“When Your Anti-Racism is Anti-Black: An Open Letter to Organizers in Austin”

13 May

Anti-racism is defined by a set of beliefs and actions that work to combat the pervasiveness of racism’s insidious nature in our communities. Anti-black racism, for LEAD, helps us understand what we talk about when we talk about racism. It isn’t some vague “social” group we are fighting for but people and families who find themselves up against political, economic, and social antagonism every single day of their lives in Austin, Texas.

This antagonism is just as insidious as ever. It’s not dressed in a white bed sheet with eye holes anymore. It’s not just screaming at me, calling me a nigger, as I bike through the East Side. It’s not only my landlords attempting to hike up my rent just because. Even more insidious than all those things, anti-black racism has now taken the form of anti-racism: white and non-black POC ostensibly fighting the good fight alongside black folks (or, if they’re really delusional, “for” black folks), but in doing so, actually recreate the imbalances of power that have subjected black people to hardship, silence, and even death.
When I look at the Austin-based zine “Black Women Matter” published by Underground Sketchbook, I am met with a mixture of feelings and concerns, but one thing is certain: I do not know who this collective is and they use the images and “stories” of slain black women (as if the events leading up to their death is the only salient part of these women’s lives?) to sell copies of their publication.

Perhaps there are black women part of this collective. Perhaps they are all actually black women (though this is doubtful). Perhaps, even more, all the donations gained from this publication go directly to the families affected by the deaths of women drawn in this magazine. The point of the matter is this: not even in death are black women afforded the same level of respect, dignity, or sympathy as their non-black sisters in Austin. The likely truth of the matter is this: Underground Sketchbook is not a transparent enterprise, I cannot give it the benefit of the doubt that what they are and who they are is anti-racist, and they misrepresent black life by equating it with black death.
Not long ago I participated in a die-in in front of the Austin Police Department with dozens of other black people. I was splayed out in the middle of Frontage Road for 4 minutes and 37 seconds to symbolize solidarity with Mike Brown.
Other rallies have taken place since then, ostensibly in support of and led by black people. I wouldn’t know for certain because based on the Facebook event pages for events like “May Day for Freddie Gray!” hosted by Abidemi Sankara and Nurk Sheffy, these spaces are infiltrated by non-black people to check how black rage gets to be expressed, i.e. my rage and my POV is unwelcome. Matt George writes,

IMG_4134“Change the event photo, we don’t need a bunch of idiots thinking this is a riot party.” Facebook User Matt George. Posted on “May Day for Freddie Gray!” event page May 1 at 10:24 AM, Austin, TX.

The photo George (who I interpret to be a non-black person) references shows black youth atop a Baltimore City police car. In their argument, George makes a clear distinction between how they envision appropriate protesting behavior and the “idiots” smashing police cars, presumably with no place in a protest against police brutality. Their argument, like so many others’ on this event page, believe that there is a right way for black people to behave and everything else is fetishized “badass” violence, read: black people acting like thugs acting like niggers (see Megan Cognioli’s comment on the same page). Well I, too, have lived in Baltimore. But you do not see me criticizing another black man’s rage with respectability politics that have no place in this discussion.

This open letter may come off as an indictment against anti-racist causes based in Austin, Texas. Or perhaps that I am looking for an apology because your anti-racism praxis is at its core anti-black. Neither is the case, I promise you.

Yes, anti-racism social justice is work that someone has to do. No, I will not give you a pass because at least you tried.

Yes, I love seeing black people organize for black causes. No, that does not mean black people are incapable of anti-black sentiment (see Don Lemon, Ben Carson, Bill Cosby).

Yes, I am angry, enraged even. No, I am not an angry black man stereotype you can write off in one fell swoop.

Yes, LEAD has made similar mistakes and strives to be better. No one person, no one organization is doing this work perfectly, but the least we can do is hold each other to the standard of not repeating the same mistakes again.

LEAD (Learning and Exploring Anti-racist Dialogue)


2 Responses to ““When Your Anti-Racism is Anti-Black: An Open Letter to Organizers in Austin””

  1. UGSB June 1, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

    Hello Will,

    Thank you for sharing your feedback and holding Underground Sketchbook accountable to the community. We collectively decided to give the donations to LaKiza and Destiny, black women directly affected by police violence who are actively organizing for justice in Austin and resolved to discontinue physical print copies. You can read more about it in our write up here (http://bit.ly/1KHucsw).

    Thanks again,
    Underground Sketchbook Collective

  2. DinosaurCyborg June 2, 2015 at 8:12 pm #

    Did you ever get in contact Underground Sketchbook about these criticisms? I’d be interested to hear what have to say about the situation. If they were trying to tell the life stories of these women, they definitely failed, and I think it would rightly be considered insidious. There’s literally nothing in the book about any of these women before their encounters with police.

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