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I Stand Against Woke-Shaming, And You Should, Too

We've got enough going against us. Let's stop the divisive BS, sis.

Her Voice

With all that's going on, many of us have been deep in our feelings---angry, frustrated, exhausted, and, sometimes, totally distraught. The murders of black folks at the hands of law enforcement along with the annoyingly awkward and confusing aftermath of the reopening of states that have been shut down due to the COVID-19 have us all in an utter tailspin.

We're wondering whether a mask is indeed required for entry into our favorite stores and restaurants, whether we should let our bosses know that we're still not OK with returning to crowded cubicles, or whether the insurance company will still give us another month to pay that outstanding bill we couldn't afford after losing our jobs during coronavirus closures. We worry about whether we or someone we know will be the next victim of police brutality or whether this country will ever truly be safe and inclusive.

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We all want to do our part to fight against injustice and help those in need, even while overwhelmed and bogged down with the everyday stresses of just being alive. You'd think that with all that's going on, you wouldn't come across the ugly, bitter face of woke-shaming. I mean, come on. Who has time for that? Well, you'd be wrong. Some folks have somehow found the energy to add it to an already long list of annoyingly disgusting aspects of dealing with life right now. And I'm not talking about taking corporations to task for their fiscal and mission responsibilities.

I'm talking about woke-shaming one another---everyday people who are our brothers, sisters, cousins, coworkers and peers.

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Let's face it: The whole concept of shaming is far from new. When someone knocks a curvy sis for wearing a two-piece bikini, that's body shaming. When a brother shuns a sis on a date for the number of dudes she let smash, that's slut-shaming. When hardcore entrepreneurs frown upon the motivation of 9-to-5 hustlers, that's job-shaming. When a single mom faces gets cussed out for leaving her child at a babysitter to go on a date, that's mom-shaming.

Don't think you've witnessed---or even participating in---woke-shaming? Well, let's take a look at a few examples:

A black influencer, but you didn't post a black square on your Instagram for Blackout Tuesday. Sis is uninvited to the Woke Brunch. A black professional who chooses to offer support to certain organizations that promote messaging centered on unity and education. Homegirl is considered white-washed and oblivious. She's "cancelled."

A black person expresses different political views than the so-called norm or "majority." Nah, bruh. He gotta go. His black card is declined, denied, and revoked. Maybe someone waited a few days to post anything related to current events. They needed time to research, vet sources, strategize high-impact ways to join the conversation, or practice self-care. Nope. No mercy. They're permanently blacklisted and barred from the cookout.

Oh, and don't dare post on social media or talk about a graduation celebration, a new job, your wedding anniversary, or the birth of a new baby. Oh, hell nah. You can't be happy right now. You can't continue with life right now. You can't possibly be surviving and thriving.

People, have more than a few seats. Please. You're missing the whole point.

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Listen, it's one thing to be totally tone-deaf and ignore the fact that police brutality is real and disproportionately affects communities of color. (I mean, that's a known fact backed by studies and statistics.) But it's another to shame someone for how they choose to react to that fact. We all have the right to process information, take a step back, and evaluate our role in what we will do with that information. We also have the right to decide what our place in history will be at times like this.

Dynamic and effective activism always involves the tactful and strategic use of diverse talents, efforts, and strengths. Some of us are great at fundraising, networking, and communicating. Some of us are artists, speakers, and tech geniuses. Some of us are nurturers, hosts, and spiritualists. Some are hell-raisers, warriors, and protectors. It's OK if we aren't all doing the exact same things or taking the exact same approach to reach a common goal.

Take the Civil Rights Movement: Martin Luther King, Jr. was a key figure,but there were many legal, financial, strategic, and political leaders behind the scenes who ensured the success and advancement of that movement. Some pivotal people in that moment were not always on the frontlines of protest; They donated funds for legal fees, food, and other expenses tied to nationwide protests. They held secret meetings and hosted safe houses. They also offered a very invaluable asset: relationship capital. (Yeah, the type of capital where you can make one phone call and meetings are being coordinated to discuss changing policies, launching nationwide initiatives, appointing new leaders, or approving budgets---that relationship capital).

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Former President Obama touched on this back in 2018 when he said during a lecture:"Democracy demands that we're able also to get inside the reality of people who are different than us so we can understand their point of view. Maybe we can change their minds, but maybe they'll change ours. And you can't do this if you just out of hand disregard what your opponents have to say from the start."

When we shame others for differences in opinion or approaches to achieving a common goal, not only are we promoting divisiveness where unity would be more effective, but we're alienating essential allies.

Speaking out against irresponsible silence or plain disrespect is one thing, but dissing someone because of their approach to activism is just plain ignorant. Let's all shift focus to the common goal at hand: Fighting for justice for the thousands of people of color killed due to police brutality and making real changes to the systematic strongholds that have facilitated those murders. Let's show what smart, strategic unity can do in the face of hatred, bigotry, and wickedness. Let's endear ourselves to one other, have respectful conversations about perspectives and find ways to work together. The success of this movement depends on it.

Featured image by Shutterstock

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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