Unlearning Racism Newsletter – Week 9: Anti-racism is STILL Political

Hi everyone!

Thanks for your flexibility Sunday night with our change of plans and for your messages of support! We are all fine and good – we just want to be intentional about how we show up in this work and about modeling rest to keep this work sustainable. We know (and are constantly reminding ourselves) that it’s okay to take breaks and, because we took one Sunday, we can be a little more energized to show up in your inboxes again today and on Zoom this weekend.

That being said, let’s get to it! As a reminder, we have this anonymous question form for anyone who isn’t quite comfortable asking a question in a dialogue or to us directly. Also, we keep updating our website with an archive of all our newsletters to make it easier to share with friends (still calling for help from anyone who knows how to make a WordPress site cuter!). And if someone forwarded you this newsletter and you want to sign up to get newsletters directly, you can do so here

As we talk about being political people in our anti-racism (and that being okay!), we want re-address last week’s message: anti-racism is political and none of us are truly apolitical. We all exist within systems that are formed by politics. Do you go to church? Tax write-offs for religious organizations are governed by the Internal Revenue Service. Do you have a job? Your job is held to governmental standards, subject to oversight by the Department of Labor and taxation by the Internal Revenue Service. Do you use public highways? Your state’s Department of Transportation. Do you send your kids to school or are you a student? Department of Education. Eat at restaurants? Your state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control. Buy food from the grocery store? Food and Drug Administration. Use tap water? Environmental Protection Agency. We could go on but you would stop reading. And all of these federal and state departments are supplemented by various SCOTUS cases, House and Senate bills, local legislation etc. Point is: your life is heavily influenced by politics, you’ve just been taught to be apolitical for the sake of not making others uncomfortable. 

We’re leaning into that discomfort (as always) and want to raise some stats that should make us uncomfortable. In the richest country in the world, the very existence of poverty is a policy choice. Policy choices are made by who we vote into office and what those people prioritize, often based on their constituent interest. These uncomfortable stats are directly related to and because of politics:

A QUICK HISTORY LESSON: THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE

Every presidential election year (so, every four years) a temporary group of electors equal to the total number of representatives in Congress is formed, called the Electoral College. Technically, it is these electors, and not the American people, who vote for the president. In modern elections, the first candidate to get 270 of the 538 total electoral votes wins the White House (you can check your state’s electors on this map from 270towin.com!) Each state is entitled to a number of electors equal to that state’s numbers of Congress people (so two senators plus the total number of representatives to the House). 

The Electoral College was established after the 1787 Constitutional Convention, strictly to determine the democratic process by which they would elect the President. Populations in the North and South were approximately equal, but in 1787, roughly 40 percent of people living in the Southern states were enslaved Black people, who were not allowed to vote in this newly “free country”. James Madison of Virginia—where enslaved persons accounted for 60 percent of the population—knew that either a direct presidential election, or one with electors divvied up according to free white residents only, would not behoove southern voters, as there were far fewer white people living in rural southern areas than those living in densely populated northern cities. 

The result was the “three-fifths compromise,” in which enslaved Black persons would be counted as only three-fifths of a person for the purpose of allocating representatives and electors and calculating federal taxes. With about 93 percent of the country’s enslaved people in just five southern states, the South would be the undoubted beneficiary of the compromise, increasing the size of the South’s congressional delegation by 42 percent. The compromise ensured that Southern states would ratify the Constitution and gave Virginia, home to more than 200,000 enslaved persons, a quarter (12) of the total electoral votes required to win the presidency (46). In fact, for 32 of the United States’ first 36 years, a Virginian who owned other human beings occupied the White House. 

The Electoral College began as a workaround for slavery, incentivizing owning other human beings by counting them as slightly-over-one-half of a person for the sake of building the South’s own electoral power, all while not allowing those same enslaved people to vote—making a massive difference in election outcomes. 

More than two centuries after it was designed explicitly to empower southern whites, the Electoral College continues to do just that. While the Thirteenth Amendment technically outlawed slavery (we’ll get to its loopholes in the coming months), ending the three-fifths compromise in 1865, the Compromise of 1877 removed troops from the South meant to protect Black voters, marking the end of Reconstruction and jumpstarting the Jim Crow Era. The decision to remove soldiers from the South allowed the restoration of (blatant) white supremacy in voting, where Black voters were intentionally disenfranchised. The Voting Rights Act was ratified in 1965 in order to mandate protections for Black voters. However, the 2013 SCOTUS decision of Shelby County v. Holder eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, with efforts to keep Black and other racial minorities from voting, beginning less than 24 hours after the ruling was decided.

As we noted last week, our system has a distinct, adverse impact on Black voters, intentionally diluting their political power via gerrymandering, cutting early voting, voter ID laws, and much more. Because the concentration of Black citizens is highest in the South, Black voters’ preferred presidential candidate is nearly assured to lose their home states’ electoral votes. In fact, five of the six states whose populations are 25 percent or more Black have been reliably Republican in recent presidential elections, despite voting patterns that would prove contrary. Three of those aforementioned states haven’t voted for a Democratic president in more than four decades. Within the Electoral College, Black votes are diluted by districts intentionally drawn so as to not represent them, a limited number of polling places, and plenty of other restrictions. 


97 DAYS UNTIL THE GENERAL ELECTION, WE REPEAT, 97 DAYS! 

Because we’re talking about anti-racism being political again this week, we figured it was a good time to remind everyone to register to vote. We have 97 days (!!!!!!) until one of the most important elections of our lifetime. We’re using this as an opportunity to (yet again) make sure you’re prepared for election day by reminding you to register to vote, check your voter registration status, request your absentee ballot (Emily just requested hers – super easy and worth doing FAR in advance, considering the risks of voting this year), find out where your polling place is (if you still prefer to vote in person), apply to be a poll worker, and even participate in phonebanking or postcard writing for your favorite candidates (we’ll be writing for Jaime Harrison in SC, but if you’re less worried about your own state’s elections, you can still support an election in a battleground state here).


PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR POSTS ARE

This week, we’re directing our cash toward Jail Support in Charlotte, NC. Jail Support, much like many similar mutual aid efforts across the country, has been a truly grassroots, local response to ongoing protests in Mecklenburg and Gaston Counties, NC. It serves as a local resource hub, right outside the jail, for people once they are released from custody – a place to get a snack, water, a ride, a hotel room, some emotional support, whatever people need at the time of their release. In their own words, Jail Support is “trying to fill in the gaps where people don’t even conceive that there is a need or that there is even a gap there,” according to Marcelle Vielot, a regular Jail Support volunteer. While one goal of providing these resources to recently released people is to keep the ongoing protests sustainable, that’s only one piece of the mission. You can Venmo @ashwilliamsclt or Cashapp $houseofkanautica with the subject line “Jail Support” to assist Jail Support in their efforts to aid community members doing anti-racist work in the streets every single day. 


RESOURCES


Primary Resource (same as last week since this is what we’ll discuss Sunday):

Supplemental Resources (same as last week because they’re just so good!):

  • C.T. Vivian’s commitment to equality and nonviolence made him a happy warrior for the ages – many of us had heard about Rep. John Lewis before his passing, but we may have been less aware of his friend, fellow speaker at the March on Washington, and fellow Civil Rights giant, C.T. Vivian. Rev. Vivian was best known for his role as a Freedom Rider, leadership within the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and for coordinating the Nashville sit-ins in the 1960’s.
  • John Lewis: Good Trouble – Emily watched the John Lewis documentary last night and she knew it’d be great but wow (streaming for $6.99 on Youtube and Amazon Prime, we know that’s a little pricey but we have a feeling it’s worth it! If you want to watch it in the next 36 hours, she’ll let you hop on her amazon account to do so. If you want to watch but can’t afford that later this week, let us know and we can figure out a way for you to watch it, too!)
  • Do Not Call John Lewis a “Hero” If You Stood In His Way – some notes on the utter hypocrisy of glorifying civil rights leaders while actively working against what they fought for. — “But the fight that defined John Lewis’s life, and the people and institutions that stood in his way, blocking progress, undermining rights, were still there, and he knew it. “I’m not going to give up. I’m not going to give in,” Lewis said that day. “We must use the vote as a nonviolent instrument or tool to redeem the soul of America.””

Other Resources That We Loved

  • Putting everyone on notice of a new podcast (a collab between Serial Productions and the New York Times, in case you’re the type that wants references) that we should probably all make required listening. Nice White Parents is about the relationship between white parents and the US School System for the past 60 years. If you read these emails, we hope you also listen to this!
  • The False Promise of Anti-Racism Books – we are so thankful for the myriad anti-racism resources that have emerged to the mainstream this summer, on the internet and in print. AND we want to make sure that in our attempts to “listen and learn,” we are pairing what we consume with concrete structural changes, allowing those changes to be in the C-suites where we work, at our dinner tables, in our schools, in our streets, and through the laws that govern what’s available to whom. 
  • And if you want to update your “give me strength to remain upbeat, transparent, and firm when I have to talk to my racist relatives” playlist, we recommend adding  Anderson .Paak’s new song, Lockdown (shoutout to Emily’s boyfriend, Taylor – he also recommends you watch the video)

A DAY WORTH ACKNOWLEDGING: THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (ADA) TURNED 30 YEARS OLD YESTERDAY

On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and any private place that is open to the general public (businesses, places of worship, etc.). The ADA’s purpose is to ensure that people with disabilities are granted the same rights and opportunities as everyone else and bestows civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities (similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion). The law guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.

However, in the words of Emily’s friend Miriam, “anti-discrimination laws do not end a struggle. Rather, they bring The Struggle into the light of day. Imperfect anti-discrimination laws do not offer protection from anything; they represent a fighting chance, a way forward. The Americans with Disabilities Act represents years of civil disobedience, years of passionate & radical community organization. And its existence still does not shut the mouth of the able-bodied person who told me just the week before last that I was in her way when she pulled up next to my federally designated parking spot. The ADA does not stop a vast majority of able-bodied people from calling me crippled to my face. The ADA does not ensure that I will receive medical equipment in a timely fashion, or indeed at all. The ADA did not ensure my right to a mainstream education in k-12. It has not spared me the indignity of sexually abusive relationships. It does not protect me from myself or anyone else. I am not babied by the ADA with tales of my specialness or prettiness, no. What the ADA does powerfully well is this: it signals to the non-disabled population & to a corrupt system that I am in fact a human being, and I am here to stay. And still I want more & I want better. And I am not the only one, not even close.”

What is ableism?

Ableism is the discrimination toward and social prejudice against people with disabilities, largely based on the belief that physically and intellectually abled bodies are superior. At its core, ableism is rooted in the assumption that disabled people require ‘fixing’ and defines people by their disability

This is nice and all but… I thought this newsletter was about anti-racism?

Yes, and this newsletter is about dismantling all things rooted in white supremacy culture – ableism is one of those things. There are plenty of intersections between racism and ableism and plenty of people who experience varying levels of oppression related to either or both their race and their disability.

Sounds like you’re talking about intersectionality…?

Yes! Precisely. Intersectionality is the “interconnected nature of social categorizations such as ability, race, class, sexual orientation, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” We’ll talk about this more in the coming weeks, but for now, think about yourself reading this: you are a person with a gender, with romantic and sexual attractions to certain people, with varying experiences with ability (maybe you have a traumatic brain injury! Maybe you wear glasses! Maybe you are autistic! Maybe you have a chronic illness!), with physical features like skin color and hair texture that affect the way the world is trained to perceive you and cultural experiences related to your ancestral heritage or upbringing, with some level of financial resources or social capital, and the list goes on and on. 

A few ways that white supremacy and ableism are related:

  • White supremacy is often propped up by ableism; we comfortably misname peoples bigoted behaviors as “insane” or “mentally ill” as a means of distancing ourselves from the racism embedded in their actions. (see: the NBC “Trump is F*cking Crazy” headline a few weeks back. We’re not going to link it because despite our mutual disdain of the cheeto in chief (oops did we put that in the newsletter?), we don’t think he’s a garbage president because he does or doesn’t have a cognitive impairment, we think he’s a garbage president because his words and actions have been remarkably racist, careless, and elitist – we don’t have to resort to “crazy” every time someone does something deeply disturbing, we can call white supremacy what it is!)
  • Medical racism contributes to increased prevalence of disability in Black and Indigenous communities.
  • The movement toward eugenics (forced sterilizations of people because of their perceived ability) is largely intertwined with racism. Here is a podcast that Emily LOVED that explains the SCOTUS case Buck v. Bell and the legal limbo of forced sterilizations (trigger warnings galore, but very worth a listen, thank you Radiolab!)
  • Prisons and jails (which I think by now we can all acknowledge have an intentionally disproportionate population of people who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and have become, de facto, the largest service providers for disabled people and people with mental illnesses.
  • Race science, a debunked and biologically untrue belief system that Black people and other racial minorities are anatomically different than white people (including a particularly insidious belief that Black people fare worse than white people because they tend to be less naturally intelligent), is largely rooted in pathologizing race in order to stratify people. This belief that certain races are inferior hinges on the belief that certain bodies and their physical abilities, or intellects are inferior. 
  • Racism and ableism go hand-in-hand, as schools often under-diagnose Black students with learning disabilities compared to their white counterparts, but over-punish them for the behaviors that their white counterparts exhibited leading to the white students’ diagnoses. This distinction withholds necessary resources for Black students, that in part, results in underrepresentation of Black students in honors programs and the like because Black students were not presented the same support as similarly situated white counterparts.
  • Black, Indigenous, and Immigrant children are often more likely to live in poor families, have food insecurity, and be exposed to toxic environments like lead or hazardous waste, which can influence brain development as well as lifelong physical health… And this list could go on and on!

Point is, in the words of modern philosopher (and R&B artist) Lauryn Hill, everything is everything.As we’re unlearning racism, we want to also unlearn and unravel all the systems of oppression that continue to harm our communities and its members. We want to become critically conscious members of our neighborhoods, cities, and world, that use the information we have to disrupt injustice when we see it. It’s not hard to care about other people, but it certainly takes work to disentangle our brains from what we’ve been taught for most of our lives about race, class, gender, religion, ability, and so, so much more. We said it Friday and we’ll say it again: our ultimate goal is to protect, value, and celebrate Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and People of Color’s lives, and to do that we must constantly work to betray white supremacy and all the systems that perpetuate it. That is good trouble, necessary trouble. ALL forms of oppression can be linked to white supremacy, and as we learn more about them, we will work to be traitors to all of them, too.

Okay, we’ll see you Sunday, for real this time! We love you. We’re thankful for you. We can do this work.

THIS WEEK’S ZOOM LINK HERE
Meeting ID: 873 7144 6762
Password: 5SUqg9

In Solidarity,
Ellie and Emily

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