Whites against White Supremacy: A New Generation of Activists Takes on the Challenge of Organizing White People for Racial Justice
Nguyen, Vy, Colorlines Magazine
WHEN LILIA GARCIA BROUGHT her Latina mom and her white partner along with her to a July 2007 event introducing a relatively new group of white anti-racist activists, she was looking to introduce her loved ones to a space where they could explore ideas together about race and its social construction.
"I'm very inspired by the potential of what this represents," said Garcia, an activist in Los Angeles. "What excites me is that as the dominant, privileged group within this social construction, whites were saying 'this [system] doesn't work for me.'"
AWARE-LA (Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere), which put on the event, is part of a small but growing number of groups across the country that are trying to bring organizing and alliance-building strategies into a field that since the 1990s has been largely focused on consciousness-raising, solidarity work with people of color and the academia-created phenomenon of white studies.
The new and growing wave of grassroots, white, anti-racist organizations across the country and their increasing focus on organizing in white communities poses opportunities as well as provocative questions about the role of antiracist whites in racial and social justice work.
The modern white anti-racist movement can be traced from the early days of the civil rights movement and groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which was made up of both Blacks and whites, and upheld integration as a goal. But activists came to question that aim in a white supremacist society, as well as examining the limits of nonviolent resistance. With the emergence of the Black Power movement in the mid-1960s, SNCC became an all-Black organization, and people of color challenged white activists to work on racism with whites directly. Militant radical white groups emerged--such as the Weather Underground and the Young Patriots--and allied with groups like the Black Panthers and the Young Lords.
According to Jeff Hitchcock, executive director of the Study of White American Culture and an organizer with the White Anti-Racist Community Action Network in Roselle, New Jersey, SNCC's call for white activists to begin a process of leadership in white communities was a pivotal moment in anti-racist history. Hitchcock cites subsequent key publications that presented "what white people were called upon to do and why," including For Whites Only by Robert Terry in 1970, the handbook "White Awareness" by Judith Katz and, later, Peggy McIntosh's 1988 paper "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack."
The destruction COINTELPRO wrought on people of color movements similarly devastated the white radical organizations of the time. White anti-racists in the late 1970s borrowed from feminist models and focused on consciousness-raising, which became for some a primary vehicle to continue work that had in other ways been crushed, but was viewed by another segment of the white resistance movement as a retreat from an agenda that had placed Blacks at the forefront. The '80s and '90s saw a continuance of consciousness-raising training centers for white activists, with the formation of the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond, along with the development of a more mainstream school of training that moved towards human relations, multiculturalism and diversity, and away from anti-oppression and anti-racism. Antiracist white activism in the 1980s was fragmented into anti-apartheid work, localized fights against the KKK and a punk rock anti-racist youth scene that directly took on hate groups.
White studies, which reached its height in the mid-'90s, began in the late '80s through classes, doctoral dissertations and, in a few cases, university programs (though it has not reached the level of departmentalization). The field studies the cultural and institutional aspects of white privilege and the construction of white culture but has been criticized for its lack of connection to social change efforts. …