At the end of the month, I always do a resource post. This is still a resource post, but it is mostly about non-interactive fiction resources. (IF links still exist, at the very bottom.)
Specifically, it is about resources for white people who want to do something but don’t know what that something could be; or for white people who feel that what is going on right now is an unjustified looting instigated by Black people, but who might be inclined to read some things that would complicate that understanding.
Resources for other white US citizens. Here are some things you should probably be aware of, if you are not already:
- On the police role in instigating and escalating violence in America in the last few days. This is not a case of isolated incidents, accidents, misunderstandings, or a small number of bad actors in an otherwise well-meaning force. [VERY SERIOUS TRIGGER WARNING — these videos show many forms of violence, often unprovoked and committed by the armed against the unarmed. It doesn’t look like fictional violence; it is horrifying. I could only handle a couple of them before needing to stop. If you are already aware of this, then please do not force yourself to watch more. It is important to know that this is happening, but it is also important to recognise a line between bearing witness and pointless self-traumatisation. Once you know, then save your remaining energy to act. And please don’t share any of these without appropriate warnings or haphazardly, or you risk turning suffering people into an entertainment commodity.]
- Some historical context on the concept of police riots and some other historical context on how extensively the authorities lie about the sources of violence.
- On the involvement of far-right extremists in the violence.
- Cornel West on Anderson Cooper. A riveting watch.
- Antonio French with a recording of a conversation between three black men of different ages, about what they are facing and how long it has been going on. [Warning on this also: this is not “a conversation” in the sense of a staged chat at a talk show. This is incredibly raw and it hurts to watch. Again, if you need to know, then witness it, but don’t inflict it on yourself or others purely as an exercise in pain.]
- Ijeoma Oluo on what you do with your sadness and anger in public.
To expand a little on that last point, what Oluo says is: don’t put your grief and anger where Black people need to encounter and deal with it. Don’t make it the focus of your social media presence; don’t take it to your Black friends.
There’s a lot to feel right now, and if this is the first time you’re really confronting the enormity of America’s race problem, it can be overwhelming. I have been there; and I know white guilt can do ugly things especially to people who are already struggling with their mental health. It’s useful to remember that being self-blaming about complicity in racism is also not helpful to the people experiencing the racism. (White Fragility is a whole book on this phenomenon.) You do need to address your pain, both for your own well-being and in order to get to a place where you can take positive action. Process it with the non-Black people in your life. Remember your Ring Theory — comfort those most affected by the crisis, dump your own feelings towards the people less affected than yourself.
Here are resources if you want to take financial action:
- Minnesota Freedom Fund has collected a substantial amount of money to help bail out protesters; while they themselves are not soliciting more funds now, they have an up-to-date list of places that do need contributions. (I’m linking to them rather than listing those places myself because they’re more likely to be able to keep that list current and relevant.)
Here are some more resources if you’re newly educating yourself about the state of race in America:
- So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo. (Link is to Bookshop, which allows you to order from independent booksellers and not Amazon.) This is a good place to work from if you haven’t done much reading in this space yet.
- The Case for Reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates. A few years old, but still in my view a necessary read on the systemic and long-term sources of what is happening right now. This is available online. Between the World and Me is also a solid read, more personal (as the title would imply).
- The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander. Talks about the prison system and its racial implications, as well as the fact that mainstream thinking a few decades ago were in favour of putting a moratorium on new prison construction. Prison abolitionism is not bizarre and novel idea; on the contrary, it’s an idea that at one point enjoyed mainstream credibility, and could do so again.
- Lead from the Outside, Stacey Abrams. This is about being a leader and making a difference even from a marginalised position. I found it instructive about being female in a male industry, but I also found the illustrations from her own experience improved my understanding of challenges facing Black leaders in the US.
- Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya Umoja Noble, on how search engines and other current technology contribute to racism. Also available at Blackwell’s if you’re in the UK.
- I have heard good things about, but have not myself yet read, How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad.
- Finally: The Master’s Tools Will Never Demolish the Master’s House, Audre Lorde. (Online.) On why white women need to put in the work to research the needs of Black and other non-white women, rather than demanding an education from people already fighting and exhausted. It is an old essay that has not stopped being true. It’s worth reading a lot more Lorde than just this, though as far as I can tell the exact edition I own is out of print, so I can’t recommend you that. But a variety of options are available by searching for Lorde at Bookshop and picking a collection, though. (Here’s Blackwell’s for UK buyers.)
If you’re in the UK and are looking for more on the recent history of racism in the UK:
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge. I found this especially helpful as a white person living in the UK but not raised here. It’s likely that lifelong UK citizens will be unfamiliar with some of the history of UK racism as well.
- One particular case of note: the UK paid slaveholders reparations when it abolished the slave trade, and the debt on those reparations was still being paid into the 2010s.
Finally: one of the most informative things I did after Ferguson was to follow a number of Black activists on Twitter and to read what they were tweeting every day. Sometimes it was sad, sometimes it was funny, sometimes it was angry and confronting, sometimes I disagreed, but it was worth reading. I made a rule for myself not to respond to their tweets. Just read. I’ve subsequently also expanded to try to follow more indigenous voices and other people of colour, but Black Twitter is especially vocal and therefore especially helpful if what you want to do is learn without replying or taking up any time that they weren’t already spending.
A full list would be too much here, but here are some I’ve especially valued. Some of these are activists as their primary activity; others have other jobs or focuses.
- @BreeNewsome is the woman who climbed the flagpole outside the South Carolina state house to take down the Confederate flag that was still flying there
- @IjeomaOluo is the author of the book on talking about race noted above
- @FeministaJones writes about Black feminist issues
- @AntonioFrench, former alderman of St Louis
- @Freeyourmindkid often posts and retweets long threads on what is going on (including currently)
- @michaelharriot covers race-related issues for The Root, and produces material such as this timeline
- @deray is an activist and organiser active at Ferguson and since
- @KosherSoul is Michael Twitty; he is Black and Jewish and an expert in the food cultures involved, often writing about the history of food and what it tells us about (among other things) the experience of slaves
- @nkjemisin is an excellent science fiction author; I especially recommend her How Long Til Black Future Month?, a collection of superb short stories
I suggested the Twitter approach to a white colleague once, and he was contemptuous of the idea that this provide any meaningful insight. But I’ve found it useful in helping me make an intentional, sustainable, and lifelong change in how I think and act. It is a process, and I still fall short, and have to plan how I will act differently next time I encounter the same situation. That’s how deprogramming yourself from racism goes. But reading the words of Black activists, authors, journalists, and others on Twitter during non-crisis times helps give a sense of them as whole and joyous human beings. I believe that is also part of the understanding we need, an understanding that goes beyond pity for victims or awe at resilience under oppression.
There is so much right now. So much. Systemic racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia; exploitation of labour, and wealth inequality; climate change; the privatisation and militarisation of space; reactionary political movements; xenophobia and violence against immigrants and refugees; massive economic turmoil and the mishandling of a global pandemic. But these things are all connected, they are all part of the same fight. We do not need to choose to be angry only about one, or resist only in one cause — and it wouldn’t work to do so.
The most hopeful thing I’ve seen in recent days has been the refusal of bus drivers to cooperate with excessive or unlawful policing. It reminded me of Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy (Bookshop link, Blackwells link). Sharp studied a series of regime changes, and notes how effective it is when a significant part of the population ceases to cooperate with unjust applications of power. Widespread non-cooperation reduces the risk faced by individuals and spreads the cost of resistance to a larger part of the population. The changing will of a nation shames some of the enforcers themselves into abandoning enforcement.
Can we do this also? Do these methods work when applied not to a simple dictatorship but to a huge and complex legacy system in which we are all at least somewhat entangled?
I don’t know. But these actions are the ones that give me hope.
The society I want one day to live in is very, very different from what we have now. Change is always frightening, but when we think about the human cost of creating a better world, we also need to consider the human cost of delaying it. That cost is currently extremely high, and it is also very unjustly distributed.
Meanwhile, we occupy a moment when “normal” has already been suspended, when the status quo has already fractured. We are never going back to normal, if we can call the situation in late 2019 “normal.” That economic reality does not exist for us to access, even if it were a good idea.
I’d like us to go somewhere much better than the old normal — but if we are not speaking and acting to make that happen, it is very likely we’ll end up with society even worse, because the systems that currently exist are not designed to guarantee the majority of citizens health, sanity, dignity, or life itself.
In order to change for the better, we need to do three things.
We need to reckon with where we are right now, to be as truthful with ourselves as we can about what it is and how we got here.
We need to identify what would characterise the world we want to live in instead. We’ll all have different answers, but mine include things like a society in which everyone — every person, corporation, and government — shares responsibility for the stewardship of the planet and for seeing that all people have food, housing, and health care. Those things are not just human rights but human responsibilities, in the sense that we are responsible to and for each other.
And then we need to think about what systems could provide that world. One of the things that has consistently surprised me in my own reading is that often ideas like prison abolition and universal basic income* have been taken seriously and studied in the past, though they tend to be talked about in US politics as completely radical stuff. (*I realise there are people in the US who would like to bring in a pathetically low UBI and then use that as an excuse to defund all other social safety provisions; that’s not what I’m talking about here.)
There are other ways we could organise ourselves from the ones we have now, and they don’t all involve re-enacting the tragedies of authoritarian communism. Utopia for Realists (Rutger Bregman; Blackwell’s, Bookshop) considers some of the economic possibilities open to us, including more about UBI; Talking to My Daughter about the Economy (Yanis Varoufakis; Blackwell’s, Bookshop) is a short, accessible book about capitalism. Personally, I think a big part of the change is going to need to involve a redistribution from people who have too much to people who have too little; and especially to those who have too little because they and their families and their ancestors have been denied access to the common goods available to everyone else in society, systematically, for generations.
It might feel as though studying alternative economies is a long way from addressing the violence right now on the streets. I’m not saying it’s the only thing we should do. But we will not build a better world if we can’t even imagine what that might look like, if we have no shared vocabulary around the things that might make it better.
I also want to say to other white people that there is indeed something you can do besides “march” or “donate money this one time.” That something is change your life. This is not onerous, but it is long-term. Change your life in ways that are small enough to be sustainable, that lead to a continually growing understanding of the issues, that allow you to speak to other white people who might listen to you, that let you contribute (financially or otherwise) to antiracism on a regular basis, or that give you the knowledge to vote not just in federal elections but in the local ones that often directly influence policing, prosecution, and sentencing.
Consider what your art says, not just what demographics are represented (which matters) but also what myths it shares and reinforces. Consider your consumption habits, too. This feels more punitive to suggest, somehow, and I don’t mean it as any kind of wholesale censorship. But in the same way that I now flinch at transphobic jokes in 90s-era sitcoms, I also don’t take a lot of pleasure from watching cop dramas. Whatever truths they have to offer, most of them come packaged with a lie about the role of police in our current society. And at least right now, it is very very important not to be misled by that lie. If you find there are narratives affecting your worldview and you think they might be deceptive, consider a moratorium on that kind of story for a while, and see if it helps.
You maybe can’t do all of that at once, so start with the thing with the best effort/output reward available to you right now. Work on that until it’s incorporated into your lifestyle, then add another one.
And now, some interactive fiction links.