My mother wears a MAGA hat and pimps for the 45th. Her pitch leads with how much her portfolio has fattened since the real estate developer and game-show host cheated his way into the Office of the President. She ends with how good her healthcare is now and how good it can be for all his supporters. (I see, now, why conservative white people with some years are afraid of “death panels.” They know who they are and what they’ve done.) Two of my brothers follow suit. My sisters are more subtle — their support is enabling in its silence, quiet judgment, and intentional ignorance. (If my father hadn’t died of lung cancer at age 37, I’m afraid he’d be in the background planning another Charleston march.)
One of my aunts claims she’s “financially conservative, but socially liberal.” I don’t know what the fuck that even means anymore. I used to say it, too, when I didn’t know what else to say, when money and morality seemed separate somehow. Now that money isn’t everything in my life and I have nothing to lose materially, I just don’t see the difference. It all seems to come down to how much suffering on the part of other people we are willing to tolerate to maintain our “own” place in the hierarchy. How many Black and brown people are we willing to see murdered before we start talking and pushing back against our white family and friends, whose silence killed George Floyd as effectively as a knee to the throat?
I started using the hashtag #proudlyNOTawhitesupremacist when I was living and conducting ethnographic research in Southern Oregon. I’d never lived immersed in so many white people before. My best friends growing up were brown. In middle school, Black girls took me under their wing and protected me. I lived in Richmond, California where I’d bought my first home, thanks to a brown man’s generosity, a Black realtor’s savvy, and the bank almost foreclosing on the brown and Black family who lived there. My undergrad and grad college life was filled with brown and Black fellow students. I taught at Saint Mary’s College, SFSU, Peralta, and College of Marin where so many of my students were brown and Black.
As someone who calls the SF East Bay home, I took for granted the diverse human soil in which I was grown until I moved to a place teeming with mostly white people. From my ethnographic notes in Oregon: “an overwhelming sea of whiteness. of white people. visceral, immediate, consuming. something to be endured. drowning in white people. no eye contact from anyone not white. difference must be passing-careful or withdraw entirely to feel safe or trusted. to embody a full range of expression. to have any chance at a lasting sense of well-being. to have the choice to feel fully human. whiteness is the authority. submission is the only acceptable response. nothing democratic here.”
That sea of white people — without any markers to distinguish supremacists from not — is easily claimed and used by white nationalists as support. Without objection from white people who are NOT white supremacists, the optics for BIPOC are that all white people are supremacists. All that openly available whiteness is also claimed for support by the NRA, which is a tool of white supremacy and white nationalism. And white police officers benefit immensely from all those white people who won’t openly declare they are NOT white supremacists.
Can you imagine what the white world would look like to BIPOC if the majority of white people who are NOT white supremacists signaled so openly? The pressure that would put on the enablers in the middle who stand by and let the George Floyds die under the knee of a white supremacist?
The culture has to change — we have to flip it. We can help do that work by openly declaring that we are NOT white supremacists. Like a pink triangle signals a safe space for LGBQIA+ folx, #proudlyNOTawhitesupremacist signals a safer white person.
As part of a research project I started when I didn’t have a place to call home (#themobilebubbleproject), I visited former California neighborhoods where I’d lived, worked, and played: Concord, Pleasant Hill, Martinez, Pacheco, Crockett; Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda. It was surreal. It felt like home until I noticed all the flags. (What they represent now was always there before; I just never noticed when I was trapped inside my own whiteness.) So many massive American flags. And some big confederate flags. And plenty of “blue lives matter” flags.
I’ll never forget the Black family in a corner house in Concord I saw sitting out on their front porch silently watching their white neighbors across the street work a punching bag hanging from a tree in their front yard while a massive American flag flapped in the breeze behind them. I’d just read about the rise in domestic violence since the shelter-in-place, and I saw that it wasn’t just vulnerable people in families suffering. Whole locked down neighborhoods of Black and brown people were being surveilled, harassed, and intimidated by their white male and female neighbors, all hopped up on Stephen Miller-driven MAGA testosterone. And the press can’t figure out why the “rise in violence” since the pandemic? Go visit the neighborhoods, media people. You’ll see for yourself (if you have eyes to see) the pressure-cookers that are pushing people to pop off.
I documented and pushed back where I could. The old white couple at Concord Community park openly surveilling everyone and their cars in the lot. (Got them on video while I commented loudly in front of others on their surveillance.) In Crockett, on the way out to a trail, I stopped in front of one house with monstrous dual flags — American and Confederate. I pulled over and bashed my horn, not letting go with that hand while the other flipped the bird at the people inside. Sure, it was futile. No one came out, of any house. It didn’t matter, though. I needed to loudly express my disgust. (I punched the gas and drove to a spot by the Bay where I could sing “La Llorona” as loud as I could, over and over, until I stopped crying.)
The old white couple who used a Sea Ranch cottage to scam vulnerable people for years; they lost that property after fighting with me for more than a year and will never be able to use it to scam vulnerable people again. The white people at Sea Ranch destroying the environment by stealing all the other animals’ habitat, now publicly called out. The many white scammers along the way called out and who paid because I pushed back. There are dozens of examples of places where I pushed back, spoke up, put my whole fucking life on the line because I couldn’t stay quiet. I just didn’t have a choice. If we all took those little stands along the way, it might make a difference.
Like all the little fish in that net in Finding Nemo, if all the just, democratic white people spoke up and pushed back together, we might save this sinking ship of a democracy. Too many white people are holding on, battening down the hatches, and hoping to save their stuff and their spots — on a vessel that is sinking rapidly.
All Medium stories are works in progress.