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Is Professional Activism Getting in the Way of Real Change?

By Hénia Belalia / Deep Roots United Front

By Hénia Belalia / Deep Roots United Front

It’s disconcerting to find so few faces in the prominent ranks of the environmental movement that reflect the realities and experiences of those bearing the brunt of climate collapse. Estimates show that since 1990 more than 90% of natural disasters have occurred in poor countries and that, globally, communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by air, soil and water pollution. Numbers also demonstrate that low-income households are hit the hardest by disasters, due to factors such as poor infrastructure and economic instability.

Yet those making strategic decisions are sitting in air-conditioned board rooms, hoping their conversations will pave the way for profound systemic change. Those most impacted by socioeconomic ills and environmental degradation are rarely present at those tables. This disconnect is quite alarming. Those of us frustrated with this scenario have turned to a deeper analysis and framework over the last decade—that of climate justice. Defining climate justice is a work in progress; honoring and integrating it are lifelong struggles.

To tackle the root (read: radical) causes of the climate crisis, we must first acknowledge that environmental degradation exacerbates existing economic, racial and social injustices—an interconnectedness that should define our analysis and actions. To truly win, land and justice defenders must recognize overlapping systems of oppression within this capitalist structure, and take strategic cues from the communities most impacted by colonization, militarism and poverty. That means building movements across issues and beyond divides based on race, class and gender, while elevating the voices that have been historically marginalized: indigenous peoples, communities of color, women, LGBTQ people, and the low-income population. To do so will take a profound decolonization of minds and professional institutions.

For many in this country, resistance isn’t a choice—it’s not fashionable—it’s plain survival.

Walking through the streets of northern Philadelphia, my heart sinks. The rundown streets of a forgotten city, its gifts and peoples deemed disposable by the state’s corporate and governmental elites. Empty lots, dozens of schools shut down, despairingly long waiting-lists for access to public education, while across the invisible divide, bright lights shine and champagne glasses clink, unperturbed.

In the Far Rockaways of New York City, I come across wounds still bleeding, left open to the winds. Memories of Hurricane Sandy lie in the debris lining the sidewalks, the closed-down businesses and uneven pavements, the local hospital on the brink of closure. The mass incarcerations of our brothers, fathers, lovers of color, stuck in vicious cycles of debt, drugs and street violence, the straight shot from a poor home to a gray prison cell. The overflowing detention centers, filled with terrified youth ripped from their families, many of them waiting to be deported to countries they haven’t set foot in since early childhood. Indigenous nations, whose land we’re standing on, surviving 500 years of cultural and ethnic genocide, in the form of boarding schools, involuntary sterilization of their women, and broken treaties.

These are the unsung faces of the resistance. The warriors whose lived experiences and very survival should not only drive the direction of our movements, but will inevitably determine the success of our struggle for collective liberation.

Instead, within the existing mainstream culture, while organizing has shifted to career-based models, anti-oppression work has become fashionable, and even worse, fundable. Through trainings, some may have learned the politically correct language to use, but much of the “anti-oppression” process has remained superficial, void of a real consideration for intersections of race, class and gender. This has resulted in a few token organizers of color hired into the ranks of respectable positions in big non-governmental organizations, with an unspoken expectation that they will be speaking for other brothers and sisters of color. Meanwhile, for those coming from low-income households or without a college education, the doors of opportunity within the environmental and climate movement are almost always out of reach.

For a person once seduced by an organizing career and its false promises of liberation, it was a rude awakening. As a brown migrant woman, often tokenized as the “good kind of Arab,” if I wanted a meaningful voice in this movement, I was going to have to take up space for myself, much like many had done before me. That also meant taking responsibility for my own layers of privilege, like my college education and access to resources, that most in my family aren’t privy to.

The professionalization of change-making has created a non-profit industrial complex (NPIC) which hinders rather than promotes liberationist movements. At Power Shift 2011, a national climate conference bringing together thousands of youth, there was a literal physical divide between the workshop spaces for the college students (mostly white middle-class) and the front-line communities (low-income, mostly youth of color). Since they were assigned different training tracks and curriculum, one of the only overlaps was during keynote speeches.

This year, at the same conference, several delegations of marginalized youth (Lakota youth from the Pine Ridge reservation, Dream Defenders from Florida, and impacted Gulf Coast communities from TEJAS) were promised funds for food and transportation that were either never or only partially delivered. These practices are counter-productive to social change, as they perpetuate the very systemic oppression we’re fighting.

Meanwhile, NGOs are competing for membership and campaign victories, racing for measurable results that will prove to their funders that they deserve yet more money. In a nine-year period, big greens received over $10 billion in funding, with only 15% of grants (between 2007-2009) allotted to marginalized communities. This discrepancy is appalling, especially given the fact that more money means more institutional costs and infrastructure, which often translates to compromises and watered-down actions. This top-down funding strategy ignores the history of resistance—that large-scale social change stems from the grassroots and a sturdy leadership from the oppressed peoples who have a vested interest in fighting for freedom.

It’s hard to imagine a popular uprising being initiated by those relying on the comforts of paychecks and organizational stability, so those voices shouldn’t dominate the narrative. Often it’s professional activists heard shouting into megaphones, calling for escalation and taking it to the streets. As economies crash, natural disasters multiply, and countries are torn apart by war, that call rings true.

But what happens when an organization like MoveOn.org adopts Occupy’s grassroots message for the purpose of publicizing nationwide direct action trainings, but discourages trainers from promoting civil disobedience because of their organizational politics? Or when the Natural Resources Defense Council and World Wildlife Fund work with the fossil-fuel industry, the latter quite satisfied to buy them out and define their own opposition in the process? Or when 350.org calls for escalation in the resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline, fundraise from other individuals’ bold actions in one of their email asks, but when those front-line activists face potential felony charges, leave them unsupported due to lack of organizational foresight and adequate infrastructure? These examples show a disconnect and an inability to build genuine relationships with those on the ground.

With budgets and voices so loud, the professionals’ messages overshadow the call for uprisings coming from the trenches. Though those cries may not be amplified by megaphones or on the front pages of websites, they can be heard rumbling through the neighborhoods, detention centers, prisons, native reservations, homeless shelters, and broken-down apartment buildings.

So the question is, how will the mainstream respond when front-line communities take to the streets, when communities of color reclaim our power and stand our ground? Will the movement be ready and willing to demonstrate intentional and genuine solidarity?

With anti-oppression on the tip of everyone’s tongues these days, it is critical to remind ourselves that working with those who’ve been historically oppressed is not about atonement of guilt, stroking of egos, or moving personal agendas forward.

Andrea Smith refers to this in a recent piece, as an “entire ally industrial complex (that) has developed around the professional confession of privilege.” This practice of atonement perpetuates power imbalances by re-centralizing the voices and experiences of those carrying historical privilege, this time elevating them to the role of righteous confessors. This “anti-oppression” work Smith writes about is missing the mark entirely.

From Naomi Klein to Van Jones, from organizers of the ’99 WTO protest to blockaders of the Keystone XL pipeline in Texas, a similar message resonates: the non-profit industrial complex needs to deepen its class analysis, tackle white supremacy within its own institutions, and dump the colonialist “savior” syndrome. Professional activists must challenge institutionalized and structural privilege within their own organizations, in terms of air time, resources, influence, and how much space they take up.

What can professional activists do to decolonize the mainstream movement? Make financial resources available to those communities that need it most, rather than filling the bank accounts of multi-million-dollar organizations. Open up seats at the decision-making table for the freedom fighters on the front lines, rather than inviting them for the photo op once all the strategy has been laid out. Get out of the way when those whose stories must be told are speaking up, rather than writing up studies about their experience. Take the time to learn and practice genuine allyship that doesn’t translate to condescending tokenism.

To reflect integrity, this process cannot be driven by the need for personal and organizational recognition. Challenging our own internalized -isms is a constant work in progress, one that can take a lifetime. From the jungles of Mexico, the Zapatistas wisely remind us of the longevity of this process, that we must walk on asking questions—”preguntando caminamos.”

To those of you on the front lines, to the brothers and sisters of color wearing ancestors in our flesh, carrying in our bodies the historical traumas of a system designed to break our spirits and exterminate us, it is a testament to our resilience that we’re still here, that we’ve survived over time. To those who still wonder when the time for a radical shift will come, it has. Our day-to-day reality won’t be getting scary somewhere down the road, in some distant future—there’s a war being waged against our communities right now!

In this day of climate crises and economic collapse, of lingering white supremacy and patriarchy, the struggle is as much about resistance as it is about community survival programs, as much about taking down the fossil fuel industry as decolonizing our own minds. This moment calls upon us to get real about what that will take from us, what the responsibilities entail, and what real solidarity looks like.

If this movement is serious about winning and shifting our current paradigm, we are going to have to give up some comforts and get out of the way when the times call for it.

Hénia Belalia is on the National Coordinating Committee of Deep Roots United Front, and the former director of Peaceful Uprising. She identifies as a climate justice defender, theatre director and day dreamer of collective liberation. Her work is rooted in a constantly evolving practice of allyship to frontlines of struggle, with a focus on the intersections of environmental and social justice. 

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Originally posted by AlterNet.

Civilization is a pragmatic vampire

By Jonah Mix / DGR Bellingham

By Jonah Mix / DGR Bellingham

Henry Ford is a shining example of two great American traditions: Amoral, hardheaded industrialism and unapologetic racial hatred. He hated Jews; his pamphlet The International Jew was singularly responsible for the anti-Semitism of Hitler Youth Leader and mass murderer Baldur von Schirach, while the Holocaust’s chief architect, Heinrich Himmler, praised Ford as a “great man” and “one of our most valuable, important, [and] clever fighters.” He hated the disabled; along with John Kellog, Andrew Carnegie, Woodrow Wilson, and dozens of other illustrious Americans, Ford openly advocated for the obligatory sterilization and involuntary imprisonment of the mentally ill and retarded, as well as unwed mothers and criminals with brown skin. I’ll let the reader guess how he felt about immigrants, homosexuals, and people of color; let’s just remember that Hitler proudly proclaimed in 1938, “I shall do my best to put [Ford’s] theories into practice in Germany.” This might be a good time to mention that I’ve now written two essays that mention Henry Ford – the first was in seventh grade, when I picked his name off a sheet of potential subjects in my history class. It was labeled “American Heroes.”

Henry Ford hated a lot of people – Jews, women, the poor, immigrants – but that didn’t stop him from utilizing them as easy fodder in his factories. He often paid black teenagers half wages to work on steel presses, partly because it was easier to unleash crooked cops on them if they tried to form a union. Unwed mothers who escaped sterilization and imprisonment often performed menial labor, both on the factory floor as cleaners and outside as unofficially corporate-sponsored sex workers. Men who had lost limbs, either in the war or in Ford’s own steel presses, occasionally worked for slave wages. Ford’s corporate website refers to this history as one of “diversity and inclusion.” When Henry Ford died, he was worth 188 billion dollars.

Where did Henry Ford’s hate end and his business sense start? Derrick Jensen once said that hatred, if felt long enough, just feels like economics. Wherever the line between the two falls, one thing is certain: a vicious practicality underlies both. The famously industrious anti-Semite undoubtedly hated people of color, and his hatred almost certainly allowed him to rationalize to himself and others their continued exploitation – but mangled hands and broken limbs also objectively cost less when they were brown instead of white. Ford had a deep personal hatred of labor organizers, but simple pragmatism was all that one would need to call for the savage beating of unarmed men and women, as he proudly did at the Battle of the Overpass in 1937. Sustained brutality and intimidation was the best way to keep his factories running smoothly. These choices were as much business moves as his later decision to move away from ethanol and towards gasoline. Gasoline goes into an engine because that’s the best way to make an engine run. Young black bodies get destroyed by steel presses because that’s the best way to get steel made. Indigenous people die of cancer when toxic waste is dumped into their rivers and forests because that’s the best way to get rid of toxic waste. The planet is ripped apart and hollowed out because that’s the best way to get at what’s inside.

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Dubai and the Fantasies of Civilization

By Adon Apamea / Deep Green Resistance Middle East & North Africa

By Adon Apamea / Deep Green Resistance Middle East & North Africa

Dubai is an interesting city. A thriving futuristic metropolis in the heart of the desert considered to be the crown jewel of modernity with indoor ski resorts, gulf courses, fully computerized metros, giant air-conditioned shopping malls, and the tallest skyscrapers in the world.

Built upon the oil money and over the desert’s sands starting from 1970s, Dubai is rootless more than any other city in the world. With a few thousand original natives, Dubai attracts millions of people today from around the world who come to live and work, or to just take a look at the legendary city.

The dispossessed, like yours truly, come to Dubai for work when all other possibilities are blocked. Some of the latter enter the city with the dream of doing big money. Some come out of desperation while the rest are forced into cheap labor or sold as slaves for the sex industry.

The possessed – those who have loads of money and are possessed with making more money and power, also come to Dubai. Most of them come to squeeze the life out of the first group for profit while some just want to show off their fortune or discover what the fuss is about.

The dispossessed sit on the bottom while the possessed sit on top. The hierarchy looks something like this: native Emirati men – specifically those possessing money, power and oil – sit on top, white western men sit right next or beneath them managing the growth of one of the fastest cities in the world.  Some brown men, mainly from Pakistan and India, sit in the third row, and more whitish people and some Arabs sit somewhere in the fourth row making the middle management and landlords of the city. East Asians sit on the fifth row doing all the blue collar jobs, answering phone calls, making deliveries, and fixing air conditioners. And last a majority of Pakistanis, Indians, Bengalis and Sirilankans sit in the last row, building the city in the scorching heat, cleaning houses, and opening doors. In the shadows, an unknown number of women, from all nationalities of the third world are sex slaves, without passports or means to escape their slavery.

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Let’s Get Free!: A Scope of the Problem

By Kourtney Mitchell / Deep Green Resistance

By Kourtney Mitchell / Deep Green Resistance

Over the almost seven years I have been involved in social justice activism of various kinds, my level of understanding concerning our social and planetary predicament has grown quite a bit. I began my process towards a radical perspective as a student activist in the university anti-violence against women movement. It was there I developed what I like to call a clear “scope of the problem.

Allow me to back up a bit. I did not know it at the time, but while I was in high school my family survived a rough experience fighting the local police department that helped prime me for radical activism. My mother, while an officer, filed a civil suit against the department for racial discrimination. The ordeal was traumatizing – the media was relentless in their assaults on her character, the department engaged in continuous harassment of my family (including forcibly evicting us from our home on my 16th birthday), all of this culminating in several relocations in- and out-of-state. If it were not for the consistent support of family, friends, legal counsel and a compassionate and talented journalist who had our back, the city and its armed thugs would have certainly continued its oppression against us. Instead, my mother’s case was a primary reason the city organized a citizen’s review board to oversee law enforcement activities. My mother and I went on to write and publish a creative nonfiction book of her experience.

To this day, I am consistently amazed at my mother’s strength and courage. I witnessed her defy all odds, determined to stand up to the city’s bullying and set a lasting precedent for future generations.

As a teen I was not inclined towards activism, but that all changed when I attended college and somehow found myself sitting in the social justice center talking pro-feminist theory with fellow campus community members. I completed feminist and anti-violence training and that is when the real change began.

The information I learned was harrowing. I had no idea just how prevalent male violence against women was. Shaken to the core, I spent several nights in tears, struggling to understand just how the world became this way and how it could possibly continue. From the first night of training, I knew pro-feminism would be my life’s work. It became my passion.

Further social justice training on issues of race and class began to complete the circle for me. My own life experiences started to make much more sense, and I became sensitive to issues of justice and equality.

Then it was time for another wake-up call. I do not remember exactly how I discovered radical politics, but eventually I came upon Marxist theory, which then lead me to anarchism and eventually anti-civilization. I began reading Derrick Jensen’s Endgame in the fall of 2008, and all of the emotions I felt when completing activist training came rushing back to the fore.

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Our Experiences Matter: On White Privilege and Backlash

By Kourtney Mitchell / Deep Green Resistance

By Kourtney Mitchell / Deep Green Resistance

As a radical black male living in the most hegemonic culture to ever exist, I consistently find myself keenly aware of instances in daily life to recognize and critique white supremacy. I have experienced firsthand this culture’s systemic racism. From the racist and sexist police department which harassed and conspired against my mother while she worked for them, to the fairly routine instances of micro-aggressions, racial profiling and predatory business practices all people of color endure in this culture, I have a personal relationship with oppression informing my analysis of racism. So when whites accuse people of color of being unable to let go of the past, they are missing some critical considerations.

Many whites have a difficult time accepting any attempt to redistribute wealth and resources to historically oppressed classes because they fail to see the reality of life as a person of color in this society. And when our stories are silenced, the dominant narrative of this culture can proliferate.

So I want to speak directly to whites who honestly believe society is post-racial and that they are being oppressed. I want you to listen and try to understand if you can.

‎One of white supremacy’s more insidious aspects is that it has perfected the art of double-speak. While it appears you are saying society is post-racial and we are all equal now, and therefore any redistribution of resources to historically oppressed classes is reverse racism, what you are really saying is the comfort and safety which was a result of a historically privileged position in society as leech members of a parasitic class of people is being challenged, and that makes you uncomfortable.

You want to know what I mean with that statement. Dominant classes of people are parasites, because they feed on the oppression of others. Whether or not you realize it, if you are a member of a dominant class, you are benefiting from the oppression of another class.

As a man, I benefit from patriarchy and misogyny. Members of my class of people are leeches, and that makes me a leech as well. It is my responsibility as an aspiring male ally to women to constantly critique my own participation in this culture and to do whatever I can to deconstruct the sexist and misogynistic tendencies I possess from this culture’s indoctrination. That is the minimal task of an ally, and the same applies to whites who wish to ally with people of color to combat racism. You must first admit your complicity in it.

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No Innocence Left to Kill: Racism, Injustice, and Explaining America to My Daughter

By Tim Wise / timwise.org

You remember, forever and forever, that moment when you first discover the cruelties and injustices of the world, and having been ill-prepared for them, your heart breaks open.

I mean really discover them, and for yourself; not because someone else told you to see the elephant standing, gigantic and unrelenting in the middle of your room, but because you saw him, and now you know he’s there, and will never go away until you attack him, and with a vengeance.

Last night, and I am writing it down so that I will not forget — because I already know she will not — my oldest daughter, who attained the age of 12 only eleven days ago, became an American. Not in the legal sense. She was already that, born here, and — as a white child in a nation set up for people just like her — fully entitled to all the rights and privileges thereof, without much question or drama. But now she is American in the fullest and most horrible sense of that word, by which I mean she has been truly introduced to the workings of the system of which she is both a part, and, at the same time, merely an inheritor. A system that fails — with a near-unanimity almost incomprehensible to behold — to render justice to black peoples, the family of Trayvon Martin being only the latest battered by the machinations of American justice, but with all certainty not the last.

To watch her crumble, eyes swollen with tears too salty, too voluminous for her daddy to wipe away? Well now that is but the latest of my heartbreaks; to have to hold her, and tell her that everything will be OK, and to hear her respond, “No it won’t be!” Because see, even though she learned last night about injustice and even more than she knew before about the racial fault lines that divide her nation, she is still a bit too young to fully comprehend the notion of the marathon, as opposed to the sprint; to understand that this is a very long race, indeed that even 26.2 miles is but a crawl in the long distance struggle for justice. And that if she is as bothered by what she sees as it appears, well now she will have to put on some incredibly strong running shoes, because this, my dear, is the work.

This is why daddy does what he does. Now you know.

And yes, I am fully aware that there are still those who would admonish me for even suggesting this case was about race. Not just the defenders of George Zimmerman, with whom I shall deal in a moment, but even the state, whose prosecutors de-racialized this case to a point that frankly was as troubling as anything the defense tried to do. Maybe more. I mean, the defense’s job is to represent their client, and I cannot fault them for having done so successfully. But the prosecution’s job is to make it clear to the jury what the defendant did and preferably why he did it. By agreeing to a fundamentally colorblind, “this isn’t about race,” narrative, they gave away the best part of their arsenal before the war had really started.

Because anyone who still believes that this case had nothing to do with race — or worse, that it was simply a tragedy, the racial meaning of which was concocted by those whom they love to term “race hustlers” — are suffering from a delusion so profound as to call into question their capacities for rational thought. And yet still, let us try to reason with them for a second, as if they were capable of hearing it. Let’s do that for the sake of rational thought itself, as a thing we still believe in; and for our country, which some of us still believe — against all evidence — is capable of doing justice and living up to its promises. In short, let’s give this one more shot.

Those who deny the racial angle to the killing of Trayvon Martin can only do so by a willful ignorance, a carefully cultivated denial of every logical, obvious piece of evidence before them, and by erasing from their minds — if indeed they ever had anything in there to erase — the entire history of American criminal justice, the criminal suspicion regularly attached to black men, and the inevitable results whenever black men pay for these suspicions with their lives. They must choose to leave the dots unconnected between, for instance, Martin on the one hand, and then on the other, Amadou Diallo or Sean Bell or Patrick Dorismond, or any of a number of other black men whose names — were I to list them — would take up page after page, and whose names wouldn’t mean shit to most white people even if I did list them, and that is the problem.

Oh sure, I’ve heard it all before. George Zimmerman didn’t follow Trayvon Martin because Martin was black; he followed him because he thought he might be a criminal. Yes precious, I get that. But whatyou don’t get — and by not getting it while still managing to somehow hold down a job and feedyourself, scare the shit out of me — is far more important. Namely, if the presumption of criminality that Zimmerman attached to Martin was so attached because the latter was black — and would not have been similarly attached to him had he been white — then the charge of racial bias and profiling is entirely appropriate.

And surely we cannot deny that the presumption of criminality was dependent on this dead child’s race can we? Before you answer, please note that even the defense did not deny this. Indeed, Zimmerman’s attorneys acknowledged in court that their client’s concerns about Martin were connected directly to the fact that previous break-ins in the neighborhood had been committed by young black males.

This is why it matters that George Zimmerman justified his following of Martin because as he put it, “these fucking punks” always get away. In other words, Zimmerman saw Martin as just another “fucking punk” up to no good, similar to those who had committed previous break-ins in the community. But why? What behavior did Martin display that would have suggested he was criminally inclined? Zimmerman’s team could produce nothing to indicate anything particularly suspicious about Martin’s actions that night. According to Zimmerman, Martin was walking in the rain, “looking around,” or “looking around at the houses.” But not looking in windows, or jiggling doorknobs or porch screens, or anything that might have suggested a possible burglar. At no point was any evidence presented by the defense to justify their client’s suspicions. All we know is that Zimmerman saw Martin and concluded that he was just like those other criminals. And to the extent there was nothing in Martin’s actions — talking on the telephone and walking slowly home from the store — that would have indicated he was another of those “fucking punks,” the only possible explanation as to why George Zimmerman would have seen him that way is because Martin, as a young black male was presumed to be a likely criminal, and for no other reason, ultimately, but color.

Which is to say, Trayvon Martin is dead because he is black and because George Zimmerman can’t differentiate — and didn’t see the need to — between criminal and non-criminal black people. Which is to say, George Zimmerman is a racist. Because if you cannot differentiate between black criminals and just plain kids, and don’t even see the need to try, apparently, you are a racist. I don’t care what your Peruvian mother says, or her white husband who married the Peruvian mother, or your brother, or your black friends, or the black girl you took to prom, or the black kids you mentored. If you see a black child and assume “criminal,” despite no behavioral evidence at all to suggest such a conclusion, you are a racist. No exceptions. That goes for George Zimmerman and for anyone reading this.

And here’s the thing: even in the evidentiary light most favorable to George Zimmerman this would remain true. Because even if we believe, as the jury did, that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, there can be no question that were it not for George Zimmerman’s unfounded and racially-biased suspicions that evening, Trayvon Martin would be alive, and Zimmerman would be an entirely anonymous, pathetic wanna-be lawman, about whom no one would much care. It was he who initiated the drama that night. And even if you believe that Trayvon Martin attacked Zimmerman after being followed by him, that doesn’t change.

But apparently that moral and existential truth matters little to this jury or to the white reactionaries so quick to praise their decision. To them, the fact that Martin might well have had reason to fear Zimmerman that night, might have thought he was standing his ground, confronted by someone who himself was “up to no good” is irrelevant. They are saying that black people who fight back against someone they think is creepy and who is following them, and might intend to harm them, are more responsible for their deaths than those who ultimately kill them. What they have said, and make no mistake about it, is that any white person who wants to kill a black person can follow one, confront them, maybe even provoke them; and as soon as that black person perhaps takes a swing at them, or lunges at them, the white pursuer can pull their weapon, fire, and reasonably assume that they will get away with this act. I can start drama, and if you respond to the drama I created, you are to blame, not me.

But we know, if we are remotely awake, that this same logic would never be used to protect a black person accused of such an act. Let’s travel back to 1984 shall we, and hypothetically apply this logic to the Bernhard Goetz case in a little thought experiment so as to illustrate the point.

Goetz, as you’ll recall, was the white man who, afraid of young black men because he had been previously mugged, decided to shoot several such youth on a subway. They had not threatened him. They had asked him for money, and apparently teased him a bit. But at no point did they threaten him. Nonetheless, he drew his weapon and fired several rounds into them, even (according to his own initial account, later recanted), shooting a second time at one of the young men, after saying, “You don’t look so bad, here, have another.”

Goetz, predictably, was seen as a hero by the majority of the nation’s whites, if polls and anecdotal evidence are to be believed. He was a Dirty Harry-like vigilante, fighting back against crime, and more to the point, black crime. Ultimately he too would successfully plead self-defense and face conviction only on a minor weapons charge.

But let us pretend for a second that after Goetz pulled his weapon and began to fire at the young men on that subway, one of them had perhaps pulled his own firearm. Now as it turns out none of the boys had one, but let’s just pretend. And let’s say that one of them pulled a weapon precisely because, after all, he and his friends were being fired upon and so, fearing for his life, he opted to defend himself against this deranged gunman. And let’s pretend that the young man managed to hit Goetz, perhaps paralyzing him as Goetz did, in fact, to one of his victims. Does anyone seriously believe that that young black man would have been able to press a successful self-defense claim in court the way Goetz ultimately did? Or in the court of white public opinion the way Zimmerman has? If you would answer yes to this question you are either engaged in an act of self-delusion so profound as to defy imagination, or you are so deeply committed to fooling others as to make you truly dangerous.

But we are not fooled.

We don’t even have to travel back thirty years to the Goetz case to make the point, in fact. We can stay here, with this case. If everything about that night in Sanford had been the same, but Martin, fearing this stranger following him — the latter not identifying himself at any point as Neighborhood Watch — had pulled a weapon and shot George Zimmerman out of a genuine fear that he was going to be harmed (and even if Zimmerman had confronted him in a way so as to make that fear more than speculative), would the claim of self-defense have rung true for those who are so convinced by it in this case? Would this jury have likely concluded that Trayvon had had a right to defend himself against the perceived violent intentions of George Zimmerman?

Oh, and would it have taken so long for Martin to be arrested in the first place, had he been the shooter? Would he have been granted bail? Would he have been given the benefit of the doubt the way Zimmerman was by virtually every white conservative in America of note? And remember, those white folks were rushing to proclaim the shooting of Martin justified even before there had been any claim made by Zimmerman that Trayvon had attacked him. Before anyone had heard Zimmerman’s version of the story, much of white America, and virtually its entire right flank had already decided that Martin must have been up to no good because he wore a hoodie (in the rain, imagine), and was tall (actually according to the coroner he was 5’11″ not 6’2″ or 6’4″ as some have claimed), and that because of those previous break-ins, Zimmerman had every right to confront him.

No, Martin-as-shooter would never have benefited from these public pronouncements of innocence the way Zimmerman did.

Because apparently black people don’t have a right to defend themselves. Which is why Marissa Alexander, a woman who had suffered violence at the hands of her husband (by his own admission in fact), was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison after firing a warning shot into a wall when she felt he was about to yet again harm her.

And so it continues. Year after year and case after case it continues, with black life viewed as expendable in the service of white fear, with black males in particular (but many a black female as well and plenty of Latino folk too) marked as problems to be solved, rather than as children to be nurtured. And tonight, their parents will hold them and try to assure them that everything is going to be OK, even as they will have to worry again tomorrow that their black or brown child may represent the physical embodiment of white anxiety, and pay the ultimate price for that fact, either at the hands of a random loser with a law enforcement jones, or an actual cop doing the bidding of the state. In short, they will hold their children and lie to them, at least a little — and to themselves — because who doesn’t want their child to believe that everything will be alright?

But in calmer moments these parents of color will also tell their children the truth. That in fact everything is not going to be OK, unless we make it so. That justice is not an act of wish fulfillment but the product of resistance. Because black parents know these things like they know their names, and as a matter of survival they make sure their children know them too.

And if their children have to know them, then mine must know them as well.

And now they do.

If their children are to be allowed no innocence free from these concerns, then so too must mine sacrifice some of their naiveté upon the altar of truth.

And now they have.

So to the keepers of white supremacy, I should offer this final word. You can think of it as a word of caution. My oldest daughter knows who you are and saw what you did. You have made a new enemy. One day, you might wish you hadn’t.