Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Letters to My White Family Cont'd



This is my second response to my white family member after they sent me an email on 2/28/14 (read the first response here). This particular part of the conversation was sparked by a piece I posted about Spike Lee on gentrification in NYC.
Names and identifying details changed in the interest of privacy:



2/28/14

Okay. Yes, there is going to be some overlap with the types of disadvantage people experience, even if people are experiencing it for different reasons. It was wrong for that lady to assume that [our relative]'s identity didn't lead her to experience some of the same symptoms of oppression as someone of a different identity.
However, that doesn't mean that [our relative] knows what it's like to be black because part of her struggle was the same. I'm not saying you're saying that, but just because there's tons of overlap in the type of discrimination experienced, does not mean that the REASON for that oppression will be the same.
So in discussion about racial oppression, talking about poor white people isn't going to help disassemble the oppression of black people. It can help build ties between communities because both groups can rally against the shared oppression.
But the root causes of the oppression must be examined in order to disintegrate the structure of oppression. And if everyone is throwing all of their own personal oppression into the discussion at once, there are going to be too many root causes to examine to tackle them all.

The Spike Lee piece was DEFINITELY about race. I don't think anyone is arguing that it's not. However, I think that since he wasn't specific in saying blatantly, "rich, socially well-connected, white people are moving in" you are thinking he's taking about any white people who move in those neighborhoods as bad. I obviously can't ask him who he was talking about, but him saying that "hipsters" have moved in and taken over the neighborhood, is not about poor white people trying to get by. He is talking about people with affluence moving to those neighborhoods and ruining the preexisting community.
I'm not saying the poor white people who live there aren't disenfranchised, because belonging to the identity "poor" puts them at a disadvantage, certainly. However, that disadvantage is very different than the racial disadvantage of poc in those neighborhoods. He's pointing out, in stark contrast how these neighborhoods are dealt with *before* affluent white people move in (when it's just a few poor whites and mostly black people)and *after* those affluent white people move in.
He never said that it isn't sad that because the poor white people live there, they experience "trickle down discrimination", as a result of the mistreatment of the black community that surrounds them. He'd probably say that's very sad. But his point is that it's obvious that when black people live in these areas, no one cares about these places, but as soon as white communities come in, they are able to leverage their white privilege to get other people with control and privilege to care and tend to the issues there.
It's about disrespect, and lack of regard for black people by society at large, which has long been an issue on social justice fronts.

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