By Arielle Iniko Newton
On Friday, when pictures and video of tiki torch-wielding white supremacists appeared on social media, a cadre of Black people immediately called on white allies to put their bodies on the line to stand against explicit white supremacy.
I was unnerved that the visceral response from Black organizers and activists whom I’ve come to know and trust centered white involvement, instead of entrusting Black people to respond in ways we deem necessary and strategic.
Following the death of Heather Heyer, these calls for white solidarity quickly morphed into celebrations of white martyrdom. Some went so far as to suggest that, historically, some white people have done and risked more for Black Liberation than some Black people have, echoing the widely panned and flawed logic espoused by those who defended Rachel Dolezal and her extensively violent form of cultural appropriation.
Further, some of these Black people disassociated white supremacy from white people, and insisted that white supremacy was just as dangerous to white people as it is to Black folk, a position I find dishonest and a fundamental affront to Black people and our legacies.
In this line of thinking, I am reminded of Black people who desperately attempt to appeal to racist whites by illogically reasoning that once Black people get free, racists gain freedom too, once again conditioning our Liberation on whether or not it benefits our oppressors.
I will not link to these public declarations to which I am referring. My personal and individualized critiques of these responses best exist offline and in person, where disagreement about ideologies and principles are more digestible and not easily written off as performative call-out.
I accept that Blackness is not a universal declarative standard of values, and instead exists on a multi-dimensional field. We express our visionary politics in ways reflective and unique to our experiences and environments. Thus, in the wake of such a controversial and emotionally stirring incident, our subsequent responses will range from uninterested to revolutionary.
Yet, I am concerned with those who proclaim radicalism as their springboard for action but condemn radical voices that refuse, in any instance, to lionize whiteness. Black radicalism examines the root causes of white supremacy and does not seek to excuse, minimize, justify, or temper its tentacled methods and behaviors. Thus, a significant facet of my Black radicalism views all white people with nothing less than suspicion.
I suspect that a sizable majority of white people outraged by the events in Charlottesville are not fighting for Black Liberation; they are expressing discontent with explicit white supremacy. They do not wish to overthrow white supremacy in its totality; they seek to keep it wrapped up in euphemisms. White supremacy “#IsNot(Them)”— except it is.
I am even more suspicious of white people who do put their bodies on the line because they do so in a warped sense of self-interest. Many are actively involved with extensive pro-Black organizing because they believe their aspirational “freedom” is attached to ours — but it’s not.
White freedom relies on Black subservience. And when many come to this realization, that they will not see material benefit from Black Liberation, they abandon us and fully embrace white supremacy.
I’ve noticed that many of the Black people who called for us to consider white “allies” (or whatever name for them that is popular now) are embedded within the nonprofit industrial complex and/or the academy, associations that speak firmly to my suspicions of whiteness and its agents. I suspect the close affiliations that many Black self-proclaimed radicals have with monied whites influence these public unironic white-sympathizing sentiments.
We know that this is a longstanding quagmire within our community; that when we are compelled and coerced to rely on white people and their money and social capital for survival, we are tempered and controlled against ourselves.
For me, the only appropriate demand of white people is unconditional monetary reparations to actual Black people. I care little if they organize themselves to stand in front of neo-Nazis and fascists at protests, or if they fuck up Thanksgiving with talks of racial equity. I care not if they consider themselves allies, co-conspirators, or accomplices. I can recognize the tragedy of white supremacy killing one of its own, without posturing that there is a comparable relationship in how white supremacists kill Black people.
And it is my hope that fellow Black radical organizers, activists, and changemakers come to a similar way of thinking. Otherwise we will forever be stuck in a white-centered conundrum that will never get us free.
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. 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.