manner of victim-blaming and othering and authoritarianism and bootstrapping narratives that have about as much relation to reality as…well, as all things conservative generally do. This is why as protestors took to the streets yesterday in NYC (and across the nation) in response to police violence and the failure to hold accountable the cops who killed Mike Brown and Eric Garner, I was heartened to see people of every race among them, especially whites. I say this not to suggest these whites deserve a cookie just for being decent fucking human beings. They don’t. I say it because—and this really cannot be said enough—racism is whites’ problem to solve.


See, there I said it again. And it is true in exactly the same way that street harassment is mens’s problem to solve. (The similarities to misogyny don’t end there, but that’s another post entirely.) It’s a tall order, to be sure, and will take a hell of a lot more than white people demonstrating and marching. The solution to black victims of police violence and mass incarceration does not just lie within the relationships between cops and communities of color—although it certainly lies there, too. It lies with whites interrogating themselves about their participation in social, cultural and political systems that sustain racism, and committing to fucking doing something about it. Janee Woods wrote recently:

We’re 400 years into this racist system and it’s going to take a long, long, long time to dismantle these atrocities. The antiracism movement is a struggle for generations, not simply the hot button issue of the moment. Transformation of a broken system doesn’t happen quickly or easily.

People of color, black people especially, cannot and should not shoulder the burden for dismantling the racist, white supremacist system that devalues and criminalizes black life without the all in support, blood, sweat and tears of white people.


Here is a one-minute video I shot from Greenwich St. last night around 8:00pm as protestors marched West on 11th Street. (Yes people, believe it or not, I was actually roused from my bar stool, not by all the NYPD sirens of course, but by the protestor chants I heard over them a block away.)

Some stills:


 USA Today has a fantastic collection of photos from nationwide protests yesterday; here are a few from NYC.

brooklynbridgeBrooklyn Bridge.
(Photo: Jason DeCrow, AP)

grandcentralGrand Central.
(Photo: Justin Lane, European PressPhoto Agency)

wecantbreatheFoley Square.
(Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)


Back at the bar, a young woman came in, sat next to me and ordered a drink. We got to talking, as bar people do. She had just turned twenty-one a few days ago, and in a few weeks will be headed for a semester in Paris to study curation. We talked about art and artists (she loves Frida Kahlo) and Europe (she’s never been) and her excitement about the adventures that lie ahead (highly contagious). Eventually she mentioned that she had just been marching with the protestors, and that she was struggling with some guilt over pursuing her dreams overseas while her community was suffering so much here, and yet she felt a duty to take advantage of these opportunities for them. She has an autistic brother, 17, who she fears will make an easy target for police violence, not just because of his race but because his disability makes interpersonal communication so difficult for him. She is not wrong about that. I listened for a while, and did not interrupt, until she shared that she was really torn between being a committed activist and “curling up in a ball in bed.” Wait, I said. Those things are not mutually exclusive. And I urged her to curl up in a ball in bed exactly as often as she needed to, to mourn, to rest, to reset. There is no shame in tending to your own garden. We hugged, I wished her well and parted.

IMG_1213Photo shared with permission; name withheld.

We may well lose her to Paris, and that would be our great loss. Who could blame her? Any future she may have stateside is up to us—all of us.

Earlier in the evening I had posted to Facebook a photo of police helicopters swarming the skies above Manhattan. Later on, I would have a fitful night’s sleep, awakened over and over by the sounds of sirens blazing and helicopters roaring. This is nothing, I reminded myself, compared to the nightmare that will never end for the families and friends of those unjustly killed by police with impunity.

I hope you will get involved, and stay involved. I may well be curling up in a ball in bed today.

The helicopters are already back in the skies.

blacklivesmatter[A version of this article is cross-posted at Secular Woman.]

2 thoughts on “Racism is whites’ problem to solve.

  1. Gods and fishes, but I wish I thought she’ll face much better in Paris, where fans taunt opposition Black footballers with bananas and monkey chants. That’s in no way to lessen the level of racism in the US, just that Europe as a whole is hardly better, and in some places worse, than the US. It’s fucking scary all over for Black people particularly, but POC generally, as the white power structure of the 20th century fights a desperate rearguard action to use up all the resources they can getting obscenely wealthy, hoping to pull up the ladder in doing so, and become the open version of what they already are: the human race’s owners.
    Until the tumbrils roll again, I expect. Maybe our grandkids can do a less fuckedup job of it, when they rebuild. :/

    I am losing optimism that this gets better without getting a lot worse first.

  2. By the sheer numbers, this sure seems racist. And I’d rather not participate in that conversation now.

    However I’m wondering if anyone else thinks that the people who have the job of keeping us safe and protecting us are really just protecting themselves? Ignoring the race thing again, in Ferguson a cop shot and killed an unarmed 18 year old. No knife, no gun, possibly a foul mouth by some accounts but killing the kid for talking out of turn? Aren’t cops trained to respond to a volatile situation WITHOUT just pulling out a gun and killing? Try tackling first, something other than – let’s call it what it is, murder. In Cleveland, a 12 year old murdered by a responding cop for waving a toy gun. A toy gun! The asshole police chief said the kid had a toy gun without the required orange market which – who knew? – is the signal for cops to know its a toy gun. However, I read the police report and a video shows, states, that the cop killed the kid within 2 seconds of the cop getting out of his car. In NYC a kid was killed by a cop patrolling stairwells in an apartment building. Two things here, the initial report by the police commissioner said it “was
    a tragic accident”. But the official report later said “accidentally the gun went off as the officer opened the door with the same hand he had the gun” Tragic, yes – stupid also. Why are they patrolling with guns out? Also, yesterday they announced that the officers did not call EMT or their squad commander and they were basically missing for over 6 minutes. But, the officers DID call their union rep during the 6 minutes they were missing. Last night a man was killed by cops in Hollywood- he was “brandishing a knife” – the knife was a Swiss Army Pen Knife. The guy’s dead.
    I’ve never been a fan of cops and I question why anyone would want a job that pays little considering he / she, theoretically puts their life on the line everyday. I think it mostly small minded bigots, bullies who get off on the power of carrying a gun and seems as if every once in a while, you can have fun murdering someone and knowing you’ll get away with it! And I think the color of their victims is almost an afterthought. I’ve not been shot but I have several instances of cops fucking with my life, basically because they can. The sheer numbers of black victims might prove me wrong here but I think this is more complex than simply white cops killing black people.

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