Liberal Elitist Privilege and Black Lives

I grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. Springfield has been listed as one of the most diverse communities in the country. The community health center, where I used to do youth work, has the ability to translate in over 200 dialects. That is incredible. The trajectory for this diversity began after the unrest between Italians and newly arrived Puerto Ricans in the 70s, neighborhoods slowly became more racially mixed as these groups reconciled and began to live side by side. Spfld is a community full of activist and the children of seasoned civil rights warriors. Sure there is economic disparity and my hometown has been in a deep recession, yet the spirit of folks is rich and active.

Northampton_MassachusettsIn the early 90s my mother and I (with 2 year old Julian) moved up to Northampton, a college town in the “5 Colleges” area. We would go up there at least a few times a month and it’s progressive facade was always attractive to us. We gave it a good try.

Now, ya’ll know my mom is White. She raised two mixed daughters and speaking for myself, my Blackness was always something my mother nourished. I am grateful for that as a Black identified woman, who is aware of her skin color privilege as a light skinned blue eyed woman.

One day, as we walked down Main St in the other #NoHo, with it’s first Lesbian Mayor in the country, with the highest concentration of Lesbian’s in the country at that time, we noticed a disturbing reality. We’ve always had a critical eye on our community and this day something poked us in the eye.

Where were all the brown folks that we knew lived in Northampton? My mother worked for a housing organization for most of her career and we knew the demographics well. We went from store to store as we enjoyed our day and did not see brown faces working at those stores. How had we never noticed this missing population in our 1000+ previous visits to town?

In our observation, the only brown face in a retail establishment in town was the caramel colored twenty-something daughter of two Smith college professors who were part owners of a local progressive bookstore. She was at the counter that day.

As we drove back down the road to our rented house, we did see brown faces. They were glaringly present at each and every fast food drive-through along the main retail strip.

I spoke about this in my Latina Writers Honors class in college and a White woman got so offended that it blew up into an incident I have written about before (see All of the Above post). What did not make it past the editor at (1)ne Drop was the moment when she asked where the White cultural society was on campus and I retorted…’it’s there, it’s called the KKK”.

This time in my life, my early 20s, was a time when my racial identity became even more important to me and I began leading with it more loudly than ever before.

The revelation that a liberal haven of White middle to upper class lesbians was an unwelcome place for brown folks to be part of the mainstream culture carries forward to the whole #BLM vs #Berniesupporters controversy. This article speaks about it in very clear and reasoned terms.

When the Seattle action happened my reaction was that the tactic was a bit immature. I still feel that they could have handled themselves differently and still made a significant impact. I also have a frustration that folks had not noticed, before Seattle, that Senator Sanders had already begun to publicly address issues of racial justice and had read the names of Black women being killed as a result of police interaction, at his rallies.

My mother, Eileen, and her Holyoke Springfield for Bernie(they convene in Northampton) campaign team partners attended a Bernie rally in New Hampshire almost two weeks ago and I was very pleased to hear that he had done this. One of the men my mother is on a team with is a guy I know well from back home. This small world has brought them together by ‘coincidence’ to work on this campaign for the people. Maurice is in no uncertain terms a black revolutionary at his core.

Moe posted this video today:

Moe’s own personal views, as a Black man, on Bernie? “Bernie is the bomb”. I agree with Moe. I support Bernie. I support my mom’s activism for Bernie. I support Moe. Note: Mom has a critical eye on Bernie and his fellow activist. Don’t get that twisted, as they say. Yet he is excited by Bernie’s impact on political discourse and it’s promise for the community.

When I spoke and said that I think those young #blacklivesmatter activists were a bit immature, I meant specifically that. My immediate words were ‘why the one civil/human rights activist’. If ya’ll thought I literally did not understand why…you are not paying attention. I think it was effective in the end in getting Bernie to publicly show his actual strategy, but he didn’t create one because of them. It already existed. That seems to be getting missed in all of the kurfuffle.

Yet and still, White progressives are not automatically aware of their own privilege just because they are liberal leaning. White progressives who care about economic justice issues don’t all care about people of color and their struggles. My hope and wish is that whatever the tactics used, that this incident helps more White folks see themselves, hold others accountable and grows the pool of true honest allies working for justice for all.

Note: my mother is part of Holyoke Springfield for Bernie. The group meets in Northampton. A very diverse grass-roots crew that is doing some fantastic organizing. I am proud of my mom. I am on my way to Massachusetts and I look forward to meeting all of them. May Spirit bless and guide them. Way to go Northampton. I have hope for progress.

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