By Stephanie Younger •
The idea that our worthiness of being valued relies on how much labor we do for our oppressors is rooted in anti-Blackness. In particular, many liberals have been advising Black youth to “save our Democracy” and to “just vote” during a revolution centering police and prison abolition, and divestment from the electoral system. Advising Black youth to elect our way towards liberation erases that conservatives and liberals alike are champions for those systems we have been fighting. A remarkable example of this paternalistic behavior I’ve seen was from white liberal feminists who, instead of organizing 52% of white female voters who helped Trump win in 2016 to not elect him for another term, are choosing to blame young Black feminists for the failures of the politicians of their liking, over our criticisms of them. So who are they to disparage Black folks in our own spaces, instead of talking to other white women about their decisions?
More recently, some white liberal feminists have been bullying young Black feminists into conveniently glossing over the actions of Joe Biden, and they even expect us to do so when they tokenize Black women who are maintaining what we’re fighting. I see it as a type of feminism that idolizes politicians like Kamala Harris, who has bragged about sending Black youth through the school-to-prison pipeline and locking up their parents, and who has degraded people who advocate for schools, not prisons. I see it as a type of feminism that silences the critiques of Black people affected by Kamala Harris’ actions and who are fighting for the abolition of what she maintains, which is the prison industrial complex. When white feminists silence Black youth by telling us to “just vote” our way towards liberation, they are demanding that we make it easier for them to avoid even the thought of white supremacy existing. They are okay with white supremacy as long as the enforcers of its existence are politicians they idolize at the expense of Black youth. What Trump does has opened a lot of people’s eyes, yet white feminists remain apathetic towards oppression when it doesn’t affect them, and when it’s not being enforced by the politician of their liking.
To put this apathy into perspective, many white liberal feminists have co-opted Black Feminist Collective as their own self-improvement space, to the point where they were talking down to Black womanists and Black feminists in a space I created for us in 2017. In August, I shared an article about Biden’s comments against “violent” protestors on Black Feminist Collective’s Facebook page in August, and said that he is the white moderate, quoting Kirsten West Savali’s op-ed for Essence entitled, “Joe Biden is the White Moderate Dr. King Warned Us About.” Much of the comment section was comprised of white women who responded to the post by suggesting that we “want 4 more years of Trump” and advising Black people to settle for the “lesser of two evils.” Just to name a couple, here were the responses that stood out to me:
“It’s Trump or Biden. Which do you prefer? I think some things he says are taken out of context. Sounds like disgruntled Bernie peeps again. You have one vote and two choices. Period. End. I guarantee he will have black and POC in his administration. Look at the big picture.”
These were her responses to Black folks who called her out for talking down to us.
“Good to hear. But I’m not sure the point then? Some might read this as a sign to not vote at all which would be a serious mistake. He is collaborating with a lot of different progressive groups. Save it for after the election.”
“Social media call outs isn’t going to send any kind of message to Biden. He is working with progressive and Black and POC groups already to get input and feedback. Maybe work within one of those groups to have your voice heard? He wants to listen. I’m trying to understand. Sorry if I offended anyone.”
Here is another response that stood out to me
“He wants to hold people who break the law accountable. How tf is that controversial?”
Let’s unpack why these comments prove MLK’s point.
Over 57 years ago, MLK warned us of white moderates, and critiqued their stances on Black liberation. In an article about the 2020 election I wrote months ago, I unpacked how MLK’s critiques of the white moderate is are relevant today.
“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”– Rev. Martin Luther king Jr.’s “Letter From A BirmingHam Jail” (1963)
During a global uprising in defense of Black life calling for the abolition of the police, liberals set the timetable for Black liberation by advising Black youth to “save it for after the election.” When Black youth criticize Joe Biden for being an obstacle in the fight for our liberation, liberals silence us by telling us to “wait after the election” for our liberation, guaranteeing that they’ll “hold Biden accountable after they vote Trump out.” This embodies the white moderates “who constantly advise the Negro to ‘wait for a more convenient season.’” However, they will be a lot more complacent with white supremacy, as long its existence doesn’t prevail under Trump. The white woman who saw nothing wrong with Biden’s calling for the arrests of protestors is an embodiment of the white moderate, “‘who is more devoted to order than to justice…who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal that you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.’“
Not only do the media and individual people make these comments, but politicians are complicit in policing the way Black people respond to the anti-Blackness and the violence we experience. Let alone co-authoring the 1994 Crime Bill and referring to Black youth as “predators on our streets,” Biden has said that he plans to increase funding for the police. On September 23, Biden and Harris extended their support to Louisville police, and told protestors that “violence is not the answer.“ In the first Presidential debate, Biden said that he is “totally opposed to defunding the police,“ (let alone abolishing the police), and said earlier this week that he “[doesn’t] believe we have to choose between law and order and racial justice in America.” White moderates have shown that they are not in the least concerned about state violence, but that they are concerned about the way Black people respond to it.
As liberals attempt to silence Black people by setting the timetable for our liberation, they enable each other to co-opt Black struggle. At my house, my family likes to call this co-optation “visiting Blackness,” which specifically refers to white liberals who convince Black people that they’re “here to help,” and “here to listen.” “Visiting Blackness” also refers to white liberals who expect us to congratulate them for doing the bare minimum, and idolize each other just for calling themselves “activists” alone. On top of that, they get even more support for picking and choosing what they find convenient about Black struggle, and walking away from our communities to capitalize on our trauma.
Instead of redistributing their wealth to Black people, and protecting us from white supremacists online, white liberals extended their “solidarity” by posting a black square on Instagram during the uprisings in defense of Black life. Instead of protecting Black people from the police who target us at protests, white liberals who showed up to protests were often there for photo ops, and using those photo ops to capitalize on Black trauma by promoting their businesses and their “well-meaning” nonprofits. Instead of extending their support to Black people when we are in pain, white liberals, some who were previously a big source of my stress in the work that I do, demanded that I keep them “updated” on every protest. White liberals who refused to accomplice themselves with Black liberation and degraded Black people who don’t seek freedom from the electoral system, assume that spaces exist for their consumption and intervene in our conversations. My Blackness is not for white self-improvement or white consumption. I can’t take a break from my Blackness, and I cannot wait for my liberation by looking to the electoral system for freedom.
Stephanie Younger is an 18-year-old based in Richmond, Virginia, whose work centers the intersections Black feminism and womanism have with prison and police abolition. In 2017, she created Black Feminist Collective.