Herding Racial Ignorance: Interview with White Nonsense Roundup

The advent of the Black Lives Matter hashtag and the corresponding movement has inspired individuals, groups, and organizations to mobilize for racial justice—And not all taking part in this activism are people of color.

A growing number of whites are choosing to take a stand and directly communicate with other whites on the pervasive role of racism in everyday life. I felt it important to highlight such an attempt at raising race consciousness through a new social media campaign called White Nonsense Roundup (WNR).

 

Sincere Kirabo: What was the inspiration for getting this project started and why do you feel it’s important?

Layla Tromble: I wouldn’t say there is a single inspiration for WNR. It was sort of a culmination of conversations, world events, and a meeting of the minds so to speak.  I have been very vocal in my life and on my social media for years about issues of social and racial justice and had been feeling a level of frustration and helplessness when it comes to making a lasting difference outside my more immediate circle.

I had been following BLM since the live stream videos coming out of Ferguson two years ago and trying to boost the signal of Black and Brown voices doing the hard work of creating social change to what small ability I had as an individual. I watched news story after news story of the violence and destruction being perpetrated against Black and Brown bodies, the seemingly weekly news of another Trans Woman of Color being killed, the shooting in Orlando and the ways the Latinx Queer community was erased from the narrative and the way Queers were being pitted against Muslims as though there was no intersection between those communities.

I watched my fellow white Queer community buy into those narratives and try and center themselves in the pain and heartache as though it was ours alone. I watched the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in horror and again watched white people try and write the narrative as though it was ours to write.  At that same time, my friend Terri Kempton sent me a link to a video made by a woman named Brandi Riley.

This video was a turning point for Terri and inspired her to bring up the idea of White Nonsense Roundup to me. She had been seeing friends of color increasingly exhausted by the burden of educating white people about race, and white friends rally to take over some of those duties. It was so inspiring, that we thought: ‘What if we could do that on a larger scale?’

We know that our privilege gives us the power to reach other white people and to work to change the expectation around how white people discuss race.  We were raised to believe being colorblind would stop racism; we were raised to believe that there are topics that don’t get brought up in polite conversation – and that it is more important to make people comfortable than it is to confront difficult topics. Talk about white privilege!

This has got to stop. We white people need to change the national dialogue so that it is more important to confront racism than it is to protect someone’s feelings. We need to get over our fragility and be willing to listen, willing to make mistakes and learn from them. We need these conversations about race to be the expectation not the exception.

A common stumbling block for many whites when it comes to confronting cultural prejudices is extreme discomfort with certain terms used to describe specific kinds of racial discrimination and oppression. How do you understand terms like “white supremacy,” “white privilege,” and “racism” when it comes to anti-racism work?

Our approach to these terms is that they reflect widespread structure and systems. What we mean by that is that inequality is a part of how our culture and institutions work – everything from education to banking to environmental threats to policing and prison systems. Racism is what happens when bias becomes part of those systems. White supremacy is the driver for racism – since its founding, the history of this country has been built on the backs and bodies of Black and Brown people.

The construction of “whiteness” as something outside of simple European ancestry has been a means of keeping power and access in the hands of the few. YouTuber Kat Blaque did an excellent series this year called White History Month that breaks down this history very clearly. We white folks are raised to believe that our history is the central history of the world and that our thoughts and opinions are central to all discourse. In short, that we are entitled to lead the way in everything, to dominate conversations and deem what is worth discussing or not. What a mess this has created!

Through our efforts as an anti-racist organization, we are attempting to expose the structural nature of this fight rather than the idea that racism is just some bad people doing bad things. We have distanced ourselves from the structure of white supremacy by continuing the narrative that if you are a “racist” you are also a bad person. This allows us to dismiss being called out ourselves because we don’t see ourselves as bad people and therefore can’t possibly be racist. That’s what the term “white fragility” refers to – that knee-jerk response of fear and unwillingness to listen to the experiences and pain of marginalized groups, and change behavior accordingly. It’s time we stop letting those racist jokes pass by without comment, that we stop perpetuating a culture of white silence or allowing hesitation keep us from action.

 

What are the goals and tactics of White Nonsense Roundup? Who are the kinds of people you typically encounter? 

White Nonsense Roundup (WNR) was created by white people, for white people, to address our inherently racist society. We believe it is our responsibility to call out white friends, relatives, contacts, speakers, and authors who are contributing to structural racism and harming our friends of color. We are a resource for anti-racist images, links, videos, artwork, essays, and voices. These can be used by anyone for a DIY white nonsense roundup, or by the WNR team to support people of color upon their request.

The response has been overwhelming and humbling! With just two weeks of experience behind us, we are starting to outline longer-term goals this project.  The continuing directive is a desire to carry some of the load for educating other white people about structural and institutional racism as well as the ways in which we perpetuate those structures through micro and macro aggressions toward people of color.

We do this in multiple ways: we respond to requests for back-up when tagged into a public post on Facebook or through emails and messages. We contribute to the dialogue in constructive and informative ways, with a tone of education and frankness. We provide support for folks trying to have conversations about race on their own by helping craft responses and offering resource links.  We also boost the signal of stories and resources created by people of color who are already doing this work and can tell the facts of it better than we ever could.

We have heard from so many different people so far.  We have been tagged into conversations that range from well-intentioned but casually racist statements, to avowed racists, to POC asking for our thoughts on topics they are discussing. We try to approach each conversation assuming the intention is for dialogue until it is proven otherwise – this is not always easy, especially in the online world where bullying has become an acceptable means of exchange – but we feel this method is necessary for furthering our work.

Our greatest challenge so far has been white fragility and how resistant even the most well-intentioned of us are to hearing areas in which we need to do better.  This reflects back to my earlier statement about how we have convinced ourselves that racism is a moral failing rather than a learned structure of our culture.

 

For those interested, how can people join and get involved in this initiative?

Anyone who wants to engage with us can message us directly through our Facebook page or on our Twitter. If people are interested in volunteering their time to our efforts, they can send an email with “Volunteer” in the subject line.  We have had some truly fantastic engagement on our page and in our messages, and we welcome anyone interested in learning more about us or about combatting racism online. Even more importantly, we encourage white readers to visit the page to collect information and gather resources that they can use themselves in these conversations. Reversing racial inequality will take all of us.

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