White Supremacy Doesn't Need Our Help
There is nothing new, revolutionary, legitimate, or nuanced about racism, white supremacy, white nationalism, and everything in between. The same is true of all the talking heads who insist on engaging their pretenses and barely veiled bigotry substantively and applying good faith analyses to arguments plainly made in bad faith. This idea that we need to hang on to the right’s every word, respond to every asinine comment they make, and engage their every popular bad faith actor to be “prepared” for them or to have an idea what they think, is not only precisely why republicans practice a winning politic of distraction; but it’s also false, reinforces the status quo, and wastes the limited opportunities we have to expose the public to the truth, the real issues plaguing our communities, and to normalize ideas that would bring about the radical change we need.
The media is not only complicit in quashing progressive movements and maintaining America’s marriage to the prison industrial complex, the media is the main co-conspirator.
It’s media we most consume and it’s media that presents police narratives as fact and objective reporting; it’s media that sensationalizes crime and manufactures crime waves at the behest of police, prosecutors, legislators, and other interest groups invested in mass incarceration; it’s media choosing who to humanize and dehumanize; it’s media constructing and constantly reinforcing narratives of criminality around Black and brown people; it’s media constantly fear mongering around crime, homelessness, and every single progressive initiative like bail reform; and it’s media spoon-feeding us all of this every second of every day. Which is precisely how indoctrination works.
Indoctrination is the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically. Unfortunately, racism and white supremacy are some of this country’s oldest ideals, woven into the fabric of every institution in our society. It’s the pervasive status quo and there’s nothing we’re more familiar with, which is why it does not need our help getting its message out.
We don’t have many true leftists, abolitionist thinkers, progressive advocates, or people fighting to radically change or dismantle the criminal system or fight institutional racism, in the media—and that is a problem.
We have a few people who identify as such, a few who are mildly sympathetic to those movements, but mostly what we have are a handful of people who adopt these titles so they can occupy the one space allotted for such a person. But once occupied, they use their platforms and voice to criticize the left they claim to be a part of; to treat right wing reactionism to marginalized people fighting for equal rights as legitimate plight to be analyzed and respected; to capitulate to right wing messaging and framing (see “culture wars”); to fetch every bone republicans throw in their politics of distraction; to legitimize obvious right wing bigotry by claiming there’s a nuance the rest of us are missing; to accuse the left of being lost in identity politics while pretending whiteness isn’t an identity and the only thing the right is galvanized around; to encourage us to appease and bend to the will of republicans whose vote they claim we need instead of pursuing the millions of Americans who’ve had their votes disenfranchised or are just disenchanted by a two-party system that never seems to benefit them no matter who wins; to view (and dismiss) movements, people, and real world issues purely from the lens of what’s best for/preferred by democrats and republican politicians; and platforming right wing people.
These people are not usually hard to identify. They are mildly critical of a system they clearly revere, they are usually friends with obvious problematic actors, they constantly want to have a good faith analysis of bigotry and bad faith actors, and their politics are usually only “left” on one or two issues that conveniently impact them. Identifying these people by name or getting into twitter spats with them is less important than explaining why they’re harmful and hinder movements more than they help.
We do not need to spend our time and use our platforms to engage and look for legitimacy in right wing-framing to know what they think or how to debunk their arguments. The right isn’t saying anything they haven’t said a million times in but a handful of different ways. They’re not looking to say anything new; they’re trying (successfully) to prevent us from being able to get our messages out.
Why do you think republicans are on a quest to stomp out any discussions of defunding the police or abolition, to conflate everything with critical race theory, to ban books, to prevent any critical examination of racism in this country, to keep Black authors off their children’s reading lists, and to ensure that everyone but white people continued to be othered—especially with respect to the fictions they pass off as “American history,” which are always conveniently devoid of how America has treated everyone but white people. Why would the experiences, events, and lived realities of entire populations be excluded from American history when it happened in America?
Because that’s how indoctrination works. You tell people the same thing repeatedly until it becomes normal and then you prevent anyone else from telling them anything different.
People often think that as a Public Defender, what you lose in income, you make up in emotional fulfillment from the job and that’s not true for me—and I suspect it’s not true for most public defenders. There’s only so fulfilled you can feel about getting someone out of jail if you’re sending them to the streets homeless.
I became a public defender because while Black people are disproportionately represented in a prison industrial complex that preys on us, we make up just 5% of attorneys, and I don’t think the only Black person in the courtroom should be the defendant. I believe that our communities are best served by people who not only look like us, understand us, and will better represent and humanize us to a court determined on seeing us only as rap sheets and docket numbers, but who will minimize the negative psychological effects of being criminalized by not vilifying our own, requiring them to fight for understanding, or to convince their own lawyer that they are not bad people or deserving of the situations they find themselves in.
Nevertheless, as a public defender, I am a harm reductionist at best. The system necessitates that poor Black and brown people cannot escape criminalization.
I can do my best to fight within the constraints of the system and soften the impact of a criminal system that always stands poised to land a heavy blow on the people I represent, but for them to truly thrive or avoid the perils of criminalization, we have to remove the constraints we are otherwise forced to contend with as public defenders, and that requires us to introduce truth to a society that has been shielded from it and taught to believe so many falsehoods that legitimize mass incarceration. That’s why I extend my advocacy beyond the courtroom to media and social media. There’s so much I’m able to share with the public and mobilize support for that if left to a courtroom, I’d find myself outraged, looking around, wondering whether anybody is hearing, seeing, or feeling the outrageousness I’m living.
There’s a reason why grassroots movements are preoccupied with not just getting their message out once, but constantly getting it out to as many people as possible, as often as possible—because that’s how you make something stick. The battle is less about what we teach people, and more about how we get people to unlearn the propaganda they’ve been fed and indoctrinated to believe because it’s constantly being reinforced to them.
That’s why I talk about abolition and systemic racism everywhere I can, as often as I can. Every day I repeat information I’ve shared a hundred times before, because while it’s neither new or controversial to me and the people who work in my spaces, it’s still a minority view that our society not only rarely presents to us, it’s the total opposite of everything we’ve been taught to believe about America, its institutions, and justice. I say the same things every day in hopes that more people hear it and begin to move away from their old views—and I’ll probably be doing that for the rest of my life—because repetition is how you normalize and reinforce something. But if we never even present our ideas or our thinkers, because we take the limited space and opportunities we have to get our messaging out and instead give in to right wing stories, politicians, talking heads, and bad faith arguments, how ever will be able to reinforce and normalize our ideas so that they may actually take hold.
If you are always replying, you never choose the topic, and that’s how the right is able to drown us in a sea of nonsense while millions of people suffer in silence and have their issues go unaddressed.
In a world where media is saturated with the status quo, we cannot afford to prop it up and reinforce it with the limited space we have. There are too many real things happening in our communities, too many real lives being lost, changed, and forever impacted by the maintenance of the status quo to spend our time feeding into right wing distractions and tap dancing for a seat at the table. White supremacy does not need our help getting its messaging out, use your time and platforms wisely.