In The Stranger, Ijeoma Oluo traveled to Spokane, Washington to sit at the kitchen table with Rachel Dolezal, who is jobless and living in a month-to-month rental, hoping her new book will start something, anything, to get money coming in.
Oluo thinks the meeting may have been a bad idea, (“I was half sure that this interview was my worst career decision to date”) but the result is a master class in confrontation, in which the hard questions are asked, answers are pushed, and frustrations laid bare.
This piece was written by a black woman working w a black editor (@mudede ). If you are wondering why a piece like this didn't happen sooner
There was a moment before meeting Dolezal and reading her book that I thought that she genuinely loves black people but took it a little too far. But now I can see this is not the case. This is not a love gone mad. Something else, something even sinister is at work in her relationship and understanding of blackness.
There is a chapter where she compares herself to black slaves. Dolezal describes selling crafts to buy new clothes, and she compares her quest to craft her way into new clothes with chattel slavery. When I ask what she has to say to people who might be offended by her comparing herself to slaves, Dolezal is indignant almost to exasperation…
“I’m not comparing the struggles, okay? Because I never said that my life was the same. I never said that it was the equivalent of slavery, of chattel slavery. I did work and bought all my own clothes and shoes since I was 9 years old. That’s not a typical American childhood life,” she says. “I worked very hard, but I didn’t resonate with white women who were born with a silver spoon. I didn’t find a sentence of connection in those stories, or connection with the story of the princess who was looking for a knight in shining armor.”
I am beginning to wonder if it isn’t blackness that Dolezal doesn’t understand, but whiteness.
Did you know that after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, the Memphis Fire Department sent his widow, Coretta Scott King, a bill for transporting him to the hospital? At Lenny, resident historian Alexis Coe talks with Wayne Dowdy, manager of the history department in the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library in Memphis, Tennessee, on how racist tension and discrimination created the environment in which King was assassinated and how Coretta Scott King’s “courage, dignity, and poise” in the face of horrific tragedy fueled the civil rights movement.
Alexis Coe: Coretta Scott King returned to the city where her husband had been assassinated three days after claiming his body. This was truly extraordinary. On a national level, she’s demonstrating that the civil-rights movement would not be deterred by the death of its leader. If she could, in the most nascent days of her widowhood, with small children at home mourning the loss of their father, show up to fight, so should everyone else. And on a local level, she’s telling Memphis, and Mayor Loeb, this needs to end. Now. How closely was the country watching her and, by extension, Loeb?
Wayne Dowdy: The courage, dignity, and poise shown by Mrs. King impressed many Americans and certainly influenced the many white Memphians who pressured Loeb to settle the strike. In addition, Mrs. King’s two visits must have influenced the conduct of the majority of Memphians who, unlike those in other urban centers, stayed true to Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence.
Heading north from Springer Mountain in Georgia, the Appalachian Trail class of 2017 would have to walk 670 miles before reaching the first county that did not vote for Donald Trump. The average percentage of voters who did vote for Trump—a xenophobic candidate who was supported by David Duke—in those miles? Seventy-six. Approximately 30 miles farther away, they’d come to a hiker hostel that proudly flies a Confederate flag. Later they would reach the Lewis Mountain campground in Shenandoah National Park—created in Virginia in 1935, during the Jim Crow era—and read plaques acknowledging its former history as the segregated Lewis Mountain Negro Area. The campground was swarming with RVs flying Confederate flags when I hiked through. This flag would haunt the hikers all the way to Mount Katahdin, the trail’s end point, in northern Maine. They would see it in every state, feeling the tendrils of hatred that rooted it to the land they walked upon.
There were days when the only thing that kept me going was knowing that each step was one toward progress, a boot to the granite face of white supremacy. I belong here, I told the trail. It rewarded me in lasting ways. The weight I carried as a black woman paled in comparison with the joy I felt daily among my peers in that wilderness. They shaped my heart into what it will be for the rest of my life.
“And sometimes you meet yourself back where you started, but stronger.”
I sat alone at a picnic table sipping a hot can of beer in Sequoia National Park under the stingy shade of a nearby tree. I was surrounded by families. White families. Sequoia was the first of four national parks I had planned to visit on my summer road trip from Southern California to a writer’s retreat in Lake Tahoe, and from Lake Tahoe to my hometown, Louisville, Kentucky. I needed to get out and away. I’d just completed two years as a POC in an MFA program. Two years in classrooms at long tables surrounded by faces as white as the paper we printed our work on. I felt like the black text on that paper, forcefully marching across the landscape of my peers’ white lives.
I’d decided to spend four weeks as a woman of color in wide-open spaces detoxing from whiteness. But when I pitched my tent, I hadn’t known that about 80% of National Parks visitors and employees are white. Essentially, I’d leapt from the Ivory Tower into a snowbank. I should have known that Black folks weren’t the target audience for all those memes about the cleansing, revitalizing effects of the Great Outdoors. I should have known from the people in the images. Always white people in zip-up North Face fleeces, stretchy yoga pants, and hiking boots. But I didn’t know, and I gassed up my car and went.
It was July, the busiest time of year for the National Park Services. A narrow road ran past my campsite and the gravel grumbled in protest at the occasional passing car. No one bothered me. No one acknowledged me. I was just a lone Black woman day-drinking at a picnic table. I’d drained three cans with no buzz before realizing it was only 3% alcohol. It would do nothing to calm my anxiety about spending my first night in a tent alone.
The only other Black person I’d seen at the park was with his white wife and their children. As they ushered their brood onto the path that led to the giant sequoias, I heard him speak and suspected he was African. I’m not sure if he saw me, if he was tallying Black bodies like I was. Read more…
Strickland recently told me that alt-right Christians see “racial differences” as “real, biological, and positive,” a view he insists is “merely a reaffirmation of traditional historical Christianity.” He argues that many on the alt-right who consider themselves atheists or pagans only lost their faith in Christianity “due to the antiwhite hatred and Marxist dogma held by the modern church.”
Strickland considers himself a “kinist,” part of the new white supremacist movement that, according to the Anti-Defamation League, “uses the Bible as one of the main texts for its beliefs,” offering a powerful validation to white supremacists for their racism and anti-Semitism. Strickland sees kinism as a successor to Christian Reconstructionism, a theocratic movement dating back to the 1960s that played a key role in the rise of Christian homeschooling. The movement’s primary goal was to implement biblical law—including public stonings—in every facet of American life.
This year, once Nowruz announced itself to me, I wanted to forget it. Even in my circle of Iranian friends in New York I hear us beginning to plan but thinking twice in a way we never did before. “Not in the mood,” one friend tells me. “Not in the mood,” I tell another friend. And I think about how my parents and I are barely in contact right now — all of us locked in our own suffering, fear not bringing us together at all.
Naturalized at 23, I think about how my birthplace is still on that passport, in those bold letters: Iran. I think about my father back home in LA with only a green card. I think about all the old traumas (the racial slurs my family and I endured when we first came to this country in the early 1980s) and the usual traumas (all the times I’ve been pulled aside at airports) and the new waves of traumas (daily online harassment, like the time the poet on Facebook, friends with 222 of mine, told me to “go back to whatever Third World shithole you come from”).
I try to imagine skipping Nowruz altogether; I try to imagine giving in to grief as an opportunity to meditate on the horrors of this era. But it’s hard to commit to even a lack of commitment these days, not knowing what will happen next.
Just as I try to let go of Nowruz, it comes for me. It starts when a neighbor’s card appears by my door: “Happy 1396, we are with you,” it says in cursive. Later I find myself scrolling through the Instagram accounts of families in Tehran and I marvel at their haftsin skills, and catch myself dreaming of a last-minute gathering.
At The Establishment, writer Ijeoma Oluo schools well-meaning white people late to the anti-racism party in the hard work of recognizing their privilege, letting go of it, and fighting for racial justice. While on the one hand, she points out that white privilege is a major part of the problem and needs to be absent in spaces shared with people of color, she also sees it as a secret weapon that can be employed in spaces that are predominately white.
Your privilege is the biggest benefit you can bring to the movement.
No, I’m not just talking nonsense now. Racial privilege is like a gun that will auto-focus on POC until you learn to aim it. When utilized properly, it can do real damage to the White Supremacist system — and it’s a weapon that POC do not have. You have access to people and places we don’t. Your actions against racism carry less risk.
You can ask your office why there are no managers of color and while you might get a dirty look and a little resentment, you probably won’t get fired. You can be the “real Americans” that politicians court. You can talk to fellow white people about why the water in Flint and Standing Rock matters, without being dismissed as someone obsessed with playing “the race card.” You can ask cops why they stopped that black man without getting shot. You can ask a school principal why they only teach black history one month a year and why they pretty much never teach the history of any other minority group in the U.S. You can explain to your white friends and neighbors why their focus on “black on black crime” is inherently racist. You can share articles and books written by people of color with your friends who normally only accept education from people who look like them. You can help ensure that the comfortable all-white enclaves that white people can retreat to when they need a break from “identity politics” are not so comfortable. You can actually persuade, guilt, and annoy your friends into caring about what happens to us. You can make a measurable impact in the fight against racism if you are willing to take on the uncomfortable truths of your privilege.
At The Morning News, J. Oliver Conroy reports on the aftermath of the Attica Prison riot and how the state doggedly covered up the truth: a grisly state-initiated mass murder in the name of justice and order. Of the 43 dead, 29 were inmates — many of them shot in the back or executed at close range as the state attempted to regain control of the prison.
Shortly before 9:45 a.m. on Sept. 13, 1971, the fifth morning of the Attica prison uprising, hundreds of prisoners milled in the yard, waiting with increasing dread for news of any developments in their ongoing negotiations with New York state authorities. At 9:46, they got their answer. A helicopter thundered overhead and began blanketing the yard in billowing clouds of tear gas. In fact the tear gas was partly a powder: C.S., a weaponized orthochlorobenzylidene compound then popular a world away in Vietnam, where the US military used it to flush Viet Cong out of the jungle and into the sights of waiting gunships. In footage of the Attica retaking, you can see a domino wave of people crumpling as the cloud of C.S. rolls over them.
The powder hung in the air like a dense fog, clinging to the prisoners’ clothes and working itself into their skin and lungs and further obscuring the vision of the gas-masked state troopers waiting for the signal to begin their assault. As the prisoners collapsed, choking and retching, the police opened fire. Over the next several minutes, officers poured hundreds of rounds of gunfire into the yard, including, a judge later estimated, between 2,349 and 3,132 pellets of buckshot. The prison yard was transformed into a charnel house. The prisoners, who had no firearms, were sitting ducks, as were the hostages that the police had ostensibly come to save. As hundreds of police and corrections officers stormed the prison, they sometimes paused to shoot inmates who were already on the ground or wounded. “Surrender peacefully. You will not be harmed,” a megaphone announced as unarmed prisoners were mowed down.
After the shooting ended and the gas cleared, National Guardsmen came through, collecting bodies and dumping them in rows on the muddy ground. The final death toll of the Attica riot and retaking was 43 people, including one corrections officer fatally wounded during the initial uprising, three prisoners killed by other prisoners, and 39 people killed by authorities, including 10 hostages—captive corrections officers and civilian prison staff killed by the troopers’ indiscriminate shooting.
The bloody outcome, it becomes clear…was the result, to a great extent, of conscious political choices by the state.
Mike Smith is someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about Attica. Smith, then 23 years old and recently married, had just started as a rookie corrections officer at Attica when the riot broke out and he was seized as a hostage…
Then the helicopter rose above the prison walls, showering everyone in C.S., and shooting started from every direction, and “all hell broke loose.” Smith was shot four times across the abdomen—by someone firing, he believes emphatically, a fully automatic AR-15—incidentally a rifle then issued to servicemen in Vietnam—and his arm was hit by a ricocheted pistol bullet. Noble, also wounded, pulled him to the ground. As Smith lay bleeding he watched prisoners and hostages shot to pieces around him.
When Regie stepped aboard the Sensation, his first ship, he was enchanted. Built by Carnival in 1993, it was huge — 14 stories tall and nearly three football fields long. Regie had never used a dishwasher, but now he was spending ten hours a day, every day, loading and unloading one and steaming pots as big as bathtubs. In his cream-colored, windowless cabin two levels below deck, there was the thrill of waves thudding against the hull, startling him awake. Even the routines felt exciting. He cleaned his navy-blue uniform in the evenings and reported to the kitchen, on deck eight, at 6 each morning.
Regie’s wages washing dishes — which came to about $1.75 an hour — were on the lower end of Carnival’s pay scale. He figured that if he was giving up time with his family, he might as well make as much money as he could.
The salary would be enough to send his kids to private school, and the 48-hour workweek sounded standard. Regie didn’t notice that his $450-a-month pay was fixed, even if he put in up to 70 hours a week. He also didn’t see the clause at the bottom of the third page that barred him from seeking protection under U.S. law if he were injured.
In those early years, Regie never complained. He had accepted that the monthly two-and-a-half “paid leave days” in his contract would not be honored. Instead, he worked every day. If he was lucky, his managers gave him two daytime hours off each week, sometimes four.
In interviews with ten Carnival Cruise Line employees with a combined 70 years of experience on different ships, all said that the number on the Fun Time screen appeared in red when they logged more than ten hours. Room stewards, cooks, and waiters explained that, in these cases, a supervisor would call them, reduce their hours to ten (or, in rare instances, 11), and then ask that employees sign back in to Fun Time to approve the adjusted time sheet.
Neither does the “public” protected by public health initiatives include people of the working class, no matter what color they are. If it did, initiatives would be directed first and foremost at the process of production, not consumption. And I mean production of everything. After all, anyone who works for minimum wage already expects organ damage, physical pain, a reduced quality of life, and an untimely death. And that, no doubt, is why the “If You Smoke You’ll Get Sick” warnings on packs aren’t working very well to inspire this particular group to quit: working shit jobs for shit pay is making the working class sicker, faster. And yet the promoter of “public health” does not concern herself with how the workers must soon enter the building to demolish rotten fiberboard all day. She is interested only in what they consume outside the door on their brief ten-minute breaks. Why should this be?