Confronting White Violence: Readings and Resources 

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I recently tried to wade into a Facebook thread where white people were undermining the ongoing police brutality protests. The original post rightly called out the difference between how the president characterized the Minneapolis protesters versus the armed white people demanding states reopen amid the pandemic (one group was “thugs,” the other was “very good people”). The comments from white people on this post ranged from overt and subtle racism, from earnest defenses of the president to admissions that they “understand” the protests, but only up to a point—that threshold seems to be the destruction of property. Although these two types of responses take different forms and appear to come from different political positions, they are both tied to white supremacist thinking. 

I’d wanted to chime in on the validity of various protest tactics, of riots and burning and looting, because the ongoing oppression of Black people in this country is unforgivable and will not be easily fixed. But I wasn’t sure how to reach this particular group of white people who seemed hostile to such ideas and upset by burning Targets. Since some were asking, essentially, “How would you feel if your business burned down,” I commented to mention an article about an independent restaurant in Minneapolis that was burned down in the protest which responded with a statement of solidarity with the protesters. 

Over the past week, protests against police brutality have continued daily all across the nation, with concurrent mourning for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many other Black people killed by police and racists. And this week, the president threatened military force upon protesting US citizens in front of the White House, just before posing for a picture in front of an unwelcoming church. In light of all this, and in recognition of the need for white people (including myself) to continually, actively, and tangibly fight white supremacy, racism, and anti-blackness, I thought it could be useful to develop a list of educational resources that focus on various aspects of protest—for my own benefit and maybe for yours, too. 

White people get upset about protest because it is a disruption—it demands attention and reckoning with the harm we are implicated in. We white people get uncomfortable talking about race because we never have to think about how being white allows us to move about freely in society—until protest reminds us of this overwhelming fact. The project of reckoning with white supremacy is of course not new, it is ongoing, and it requires sustained engagement.

To undo the white supremacist framework that infects all of our lives, white people including myself must be able to talk about white supremacy amongst ourselves, understand the inherent violence of this system, and then go way far past acknowledgement to find our roles in dismantling it—everywhere, in real life. 

If protest or property destruction makes you angry, ask yourself why, then ask yourself how white supremacy created the conditions that necessitate these kinds of protest again and again and again. We will not intellectualize our way out of racism and the system of white supremacy, but words and examples can help us, in concert with direct action

The following resources can give us language to support the righteousness of these protests and their varying tactics, the righteousness of fury, and the righteousness of outrage over the relentless murder and dehumanization of Black people in the United States throughout its wretched history. Here is a non-exhaustive list of articles and resources with cogent explorations of the topics of protest, abolition, reckoning with white supremacy, and more. They are helping me find the right words and might help you too.


Julie Mehretu, Excerpt (Riot), 2003

Reckoning with white supremacy: Five fundamentals for white folks
By Lovey Cooper
Published in Scalawag, June 1, 2020

Excerpt: Conceiving of white supremacy as a problem of individual bad actors is too limited. It reduces a deep social problem to narrow questions (“Are they racist?” “Is this racist?”) and shallow defensiveness (“I’m not being racist, but…”), while ignoring that white supremacy is not just a vestigial remnant of the past. White supremacy’s inequities are actively reproduced across history and through the present, in new forms and with new mechanisms of white power. 


Of Course There Are Protests. The State Is Failing Black People.
By Keeanga-Yahmatta Taylor
Published in the New York Times, May 29, 2020
Excerpt: When white protesters, armed to the teeth in Michigan and elsewhere, make threats against elected officials, the president praises them as “very good people” and they are largely left alone. They are certainly not suffocated to death on the street. In contrast, after Minnesota’s governor activated the National Guard on Thursday evening, the president suggested that those who protest police brutality could be shot. Protesters in Minneapolis are met with tear gas and projectiles launched by police officers, even as many other public officials claim to sympathize with their anger. These double standards are part of what roils Minneapolis and also why the potential for this kind of eruption exists in every city. […]

This simultaneous collapse of politics and governance has forced people to take to the streets — to the detriment of their health and the health of others — to demand the most basic necessities of life, including the right to be free of police harassment or murder.


A Mask and A Target Cart: Minneapolis Riots
By Aren Aizura
Published in The New Inquiry, May 30, 2020

Excerpt: People accuse protesters of being “outside agitators,” white anarchists, people from out of town, or criminals. Left liberals worry about property damage making the movement “look bad.” At moments like these, a liberal attachment to previous movements as peaceful, nonviolent, and respectable (rewriting the civil rights movement as entirely non-violent, for instance) obscures the historical memory of riots, blockades, and looting as legitimate forms of response to state violence, or even actually effective modes of revolt.


Protesters gather in front of the 3rd precinct police building while it burns on May 28, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Scott Olson/Getty Images (via Slate)

Proportionate Response: When destroying a police precinct is a reasonable reaction.
By Steven W. Thrasher
Published in Slate, May 30, 2020

Excerpt: As any military tactician or social justice organizer can tell you, direct action gets the goods. The destruction of a police precinct is not only a tactically reasonable response to the crisis of policing, it is a quintessentially American response, and a predictable one. The uprising we’ve seen this week is speaking to the American police state in its own language, up to and including the use of fireworks to mark a battle victory. Property destruction for social change is as American as the Boston Tea Party and the Stonewall Riots. And before he unconvincingly qualified a statement so violent Twitter put it behind a warning screen, the president saying he would order shots fired to protect property—that’s as American as the MOVE bombing and apple pie. 


Black Riot
By Raven Rakia
Published in The New Inquiry, November 13, 2013

Excerpt: In America, property is racial. It always has been. Consider the racist violence which stretches from slavery to lynching to the ongoing extrajudicial killings of black men and women. For 300 years, the very idea of a black person’s freedom was a direct threat to white men’s property. After slavery, lynchings were often targeted at blacks who had gained relative wealth and therefore, challenged the wealth and property of white men. [In 2013], George Zimmerman was found not guilty for killing an unarmed black child-who he assumed was breaking into homes in his gated, white community, or threatening the property of his white neighborhood. When property is destroyed by black protesters, it must always be understood in the context of the historical racialization of property. When the same system that refuses to protect black children comes out to protect windows, what is valued over black people in America becomes very clear.


In Defense of Looting
By Vicky Osterweil
Published in The New Inquiry, August 21, 2014

Excerpt: The mystifying ideological claim that looting is violent and non-political is one that has been carefully produced by the ruling class because it is precisely the violent maintenance of property which is both the basis and end of their power. Looting is extremely dangerous to the rich (and most white people) because it reveals, with an immediacy that has to be moralized away, that the idea of private property is just that: an idea, a tenuous and contingent structure of consent, backed up by the lethal force of the state. When rioters take territory and loot, they are revealing precisely how, in a space without cops, property relations can be destroyed and things can be had for free.


James Baldwin: How to Cool It
Published in Esquire, July 1968

Excerpt: “I object to the term “looters” because I wonder who is looting whom, baby.”

Also: You can listen to the audiobook of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, currently free on YouTube.


Alex S. Vitale's book The End of Policing

Teargas Doesn’t Deploy Itself
By Nick Martin
Published in The New Republic, June 1, 2020

Excerpt: Save for the rare clip of someone like Cornel West speaking God’s honest truth on CNN, mainstream media coverage of the nationwide protests against racist policing largely follows the same rules: mealy-mouthed language when describing police violence; clear, active language when describing confrontation initiated by protesters; and a both-sides approach to escalation that frames militarized police and protesters with lighters and water bottles as equally positioned. […]
Coverage tends to look like this because the media focuses on looting and property destruction to entice viewership and fulfill the outrage cycle, but also because mainstream news outlets are institutions that often have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo when it comes to policing, racist violence, and other systems that are disproportionately deadly for Black people and people of color. They don’t want to lose their imagined sense of objectivity or piss off their older white viewers, and so they do everything they can to talk around the elephant in the room: Police are, and have always been, violent as hell.


An Introduction to Police Abolition
Interview with Bilphena Yahwon by Lisa Snowden-McCray
Published in the Baltimore Beat, November 6, 2019
Excerpt: “Policing as an institution in the U.S. comes out of slave patrols who were tasked with catching runaway enslaved people and preventing rebellions. If we know that the justice system cannot provide real justice and accountability then we know that policing cannot provide real safety because it is inherently anti-black. Michael Brown taught us this. Aiyana Jones taught us this. Atatiana Jefferson taught us this. Prison is modern day slavery and police officers are modern day slave patrols. This is why the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense had armed panther patrols—it was a response to police brutality.”
Also: Follow Bilphena Yahwon’s @thewomanistreader on IG; check out her extensive online library


Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind
By Rachel Kushner
Published in the New York Times Magazine, April 17, 2019

Excerpt: Prison abolition, as a movement, sounds provocative and absolute, but what it is as a practice requires subtler understanding. For Gilmore, who has been active in the movement for more than 30 years, it’s both a long-term goal and a practical policy program, calling for government investment in jobs, education, housing, health care — all the elements that are required for a productive and violence-free life. Abolition means not just the closing of prisons but the presence, instead, of vital systems of support that many communities lack. Instead of asking how, in a future without prisons, we will deal with so-called violent people, abolitionists ask how we resolve inequalities and get people the resources they need long before the hypothetical moment when, as Gilmore puts it, they “mess up.”


The answer to police violence is not ‘reform’. It’s defunding. Here’s why
By Alex S. Vitale
Published in The Guardian, May 31, 2020

Excerpt: The alternative is not more money for police training programs, hardware or oversight. It is to dramatically shrink their function. We must demand that local politicians develop non-police solutions to the problems poor people face. We must invest in housing, employment and healthcare in ways that directly target the problems of public safety. Instead of criminalizing homelessness, we need publicly financed supportive housing; instead of gang units, we need community-based anti-violence programs, trauma services and jobs for young people; instead of school police we need more counselors, after-school programs, and restorative justice programs. 

Also: Vitale’s book, The End of Policing, is available for free as an e-book on publisher Verso’s website.



Not About A Riot
An independent, on-the-ground documentary about the 2015 Baltimore Uprising by Malaika Aminata


Do No Harm: Photographing Police Brutality Protests
Via Authority Collective

Excerpt: Recognize that there is a history of photographing Black people in ways that are used to subjugate and dehumanize them, adding to the justification of violence toward Black people and communities. The constant circulation of images depicting violence on Black bodies adds to the desensitization toward Black suffering, while white bodies are photographed with dignity, subtlety and nuance.


Image Scrubber
A tool for anonymizing photographs taken at protests.


26 Ways to Be in the Struggle Beyond the Streets
Excerpt: This list is designed to celebrate all the ways that our communities can engage in liberation. For a range of reasons, there are and always have been folks who cannot attend rallies and protests but who continue to contribute to ending police and state violence against black people. People seek justice and support liberation in an array of ways, yet their bodies, their spirits, and their lives may not allow them to be in the streets. 


White Culture Is Violent
By E Cadoux (@ekdoux on Instagram)

Excerpt: Getting at white superiority is emotional and so important – not just knowing in theory how institutional racism works but knowing in practice how internalized racism works.


An Anti-Racist Reading List
By Ibram X. Kendi
Published in the New York Times, May 29, 2019

Excerpt: No one becomes “not racist,” despite a tendency by Americans to identify themselves that way. We can only strive to be “antiracist” on a daily basis, to continually rededicate ourselves to the lifelong task of overcoming our country’s racist heritage. […] We need to read books that are difficult or unorthodox, that don’t go down easily. Books that force us to confront our self-serving beliefs and make us aware that “I’m not racist” is a slogan of denial.


Bird in Hand ‘Essential Reading’ List
All proceeds from books on this list will go towards the Minneapolis-based Reclaim the Block, which advocates for redirecting the city’s police budget to other areas of the budget that “truly promote community health and safety,” and towards Baltimore Action Legal Team, which offers legal help to those protesting “injustices rooted in structural racism and economic inequality.”


National Resource List #GeorgeFloyd
Google doc containing legal contacts (useful for those protesting), mutual aid funds, bail funds, memorial funds, protest and social media tips.


WHERE TO DONATE (Baltimore):

Baltimore Action Legal Team
Greenmount West Community Center
Muse 360 Arts
National Network of Bail Funds’ comprehensive list of bail funds
Orita’s Cross Freedom School
Sex Workers Outreach Project
Tubman House
Youth Empowered Society

Images taken from referenced articles, except for header image, which was taken by the author at North Avenue and Charles Street in Baltimore, MD 5/31/2020

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