Social Activism Tastes Better When the Waiter is White

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  • I agree with this piece wholeheartedly. I don’t mind having allies but part of being an ally is to know when to sit down, shut up and let us speak for ourselves with the support of our allies. Allies shouldn’t be the face of a movement.

    • Agreed. I am all for allies as well. I just sometimes think we defer to allies rather than owning our own messages in the first place.

  • Moe

    I’m fine with white activists telling the black story, as long as they understand white privilege. You can’t genuinely speak on black issues, if you fail to recognize said privilege.

    In the case of Macklemore, he grew up in a city that has pretty much been very integrated since large populations of Black People started migrating west. I mean, Seattle and it’s neighboring city of Tacoma were two of the first ports on the entire west coast with an integrated workforce (since the 1890s). It isn’t uncommon to have many non-black people being outspoken on topics that effect the black community, and it isn’t uncommon to meet white people who recognize their privilege. Much of that is attributed to the long history of being a diverse city, where everyone lives amongst each other and always has.

    The comments he made on the AMAs about Trayvon Martin weren’t different from the comments I heard from black and white people alike, however I sincerely don’t believe he was making the statement as if it was some new epiphany. It was relevant because George Zimmerman is still in the news, terrorizing people and just letting it be a reminder. So, I would say it was just more of a reminder than anything…because many people have stopped talking about it.

  • Hi Jenn,

    Olivia Cole here. First let me thank you for your article. This is brilliant and I completely agree with every single word.

    White people should never be the face of a movement for people of color. I was actually annoyed when the #WhiteGirlsRock piece was placed in the BlackVoices section of HuffPo because the people who tend to read BlackVoices already know what’s up. It’s the amen corner, which I love and appreciate, but white folks are the ones who really need to be reading these articles. The Hunger Games piece was placed in the more general Entertainment section, and accounts for the increase in hate mail I received afterwards. *shrug*

    You are right on all counts. In a way, you are saying something similar to my points in the Hunger Games article: the same way that white audiences are more ready to accept a hero if he is white (and male), they are more comfortable with messages about racism when they come from white people, which defeats the purpose, when all is said and done.

    I have said from the beginning, “The only reason my work is getting the attention it is getting is because I am white.” I have written many other blogs about varying subjects and with one or two exceptions they haven’t gotten nearly as much attention as the ones where I am writing about white on black racism. Perhaps people are shocked that a white person is so ready to criticize her own people?

    I am saying nothing that hasn’t already been said by black voices everywhere, I eagerly admit this and have said it to every single white person who has emailed me praising my work. “If you want more, follow @thetrudz, follow @sassycrass, follow @crissles” I have told them. As for the articles, my goal was to use my privilege in any way possible to address issues that my skinfolk prefer to remain blind to. I see them ignore black voices every single day, and I wanted to, “from one white person to another,” give them something to think about. And as I mentioned above, I certainly, absolutely, positively am not the only voice they should be listening to. I hesitate to use the word “ally” because I don’t believe that is a title one should bestow upon oneself, but it is something of what I seek to be. Not to overshadow black voices, only to supplement them and support them. I would love to engage with you as I do every day with all of the wonderful people I collaborate with, both in life and on Twitter, about what you would have me do to be better. Because, Jenn, I do want to be better, and I want white people to be better. My writing has always been my weapon, but maybe I need other tools.

    My apologies for this bible-length comment. Let’s talk sometime.


    Ps. I want to write like YOU when I grow up.

    • You win the award for most humble writer ever. I so appreciate your willingness to embrace and understand my vantage point without becoming offended or defensive.I think you are an amazing writer and I believe that it will be voices like yours that cause the greatest ripples in communities of color.

      I believe that activism means and embodies different things for different people. And, for me, I am seeing a more complex dimensionality to the term as I read your work. Please don’t ever stop writing.

      I agree. We should definitely chat sometime:) Looking forward to it.


      • son of malcolm x

        Honey, you could be my spokeperson anyday and take over the face of the movement because my voice is too sore, too old and needed for more productive engagements. So go ahead. you are wrong about being the face of the movement. You SHOULD be the face and take the water hoses, police batons, church basement bombings, beatings, stop and frisk maneuvers, etc. because we black folk are tired of it all and need your help to reduce global warming, fluoridation of the water supply, eliminate geoengineering from the skies, cease hydrofracking, stop genetic engineering of the food supply, and the dumbing down of society.

        I am too old to continue these battles with white supremacist ideology, now it it YOUR turn to create a new paradigm to deal with the power elite, the Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission (Henry Kissinger, et al), the Bilderberg Group and Club of Rome (CODEX ALIMENTARIUS). It is time for YOU to put the work in and although I don’t believe your heart will go the distance, at least hopefully your work will get more attention as to why this world is coming to an end during the age when the public is denying peak oil and the coming financial crash.

        I want you to see what MLK, Malcolm X, et al. had to go through when telling the truth about this psychopathic pathology called white privilege and white power. It is genocidal. And when people ask about another system (no I do not believe in Marxism, socialism or communism or any ideology/philosopy that comes from the mind of a Caucasian, except Gary Null or Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, ok SOME enlightened white people like YOU and Michael Moore) I say that we don’t have a lot of time thinking about how to subjugate other people or take over their lands or take control over oil, but better take more time in equitably making available resources for more people on this planet. We are really in trouble because we do not educate people on how to make the world a better place, colleges and universities do not have the answers unless it comes from a “corporate” psychic space which was created by white males.

        So preach on sister.

    • son of malcolm x

      Two words. TIM WISE. He gets props from Professor Cornell West who calls him that “vanilla” brother. You get made respect for your courage. I don’t believe you should be criticized because your face doesn’t not represent the movement, but your views should so I take no offense for articulating the elephant in the room called structural and institutional racism. My only request is that you always and forever leave at least 3-5 books in your articles as reference materials. For instance, you could also ask people to view anything from DR. AMOS WILSON, or Dr. John Henrick Clarke on youtube. Especially BLUEPRINT FOR BLACK POWER on youtube, every part in its entirety. And then Dr. Clarke’s A GREAT AND MIGHTY WALK produced by Wesley Snipes. That provides you with some history and please see all parts on youtube. Please see anything or read anything by Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary POST TRAUMATIC SLAVE SYNDROME. Or watch the late Gil Noble’s LIKE IT IS episodes featuring DR. IVAN VAN SERTIMA, DR. CLARKE AND DR. BEN. Crazy DE-construction of white supremacist ideology going on in that episode recorcded during the 1980s.
      I love white sisters talking de-constructionist smack. Man, I wish I could find a sister like you.

  • Dionne

    Great article Jenn. I applaud your head-on approach to the issue. I feel the same way. Sometimes I just want to roll my eyes, but then I think about women like Juliette Morgan, a white woman, who put a lot on the line for black civil rights in the jim crow south. It took courage for Juliette Morgan to stand up against the status quo, and she certainly had more to lose (or at least that is the perception). do you believe white advocates are apart of the process? if racism is the cancer, then white advocates are like the chemo. it’s only one approach towards healing and there are unintended side effects, but until there is a shift in treatment approaches grab your gag bag.

    • Right. People love to disremember how integral white women were in securing the vote for black men and eventually women in general. I definitely think that white people are integral actors in the process of civil advocacy. If for no other reason than for the fact that people rarely distrust members of their own communities but almost always (in our jingoistic culture) fear encroachment from ‘others.’

      Personally, I vote that we clone Olivia Cole (not Macklemore) and have thousands of her inundating the airwaves, radiowaves, and the internets with sound critiques of white privilege. Then folks like me wouldn’t seem so obscure. It’s unfortunate though that that is one of the only ways to legitimize my cause.

      • Dionne


  • Such a great article! Like so many things that began as black or has origins within our diaspora, the passion has been packaged in a new (& to, some improved)wrapping. Hey, I’m all for people that have any kind of social consciousness; but like you said about Marge and Homer- it seemed almost played out when we pump our fists and have certain “Water cooler convos” with peers…and then Becky recants what she heard on NPR or saw on Oprah and the whole office listens.
    I’m not mad at these waiters, but honey- we’ve been working this diner for a looong time…and the menu hasnt changed yet.

    • I totally feel you. Allies are awesome but representatives are not okay. We still need to fashion and send the message in the way that best fits us.

      In the case of Macklemore, I think he earnestly believes what he is saying but has no idea that, in a way, he is appropriating our struggle.

      Olivia Cole, on the other hand, is not appropriating but attempting to convince her peers to understand more clearly what our message is. I can appreciate that.

      It just befuddles me though that in 2013 we still need struggle translators. It just seems so anachronistic.

  • Brian Kundinger

    That interchange between Jenna and Olivia just made my day. Thank you both for everything you do.

  • Shawanda

    Jenn, thank you for this piece! I certainly see where you are coming from. Olivia, keep doing what you are. Along with the many black voices, your voice is also needed to tear down this seemingly unpenitrable wall. Harriet Tubman had support from like-minded white people to help free thousands in the Underground Railroad. For decades, black people have spoken out to injustice and the masses of white people have not been moved to action. It’s easier to ignore and convince oneself that the message and messenger has little value because their skin is brown. So, your have white privilege. You have options, many of them. You have chosen to step up to the plate with your big girl panties on and use you privilege to speak to your skinfolk about their effed up ways. You challenge them to get their sh*t together and it’s harder for them to ignore you and look at what you’re saying as valueless. You look like them! Tim Wise cannot be the only white voice speaking directly to white people in the wilderness. It’s awesome to have a female voice tearing down these walls, too. You guys are like the rogue Trojan computer program that has infiltrated the firewall and is reprogramming the system because you speak the same language as the other programs and are therefore accepted. Do your part Olivia! We will continue to do ours and let’s break this bit*h down together!!

  • I like your writing.

    Makes me think how lucky I am not to be living in the USA where apparently the first (and perhaps only?) thing people see is the colour. I guess if I lived in the USA, I’d be embarrassed to be “white”. I don’t, and I’m not.

    Makes me wonder – how long ’til people work out that so-called “white” is actually a shade of “light brown”.
    My wife who hails from Africa was very surprised to be seen as “black” when she came here to Australia. In her country of birth (where skin colour carries no particular status), she is seen as “light-skinned”. Me? I just see her as “beautiful”.

    Makes me think about when you get a headache. The more you concentrate on your headache, the worse it gets. The pain will never go away until you force yourself to concentrate on something else. That gets to be really hard, especially when people keep reminding you: “How’s your headache?”

    “Being” any colour is a state of mind.

  • Troy Sebastian

    I shared the Cole article referenced here and the reaction I had was pretty disappointing. Sometimes even with a white waiter, some folks aren’t interested in picking up the cheque, so to speak. Anyhow, I loved this article and I look forward to reading more of what you have to say.

    • Thanks so much Troy. Seems your experience was antithetical to my own. I wonder why there was so little appreciation from those you shared with. Thoughts?

  • TellinTruths

    God, this was good. And I stan for Olivia Cole too. White people are not going to listen to us. That is just true. We have to do for us. And WHITE people like Olivia Cole have to teach their own. THAT is how they help the movement. So I welcome her, and I welcome her voice. I welcome Tim Wise, and any other white person that wants to speak. But there are a lot of white people like Olivia Cole out there. And instead of them trying to get on and join in our Black come uppance, the best thing they can do is talk to their people and TEACH their own kind. That is how they hep this movement. So I’m glad she’s out there.