In nonprofit and philanthropy, the white moderate thrives. Foundations, it manifests in your white-moderate hoarding of assets, refusing to increase payout beyond the bare minimum even while the fires of injustice rage on. Your white-moderate reluctance to fund Black, Indigenous, and other communities-of-color-led organizations over decades has contributed to all these problems. Your white-moderate disdain of funding advocacy and systems change work has let the fires spread unchecked. Your white-moderate discomfort with saying words like “white supremacy” and “slavery” and “reparation,” insistence on order and bureaucracy through grant applications and budgets and deadlines, dismissal of solutions proposed by marginalized communities in favor of those proposed by educated white elites, gravitation toward long timelines at your convenience—these things make you part of the problem even as we look to you for help to solve problems.
Interestingly, authentic kente is endangered. Scroll through Alibaba.com and you’ll find thousands of examples of “African” wax-print fabrics, bootlegs of kente primarily manufactured in China. The piracy results in a kind of sartorial tragedy, or an imperialist comedy; in Harlem, you might encounter a young black person unaware that her garment is not only fake but a farce. The stoles worn by members of Congress looked, to my eye, authentically woven, but the impression of guilelessness was still overwhelming. It was primarily the white members of Congress who were ridiculed. An image of Pelosi and Schumer—the former with her hands on her hips in a can-do stance, the latter folding his arms disapprovingly—made them look like ready-made, absurdist hotep memes. A photo that captured Senator Cory Booker stoleless made him seem the exemplar of common sense. (In fact, he wore one, too.)
As evening fell, and curfew passed, I walked through my neighborhood, the very Wall Street that had deformed so much of those kids’ lives. Graffiti shouted from the walls. Some fast-fashion chain stores had been looted. Ever since protesters torched that police station in Minneapolis, politicians feared the people almost as much as they feared a backlash from the police. The Minneapolis City Council pledged to disband its police department. Around the country, district attorneys brought charges against officers caught beating protesters on tape. Inadequate though they were, these actions represent some of the most significant concrete victories in reining in police brutality in the two decades since New York cops murdered Amadou Diallo. All the polite, incremental reformism—of sensitivity trainings, tweaks to use-of-force rules, and appeals to better nature—was revealed as hollow in the face of the protesters’ justified fury, of their courage, of their pride.
On another night, I saw a police courts van sitting on now-boarded-up Broadway, its windows smashed. Someone had scrawled FTP, short for “fuck the police,” on every side. When I walked by, a kid in black stood atop it while his friend shot photos. I asked to take his picture. He agreed. “You’re gonna get a million likes on Instagram,” he told me. He stood there as if astride the world.
Police violence is only the enforcement arm of a system of racial domination and racial capitalism that was with us at the beginning of American history. Here you can find the story of how black people confront that system and plot world liberation. Let’s call this reading list Black History in Three Acts.
None of this should be terribly surprising—public opinion on race has swung dramatically to the left since the protests in Ferguson in 2014. Within just a few months of those demonstrations, in fact, the percentage of Americans who believed the country needed “to continue making changes to give blacks equal rights with whites” jumped over a dozen points to a 59 percent majority of the country. In their poll write-up, Cohn and Quealy reference figures from Monmouth that show 76 percent of Americans now consider racism and discrimination a “big problem”—a 26-point increase, they noted, from 2015.
Some pundits have dubbed this shift the Great Awokening and focused heavily on the white liberals who’ve been responsible for the bulk of it. But it should be noted, too, that opinions on race shifted even among Republicans. The Washington Post’s poll on the protests, for instance, showed that 47 percent of Republicans believe Floyd’s killing was the product of systemic racism in policing, compared to just 19 percent who said the same of killings in 2014—a 28-point leap despite years of efforts by conservative pundits and politicians to brand Black Lives Matter as a hysterical, if not dangerous, movement driven by hyperbolic activists.
During my time at the Gardiner, its Management was white, and its Board of Directors was predominantly white. There were no Black and Indigenous individuals in decision-making roles that reflected the diversity of Toronto. As a white-passing multi-racial woman of colour of Canadian and Trinidadian descent, I was one of the few persons of colour (POC) on permanent staff. This, alongside a threadbare institutional equity, inclusion and diversity policy, fostered an unhealthy work environment ridden with daily microaggressions in the form of tone policing and gaslighting.
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