Cut the Check or Count Me Out: “Good Whites,” Diversity Diversions & A New Look at an Old Idea

graphic created by Delma Jackson III

“Negro leaders…are in a spot, trying to explain to the masses of Negroes what they have got out of integration. The leaders have benefited, but the people they are trying to lead haven’t got any benefit.”

-El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X)

I’m watching Atatiana Jefferson get gunned down in her own home by a police officer who was supposed to be doing a “welfare check” after a neighbor called a non-emergency line because Ms. Jefferson’s door was ajar. The officer crept into her backyard, peeped through a window, failed to announce himself as an officer while yelling to see her hands, then fired a single shot…killing her in front of her 8-year-old nephew. 

I’m watching institutions of health continue to fail Indigenous, Black and Brown bodies as Covid-19 continues to ravage our communities at disproportionate rates. I’m watching this same institution fail us with disproportionate outcomes in multiple measures including: maternal and infant mortality, chronic illness, pain management, and access to care. 

I’m watching as Breonna Taylor, an EMT, and nurse-in-training is shot no less than eight times in her own apartment by Louisville police officers executing a search warrant for a man who didn’t live in her complex and had already been detained. 

I’m watching the story unfold of two DA’s in South Georgia who chose not to pursue arrests in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. I’m watching claims of “self-defense” employed yet again to prolong and/or outright protect armed white civilians from charges as they brazenly confront and execute unarmed Black men. 

I’m watching the institution of law enforcement crush the life out of George Floyd in the latest in a long string of Minneapolis police murders of Black men.   

I’m watching Amy Cooper attempt to leverage these long-standing dynamics of disproportionality to coerce Christian Cooper into “his place” for daring to hold her accountable to the rules. I’m watching her use a panic-stricken affect to hasten the response of law-enforcement. 

I’m watching white folks on social media respond to this story with shock and outrage…for Amy’s dog

You’d continue to ignore us in the hospital and doom us to premature death? You’d defend those who’d kill us in and under our cars, in our own bedrooms and living rooms, while exercising on our streets? You’d terrorize us by weaponizing law enforcement because you feel inconvenienced? 

Some of you show up armed and wave the flag of a failed, treasonous, slave-based agri-society, in the name of patriotism. You scream, “all lives matter” while refusing to wear a mask during a pandemic. You scream “my body, my choice” while you actively fight against a woman’s right to choose. 

But to be honest, I’m not even talking to you right now. 

This is for all my dangerous white liberals. 

You surround yourself with Black, Indigenous, &/or people of color (BIPOC) and refuse to engage with other white folks because you count yourself “progressive” and you just can’t stomach how “backwards” they are. You’re the type who was surprised when Trump won. You treasure civility over progress and can’t stomach so much as a raised voice in the room when it’s coming from one of “us.”

“…we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil – black gold, ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.”

Jessie Willisams, 2016

You hide behind our work while refusing to do the work in your own communities because it scares you. You move into the communities that red-lining created and gentrify them with your race-based-subsidized dollars–rendering our communities unaffordable while you usher in high-end grocery stores and roof-top beer gardens. 

You move here to feel “cultured.” You travel widely, consume, and catalog cultural practices and throw the word “authentic” in front of err-thang. You hang up artifacts and brag about your Hibachi recipes, Hip-Hop paraphernalia, and Himalayan folk music collection. 

You buy up long-abandoned buildings and turn them into overpriced coffee shops to feed your financial/entrepreneurial aspirations. When the neighborhood regulars come around asking for loose change, you put them out because it makes your clientele uncomfortable. You immediately hang up, “NO LOITERING” signs. You destroy our communities and call it good. 

You don’t call your conservative relatives and friends anymore. You hate the arguments. Instead, you find Black folks to call your “bestie,” “brother,” or “aunt” and pat yourself on the back for not being like “those white people” anymore. You need us like progressive thermometers. 

You collect us to replace them.  

You regularly attend (as have I), “diversity” training. You always make it to the annual MLK Day event in your area. You nod your head emphatically when you hear the horror stories of BIPOC but you rarely name how the racism you’re currently carrying contributes to the conditions that made their story possible. Because nothing, NOTHING, scares you more than being called racist. 

You’re not worried about losing your life every time you step out of your home. You’re worried that your wig might slip and your white suprema-psoriasis might show. You’re worried your relationship-litmus tests might leave you. No one will be there anymore to assure you that you’re still one of the good white people.    

Your Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) initiatives are NOT helping anyone but you. None of your progressive posturing makes my community any safer. We’re still dying at the hands of the very institutions ostensibly created to serve us. 

I don’t want your diversity diversions. I don’t pine for equity on par with your mediocrity. And I damn-sure don’t want inclusion at your wobbly-ass, three-legged table with under-seasoned food, half-baked analysis, and kiddie-pool-shallow conversations.  After the centuries of systemic oppression, mass murder, and continued kleptocracy — that you often acknowledge you benefit from — you still refuse to acknowledge the most basic implications of this economic reality. 

It is your collective wealth that creates and perpetuates these conditions. 

You really want to help? Tell you what…

Call your representative and tell them you support H.R. 40. Research the numbers around stolen property (land, intellectual, et.al), and labor since the forced removal of Indigenous people, the institution of slavery, the various medical experiments and resulting treatments for profit. Account for inflation. Study the role of redlining in the creation of white wealth in this country. In other words, add a commitment to securing resources for BIPOC as a priority in your justice work. 

Help find and invest in the best BIPOC talent in green agriculture, engineering, infrastructure and manufacturing, education, health care, restorative justice, arts, and sciences. Make the appropriate investment on the appropriate land. Be prepared to physically and politically protect the investment from those who would visit interference, if not violence upon us, and watch us become the envy of the world in just a few generations. 

I don’t need to sit, stand, pee, eat, drink, or live next to you. I need to be safe. In a capitalist system, safety means capital investment. Meanwhile, you have your own work to continue. Connect with those you’ve refused to. Make the case for reparations on our collective behalf. Organize, write, protest if you like. But firstly, raise the finances to secure and protect us. Commit to THAT and then talk to me about justice. 

Delma is a Senior Fellow with CWC. His focus is on facilitating system change on campuses and in institutions through transformative practice and the power of story. He received his undergraduate degree in African-American Studies and Psychology, and his Masters in Liberal Arts with a concentration in American and African American Studies at the University of Michigan. He regularly lectures on a variety of socio-political topics with a special emphasis on intersectional approaches to social justice.