What does it really mean for White people to work on dismantling white supremacy if that work is often steeped in very same habits of mind it hopes to unwind? Whiteness is intertwined with a residual modern Enlightenment mind that must make declarations, list demands, unleash manifestos, and wipe away all incumbents with the new solution. Both possess a disposition of dominance and a righteous absolutism that press toward an emancipatory ultimate.
....In an expanded activist repertoire that is not strictly beholden to the messianic promise of a total revolution, maybe there is a sense that not everything must be new or absolute. Maybe there are multiple and simultaneous approaches that can be embarked upon immediately, without first requiring a revolutionary tabula rasa. Maybe even the quest for freedom may be set aside in favor of forms of release, relief, and welfare that derive from entanglement.
Three Times Twenty-four hours in the Day
Even if activists continually redouble their efforts, they will still face a deficit.
They owe the first twenty-four hours of their day to work on the political vanguard. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore argues, the kinds of changes required in the United States to begin to address the legacy of 400+ years of abuse lodged against Black, Indigenous, and Brown people will not be met with bipartisan support. Instead, they will come from a multitude of left-leaning activists pressuring government. Activists (hopefully without the insufferable self-congratulation of White progressives) can swell the ranks and, perhaps, help relieve their BIPOC colleagues of the labor of protest.
But the activist also owes another twenty-four hours in the same day to reversing Whiteness at the personal, institutional, and national level. These efforts should not require any further assistance from Black leaders who have long been educating a broader culture about racial injustice. There have already been enough elegantly organized campaigns of dissent that have been beaten down. And there is more than enough historical precedent, literature, political theory, legal evidence, and data about economies, health, and welfare. There may be personal work that White people will need to do until they die to root out their ingrained supremacy, and, ideally, institutional Whiteness can be diluted to prevent further injury through bureaucratic programs for diversity. But there are no obstacles to the immediate cessation of harm and the initiation of repair.
For the work of the first and second twenty-four hours in the day, there is hope, now more than ever, for the political will to defund police, check power imbalances, and deliver reparations, while also addressing deep racial inequities embedded in healthcare and climate change.
But going further, a third twenty-four hours of the activist’s day — now nowhere near the political vanguard — remains in negative territory. This is work on the rearguard to address the ever present binary divides that endanger all efforts towards racial justice — divides that politicians perennially weaponize to gain and maintain power. Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” in the 1968 election and Trump’s noxious mixtures of racial and political triggers are just two obvious examples. Skilled politicians have long known how to use temperament and disposition to confuse ideological content or even marshal an opposing political view to fuel their own engine. White, politically conservative populations can then injure, yet again, with amnesic cries of forgotten men and lost causes.
White activists should perhaps be the only ones who have to hold their nose and do the ongoing work of dulling these binaries and short-circuiting the victimhood and violence that attends them. To those who have given themselves the luxury of political purity, this work may not resemble the activism they recognize. And to be effective, it might even operate under the radar.
Old New Deal
Consider the White dominated middle of the United States....