60 years ago today Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her actions help kick off the Montgomery bus boycott, a nonviolent campaign to challenge segregation. Her actions defied the culture of white supremacy 60 years ago and you can do something much less challenging to stand against white supremacy today by joining Showing Up for Racial Justice as a sustaining member.
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is an organization of white folks who are dedicated to conspiring with people of color to act against white supremacist culture in the US. We do this through a variety of means including are teach-ins, direct action protests, and civil disobedience. There are chapters located throughout the US.
Today SURJ is launching a membership initiative. Please join me in becoming a sustaining member of SURJ by donating a minimum of $5 per month. We also ask that SURJ members make a matching monthly donation to a people of color led organization of your choice.
As a member of SURJ you get to enjoy:
- A well-resourced, kick-ass SURJ doing what we do – organizing tens of thousands of white people for real, meaningful racial justice victories.
- The chance to be part of building a powerful multi-racial majority to challenge racism in all its forms.
- The opportunity to show up, shoulder to shoulder with millions of other white people taking collective action for racial justice.
- Invitations to leadership development opportunities
- Twice yearly updates
- Support from SURJ staff to meaningfully participate in campaigns and projects
- Connections to our extensive network of chapters, affiliates and local leaders (100+ chapters and affiliates and growing!)
- Opportunities to build deep and lasting connections with other members, through in-person meetings and trainings, meet ups at conferences, and online.
If you’re a white person looking to take action in supporting racial justice then I encourage you to join me in being a member of SURJ. The path doesn’t always seem clear for white people to stand against white supremacy but we make the road by walking and you can start your journey by becoming a member and joining a chapter today.
Any questions or comments about membership in SURJ? Leave them below!
Inaction is action in affirmation of oppression and we need to continue that work or start it now. I’ve said it isn’t easy and I know that I don’t have all the answers. But as Paulo Freire and Myles Horton’s book said, “we make the road by walking.” Let’s get started.
chatThere is a lot going on in the US right now about race and racism that is rooted in white supremacist notions. This action is both the overt actions of the KKK, Oath Keepers, the III%ers and covert actions that systemically exist around us such racist microaggressions. If you’re an educator of some kind I hope you’ve heard of that cover white supremacist issues such as microaggressions, white privilege. I hope you’ve heard of the decisive actions of #ConcernedStudent1950 at the University of Missouri. I hope you’ve heard of the students at Yale (and also questioned the thought pieces that spark resistance to student activism). I hope you’ve heard of the students arguing that #BlackBruinsMatter at UCLA. And the actions that many other students are taking across the country.
It’s important that we know these stories and we support the students who are seeking change. It’s important that we reflect on what we’re co-conspiring with. We can choose to conspire with the status quo and say nothing. We can choose to ignore the threats that are posed against our students and say you can make a choice not to come to class if you don’t feel safe. We can choose to tell people that they’re being too sensitive. Or we can choose to acknowledge the patterns of systemic white supremacy and provide space for students to take care of themselves.
All of these movements are steeped in resistance to white supremacy. They’re tied to #BlackLivesMatter and fights for civil rights and justice that have occurred throughout our history. They reflect the courageous activists who came before them and their co-conspirators.
As educators in student affairs we have to realize that there is no neutrality. We cannot make a decision that does not declare allegiance to something. Inaction in the face of oppression is action in favor of oppression. Suggesting that we “wait it out” or hoping that climates get better are direct inaction that affirm the status quo.
Last night I sat in on a conference call with white activists who are all affiliated with Showing Up for Racial Justice (an organization that I would call myself a member of and the origin of the title of this post). We heard from an activist near the border in Arizona who is organizing against militia activity who have taken it upon themselves to guard the border. We heard from another activist in Arkansas who is organizing community discussions (and helped start The Other Arkansas) that offer alternate narratives about history of southerners such as the Southern Tennant Farmer Union. We heard from another activist who is working with the Rural Organizing Project in Oregon who has faced pressure and resistance from white supremacist groups including being followed and death threats.
I mention both the actions of students of color across the US as well as the work of white activists across the US because they are intrinsically interwoven. The work and leadership of the students of color are how we as educators (particularly white educators) demonstrate support for striking out against racist practices to change the nature of our institutions. The work of the white activists I mentioned are examples of white people directly addressing white supremacy in their communities. They are building the critical consciousness of their neighbors and create changes in their communities whether that’s addressing the racist violence of self-proclaimed border militias or leading teach-ins about Natasha McKenna.
As educators I believe that we’re responsible for creating a climate in which all of our students can be engaged in a learning environment because we create that learning environment. This means that we need to address issues if not all of our students feel that they can be involved in their learning community. This means that weneed to address white supremacy which isn’t easy. It’s uncomfortable and I don’t have all the answers but speaking out is one of the first steps. We should ally ourselves with organizations who are working against racism whether that’s a local SURJ affiliate or another racial justice organization. We need to ask ourselves difficult questions about our practices and find ways to incorporate social justice into our work as educators. We need to ask more from our professional associations. We need leadership and demonstrated action from ACPA, NASPA, ACUHO-I, ACUI, etc. on addressing these issues within our profession as it’s written into the values of most of our associations. We need to start having conversations in places that we already have conversations like #SAchat and Facebook groups. We need to organize these thoughts collectively and I would argue that we need to start sharing ways that we’re addressing white supremacy and oppression on our campuses through social media. I suggest using #SURJinSA to share these stories.
As I’ve said before slightly differently, inaction is action in affirmation of oppression. We need to continue that work of standing against oppression or start it now. I’ve said it isn’t easy and I know that I don’t have all the answers. But as Paulo Freire and Myles Horton’s book said, “we make the road by walking.” Let’s get started.
These are all tiny pieces of my life that only stand out to me because I think about them, but they highlight the differences in experiences that I am afforded based on my identities. They’re invisible until you speak about them.
Over the course of the last few year my personal life has hit a fairly large milestone. I got engaged and then married to a wonderful woman. Part of that process throughout and after the planning of our wedding pointed out some pretty large privileges that I hold, particularly as a heterosexual cisgender male in the US. And as part of one of my promises to myself, I thought I would briefly share some of the things that have been pointed out to me as privileges that I hold through my #PrivilegeStories series.
The first one that I think of is that I had no hesitation (other than keeping my life private) from sharing my engagement at work or when I’m out in the world. I have no reason to believe that sharing that I was engaged and now married to a woman would be detrimental to my life. I have no reason to believe that having pictures of myself and my partner(wife) on my desk would lead to any negative issues with students or colleagues.
In addition to talking about the engagement and wedding at work, we did not worry about how a vendor may react to our relationship because it can be viewed as “typical.” We are a white, heterosexual, cisgender couple. We don’t break any expectations that our vendors may have before they see us. While working with our vendors we didn’t have to look to any list to let us know if they would be ok working with us. We easily assumed that they would be fine and accept us as customers.
The second piece of this is around my wife’s decision about her name. She holds that a unique part of her identity is in her maiden name which I fully support. So as she continues to make her decision she has felt pressure from friends, acquaintances, and other people about making a decision which is not something that I have had to go through. She also, once a decision is made, may have to go through name changing processes that I do not have to consider at all. I have not been asked at all what my name will change to because people can assume that I won’t change my name.
These are all tiny pieces of my life that only stand out to me because I think about them, but they highlight the differences in experiences that I am afforded based on my identities. They’re invisible until you speak about them. They must be pointed out so that we know what happens to ourselves and how privileges warp our experiences without us noticing. We have to understand these privileges to understand the oppression that folks with subordinated identities face because if we don’t understand the privileges then we can’t see the full problem.
I strive to be a social justice educator. This means that I try not to order students or participants to find a singular way to being critically conscious. The paths to critical consciousness are varied and I have to help people find their own way. This means that I do not assume that I know more. This means that I’m human and I’ll make mistakes and learn from them. This means that I work with participants to try to guide the way. It means we’re constantly and purposefully learning, acting, and reflecting together.
It means that I walk with them on their path to critical consciousness. It’s not an easy path. There are pitfalls. There are dangerous twists and turns that can lead one back into status quo thinking. I’ve seen students become confronted with new concepts of what it means for them to white. They are confronted by their privilege and what it means to the experience of their peers. I’ve seen students find ways to embrace this concept and begin to work against privilege and I’ve seen students turn away from furthering their understanding because there is a huge fear of what it means to accept the reality of privilege. The students know it would change how they interact with the people around them. It would change most students’ worldview and how they interpret the media, conversations, and the language that people use. It’s scary, but that’s why we exist.
Being a social justice educator means helping anyone work through that cognitive dissonance where what they’ve always known is challenged by the evidence in front of them. I have to shed the inherent power dynamic that is present between educators and students/participants. I have to recognize that I don’t know everyone’s experience despite the assumptions I have and biases I might carry, because I am not free from the biases that I have been trained to have. This power dynamic can sometimes make me feel like I should know more than my participants or that I should be able to answer all of their questions, but vulnerable honesty can be more powerful than giving someone a script or recipe to follow.
I pay attention to what is happening around me and attempt to highlight the underlying systems that create consistent injustices in the world. I create space to share rage, frustration, and sadness at the things that happen that we have no control over. I make myself vulnerable to expose how I’ve benefited from systemic oppression or how I’ve perpetuated it. Because understanding the benefits I’ve received and ways in which I unconsciously perpetuate systemic oppression gives me the tools to fight against it. I also hope that it gives others the courage to start their own self-critique of their histories so they can develop the tools to fight against the ways that they perpetuate oppression.
This work isn’t easy. It’s tiring. It can seem lonely. But with a community of folks who are working toward the same goal this work can be uplifting and rewarding. And it’s easier for me to do this work than to ignore what’s happening around me. I do this work because the weight of willful ignorance on my conscious would be unspeakably heavy.
“…conventional American racial categories are rooted in colonialism, slavery, and an elaborate ideology developed to justify a system of racial inequality. Given racial categories’ sociohistorical rather than biological roots, the notion that “races” describe human biological variation has been officially rejected by the American Anthropological Assoication. As we critique outmoded systems of racial classification, we must also question the labels we use for “races.”
-Carol C. Mukhopadhyay
Mukhopadhyay went on to explain in her essay that the word caucasian was developed in the eighteenth century by as anatomist who claimed that the people from the Caucasus mountain range were the most beautiful people in the world and then he decided to label all fair skinned people caucasian. This is why I’m do not identify as caucasian.
There is a lot power and privilege tied up into that particular word. The word is a relic of a now outdated concept that passed off the social construction of race as biological difference. The fact that we still use caucasian as a valid term when we have moved away from the other outdated labels represents the white supremacy still inherently present in the United States. As a society, other groups have changed their labels to more accurately reflect the social construction of race, but white folks are still clinging to this faux-biological label and the idea of superiority that is historically tied to it.
I was in the process of joining NASPA in November of 2010 and their registration form for membership only offered Caucasian as racial category for white people. I sent in an email to their membership committee, a representative replied to my email and said that he’d discuss the concern at their next meeting. I have yet to hear back, but the point is, I’m choosing not to identify as Caucasian because it historically represents ideas that are no longer relevant or even scientifically viable.
EDIT: As I thought about this post after it was published, I realized that this has more meaning in the context of what has happened with President Obama and Donald Trump this week (which I commented on yesterday). I think given the very public new context, examining the language we use and the ways in which we use it to wield power over people is important. Some may claim that Caucasian is just a label that we use, but given its historical context, it is more than that. Constantly evaluating our language and the historical context that it brings to us is an important part of moving forward to a socially just society.
President Obama recently released his long form birth certificate, which (unsurprisingly) matched the birth certificate that he released on his website during the 2008 campaign. The pressure had been mounting over the last several weeks with Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich weighing in with additional pressure. @baratunde from Twitter posted a YouTube video describing his feelings which is beautifully spoken, poignant, and strikes at the heart of the argument. President Obama was coerced into proving that he belongs. He was coerced into proving that he is “one of us.” So our President released his long form certificate of living birth and justly exclaimed that we have better things to pay attention to.
Once that happened, Trump decided it was appropriate to announce to the press how proud he was of himself. The subtext of Trump’s exclamation is how a white man without any knowledge or experience in politics is able to pressure a man of color (the President of the United States of America) into proving his worth and belonging.
Shortly after President Obama’s announcement, Trump declared his pride. Then he asked for President Obama to release his high school records to prove that he belonged at Columbia and Harvard. Trump wants Obama to prove that he didn’t push aside deserving white people to get a racially charged leg up on his peers. Trump is making this argument in order to divide. Trump wants people to believe that President Obama doesn’t belong and hasn’t ever belonged. When no one has to question Trump’s belonging due to his appearance.
It is disheartening that Trump now wants President Obama to release his academic records. Our past President, George W. Bush, who had sub par academic performance and was able to attend Yale and Harvard due to old school affirmative action, known now as legacy. Former President Bush never had to prove his belonging in the Ivy League to the voting public. But now, Trump wants President Obama to prove that he belonged and that he wasn’t given a pass to join prestigious institutions because of his complexion.
I, like @baratunde, am disheartened and saddened that Trump was able to wield his privilege as he has. He was able to assert that he belongs and that the President of the United States of America, does not belong. This birtherism nonsense is another example of how we need to stand together and fight for the rights of those who are marginalized and pushed aside as less than in our society. We have to stand together because if we don’t we’ll be pushed back into the past.