I am addressing this invitation to White Men, particularly Progressive White Men, particularly Cis Progressive White Men (although there may be many things contained herein that may apply or resonate with you, my other White Siblings – or others that benefit from Heteropatriarchal Anti-Blackness – and so you are welcome to listen in and receive the parts of the invitation that fit your story.)
I am writing this to you at a crucial moment, as the cries for justice in the street that you have so enthusiastically joined – in a moment when it had become the acceptable thing to do – now begin to catch the foreshadowing of the soft wind of comfort and complacency that so often causes White folxs to turn our faces back away from the storm.
There is still – even now – the sense of so much possibility, so much transformation. The world shudders to its core and threatens to crack wide open and give birth to something new. I wonder if this is what it felt like to live in that great moment of opportunity that was strategized by Bayard Rustin, organized by Ella Baker, and galvanized by Fannie Lou Hamer.
I wonder also, if this is what it felt like to live in the aftermath of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when Black voices demanded Reparations and we – White church leaders – offered and funded systems of “Reconciliation” instead. Choosing even in our response to hold on to the myth that we knew best. Choosing a form of investment that would allow us to continue to collect the receipts, control the resources and determine the outcomes – rather than accepting the invitation to divest from colonization and trust Black wisdom.
We failed then. Help us write a new story.
In order to do that, I am asking you to understand, White Man, that we need you, we just do not need you at the front of the line. Just because the teacher told us to all line up behind you, does not mean you need to cooperate if you know in the pit of your stomach that you truly have no idea where to go.
Release the burden of leadership placed upon you by White Supremacist systems and Heteropatriarchal institutions. We need you. We just don’t need you there.
Your education, your formation, your experience, and your perspective are inadequate to lead us to where we need to go.
This is an invitation to release that pressure on yourself. You do not need to lead us. You do not know where to go.
I know you are feeling anxiety about this. Cramming in as many books, articles, documentaries as possible to make up for lost time and find the language to use so as not to embarrass yourself, to reestablish yourself as an expert.
This is an invitation to release yourself from that expectation. We do not need you to absorb the wisdom of Womanist Theology and regurgitate it in brief quotes in your speeches. We need you to give the Womanists the mic.
This is an invitation to understand that we don’t need you to be our experts. No amount of book reading is going to change that. That chapter where White men got to do all the writing and speaking and leading and deciding is over. Grieve it if you must, but move on, do not let it hold you back from the new and useful life that awaits.
There is within this moment and movement certain Shibboleths by which those who have been in the trenches recognize one another, and recognize those whose lead we’ve learned to follow. You will not find those signifiers in a book. You will not find them on social media. There is no code that you can study to crack. You will only find your way by living. By losing. By sacrifice.
Don’t misunderstand me: You must study. It is true that you must do the book reading. But what the book reading is going to do is equip you to be a help rather than a hindrance in getting us where we need to go. It is not going to equip you to lead us in getting there. Lay that burden down.
This reading you are doing must be paired with accountability, because without it we become dangerous. Like the Karens and the Amy Coopers – or should I say the Kens and the Brock Turners – using our knowledge of the corrupt system to our own benefit.
Release that need for stability and respect. Let yourself be unsettled. Set off balance. Disturbed. Stay there. Do not fight the discomfort. Remember that the whole world has been set up to give you an exit that the rest of us have never had. Resist the urge to use the eject button.
Resist the urge to reestablish yourself. Not being in the lead is a completely legitimate way of living. I know that our White Supremacist heteropatriarchial culture has taught you that there is only one respectable role for you, and there is anxiety in not fulfilling it. But what you have been taught is a lie.
Please, siblings, be set free from this particular burden and wound we carry into this conversation about White Supremacy. The belief that has been taught to you in subtle and direct ways that your place is at the head – at the head of the march, at the head of the church, at the head of the family. Lay that burden down. There are many other legitimate ways for you to live. We need you, we just don’t need you there.
Receive this as an invitation to another kind of life.
You came to me once, White Progressive Man, and told me your excitement about planting your own church. You told me about how your plan was to find a Black woman to be your associate pastor at your new church start, so that you could build a diverse congregation. I suggested that instead you should find a Black woman to be your senior pastor, and you could be the associate at her church, and serve under her leadership. Like the rich young ruler, you turned away, albeit with a bit more resentment than sadness.
I was trying to pass on the favor of what has been done for me, trying to intervene on your behalf.
You and I have been making very intentional decisions for the past couple decades, and it has taken us to very different places. None of this has been by happenstance. I’ve had people kind enough to intervene on my behalf, to refuse to let me give in to comfort; Black women who have gripped onto my calling when I couldn’t even see it myself. They intervened on my behalf time and again, offering me direct opportunities to sabotage my privilege, and I am now trying to pass on that favor. If you’re open to it, I’d like to intervene on your behalf. I’d like to intervene on behalf of the calling you have, and the faith to which you hold.
The sooner you realize, grieve, and release the reality that your education, experience and perspective are inadequate to lead us where we need to go, the sooner you can start the very important work of following the leadership of those directly impacted by the system of injustice that we claim to want to overturn.
Society has too often placed you at the top of a pyramid built upon the labor and tears of the marginalized. The quickest way to fix that is for you to voluntarily come down.
May I suggest following the lead of Black women? I have found it to be a very fulfilling way of living.
Instead of pivoting to figure out which books to read to reposition yourself as an expert and regain some sense of stability and control in the midst of a world that is spinning out from under you, I’d like to invite you to lay down that burden and accept that you will never be the expert again. That the world never needed to be under you, and that if it is spinning out of that postion, let it spin.
Be at peace.
Start the journey.
We need you. We just don’t need you there.
Guilt paralyzes, but conviction leads to action. Reject your guilt, embrace your conviction.
We are in a crucial moment, when we can already start to feel the foreshadowing – if not the reality – of the tone-policing, the adjustments, the slight turning towards voices that make White people more comfortable. You will soon be offered ways of assuaging these intense emotions you’ve been feeling in ways that cost you little. You are probably already being offered exit ramps off the streets where you’ve been marching. You are probably already being offered theories and language and responses that will let you feel like you are still a part of building justice, without feeling so unsettled, off-balance – open to criticism and accusation and loss.
Resist your urge to re-establish Stability. Respectability. Control. Balance.
If the world is about to turn, lean into it. Don’t fight it.
When you’ve been through this cycle enough times, you know how to recognize the warning signs, how to feel the shifts in the wind. This is the moment to lean into the wind, not to be swept away by it. This it the time to resist the pull of the tide that is tempting you back towards the complacency and comfort that we have been taught we deserve.
Do not trade in the cries of the people for the docile demands that promise to decrease your discomfort while restoring your sense of equilibrium.
Stay off balance.
White siblings – because deadly racism is not a pain we feel, but an injustice we observe – we struggle to have the heart and energy to keep going. Do not lose courage as we begin to think about the implications for our own lives. If we truly understand that the police were originally created to protect us – and only us – could there not be a bias that would enter into our perception of the demands being made? Do we really want to live in a world without that disproportionate protection that we have learned to enjoy? Do we really want to give up the ways that we benefit from the violence inflicted upon others?
As White people we are tempted to give up, to soften our tone, to turn down the volume and the energy. Sometimes we are scared, sometimes we are confused, and sometimes we are just tired.
I have been hearing from so many of you, telling me how tired you are, asking me how I’ve done this for years. Beloved, now is no time to grow weary. And the brief decades I have been living as a race traitor in no way come close to the reality of living one’s life as the target of racism and White Supremacy. We cannot grow weary after we have taken only a few steps. We have only barely stopped crawling and begun to learn to walk. We are still wiping the goop of The Matrix out of our eyes. Don’t stop now.
Whiteness always rises up and colonizes and occupies and reframes and controls the narrative and tries to rewrite the story. We make of radical Brown Jesus a White Stained Glass window. We make of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a pithy quote, a street name, a warning to Black radicals to stay in their place. It’s happening. It’s beginning again as it always does. Do not accept this. Dig in your heels. Refuse to go back to the comfortable rooms from which you emerged. Rage, resist. This is where we need you.
Not to lead us. Not to get us back on track. Rather, to sabotage the tracks so that we cannot go back to “normal.” Refuse the cup of power and comfort. For once in your life, become a true enemy to your own privilege.
I want you to be set free from the myth that you need to lead. The story that White Supremacy and Patriarchy have told you. There is another life, another world, another reality, another possibility.
The very way that you exist in the world is a result of the system that you claim to want to destroy. If enough of you chose to divest yourself of power, you could deal a real blow to the hierarchy upon which you preside.
I heard you speaking recently of all the privilege that you can bring to the table. Instead of grief, there was a hint of excitement in your voice. As if you’d cracked the code. As if you’d found the solution. The path out of guilt and back into leadership. I know it feels good to feel useful. Yet, as I watch you don your robes and stole – enjoying being called Father here in the Southwest where the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church endows you with increased deference from the general population – I wonder as you enjoy that attention if it occurs to you that you are relishing the fruits of White Supremacist Patriarchy even as you strive to protest it.
There’s a shortcut out of all of this. Instead of us working to dismantle the systems that give you the privilege, that make you the Senior Pastor instead of the Associate, you could sabotage the system. You could refuse to cooperate. You could deny the opportunities and positions offered to you.
I’ve been called a Trojan horse more than once in my life, because the package doesn’t match the contents. Be a Trojan Horse. Help us bust through the walls that were built to protect you. Tear the system down.
Help us change this for our children.
Don’t support the movement in visible, performative ways, while simultaneously resisting its momentum in subtle, invisible ways.
Lay your burden down.
Ask yourself, can you see yourself as Mary, sitting at the feet of Black Woman Jesus. Can you choose the “better part.” Or is your imagination incapable of seeing yourself anywhere in that story except presiding and leading and speaking and teaching and writing from the seat of White Jesus.
In the great words of Lauryn Hill in her song Freedom Time:
“Everybody knows that they guilty
Everybody knows that they’ve lied
Everybody knows that they guilty
Resting on their conscience eating their inside
It’s freedom, said it’s freedom time now
It’s freedom, said it’s freedom time now
Time to get free, or give yourselves up now
It’s freedom, said it’s freedom time.”
Things you can do (i.e. some of the rules I’ve lived by):
Educate yourself in order to be useful, not to be an expert.
Follow- @CandyCornball, @BreeNewsome, @WilGafney, @AliciaTCrosby, @RevEmmaJ, @DrChanequa, @DesireeAdaway, @RevDrIrie (Womanists etc. who want follows post in comments and I’ll edit to add them here)
Engage- Whiteness at Work Summer Series
Don’t even apply for jobs that you do not think should be held by a White man.
Apply this to all kinds of opportunities – scholarships, trips, fellowships, etc.
When you turn down opportunities, suggest they not be given to another white man. Use your voice in that moment to advocate for change within the very system. Let them know you will be following up to see if they did it.
Refuse to be a part of White-only groups with benefits.
Seriously. I’m talking panels, revivals, conferences, leadership societies, etc.
Except if they are a privilege accountability intentional working group.
Sabotage the system.
I’m talking not cooperating with an itinerancy that gives you benefits in advancement.
I’m talking stepping down to make room for others, like Reddit founder Alexis Ohanion did.
I’m talking speaking up Every. Single. Time. that something is said that demeans, diminishes, and mocks those whose exclusion is the foundation for the opportunities your demographic hoards.
I’m talking refusing to let White male colleagues get away with profiting off of the labor of Black men and women
I’m talking speaking up so that they don’t have to. You getting fired INSTEAD of them.
I’m talking not simply figuring out how you can use your power for good, but seeking to actually destroy your disproportionate power with the ferocity of a dog that has spotted a piece of discarded burger on the street.
I’m talking not using “I have to provide a good life for my children” as an excuse to snatch up the good opportunities that come your way. Ask yourself, what exactly do you mean by “a good life”? Changing this unjust world is how you provide a better life for those children. Refusing to bequeath to them the same unjust privilege you have enjoyed is how you provide a better life for those children.
I’m talking recognizing that the system will also use those very children that you, Man, “must provide for” as a justification for offering you the opportunities it denies to women and Queer folxs and Black folxs and Undocumented folxs and so many others. Do not let the system trick you in this way anymore. Do not let them leverage your children against you to make you compromise your morals, convictions, ideals, and calling.
Let go of the need to understand and approve of the plan and the demands.
Learn instead to trust that those who have experienced injustice know exactly what they are doing. You do not need to give it your stamp of approval, because – remember – we need you, we just don’t need you there. We used to sing “Trust and Obey” in the pews of our churches. Try that instead. Trust and Obey. The rest of us have been doing it for millennia – take a turn on the dance floor.
Put your body in the way of harm and injustice.
You’ve been watching me do this for years with such intensity that it has become muscle memory, the traumas survived feeling like they’ve woven themselves into the structure of my cells. If this small body can do it, you can too.
Remember that the point of any of this is not ever to re-establish yourself as the center, so be careful that you put your body on the line in order to protect the vulnerable and not in order to be the picture on the front page of the news. This takes so very much effort, strategy, accountability and mindfulness, because we still live in a system that if left on auto-pilot will recenter you again and again. You have to actively fight that tendency.
Put your body in the way. Put your career in the way. Put your future in the way. Put your wallet in the way. Put your access in the way. Put your everything in the way.
I encourage you – within systems of accountability – to come up with new and creative ways to take this even further.
The reality is, I’m a Queer woman in a perpetually vulnerable position, so my imagination may be somewhat limited because I have lived with only a partial measure of the full measure of power and privilege you posses. I’m sure that if you accept this invitation to new life, you will be able to come up with even more ways to divest, resist, and sabotage this system that has been built by the efforts of your foreparents, and upheld by your own participation in it.
The system can only work if we participate. That is how it has survived this long. It is long past time to end it.