Two weeks ago, Scalawag Magazine publicly announced our commitment to use our platform to explicitly name and oppose white supremacy and anti-Blackness. To help deepen the conversation, we’ve asked our editorial team to put together an informal resource guide to share with our readers. This “Read Watch Listen Do” is our way of sharing a list of books, articles, films, podcasts, and activities that have helped us better understand and articulate white supremacy and anti-Blackness.
Zaina: It’s been helpful for me to learn from abolitionist writers who historicize the connective tissues of racism and prisons as extending far beyond the “justice system” in the United States. In many ways anti-Black and anti-indigenous racism and incarceration actually serve as foundational paradigms that have shaped the US nation-state, since its creation. I’ve also learned a lot from scholars like Sylvia Wynter, who question how our systems of language and education reproduce anti-Blackness which seeps into our ways of learning and understanding, perpetuating a failure to assign value to Black lives in the world(s) we live in. I strongly recommend: Against Innocence: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Safety by Jackie Wang. First published in LIES: A Journal of Materialist Feminism Vol. 1 (liesjournal.info), 2012 and No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to my Colleagues by Sylvia Wynter. First published in Voices of Black Diaspora, 1992.
Lewis: As a white, transgender person politicized in the anti-racism and anti-war movements of the late 90s and early 2000s, I’ve long seen my liberation as tied up with Black and Brown liberation--and long struggled with the role that white people should or shouldn’t play in these struggles. I also have deep roots in the South, ancestors who were slave-owners and Confederate generals and proud of it. One of the first tools I engaged with on my path to understanding my own role in combating white supremacy was Mab Segrest’s classic book, Memoir of a Race Traitor, published in 1999 by South End Press. I was also deeply influenced by Assata Shakur’s autobiography, Assata.
Sarah: As a white Atlantan who attended the city’s public schools, I could see how my skin color was a difference that made a difference — how my whiteness insulated, protected and privileged me in a school with not enough resources to go around. The struggles and obstacles I faced were worlds apart — and, with hindsight, of trivial significance — from those of my classmates. In the years since, I have found texts that have showed me how little I know of the worldview and the lived experiences beyond my own, an ignorance that is neither innocent or insignificant when it comes to the perpetuation of racial hierarchies. I have learned from so many texts, and so many conversations. It would be difficult to recount them all. But Claudia Rankine’s Citizen (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2014) has walked alongside me for a few years now, challenging me on each read to look deeper at the traumas that anti-Blackness inflicts on the people who are subjected to it. I’ve also found much to mull over in Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s taut profiles of Black artists, writers and intellectuals (esp. her profile, “The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison”). On the more academic side, Charles Mills’ work rearticulating white supremacy as a critical concept and Patricia Hill Collins’ work in Black Feminist Epistemology: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment (New York: Routledge, 2000) have both influenced my thinking. Mills gives an interview for The New York Times about his work that is more accessible than his philosophical texts.
Alysia: As a Black poet and performer, I am always drawn to the creative ways people communicate emotional truths drawn from the empirical data of their lived experiences. Creativity speaks to the way in which we use our tools and skills to generate new possibilities from old materials. In particular I’m thinking of James Baldwin’s works and their sheer communicative power in addressing racism and white supremacy. I am drawn to Baldwin’s 1965 Cambridge debate with William Buckley “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?” In this speech he is able to indict systems of oppression and white supremacy and just as adeptly speak to the moral, interpersonal, and human cost of racism.
James Baldwin addresses the debate’s central question in such a way that reminds us of our inherent, undivorceable bond to one another. He drives home the point that liberation is all together liberating and oppression is all together oppressive to all parties involved.
Zaina: In this short video It’s Not Police Brutality,” Dylan Rodriguez—critical race theorist and professor at the University of California Riverside—offers a useful problematizing of mainstream language around reforms to policing, raising the analysis that brutality seen from police is not a deviation or merely the actions of “few bad apples” but rather, the enacted function of police, since the foundation of the first police forces.
Cierra: We are some 60 years past Brown v. Board and the educational achievement gap, the disparity in academic achievement between groups of students, is the greatest it has ever been. This is especially true when we compare white students and students of color, and even more specifically Black students. What then did we get wrong in our execution of integration? How does such a disparity exist? What has happened to the great equalizer?
As an educator, this is the lens through which I began to understand how pervasive white supremacy actually is and how much it dictates who is set up to succeed in our society. White supremacy is the root of educational inequity; when we look at the issues that complicate access to a quality education -- school budgets tied to property taxes, busing, the school to prison pipeline, etc., we begin to understand just how pervasive white supremacy is and how it connects to other systems of inequality in our country.
“The Problem We All Live With” is one of my favorite This American Life episodes and does a great job of breaking down the inequities that exist in education and the racism and anti-Blackness underpinning them all. There is even a segment on work that has been done here in Scalawag’s home base of Durham, NC and why these “reforms” failed.
Lovey: The sheer quantity of good reporting that has come out this year taking deep dives into the tenets of white supremacyis staggering. But as active members of a field that more often than not serves as a tool to reinforce white supremacy, consuming good reporting isn’t really enough. We’re pretty good at self-critique here at Scalawag, but something that I think a lot of us in this realm have to grapple with is the fact that talking about these kinds of issues from an academic standpoint already piggybacks on a history of quiet ignorance about the very same issues we spend university money researching and dismantling. It’s not enough to drop in and report on the radicalized “other”; it’s about acknowledging the system’s role in our modern-day society and calling it out directly.
Listen: Hate on the march: White nationalism in the Trump era, Reveal
DO – TOOL KITS AND ACTION STEPS
Matt: One way that white people implicitly support white supremacy is by distancing themselves from it and disavowing their complicity in social structures and patterns of white domination. Even if we oppose it, our lives are deeply enmeshed in white supremacy— our world would be unrecognizably different without it. As I’ve wrestled with understanding the implications of this, the following resources have been helpful:
Dismantling Racism’s “analysis tools” on denial and resistance
Sara Ahmed, “Declarations of Whiteness: The Non-Performativity of Anti-Racism,” borderlands e-journal 3.2 (2004)
Shannon Sullivan, Good White People: The Problem with Middle-Class White Anti-Racism (New York: SUNY Press, 2014).
Lewis: I’m passionate about the role of hands-on political education and political action as a tool for both building community and strengthening our skills and analysis. So, a couple of political education resources : “White people for Black Trans Liberation” is an online toolkit created by Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) as part of a national day of action for Black Trans Lives, #transliberationtuesday
“Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) Resources,” by the Chicago PIC Teaching Collective and Project NIA, is a collection of interactive curricula, including audio and video, for political education about the role of policing and prisons in upholding white supremacy. Go deep--it’s worth it.
Danielle: Name whiteness in the same ways that you name Blackness. Combating white supremacy and anti-Blackness requires understanding the basics of how race works. In a racialized society, there isn’t a place, person, object, policy, or practice that is not raced, regardless of what they are called. Because whiteness exists at the top of the power hierarchy in this country—and around the world—the everyday, mundane mainstream things that most (even non-white folk) take for granted as “true” or “right” are in fact, simply white. For example, The New York Times is a mainstream, international newspaper “of record” from the U.S. In other words, it’s a white newspaper. This is true, even though non-white people write or edit or even administer parts of the paper. If race is about power, then whiteness has to influence how everyone thinks about what is “newsworthy” or “fact”. So even though the NYT publishes people with different opinions, its main perspective centers the interests of whiteness. Still, nobody calls it white, because to do so would be to make it seem “subjective”.
No other race gets the luxury of being “objective.” And Blackness, which is located at the bottom of the power hierarchy, is treated as the most “subjective”—and thus the least trustworthy in articulations of what is “true” or “right.” Everyone knows that Essence and Ebony are Black magazines espousing Black perspectives, but whose perspectives are espoused in Rolling Stone or The Nation?
Once we can name whiteness, we can begin to take it off its pedestal, to rearrange power. Here are some resources that have been helpful to me—a queer Black woman struggling with internal and external anti-Blackness:
Scalawag Team: We'll give y'all one final do: let us know who is working to combat white supremacy in your community! Scalawag is publishing an ongoing series about southerners standing up to white supremacy in many forms, and we want to hear your ideas about what we should cover. We’re also open to your pitches for these profiles. We pay writers money! Either way, get at us—we want to know you and your community better, and lift up the stories of the people who are already standing up and fighting.