Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Anti Racist White Allies
Recently a friend of mine who is white, a drag performer and a former anti-racism trainer wrote me, through an email group that we’re both on to say that Shirley Q Liquor was going to be performing at the drag bar where he performs.
The reason, he said, for his writing the note to the web group was to get feedback, input, and advice about how those of us on the email list thought he should proceed. He announced that he was going to tell the owners of the bar that he would not perform with Shirley Q Liquor because of her racist portrayal of an older, southern, black woman.
This was interestingly conflicting to me because the bar that he performs in is owned by one of Atlanta’s legendary white drag performers who is notorious for her racism and misogyny and has been challenged at least a dozen times over the years for such.
I wrote to my anti-racist drag queen friend that I didn’t think there was a difference between performing with the racist-bar-owner-drag-queen and performing with Shirley Q Liquor. My reasoning was that they are both racist assholes and that performing with one while refusing to perform with the other did not make much sense to me.
His response was twofold:
1- Shirley Q liquor has gone too far by performing in Black Face and is more than he can take.
2- The reason that he remained as a performer in the bar of the racist-bar-owner-drag-queen is that he is the loan white voice of reason and that it is important to him to be in spaces where people do not necessarily have access to the rhetoric of movement. It’s worth it to remain in the racist-bar-owner-drag-bar because someone needs to be there to tell the other drag queens when they are being fucked up.
My problems with his argument are many and varied. I’ll try to be brief about articulating some of my problems here.
1- It seems that an anti racist ally would take his cues about what is “too racist” from people of color. I’d like to know what his criteria for “too racist” are. If the bar owner has been challenged many times, multiple people of color have expressed that her racism is intolerable, and very few people of color will visit her show more than once, why is this not too racist for my conscious friend?
2- Assuming that there is merit to this argument, my question is this: what is the difference between being the lone voice in the wilderness of the racist-bar-owner-drag-bar and being the lone voice in the wilderness at the Shirley Q Liquor show? Are there not just as many, if not more, unenlightened white people waiting for our angelic drag queen friend to deliver them from the wilderness into the higher—ground-holy-land of anti-racism?
I have written all that I’ve written thus far to say: It all rings a little false to me.
That being said, lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the privileged whites who call themselves my allies. I’ve identified a couple of truths and identified some ways to hold those who call themselves our allies accountable.
First the truths:
Very few of the white people who call themselves anti-racist remain anti-racist after college or college age. This is because it is simply easier to be radical when someone else is paying your bills. Tryna get a job as a blue haired, ripped jeaned, queer radical could prove difficult for our fully grown “allies.” So they jump ship.
Further its way too easy for privileged white people who call themselves our allies to gain “street cred” among us, all to willing to accept massa’s love, Black folk.” Refraining from saying racist stuff, calling everyone by the most up to date and current identity marker (African American instead of black), and hanging out with a few people of color (usually snow-queens) is not anti-racist. This behavior is nothing more than politically correct, hollow gesticulation that amounts to absolutely nothing.
My new philosophy is this:
A real anti-racist is a philanthropist.
This is why:
In America the most tangible effect of racism is the huge disparity between the incomes, and lifestyles of Black people and white people in this country. This disparity is actually the reason for and the end result of racism. Racism means that if I am white, I have better access to education, better access to health care, better access to credit, and better access to employment. I am further less likely to be shot down in my neighborhood by the police or a fellow, and less likely to serve time in jail. I will be paid higher than people of color for the same jobs and get better interest rates on loans.
So the only place for racism to lead is to a disparity in wealth. White privilege then is tangible. The culmination of all white privilege is INCOME. There is no “Invisible knap sack.” The knap sack is in fact quite visible. So those white people looking to distance themselves from their privilege need only take out there check books, credit cards, wallets, and start giving. Distancing one’s self from white privilege means, at the end of all the bullshit gesticulation, distancing one’s self from one’s money.
Thus my note to my friend in the racist-bar-owner-drag-bar concluded, I don’t care about Shirley Q Liquor making fun of Black people and I don’t care about the racist-bar-owner-drag-queen making fun of people of color either. I actually think that our so-called anti racist allies often rely on people like Shirley Q Liquor so that they can position themselves against them. They can be seen white as snow against the black background of Shirley’s odious rhetoric thereby removing themselves from scrutiny. We recognize their street-cred without asking why they live in so much privilege, with the big car (maybe a hybrid), the big house in the bleeding heart liberal (the expensive) part of town, the $500 cell-phone, the $400 Ipod, the newest Lap-top, the IRA, the off continent vacations, the study abroad in Spain etc, while they declare that whites must distance themselves from privilege.
In her Black Men and Love series bell hooks suggests that the sex lives of straight men are the last stronghold of male privilege that “feminist” men rarely release. I’ll argue that the pocket books of whites are the last stronghold of white privilege that white people, even the staunchest anti-racist, will not release easily.