Being a White Man

Being a white man at the Refounding Conference of the National Alliance Against Racism and Oppression (November 22-24, 2019 in Chicago) was most interesting and challenging.   I am not used to being in a setting where many people may believe that I am “irrelevant” or that my motives may be oppressive because I am white and male.   

More than a few times mentioning my involvement in Organizing White Men for Collective Liberation (OWMCL)  brought doubtful looks and responses such as: “You’ve a really tough road ahead of you” (often with the implication that the listener wouldn’t believe my relevance, until s/he saw a LOT more visible results).     Never did I hear, “we’d like to work with you”, though one woman wanted us, when we get better organized, to meet with one of her groups as “white men”.

Issues of racism, class, gender and other areas of oppression were significantly discussed by many Women of Color (and some men) in workshops and presentations.   It was very clear that Women of Color see the necessity of coalition building with other Communities of Color.   They spoke often of the interconnectedness of issues.    One young Latinx women spoke passionately of how oft times others tried to state that their issues were in conflict with Native Americans.   She noted major efforts Latinx people had made to support Native Americans.  Chicago Area Palestinian Americans were significant in various weekend events.

White men were spoken about indirectly in the presentations.   The focus was largely on police violence and how killing and hurting People of Color was endemic nationally.   Several mothers of men who had been incarcerated for lengthy terms or killed, despite having done nothing wrong, spoke passionately of their efforts to seek justice.    A Trans man talked of how the Pulse killing in Orlando had been distorted in the media, further hurting People of Color.    There was significant talk also of how Trans people were not taken seriously by the police in Jacksonville.   During an investigation of the murder of one Black Trans woman, investigators purposely only referred to the woman by her birth name which naturally her friends and acquaintances didn’t know her by.

One on one people were incredibly generous and kind and supportive.    There was a lot of interest in sharing stories and learning from each other. 

It was hard for me to listen to a young Palestinian woman talk of how a two-state solution was simply morally wrong and unacceptable, because Israel is a country that is 100% Palestinian land.    I am emotionally wedded to the realization that a majority of my family are Israeli Jews, and that Israel, despite its horrific treatment of Palestinians deserves to exist, as a state.   I, also, would welcome a single, democratic Palestinian state with a substantial Jewish minority.

There was none of the common “white politeness” where we ignore the struggles of others, and avoid blame.   Particularly strong was the condemnation of the imperialism of the United States, wreaking havoc both externally around the world, and internally upon People of Color and working class people in general.

It was good that the Conference focused upon the issues, rather than upon Donald Trump and others individuals.    The importance of coalition building was stressed by Chicago and National leader Frank Chapman and others.   They spoke of the importance of accepting our small differences, and focusing upon the core issues.

I took various clear messages from this incredible experience (as white man).  We have a lot of catching up to do if we want to meaningfully be a part of ending racism (and classism and sexism) in the United States.    We need to work on our own internal issues.   More importantly perhaps, we need to both build a movement successfully reaching other white men  and do a lot more supporting others.   This has never been done before.  We need to get visibly active in supporting the important work done by so many others in our local communities.    

We need to listen a lot!    We need to do our best to overcome  the bad things that we’ve done.  Over time we need to become clearly  visible through our good work supporting Communities of Color and women.    We need to use our privilege to help end it.

None of what I speak of can be done without serious thought and action.   We need to listen to a lot of anger and recognize that it is justified.   We need to prioritize our work on these issues instead of where our priorities are now   People of Color and Queer Folk (for example) are dying, being incarcerated and harassed all the time, while we remain largely complacent in our comfortable privileged worlds.    We will make mistakes.  We need to be vulnerable.  We need to work through our hearts seriously to build a new movement.  We need to confront and support each other.    We need to finally become accountable to others.


Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression

Organizing White Men for Collective Liberation (on Facebook)


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