Breaking free from the “continuous loop of Black death”
For George Floyd and Buffalo
Two years ago, on May 25, 2020, police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man in Minneapolis. If not for the immense bravery of then-17-year-old Darnella Frazier who filmed the murder, George Floyd would have been just another name on a long list of Black people killed by police in this country.
Less than two weeks ago, on May 14, a self-identified white-supremacist shooter shot and killed ten people, all of them Black, and injured three others at a Buffalo supermarket, the only grocery store serving this predominantly Black neighborhood.
George Floyd’s murder and the Buffalo Massacre are tied together by the history of white-supremacist atrocities. Racist policing and white-supremacist vigilantism arose together in the wake of slavery in the United States. The ranks of the official police, which began as slave patrols, and vigilantes from more established groups like the Ku Klux Klan to the likes of George Zimmerman in 2012 who murdered Trayvon Martin, they have overlapped substantially, all serving the same function both inside of and outside of the bounds of the law. The criminalization and mass incarceration of Black people have supplanted lynching as a form of racist social control, and the routine murder of Black people by the police in cities and on highways across the country is effectively state-sanctioned lynching. The Buffalo massacre—along with other such events–reveals that white supremacist vigilante violence continues to operate outside the law as well.
White supremacy is foundational to the workings of capitalist society from the time of slavery, which created the wealth necessary to its formation, to the racist scapegoating and the cycle of policing, incarceration, and vigilante violence that sustain systemic injustice. Mounting a solidaristic, system-wide challenge to capitalism is ultimately necessary to ending white supremacy.
Tempest magazine and the Tempest Collective want to mark this moment in respect for and solid arity with the families and communities of those killed. We stand with the Movement for Black Lives and other organizations and communities in calling out racist violence as an endemic horror of a society built from its foundations upon exploitation and oppression, specifically the enslavement of Africans.
In recognition of those affected by racist violence, we include with our statement two interviews about the Buffalo massacre and the police murder of George Floyd conducted by Dana Cloud. Aly Wane is an UndocuBlack immigration justice activist in Syracuse, New York. Sheila Bates is a member of Black Lives Matter Grassroots in Long Beach, California.
These activists call our attention to the constancy of white supremacy and the threat of violence that terrorizes Black people every day, the utter failure of establishment politicians to address white supremacy, the intersecting nature of white supremacy with struggles for immigrant and reproductive justice, the role of far-right politics and the media in generating white supremacist “scripts” sanctioning those who would commit these murders, the hypocrisy of a system in which police will arrest a white mass murderer unharmed while routinely killing Black people for walking or driving, and the everyday exhaustion from dealing with devastating but unsurprising violence.
They also stress the significance of organization, solidarity, and care, calling upon us all to remain vigilant and constant in the struggle against white supremacy and the imperatives of the neoliberal capitalist system that breeds it. We at Tempest hope that sharing their words will signal our abiding commitment to this fight.
–Dana Cloud, on behalf of the Editorial Board.
Interview by Dana Cloud with Aly Wane, UndocuBlack organizer, Syracuse
“We face multigenerational work that has barely begun. Abolitionist framing gives me some hope because it is about experimentation, not having the perfect answer…The end goal is a society that doesn’t look like one in which a white supremacist young man can show up, grab a gun, and shoot Black people.”
Dana Cloud: How are you connected to the May 14 massacre, personally, organizationally, and/or regionally?
Aly Wane: I am an UndocuBlack immigration justice organizer in the United States. Unfortunately, the Buffalo killer’s replacement theory, which is a white genocide conspiracy theory, targets immigrants and Black citizens alike. I heard about the massacre and went online to find the killer’s manifesto, and it broke my heart. It confirmed what many of us have been saying for many years.
White nativism has always been concerned about other nonwhite people replacing the white population. The manifesto openly collapses nonwhite citizens and nonwhite immigrants as threats to the white population, so our response is at the intersection of criminal justice, white supremacy, and immigration. Whether you are a citizen or not, the system sees you primarily as Black. From an analytical point of view, the white replacement theory is animated by a lot of xenophobia but mostly by white supremacy. In popular conservative circles, they get away with it by saying it’s only about immigration and not about race.
But in 2016, we saw Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again (wink wink nod nod Make America White Again). Replacement theory says it’s only concerned with immigration, but the dog whistle under that is that really what we want is to keep darker immigrants away from this country, while white European and Nordic countries’ people are welcome. Republican party leaders are in great denial of propagating white nativist rhetoric.
So in Buffalo, this young man went and found the first Black people he could find and started shooting them in the name of the “preservation of the white population.”’
I’m in the upstate New York area, which is a border region. As immigration activists we often talk about the problem at the border, meaning the Southern border. No one is afraid of Canadians pouring into the country at the Northern border. But ICE and CBP have jurisdiction here, which is how I got started in anti-deportation work, because both ICE and CBP are picking up the undocumented left and right.
DC: What do you know beyond the national reporting about this event from contact with activists, families, and others?
AW: I don’t, because this has been so heavy and I have not wanted to go down that rabbit hole. Personally, this affects us. In the first team meeting of our network, we were all pretty shattered. We all saw ourselves as potentially targeted. I haven’t reached out to other activists. I am feeling affected by the whole thing; it’s just been really hard to swallow.
DC: How do you explain this event?
AW: This is something that has been rising for years and also that has been foundational. This country’s systemic demon of white supremacy has been there from the beginning. The Buffalo shooter’s script is written in history. If we shift the frame, we can see how white supremacy has been there from the beginning. As an immigration activist, in talking about the history of deportation, I start with Native American removal. This is just another iteration of the ghost of white supremacy and nativism, like a Jungian demon that the country refuses to wrestle with. I’ve done some organizing with Black Lives Matter, and I remember when the name and slogan Black Lives Matter came out. I thought, this is going to piss a lot of white people off. The phrase is an uncomfortable interruption, not just uncomfortable to think about race in a nebulous sense but because it forces them to think about themselves as white and raced people. People of color are used to being tied to stereotypes, but white people in the country have been the standard. They don’t like to think of themselves as part of a race.
We are starting to have the conversations around whiteness that we need to have. But Donald Trump and a whole group of white folks are not willing to have those conversations, and race-conscious white people are being radicalized into whiteness as white supremacy and superiority.
There is really still a problem of white people dealing with what it means to be white in the U.S. context. It is a societal and individual psychosis. The shooter was obeying a script written for him, an ancient script; maybe he thought he was original, but in fact, he was regurgitating a cribbed manifesto—so it is literal to say that the script was written for him. This kind of radicalization of young white folks is increasingly possible on the Internet coupled with the government’s abandonment of its people. Since the Reagan years, the one percent have done amazingly well, but the working class and poor have lost out. This is dangerous because it is tied to a crisis of whiteness. For a long time, the economy was shaped in a way that at the very least would allow white folks with a certain level of education to have a comfortable middle-class existence, but they are now starting to experience what minorities and people of color have experienced for a long time. You can go to college and get educated and still be a paycheck away from dire poverty, causing white folks resentment toward people who have suffered the consequences before them. It’s easier to blame the immigrant population for what is happening in their lives, when actually we should be asking who the economy actually benefits and who it works for.
On the other end, we’re seeing, for example in the Bernie Sanders campaign, a lot of younger millennial white folks who are asking deeper questions about whiteness that lead them to identify as socialists, which I think is something that is hopeful. I think that we are in a moment of crisis that could lead to progress, but my fear is that the establishment is not quick enough to adapt to what’s happening. The Biden administration is polling extremely low. The easiest thing it could do to motivate people is to fulfill the promise of relieving student loan debt at a bare minimum, and they are refusing to do even that. I’m not particularly optimistic. I have my hope in radical organizers and the grassroots, but I don’t see a lot of hope in the near term future.
DC: Would you call it a hate crime, an act of terrorism, or other?
AW: It’s white terrorism, but I hesitate to use the term because it has been weaponized. It’s everyday white supremacy. It was exhausting to read the manifesto and see how persistent these ideas have been. I was tired of how boring it was, the same old scientistic racism, arguments about IQ, antisemitic theories–old, old stuff. It frustrates me because in every generation people “rediscover” these ideas that have always had a place in American thinking and ideology. About Tucker Carlson on white replacement theory, what struck me is how old the ideas were, non-novel; they reminded me of Father Coughlin in the 1930s and 1940s, nothing new about this stuff, the fear of the elimination of the white race even as it is the dominant group. That has always been there. That’s the thing that made me tired, it was not, oh no where is this coming from, but yep, this is America and how people think about Black people, Jews, and immigrants. It’s always been there, I hope we have a more fruitful conversation between African-Americans and migrants from the diaspora. I’ve been trying to articulate how, regardless of whether you have papers, the police officer perceives us as Black first.
Something I’ve been talking about in the immigrant movement, as undocumented activists we are cynics of the immigrant rights movement; we have no illusion that attaining citizenship is somehow going to make us safe. It’s much more complicated than that. If you’re Black, you’re still going to be in a precarious economic situation.
DC: What do you think about national, regional, and local political and other responses to the massacre?
AW: I haven’t been looking and I haven’t seen anything new or novel but what we see after most massacres: the community grieves, some talk about gun control going nowhere, and we’ll continue to live in the same situation.
What I did pay attention to is to see whether there was going to be any response from Republican Party leadership, but they have not addressed this. Mental illness, video games, lone wolves, all of that; otherwise we haven’t seen a national response. Let’s not forget that within that week there were three mass shootings, but it so happens that this guy had a manifesto. The epidemic of gun violence is ongoing.
DC: Can you put this event in the context of the history of racist murders? Can you tie it to police murders and the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd?
AW: To me, it’s all one. All of these things are connected to the idea of white supremacist anti-blackness, the deep fears of white people, conscious or unconscious, of being eliminated or eradicated.
I am loosely connected to BLM and these things have been those we have unfortunately gotten used to. A lot of us are talking about “crimigration,” because we can’t see them as separate. They literally bleed into each other.
We are abolitionists because we recognize that one of the first steps is to defund these institutions that are affecting us. The Democratic Party is afraid of slogans like “Abolish ICE” and “Defund the Police,” but for those of us engaging the system, these are very serious goals. A lot of people think we are pie-in-the-sky idealists, but abolitionists are people who have tried to reform the system and have been disillusioned by reformism steeped in white supremacist framings. The only way to start dealing is to siphon funding and to think through other ways of addressing harm.
The Buffalo shooter shot people to death and was apprehended without harm, but look at stories of people of color who blink in the wrong direction and get shot down by police officers, so this is quotidian, normal. It doesn’t occur to me how insane that is. Heavily armed white shooters are taken into custody unharmed, and I’m driving around watching every move that I’m making because at any moment I can be shot and killed.
DC: What main lessons should those on the Left, including Tempest readers and socialists generally, take from these events?
AW: We are not going to get into any working-class solidarity movement deeply without understanding how race has divided the working class as a whole from the inception of this country. The beginning of whiteness in the United States context: Europeans in colonial days owned everything. The first thing they did to break class solidarity was to propose the idea of whiteness to refuse solidarity between slaves and white indentured servants. Miscegenation laws were designed to break this solidarity. If you look back early on, white indentured servants did not see themselves as different from imported Africans, but their solidarity was broken. The thing I always remember that breaks my heart was when white European indentured servants were released from bondage, they were given not land but guns. They became the overseers of the system, and then from slave patrols to policing, we are now still dealing with that lack of solidarity between white and Black working-class people. The white working class’ sense of victimhood is ridiculous in some sense, but its power cannot be underestimated. It is at the root of things like this shooting.
J.D. Vance and his book [Hillbilly Elegy]—he made his money out of this story of rising from the muck of white mediocrity, and he himself is on the right pushing the great replacement theory. All of these things are deeply connected: Trump, Vance, victimhood, and the lack of solidarity. If the Left does not see the importance of white racial identity, it is not going to create the type of multi-racial working-class struggle that we need, because a lot of white working-class identity lies in not being identified with Blacks or immigrants. It is defined by not being them. We must understand that this is a trap of the broader economic system. Otherwise, we will not get them on our side.
DC: What do you see as the proper response or solutions to white supremacy in general and this massacre in particular?
AW: I go back to abolition and how to make that a practical reality and not an idealized thing. It’s why I’m at a moment of exhaustion. This is so foundational to the system. I have no illusions that any legislation will get us to the promised land anytime soon.
We face multigenerational work that has barely begun. Abolitionist framing gives me some hope because it is about experimentation, not having the perfect answer. We imagine ourselves in a better world, trying experiments. The end goal is a society that doesn’t look like one in which a white supremacist young man can show up, grab a gun, and shoot Black people.
We need a radically different system than what we have and we shouldn’t have any illusions that we are going to get to major systemic change anytime soon.
Maybe we’ll get a portion before I pass away, and then it will be up to the next generation. It’s about the relay race.
DC: Do you feel like we are repeating the same leg of the relay over and over?
AW: We have been retreading the legs with slight variations.
W.E.B. Dubois should have called his book The Souls of White Folks because as Malcolm X and James Baldwin figured out, the “problem” of race is really more about white pathology than it is about Black pathology. I wish that white folks were as introspective about race as Black folks have been forced to be, because this would lead to greater healing and solidarity. It’s not that Black people have to be better or be uplifted, but it’s about figuring out the pathology of whiteness, getting people to struggle with that to create the solidarity that we all need.
The show Atlanta by Donald Glover has as its theme this season the curse of whiteness. It is really interesting to me that he and the writers are taking seriously the idea of whiteness as a curse. It has been traumatic for us as a population to deal with white supremacy, but I don’t see any kind of psychological or spiritual advantage for white people. I wish more white folks would go to therapy.
But more than being like a mental illness, the kind of white supremacist mindset the shooter was susceptible to is more like a virus that is passed on from one generation to another unless interrupted in particular locales. I don’t want to ignore the systemic piece of it, but there is something pathological about these ideas being reproduced and passed on, with the Internet as the perfect instrument for passing on these ideas. That’s what makes me scared.
Anyone struggling with mental health could be very susceptible to this kind of thinking that is reinforced by society. Virology is a better language than mental illness. More like a legacy. The curse of whiteness. There are ways to interrupt that, but if you’re not surrounded by those who will help reframe the issues, you will fall to its sway. We have entire news networks comfortable with passing on this stuff, white genocide ideology, so comfortably talked about. There is a huge audience for it. We didn’t worry so much that Trump won but faced the realization that, huh, there are a whole lot more white folks who buy into this in the electorate.
DC: If I may ask, how are you feeling in the wake of this atrocity? If you know and can say, how are others around you feeling?
AW: I’m exhausted, but I would venture to say that any Black person who has been paying attention is exhausted by each of these events. “Calling in Black to work” because some awful shit just happened; some Black person got killed walking in the park, and I just need to take a rest. That’s the environment that people of color in this country experience.
In my organizing with BLM in Syracuse, I realized that it was traumatizing to see all of the viral images of Black people being shot and killed, because as a Black person, I could see myself or a family member being a victim of that. But I thought, at least, maybe once people see what we have to go through, it will change people’s opinions. A year or two into the movement, a poll divided by race showed that respect for police increased after the circulation of those videos among white Americans. This information made invalid the argument that maybe if we just show them things, people will understand.
Another moment of exhaustion. The opposite happens. This Buffalo shooting did exhaust me. What’s disturbing is that it’s not that shocking to me. A white young man shoots Black people in a grocery store because he was a white supremacist. Huh. Yeah. Not a moment of outrage, not “We need a protest.” It will take more. These events drain us, and the only reason I and others continue working is that we don’t want this passed on to the next generation. I have a niece and nephew. I want to do the work in my generation so that they won’t have to experience this exhaustion. It scares me that we won’t be enough. It’s a multigenerational relay. Until we get there, these events will be draining and heartbreaking, but not surprising. This is the script. This is what happens.
I know what losing a loved one to violence does to your life. Ten people’s families are going to have to deal with that trauma, and, if they’re lucky, to be in therapy and not pass on this trauma.
The granddaughter of one of the shot women is an anti-racist educator. I saw a Facebook post in which she said, “I feel like a failure. I’ve spent my entire existence talking to white people about white privilege, and I feel like a fraud because now my grandma is dead.” She was broken by the fact that her beautiful Black grandmother was killed by the same thing she was working to eradicate in white folks. I don’t know any Black person of a certain age who doesn’t understand that exhaustion. The exhaustion of knowing that going to the grocery store, going to the park, or being in the wrong place, can get you killed.
I loved the film Get Out. The intro scene. The Black character is walking in a white neighborhood freaking out. I felt a laugh of relief. That is exactly how it feels. The white neighborhood is the horror. I’ve been that Black person in a white neighborhood at night. Someone is going to call the cops on me, and I’m going to die. For some of us, some of these white suburbs are sites of horror. Also college campuses.
It’s an exhausting country where we don’t have the freedom to be carefree. Every place is a site of danger. Add the grocery store to that list. This land is not safe.
Interview by Dana Cloud with Sheila Bates, Black Lives Matter Grassroots, Long Beach
“It’s painful and devastating to see a continuous loop of Black death that turns us into fodder, that turns us into something for analysis as opposed to something that is deeply heart-wrenching for those who were impacted and those who realize that at any point it could be us. That could be our grandmother.”
Dana Cloud: Do you know anything about the May 14 massacre beyond the national or other reporting? Anything to share from activists, families, or others?
Sheila Bates: Nothing that I can share at this point. But I definitely have some things to share that people need to hear and know.
DC: Okay. What is your analysis of the event? How do you explain what happened?
SB: You’re asking me about both what happened in Buffalo and also the two-year angel-versary, as we call it, of George Floyd’s murder. I think it’s important to remember that this is all white supremacy. The murder of ten people in Buffalo and George Floyd, it is all state-sanctioned violence, and it is all white supremacy. And I also think that there is a particularly disturbing aspect of this. George Floyd was a Black man who was doing nothing. And he had a white officer put a knee on his neck and continue to kneel on him for almost nine minutes. When we compare and contrast with how this murderer in Buffalo, whose name I refuse to even commit to memory, that he killed ten people, and was arrested and was taken into custody unscathed, that is adding a layer of harm that we, as Black people, consistently and continuously experience in this country and around the world that we live in a state of constantly having to brace ourselves for what comes next.
I’m fairly certain it was James Baldwin who said, “To live in this country as a Black person and be semi-conscious is to always live in a state of rage,” and in moments like this, this statement rings even more true, because we can’t help but see it: White supremacy isn’t the shark in the water. White supremacy is the water. We have to address the root issue of white supremacy and that starts with white folks seeing the truth of Black people and having to actually accept that. And then from there organizing and unlearning. The work of being an ally never ends.
Both of these issues speak to the fundamental need of why we need to defund the police. Because we need to put resources back into our communities. When we look at what happened in Buffalo, some people will say that’s a food desert. It’s not a food desert—it’s a food apartheid. A desert is something that occurs naturally, and a food apartheid is something that’s human-made and was prior to the shooting in Buffalo. They had closed another market in that neighborhood. What we need is to defund the police and to be able to put resources back into our communities, so that people have access to affordable, healthy, quality food that is not readily accessible in Buffalo. That is also the reality for people across this country, including here in Long Beach.
Another thing that comes up for me is that cities across the country, including right here in Long Beach, declared racism as a public health crisis in the immediate aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, and yet they have not put any actual actions behind any of those words. The police budgets continue to grow across the country, despite the fact that people are saying, “You know that the police department has been defunded.” That has not really happened anywhere. And we see current mayoral candidates’ voting records and their comments indicating that they’re actually going to give more money to the police. You know the mayor in Buffalo said that they were going to give more money to the police and it’s like this: There is a food apartheid that this community is dealing with, and your response to this is to get more money to the place where we know that police don’t keep us safe. They steal resources from our communities.
We have to remember that what happened to George Floyd is not an isolated incident.
It is a part of longstanding history that dates back to slave patrols and continues every single day across the country as police steal 1,200—predominantly Black—lives a year, and that’s on top of vigilante acts of violence that we see across the country. We’ve seen an uptick in white supremacist violence across the country, and we know that white supremacists have infiltrated the military. They have infiltrated police departments.
I think all of this is just trauma on top of trauma. It’s a re-traumatization to have to see these videos on replay online in the media so continuously. To have to think about their angel anniversaries.
And I’m experiencing it as a Black person who was not the family member of George Floyd, so imagine even more how they’re feeling in this moment. I can’t imagine how they’re feeling.
It’s also particularly disgusting because it’s having to see these videos be replayed online and in the media, while people dissect it and try to justify it. They’re manufactured videos that are packaged as propaganda that is always accompanied by some assassination of character of the victim while they simultaneously shield the cop. So they put out the record of the victim, and bring up every horrible thing that might exist in their life, because we are all human and fallible, but they never ever say anything about the cop’s record. They never say anything like show us their personnel record. Because we’ve seen that oftentimes so many police officers commit multiple murders. There are Derek Chauvins in every single department, and every department and policing in general are rooted in white supremacy.
None of this is surprising, but it’s all so incredibly overwhelming.
It’s all white supremacy and it’s all state-sanctioned violence, whether the violence is being committed directly by the police who are killing George Floyd or it is a vigilante actor. Again, this person, whose name I refuse to speak, and even commit to memory, but the reality is that it was the same thing with George Zimmerman who killed Trayvon Martin. It was the same thing with Dylan Roof, who killed nine Black people in a church, and then was given Burger King.
It’s all white supremacy because the police are rooted in white supremacy and got their start in white supremacy.
It is the same white supremacist who drove hours specifically to get to a Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, to be able to kill Black people. In the video, we saw a moment when he was pointing his gun at a white person and realized it, said, “I’m sorry,” and then moved on.
No matter who it was, it would have been hard.
But so many of them were grandmothers. It was vile, it was disturbing. It was an attack that was incredibly deliberate. And that’s what white supremacy is, and it’s all state-sanctioned violence.
DC: Did you want to say anything about the history of white supremacy and what motivates it?
SB: If we look at it from a broad historical perspective, that started when they stole my ancestors from Africa and continued when they tried to keep them in bondage, and we see the beginning of policing in this country as slave patrols, and then continuing with lynchings, which oftentimes police were a part of—the Klan was actively involved in policing.
Then we also have to look at the police. who enforced Jim Crow Laws, and the same police, who also used fire hoses and sent dogs after people who dared to rise up and say that they were not going to tolerate this, including children.
We see the fact that in this country roughly 1,200 Black people are killed every year by the police, and when we look at the fact of how a white supremacist is dealt with in the aftermath of a massacre.
All these theories and explanations are put out there. And the talk frequently goes directly to gun control and mental health. And although mental health is something we need to discuss, and something we need to take more seriously, racism and white supremacy are not mental health issues, and that’s not what killed ten people in Buffalo.
It was white supremacy that killed 10 people in Buffalo, and we must be surgical in the way that we discuss this.
A white supremacist who kills multiple people is more likely to be arrested unscathed than a Black person who is sitting in a vehicle, or a Black person who is standing on the side of the road.
There was more news about Will Smith smacking Chris Rock than ten people being killed in Buffalo. When we look at it contextually, and when we look at it historically, white supremacy is deeply rooted in this country, and it affects every single system in this country and affects the everyday lives of Black people in this country in very real, tangible ways.
DC: Do you see the connection to the Ohio Senate candidate, J.D. Vance, and his “white replacement theory”?
SB: The shooter in Buffalo had his full manifesto where he talked about Tucker Carlson. This is the double-standard that exists where a person can say these things, and when we complain about it and say that this is a problem, we’re dismissed. There are very real consequences to that sort of language.
The connections with all the things that are happening in current events are disturbing, because we even see this in the conversation around abortion, and the fact that when we look at it historically, why the Christian right has changed its position on abortion was because of that same concern around white replacement. They saw that the birth numbers of white people were decreasing, and they wanted that to not happen and also wanted to simultaneously control Black and Brown bodies at the same time.
Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy recently said that our maternal death rates are only bad if you count Black women. He said if you correct our population for race, we’re not as much of an outlier as it would otherwise appear.
DC: So if you had to say that there was a system in place that produced this historical white supremacy, what would it be? How do you name the system?
SB: I call it Christian white cis-hetero patriarchy, but also capitalism. It’s all one very large vast controlling system that is essentially against anything that’s not a white male cis body first, Christian, and rich at that.
DC: What main lesson should those on the Left, including Tempest members and readers, take from these events?
SB: What’s important is remembering that all of these events and oppressions are like tentacles, as I believe it was Angela Davis describing it, that they were tentacles of the system.
I also think it’s important to remember that we need to stay vigilant. We have to stay in the streets and continue to organize, so we can end the white supremacy that shows up across this country stealing lives. We don’t live siloed lives. All of these issues overlap and are incredibly intersectional. Being a Black woman, it’s not just white supremacy that comes at me for being a Black person, but it comes at me for being a Black woman, and also a Black woman who refuses to submit, and who will not only refuse to submit but will come back at you with everything I got and bring folks with me. That’s the organizing of it.
I think that’s what we really have to do in order to maintain some semblance of hope. Or not even really hope, but not surrendering and giving them what they want, which is for me to crumble.
They’re doubling down on their white supremacy, and we have to double down on our organizing efforts, and we have to triple down on the way that we show up for ourselves in a way that we show up for each other and in the way that we show up for our community.
DC: What do you think is the proper response or solution to these enactments of white supremacy?
SB: I think the solutions need to be community-centered and that the solution really needs to look at the root of the problem which is the white supremacy long standing in this country. It has never been addressed, and we can see that by the fact that reparations still have not been paid.
We can see that in the fact that, when we look at almost every single social indicator, Black folks are always at the bottom, and that is intentional. That is system-designed. Slavery never really ended; it was just reconfigured into mass incarceration. Lynchings in this country never really ended; they continue with police who kill us.
And so I think the solution to the problem is to really be honest and to actually really address the core problem, which is incredibly difficult to do at the same time people are trying to get rid of critical race theory in schools (which is ironic because critical race theory is an optional class in law school).
There are laws being passed around this country wherein you can’t teach history that makes somebody uncomfortable. Well, the reality is that the history of this country is uncomfortable.
It’s uncomfortable for me as a Black person to learn what happened to my ancestors. But it’s necessary, and in order for us to actually address any of these issues, we have to fully face that, and be honest about that. And take a look at the systems that are continuing the legacy of slavery in this country. Facing that and being honest is very challenging for many white people and white supremacists in particular.
DC: Are there any concrete projects or demands that we can make of the system that could start to address these problems?
SB: Right before you can actually even really do anything about it, you’ve got to acknowledge it, so I think that’s sort of the first step and that still hasn’t happened. People oftentimes misconstrue, intentionally or unintentionally, that white supremacy means that we’re calling them a racist, when the reality is that unfortunately, we all grew up in a white-supremacist society.
And so even we, as Black people, have to unlearn white supremacy that has been shoved down our throats. It’s really a reckoning that needs to just happen in this country. And we have to be honest and be able to acknowledge it before we can actually even really do anything about it.
And I don’t think that we’ve even done that.
DC: I think I heard you say at a rally that you were an Abolitionist. Can you explain what that means?
SB: So an abolitionist is somebody who does not believe in policing and prisons, or that’s what I mean by it. We use the term abolition because that was also what was used when talking about slavery. And when you look again at the history of policing and prisons in this country, we see that they’re just a vestige of slavery and a continuation in many ways. So they are absolutely connected, which is why the words are the same. Actually, it was Angela Davis who said, “Prisons do not disappear social problems. They disappear human beings.”
Abolition addresses the issue of not only racial injustice and racial disparities, but also economic injustice and so many other forms of injustice that we see in this country. We have to remember that policing in this country is a relatively newer addition to humanity. It didn’t always exist, and there are other forms of public safety and accountability.
When we think critically about why harm and crime occur, it’s because of a lack of resources. So when we defund the police, and we take money away from the police, and we put those resources back into communities, we will see crime continue to go down. Abolition is systemic and it’s the individual that is abolishing the cop in your head and that abolition is a duality of not only tearing down systems of harm, such as law enforcement or policing, and prisons, but it’s also the building of systems of care.
DC: Can you talk about care in the context of this massacre?
SB: The site of the murders has really turned into a community center in many ways, in the fact that communities have gathered to provide resources to each other and to others. There was somebody who had volunteered their time as a massage therapist, and they’re out there giving massages to the community because when you’re stressed, you carry that in your body, and that shows up in so many different ways in muscle tension.
And so we have seen an outpouring of support for Buffalo and the community where this massacre occurred. But the reality is that they should have had those resources before this happened, and that those resources need to continue to be accessible to this community forever. It’s a model for what needs to be occurring throughout the country and throughout the world.
The family of George Floyd, what they needed in the aftermath of their loved one’s murder was not police, it was resources, it was healing justice. It was mental health and it’s ongoing because we are all experiencing and dealing with so much trauma just living in the world. And when these things happen in our communities it’s a more acute need. And these resources need to be continuously available and to have been available from the beginning.
DC: If I may ask, and you do not have to answer this question, I was wondering if you were willing to say something about how you are feeling in the wake of the atrocity, and, if you know and can say, how others around you are feeling.
SB: Like I said, those were grandmas and they were elders, and they should be respected and revered. And they were slaughtered. They should be with their grandbabies. They should be with their children and their communities.
It was devastating and heartbreaking, and not at all surprising, which just makes it all the more painful. Because it’s a constant bracing of yourself in this country, being Black, for what’s next.
It’s painful and devastating to see a continuous loop of Black death that turns us into fodder, that turns us into something for analysis as opposed to something that is deeply heart-wrenching for those who were impacted and those who realize that at any point it could be us. That could be our grandmother.
It could be our children. And violence at the hands of the State is never-ending.
It is a constant threat to our lives. It attempts to steal our joy and tries to rob us of our humanity, and then simultaneously blames us for it all.
As a woman who wants to have children one day, it horrifies me to know that this is the world that they would be entering into. It’s not worthy of my babies. It’s not worthy of any of us.
DC: Is there anything else that we haven’t talked about that you want to say?
SB: Being resilient is exhausting and puts the onus back on us when the responsibility is on society and systems that continue to put targets on our backs. They continue to put targets on the backs of even children. So many of us do this work because we know that it could be any one of us next, and that the blood of our freedom fighters who came before us demands that we do more and that we continue their work. The blood of those we’ve lost demands something better in the future. Generations deserve better, and so we continue to do the work while it’s heavy. It’s exhausting when many of us have other jobs we do on top of this work.
We also try to take care of our families. In a capitalist society, we can’t even stop to grieve or just process any of what we experience.
We need everybody to join us. We cannot do it alone.
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