Last night, I watched “Open Conversation Take 2: Toward Mutual Liberation“. Well, I watched part of it. It ran kinda long and one of the people I really wanted to hear, Kimberly Knight, lost her internet connection and wasn’t able to participate. But, it also had Anthony Smith, Steve Knight and Holly Roach, people I like and respect, and they didn’t have such problems. It was built around Chris Crass’ new book “Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis and Movement Building Strategy“. At one point, Crass advocated enlisting white men in justice causes. Well, I’m one of those white men and I’ve got a few things to say.
- Don’t make it so goddamned boring. My God, people, liven things the hell up. This is important and interesting stuff and I felt like I was sitting in a diversity class at work. Sometimes, I wonder if we don’t keep the conversation academic because subjects like privilege and racism are so volatile. All too often, just saying “racism” is like throwing gasoline on a fire; the effect is, in a word, explosive.
- For things to change, white men have to buy into that change. If only because, as Lisa Sharon Harper said, “If it’s not being said by white men, generally speaking, it’s not going to be heard. At least, not for a while”. Unfortunately, the people who need to hear this won’t listen because a) they don’t understand a lot of what being said and b) what they do understand sounds too much like those diversity classes I mentioned a minute ago. And, nobody likes those.
- As I said before, the idea of pulling white men into this cause was promoted early in the discussion and it’s a good idea. But, the recruiters names probably shouldn’t be followed by “activist”, “organizer” or anything else that smacks of those “Oprah Winfrey sensitive types”. I say this because, like it or not, these folks have very little credibility with most white men. And, when I say “very little, I mean like zero.
- Crass talked about how this is critical for our souls, our health, our spiritual lives and how it makes for a more dynamic life. That’s true, but understand this: for real, effective change to happen, the “regular” people have to be involved. And, when I say “regular people”, I mean the working class white folks whose main worry is making the rent and putting groceries on the table, i.e., that silent majority Nixon spoke of way back in ’69. They aren’t going to respond to this kind of talk; they need to see how they can do this and still support their families. Then, they can be shown how what they’re doing affects others. It’s Maslow’s Hierarchy at work in the real world.
- Finally (and this is the most important point), nobody said anything about building relationships with people of privilege. As a rule, people don’t change because of statistics or reasoned argument, they change because something affects them on a personal basis. I know oppressed people don’t feel the onus of building relationships should be on them and they’re right; it shouldn’t. But, the simple fact is that most white men aren’t going to seek out a relationship with these folks, mostly because they don’t think the problem of their making. Or even that these people are all that oppressed. If you want change, seminars, classes and rallies aren’t going to make it happen. You’re going to have to get out there and get your hands dirty; which means rubbing elbows with people you might not like. Don’t feel that bad about it, they don’t like you, either.
For the record, I’m not saying the content of this conversation should change. Privileged people (white men in particular) need to hear some hard truths. But, the way those truths are being expressed right now, they aren’t going to be heard. Lose the ivory tower academic tone and politically correct diversaspeak and talk to people like, well, people. You’d be surprised at how that well that works.