Updated: Jun 3, 2020
The world is a heavy place.
Even during the greatest natural cataclysm we’ve faced, we find that the greedy and consumptive are utilizing the opportunity to further their agendas. They’re reaping social distancing protocols as a chance to build disputed pipelines. They’re cutting arts funding, often a nexus for the marginalized to organize. And perhaps most disturbingly felt are some of the infernal murders against Black and Indigenous people circulated on social media.
I am seeing post after post about the responsibility asked of white people in undoing white supremacy. This is vital work. White supremacy is a white problem. But where do those of us who come from cultures which uphold anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism - those of us who are brown or Asian settlers on stolen land - and those of us who suffer from white supremacy, find ourselves?
From the outset, I want to say that whatever I do to combat anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism ought to entirely center Black and Indigenous people and communities. I am one person and my actions are limited by my finite reach. I know there are better, stronger, and more directly impacted people who are doing the work. Turn to them for leadership. Give them the space. Invest in their movements. Listen to them.
But I am also responsible to respond and mobilize in communities which I am part. My silence would be complicit otherwise. Along with so many others, I feel helpless as I watch from my computer screen the police brutality across North America. I am thinking about my position as an Arab, sort-of-Muslim, queer immigrant living in Canada. By the nature of white supremacy and the colonial project of Canada, those of us who integrate into the WASP*y (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) status quo of Canadian societies are complicit in anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. And by the same nature of white supremacy, those of us who immigrate to Canada can feel dependent on that same integration for our social, cultural, economic, and spiritual survival.
The graphic above comes from Cherokee* intellectual, feminist, and anti-violence activist Andrea Smith. In an article titled “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy: Rethinking women of color organizing,” Smith details White Supremacy's three logics: Slavery, Genocide, and Orientalism, as the philosophical foundations for the anchors: Capitalism, Colonialism, and War. You can read the full article here. (*Edit: It's come to my attention that Andrea Smith is not Cherokee and her claims to Cherokee ancestry are controversial and harmful. Ironically, the concept of Three Pillars of White Supremacy is still useful).
I remember this graphic detailing the anatomy of white supremacy. Several years ago, upon first reading the article, I recognized that I was only unfurling one pillar – Orientalism and War. I deeply feel and understand the impacts of imperialism, the Great-White-West, Israeli/British colonial, post-colonial, and neo-colonial domination. I can relate white supremacy to the forced immigration projects my parents had to undertake, to the litany of wars in my homelands, to the loss of my language and the loss of my cultural sensibilities.
If I’ve learned anything, it is that responding to white supremacy demands nuance and gradation. The ways I’m impacted by white supremacy differs substantially from the ways Black and Indigenous communities are impacted. My Arab lineage reminds me of the legacies of the sub-Saharan slave trade, which bleeds into our everyday language that colloquially names Black people as “A’beed.” Literally – slaves. My Canadian citizenship reminds me that the legitimizing entity which I respond to is Canada, not the Indigenous nations which are a part of the make up of this land. We have a responsibility to change this.
Those of us who are Brown, Arab, Jewish, or Asian understand the impacts of white supremacy. We can use this knowledge to break apart our own internalization of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism.
But it’s not enough that I’m an Arab person who experiences white supremacy. What this week has illuminated is that the catch-all of “POC” (People of Color) has its limits. While there is immense utility in uniting the groups impacted by white supremacy, it is vital that our understanding of racism responds to the various manifestations of its logic.
While there is immense utility in uniting the groups impacted by white supremacy, it is vital that our understanding of racism responds to the varies manifestations of its logic.
And we don’t need to be propelled into action by the circulation of horrific images of brutalized black bodies and murdered Indigenous people. We understand the impacts of racism, so let us not wait for the emotional turbulence of this week to be our only motivation for social change. What I’m advocating is that we have the same level of compassion, activation, and intention for social change when things are several degrees dislocated from our immediate field of view. Unfortunately, if internet trends indicate anything, the police violence this week will be forgotten in next week’s wave of social media frenzy. Just as the death of Iranian civilians at the beginning of the year, or the distant memory of the Syrian boy washed up on shore, the internet forgets. The internet has seemingly already forgotten the anti-Asian racism of yesterday. But I know that for Persian and Arab communities, imperialist violence marches on. We know for Asian communities; conspiratorial dehumanization is folded into the everyday rhetoric of the political sphere.
Just as well: we ought to remember that for black communities, police violence will creep into the psyches of the parents instructing their 14-year-old sons on etiquette for survival. We ought to remember that for Indigenous families, attempted cultural genocide is felt in the way the water runs dirty in the faucets.
And I understand all too well – when we are fighting racism with one breath and reproducing it with the next, the world can become a weary place and we can become immobilized by the weight of it.
Then let us direct our raging hearts to create the shift we need. Taking the smallest step in the next direction is where we allow our action to take root. And action takes many forms: the simple acts of listening, reading, absorbing, understanding, and integrating into your world view the experiences which you do not experience is a vital part of this shift. The acts of small and large conversations with family and friends. The practices of our money and the recognition that our dollars impacts the lives on the other side. Action is even found in the bold, radical act of self regeneration, self love, self compassion, and self care - for we need our whole selves to come to the resistance. And of course, action can manifest in explicit acts of riots, protest, education initiatives, political engagement, and all the expected avenues of social change. Most importantly, let us take our leadership from those impacted most.
Most importantly, let us take our leadership from those impacted most.
Our work today is greater than any one of us and we are unlikely to see the fruits of our labor in the ways we dream. But I lean on the Iroquois philosophy of the healing of seven generations. The prescient concept offers that we are interlinked in an inter-generational movement - that our actions today is considerate of our many-great grandchildren of tomorrow.
Even in these strange times – actually, especially in these strange times – we are tasked with a responsibility to care for one another. We are, humbly, an upright social being who cannot comprehend its place in an unnerving and mysterious universe. If this pandemic has reminded us of anything, it is that the storms of the natural world will indifferently wash us over. It would be a misuse of our shared knowledge and our collective wisdom to allow hatred, cruelty, and divisiveness be the grenades that topple our endeavors toward harmony.
Please consider donating to these two organizations (there are other organizations circulating social media which you might also contribute to). I've selected these two because I have some relationship with one or more individuals within the organizations: