I knew the risks when I decided to dive into the issue of race in America. I especially knew the perils of deviating from accepted media narratives that have coarsened feelings on all sides with respect to identity and social justice. I am not writing this article out of frustration or to be defensive; when one speaks on issues so fraught as race, one ought to be ready to catch flack from all sides. However, after being inundated with angry responses and being castigated for being “against the cause”, it is an imperative for me to clarify my stance so that my opinions and articles are not used to further the very divides that I aim to bridge with my writings.
The two articles that caused such a backlash were one where I called out the absurdity of using phrases like “white privilege” and “white supremacy” [read the Absurdity of Saying White Privilege] and the other article where I condemned the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement [read Rethinking Black Lives Matter]. The first article about “white privilege” has become the most wide read article at the Ghion Journal. The point of these articles was not to diminish the injustices aimed at and felt by the “African-American” community. I’ve gone to great lengths to detail the strife that institutional racism has wrought on “black” folks in America. Though I grew up in America and know full well the pains of being excluded based on the color of my skin, even I can never understand the full scope and scale associated with the legacy of slavery and systematic oppression has left on the souls of “black” folks.
The point of the article was not to marginalize these pains felt by tens of millions of “African-Americans” who can trace their ancestors not to immigrants arriving at Ellis Island but to political prisoners arriving in chains and shackles. I know full well the burden one’s complexion can place on one’s life experience. Too often, people of my melanin grow up with an anvil on our necks by virtue of our hue and expected to swim and compete . I know that is the concept behind the phrase “white privilege”; it’s trying to conceptualize this disadvantage we feel caused not by our character but by our skin tone. Yet, as I noted in a lot of articles I write, if our aim is to fight for justice and to stand up for fairness, we do not advance the aim of equality by reverting to rhetoric that maligns others even if that is not our intention.
Using phrases and rhetoric that lumps in the total of a group for the sins of a few is counterproductive and in all honesty immoral. We don’t like it when stereotypes diminish our individuality and presents us based judgment arrived at a myopic understanding, does it make it right when we do the same to others? Moreover, just because I feel disadvantaged does not mean that others are automatically conferred privileges on the basis of their skin color. Using “white privilege” depicts the image of a “white” child being born into opulence and gaining advantages without ever seeing hardship. Instead of saying “listen to my pain”, the paradigm changes and we end up castigating others and diminishing their struggles. This creates an unnecessary atmosphere of defensiveness; nobody wants to hear that they don’t know what it’s like to struggle or that they have it easy in this world.
There was a time I too used this type of rhetoric, but after seeing heartbreaking poverty in South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Iowa and Colorado over the past two years, poverty that did not differentiate between “black” and “white” nor made distinctions between “liberal” or “conservative”, I realized that hardship is something that no person or group should monopolize. Just because I have no shoes does not mean people who have shoddy slippers don’t hurt too. Likewise, just because someone has no feet does not mean that my struggles walking barefooted are inconsequential. We only know the pains we know, instead of working together to alleviate all of our suffering, we have entered into a place where we would rather compete who is hurting more.
This is why I disavow phrases like “white privilege” when speaking against injustice. There are tens of millions of “white people” in the Appalachians and throughout America who live below the poverty line whose children go to sleep hungry at night. I’ve witnessed a sea of humanity in shelter after shelter for the past two years who were broken and made hopeless who happened to be “white”. Am I to assume that they had more privileges than I did? It becomes a most foolish philosophical debate when we start arguing that homeless “white people” have privileges that “black” homeless people don’t enjoy. Homelessness is homelessness; there is no privilege to be found when people are sleeping on pavements and using newspapers as blankets. This types of rhetoric gets in the way of realizing that the masses are suffering collectively—does it really matter who has it worse when all are getting pillaged.
If our aim is to bend the arc of history towards justice, we must do so through inclusiveness and collective action. If we insist on fighting the battle on our own and making enemies out of potential allies, we will be walking a path that will eventually lead to our collective dissolution. The elites are busy ginning up conflicts and stirring us into anger for a reason; as long as we—the huddled masses—are busy clashing we will never be able to defend our common interest. The only way we have a chance is through togetherness. If we express our pains, we can do so without marginalizing others. We can talk about government intrusion and police brutality not by saying “only me” but by letting Americans know that the pains of the brutalized in Chicago are connected to the pains of the subjugated in West Virginia. The ultimate struggle is the powerful against the powerless—all other injustices are a byproduct of this core conflict.
There is a way to seek common ground through all this. The angers felt by Black Lives Matter (BLM) marchers in Ferguson are tied into the pains felt by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) protesters at the Bundy ranch. In the age of indignation that we live in, I honestly believe that most sides are upset about the very same things. We are tired of being taxed to death, having our wages diminished and livid as living costs keep inducing a pervasive sense of financial anxieties for most of us. Yet, sadly, we are too distracted by our differences to see that we are all getting the short end of the stick while the few are using that stick to lash all of us. We are all outraged by the unfairness of a system that continuously transfers wealth from the mass majority of Americans to a fractional few who are building their fortunes on our collective backs. America is sadly broken down into 1% who are are lavishly wealthy, 9% who live very comfortably by way of financial proximity and the 90% who are being sucked dry in order to feed the machine of toxic capitalism.
This rigged system of kleptocracy and endemic corruption is only sustainable as long as the bottom 90% are convinced to fight among each other instead of uniting to say no more. This is why I disavow terms like “white privilege” and why I also am no fan of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement. This is not to condemn the countless number of young “African-Americans” and like minded dissenters who have taken up the cause of racial equality. When I condemn the founders of BLM Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors—along with other “black leaders”—it’s because I see the way the system pays off people in order to deceive the masses. The truth is that the founders of BLM were paid handsomely by the George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. The bourgeoisie who are amassing fortunes using social justice as a shtick are getting paid by the very system and establishment they are speaking against—it’s all a big hustle.
Let me break some news here. Billionaires NEVER give money out of concern or because they want justice. They are making their fortunes thanks to the status quo. Social media corporations do not endorse and dedicate emojis nor do yellow press journalists in the Corporate State Media get behind movements that serve our interests. Just think about these things. Do you really think a billionaire like Soros wants a new day of justice and equality? Soros has been in the business of fomenting hostilities between citizens and keeping societies in conflict for generations. He is part and parcel of a group of philanthropist who sow dissension in order to keep our eyes diverted from the very sources of injustice we all should keep our eyes focused on. Economic inequality is the disease that is killing hope for all; the elites have conditioned us to react to the symptoms and to never look at root causes.This is why I want nothing to do with Black Lives Matter movement; not because I don’t stand in solidarity with “African-Americans” who grow weary of being marginalized but because I know that the powerful are once again using the suffering of people in order to advance their interests while keeping us mired in privation. The “black leaders” you see on TV and in mass media are not down for the cause, they are just using our tears as revenue streams. We’re not the only ones getting played for suckers, every day there is a new grievance group being created with a demagogue propagated by the elites to speak for that group. They divide us; we then conquer ourselves—brilliant isn’t it!
This is the very same thing Malcolm X warned about; just because they look like us does not mean they are for us—skin doesn’t make one kin. Parenthetically, more people should really read and study the teachings of Malcolm [read the Confluence of Malcolm and Martin]. They advocate anger and push hostility from their ivory towers, run to scenes of injustice when the camera lights are on only to split faster than the Road Runner right around the time news vans leave the scenes of oppression. They wear their expensive shoes advocating rancor and “get in their face” tactics; they will never be there if the bullets start flying and they damn sure are not there when you are having a hard time paying your rent.
The cottage industry of outrage and separable grievances is making fortunes for demagogues while delivering no solutions for the rest of us. When outrage becomes the ends and the means of a movement, what you get is a movement that will take you on a ride in reverse. All sides are being played by charlatans who use our pains to further injustice and use us as pawns to induce societal friction. The same way the Tea Party played disadvantaged “whites” and Donald Trump now peddles false dreams to his crowd, Black Lives Matter and the “first black president” did the same to our side. This is the asininity of seeing injustice through labels; racial and ideological blinders gets in the way of uniting and prevents us from seeing the bigger picture. This is how a few are able to subjugate billions; we get seduced by shysters on all fronts who use myopic messaging to stir us into collective rage and antagonism.
I don’t write this out of piety nor am I doing this to in any way shine at the expense of the masses who are taking to the streets out of exasperation. In all honesty, I give credit to the younger generation who are being moved to action and who desire in their hearts justice. I write this as a warning to those who have the advantage of youth on their side without the wisdom that age brings. There are people who love to take the vigor and passion of the youth and use it for their gain while stepping on the backs of the very people they supposedly speak for. I also understand the hurt and anger that is bred into the heart by a generational cycle of hopelessness and hardship. But I beseech you to not give your hand to antipathy, preaching from a place of resentment and enmity might get you amens from the congregation abut you will never be able to gain new converts. Violent rhetoric can one day birth violent revolutions, who do you think will be dropping first if that day arrives?
It took a two year dance with indigence and heart rending hardship to finally understand how this game is being played on all of us. There were two moments in particular that shattered the scales from my eyes and removed tribalism from my heart. When I was staying at a mission in Greenville, South Carolina almost two years ago, I saw a “white” child who must have been seven living in a shelter with dozens of fellow broken people. I cried the first time I saw Samantha in that condition; seeing a little girl in that condition made me see human suffering instead of color and labels. A couple of months later, I moved in for a couple of weeks with a friend in Atlanta, Georgia. I got a job as a teller at a gas station in the heart of Atlanta’s most impoverished area. Seeing “black” children playing in the same streets where poverty was so pervasive made me realize the connective struggle of humanity. These wounds that gash at all of us can’t be monopolized; if we have any hope to change this world we can only do so collectively.
I am an idealist after all I have seen, I believe change is possible. But if we are to see change in our lifetime, it will have to be through sacrifice and discernment. People easily moved by emotion will always lose to those who use cold calculated logic. Instead of sniping at each other and seeing one another as foes, we should really pause and ask ourselves what our endgame is. If we want to prove who is hurting worse and if our quest is vindication, we have the perfect leaders for that at this exact moment. We have a president who peddles separable grievances to his side as we have demagogues who do the same on “our” side. Just know this though, seeking vindication is the complete opposite of fighting for justice. Vindication is the quest to be proven right; justice is a journey of forgiveness, unity and equity for all without regard to labels. We can either pursue vindication or we can stand up for universal justice—we can’t do both. #BLM411
“I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda. I’m for truth, no matter who tells it.I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against. I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I am for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” ~ Malcolm X
If you want to know why I keep using quote marks around the words “black” and “white”, watch these two videos below, especially the first one, where I delve into the history of these false constructs and how these words were invented by malicious people to splinter humanity.
May we listen to past prophets who the powerful killed instead of listening to present puppets who work for the system they speak against. Listen to the speech below, the only way we can overcome injustice is through inclusive justice.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
Latest posts by Lij Teodrose Fikremariam (see all)
- A Matter of Life or Death: We Cannot Afford to Ignore Mental Illnesses Any Longer - August 17, 2019
- The Mindless Cycle of Violence Continues - August 6, 2019
- Why am I a “Person of Color”? - July 26, 2019