By Arielle Iniko Newton
Editor’s Note: To support the two Muslim teenage girls who are victims/survivors in Portland, please give to their YouCaring page.
In America, only white men are heroes. In America, a nation defined by its white supremacist and colonial core, heroism is also shaped by how successful white men were (and are) at destroying the sanctity and self-sufficiency of marginalized, disenfranchised people.
Communities that survive the ramifications of these heroic tyrants must then perform the labor to correct revisionist misinterpretations of their heroic oppressors. We push biographers, historians, politicians and other agents trained under the specter of white supremacy to acknowledge and hold accountable their heroes. We demand they cease in their laudations of the heroic genocidaire that is Christopher Columbus, the heroic rapist that is Thomas Jefferson, and the heroic terrorist that is Andrew Jackson, among others.
As blatant anti-Black and anti-indigenous racism becomes more taboo and invisibilized, white supremacy is further evolving in the ways it thrusts its heroes upon us.
To quell a groundswell of outrage in oppressed communities and to further a deceptively self-interested public relations agenda, white supremacists have introduced sanitized versions of Black changemakers into their canon of heroes. The most obvious example of this hokum is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose radical militant political expressions are shielded from public view while the white response to him is rebranded from the overwhelming opposition that ultimately killed him into adulation for his “commitment” to nonviolence.
White supremacy’s shape-shifting ability to beguile and smear facts and nuance is the reason why when Black radical militants of today applaud or take part in contemporary rebellions, our mentions are flooded with basic headass white (and Black) liberals about how ashamed Dr. King would be.
Today, with the advent of crowdsourced fundraising platforms, people who have been blighted with white supremacist messaging, signaling, dog whistling, and experience get to determine in greater numbers who gets to be knighted as heroes.
In Portland, when Ricky John Best and Teliesin Myrddin Namki Meche died and Micah David-Cole Fletcher was injured after trying to “calm down” (not fight or chastise) a rampant neo-Nazi, they instantly became heroes, a legacy concretized after a deluge of donations went to the surviving members of their families. Collectively, the families of these white men will see over $1 million in crowdsourced donations. The two Muslim teenagers who were the ultimate target of the neo-Nazi will see, as of writing this, $115,000. They aren’t heroes in the ways white supremacy defines.
The main ingredient in white supremacist heroism is prohibiting the focus on those “saved” but lionizing those who are “saving.” We never center or celebrate survivors of torment, and instead treat them with suspicion should they ask or demand that their lives be restored. It is in this vein that some organizers of and donors to the viral fundraising drives for Best, Meche, and Fletcher allegedly “feel wrong” about uplifting the teenage Muslim girls who can never safely travel on public transit again. Some even went so far as saying these girls should feel bad for taking money that could go to “the survivor”– the white man.
Thankfully, the two Muslim girls received a modest surge in donations after Marissa Jenae Johnson, Co-Founder and Content Director of Safety Pinbox, amplified this discrepancy in a viral Facebook post hyperlinked above. An additional and substantial influx of donations came in after Fletcher, our hero, made a public appeal. Through this gesture, he concretized his heroism in appearing humble, sacrificial and thoughtful. He “saved” the two Muslim girls again.
Once again, white supremacy is reinforced and strengthened in both its institutional embeddedness and in its decentralization. How white supremacy crafts daily interactions and engagements shows itself in public fundraising. Studies have shown that on crowdsourced platforms, white benefactors see more dollars more quickly from the public.
White supremacy shapes our ideals of heroism. It motivates us to disregard those who will deal with the long-lasting consequences of upheaval and eulogize those sparse and ephemeral moments of debatable courage which in time become legend.
But Black women and femmes relentlessly force us to honor, recognize, and praise the Black, indigenous, and Latinx freedom fighters that white supremacy ruthlessly and desperately wants us to ignore. Should we embrace the freedom fighters that promote self-defense and/or advocate for rebellion and overthrow, then Black people begin to organize in ways that are unilaterally injurious to white people and their surveillance state.
Radical militant Black women and femmes are deepened in our commitment to Liberation when we open and close our spaces with Assata Shakur’s words and tell the world that she taught us. We develop our fearlessness from Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera and our creative courage from Audre Lorde. It is in them and the scores of freedom fighters that we persist in our holistic vision of Liberation.
And no matter what heroes white supremacy shoves down my throat or whitewashes, my freedom fighters, in their truest form, remain.
Arielle Newton aka Iniko is an editor at @RaceBaitR, an organizer within the Movement for Black Lives, and the founder of the Black Giving Fund. In 2014, she’s created BlackMillennials.com, a digital hub for the cultural empowerment of young adults in the African diaspora. As Head Girl of Ravenclaw, she is an unapologetic mermaid, abolitionist, and radical militant freedom fighter.
Follow her on Twitter at @arielle_newton or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.