The clarion call to “Make America Great Again” during this year's presidential elections is empowering white supremacist groups to slither above ground, like when the Ku Klux Klan tried to host a White Lives Matter rally in Anaheim this February. Twitter is exploding with hate speech trolls. The landscape seems dim for the hopes of multiracial democracy, but author and activist Chris Crass stays vigilant in organizing white communities against the seduction of racism.
Mentored by fierce feminists like the legendary Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Crass enlisted in the fight for a better world, from battles over San Francisco's homeless encampments with Food Not Bombs to anti-racist organizing with the Catalyst Project. He's is the author of Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis and Movement Building Strategy (PM Press) and more recently Towards the “Other America”: Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter (Chalice Press).
The Weekly spoke with Crass ahead of his Santiago Canyon College speech today, going in-depth about his perspectives on racism, activism, and what it means for white folks to be in solidarity with Black Lives Matter in OC and beyond.
OC Weekly (Gabriel San Roman): You grew up in Whittier, but there's been mentions of you having organized in OC before. Can it be true?
Crass: I grew up in Whittier but I went to Fullerton College for a couple years around 1993. At first, there was a multi-racial coalition organizing against student fee hikes. We had a lot of support from students, the student newspaper and professors. The next semester, the coalition was led by MEChA with the Black Student Union and our white anarchist/socialist group really involved. We started organizing around the call for an expansion of ethnic studies, women's studies and increased hiring of faculty of color, particular women of color. It was a pretty dramatic drop in support from white students, white professors and the student newspaper. Having been the heroes of the campus for the student fee hike decreases, we now were being called the “dividers” of the campus. Out of that came a lot of clarity on why it's so important to be working in white communities around racial justice.
You're coming back to OC to talk about Black Lives Matters. How can sympathetic white folks help the movement along?
Black Lives Matter is the forefront of the human rights movement of our time. Since Black Lives Matter, there's been millions of white people seeing the enduring reality of racism. A lot of time, white people are in denial, not believing the experiences and histories people of color talk about in terms of racism. A big thing white people can do is break the unspoken code of white silence about racism, about racist police killings, and about racial inequalities. Even if you don't have a full understanding of the issues, being able to speak out and then being able to join community events is good. There's a national white anti-racist movement called SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice). Since the Black Lives Movement, SURJ has grown exponentially with well over 100 chapters all over the country.
When a white person expresses anti-black views in family and friend circles, what is the best thing an anti-racist white person can do?
Evaluate the situation. Ask yourself if this is somebody that you have a relationship and care about. How do you approach your cousin, your friend? For some people it might be being able to reach about on a very personal level and share why participating in the Black Lives Matter is important to them and what they've been learning. Sometimes it can go into an argument into facts, particularly on social media, without much real communication on a deeper level. White people's hearts are in the right place, but racism twists and distorts our minds and our humanity to start to consciously and unconsciously dehumanize people of color. For white people to connect to other white people on a heart level is really key. And then there's times where it's just about saying “No!” in a community setting where someone is putting out a racist worldview. That code of white silence can make it seem like everyone agrees with them.
We are in a shit show of an election year. What are the challenges to anti-racism organizing given all the hate in the air?
The gates of Mordor have been unleashed. The hate of misogyny, the hate of Islamophobia, the hate of racism is on the march. It raises the stakes for white people to be courageous for racial justice. I understand, a lot of white people who want to be anti-racists are really unsure of what to do. Now is the time for any white person who sees what's going on, we need to take responsibility to educate ourselves and get active. We need to bring out a group of friends, students, and congregation members to put Black Lives Matter banners in front of churches, houses, and yard signs to become more visible and public about what we believe in coming from a place of love. White supremacy is actively recruiting white people into a worldview that dehumanizes people of color every day. We need to get the liberating values of anti-racism and racial justice out in white communities.
You're the father of two kids now. How does that change your perspectives on anti-racist organizing?
I got two little white kids, ages 5 and 1. White supremacy devours the lives of children of color and limits their dreams. It also poisons the hearts and minds of white kids and I do not want to see them be fed into this toxic stream of racism. For us, as anti-white racists, it's about developing our courage, our networks of other white people who care about racial justice and taking action in our communities, whether its vigils or when there's a call for a national day of action. We need to talk about the life-affirming, community-building, love-based racial justice values that can really help us move forward as a country. Every time racism is on the rise, there's 100 opportunities for white people to be courageous against it.
Chris Crass speaks at Santiago Canyon College, 8043 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, Room H-106, Today! 11:50 a.m. – 1:15 p.m. Free. All ages.