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The Education of Kevin Powell

Will Racism Ever End, Will I Ever Stop Being a Nigger?

by Kevin Powell, special to Utne Reader


The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
—Psalms 23

What happens to a dream deferred?
—Langston Hughes

What brush do you bend when dusting your shoulders from being offended? What kind of den did they put you in when the lions start hissing?
—Kendrick Lamar


I AM NOT A NIGGER, or a nigga, or a nigguh. I am not your nigger or anyone else’s nigger, either.  Nor do I belong to some specialized society that contains within its boundaries niggers, or niggas, or niggaz4life. No—

I am a man, a Black man, a human being, and I am your equal. After this piece goes live I am never again going to utter that word “nigger” to describe myself, to describe Black people, to paint a picture of a certain type of mentality born of racial oppression, self-hatred, confusion, of ignorance; not publicly, not privately. No—

Yet when I look at race and racism inKevin Powell America in the 21st century how could I not help but feel like I am nothing but that loaded and disgusting word? I often wonder if it actually matters I came up from the ghetto; me, the product of a single mother who escaped, barely, the color-line insanity of the Jim Crow South only to confront a different kind of race and class insanity in Northern slums; me, the son of an absent father who completely and permanently abandoned my mom and I when I was eight because he was a broken Black man and did not know it; me, a Black boy who has known rivers, poverty, violence, abuse, fear, hopelessness, depression; me, who made it to college on a financial aid package, never got my degree, but still made a name for myself, against all odds; me, who has published 12 books and who has visited all 50 American states—as a writer, as a political activist, as a speaker; me, the kid who did not get on an airplane until I was age 24, but who has since been to five of the seven continents, and who is interviewed virtually each week on television and radio and elsewhere for media outlets from every corner of the world. What does it matter that I, as my mother has said with her grits-and-butter South Carolina dialect, “speaks well”; that I have the ability to converse with equal comfort on college campuses and on concrete street corners, that I can easily flow from exchanges on presidential campaigns and gender politics to basketball and pop culture? What does it matter, indeed, if I have produced a body of work, my writings, my speeches, my humanitarian and philanthropic efforts, in service to people, all people, and that I really do see you, me, us, as sisters and brothers, no matter who you are or what you look like, as part of the human race, the human family, if you, in the smoked out buildings that are your mind’s eyes, refuse to see me, or refuse to see me as a whole human being, or, worse, simply see me as that word? Or what if you see me as an animal, a monster, some thing to be dissed, avoided, detested, labeled as angry or a thug or difficult or arrogant or a problem or a burden?

Yes, a nigger, that creature and creation born of a vicious racism seemingly as long as the nightmares of my African ancestors shocked and awed as they were bamboozled and kidnapped from the motherland centuries back; their sweaty raw bodies the infrastructure for the first global economy in this world—slavery, the trans-Atlantic slave trade. That slave trade built and enriched Europe, built and enriched America, and turned places as different as New York City and the American South and the West Indies and Latin America and the United Kingdom into real and metaphorical castles for powerful and privileged White people. Meanwhile the bodies of my beautiful ancestors were brutalized by a diabolical scheme to bend and bomb any memory of their names, their identities, their very beings, until they became that which they were told: niggers ...

So there is simply no way to have what my Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brother David Young dubs “courageous conversations” about race and racism in America if you refuse to hear me, if you refuse to read this essay to the very end, if you refuse to acknowledge that my history is your history, too. We are chained together like those slaves were chained together on those ships and those auction blocks.

I can hear my White sisters and brothers say now, as many often declare to me when this uncomfortable dialogue occurs, “But I did not own slaves, I had nothing to do with that” or “My relatives did not do that.” It does not matter if you or your long-gone relatives were directly involved or not, or if you believe that “that is in the past.” The past, tragically, is the present, because we’ve been too terrified to confront our whole history and our whole selves as Americans.

Kevin Powell 

Furthermore what matters is that a system was put in place, rooted in slavery, based on White skin privilege and White skin color, that revolved around power, land, property, status, shared values born of oppression and discrimination and marginalization, and that has never changed in America. Never. That system and its values have been passed generation to generation as effortlessly as we pass plates at the family dinner table. So it does not matter if you never openly refer to a Black person as a nigger or not.  It does not matter if your college fraternity puts on Blackface and mocks Black culture on Halloween or not. It does not matter if you are a practicing racist or not. It does not matter if you call yourself a Democrat or a Republican or an independent. It does not matter if you call yourself a progressive or liberal or a centrist or conservative. It does not matter if you have Black friends or a Black wife or Black husband or Black partner or Black relatives or Black or biracial children (biologically or adopted). It does not matter if you love hip-hop or other Black music and Black art, or that you grew up in or around a Black community, or spend much time there now as an adult. It does not matter if one or a tiny handful of Black writers, or Black artists, or Black public intellectuals, or Black spokespersons, or Black entertainers and athletes, or Black media personalities, or Black anything are given major platforms and fame and awards and tons of money and status to prove racism is not what it was, or, equally tripped out, to tell you about your racism. That nutty game of the “special” Black person handpicked to represent the rest of us is as old and tired as racism itself. We are all your equals and all equally valuable—from the ’hood to Hollywood, from Harlem to Harvard—not just the select few anointed and celebrated by White American tastemakers.

So what ultimately matters is what you are willing to give up, to sacrifice, in every aspect of your life, to speak out and push back against that which has taught you that you are superior and that I am inferior, that you are always right and I am always wrong, pretty much in every space imaginable, both consciously and subconsciously. Silence is unacceptable in the face of injustice, and being neutral is being a coward and an accomplice to the evil sides of our history.

Thus, to be mad blunt, in our America racism is race plus power and privilege; who has the favorable race or skin color, who has the power and privilege, and who does not. Yes, Black folks and other people of color sure can be prejudiced, bigoted, hateful, and mean toward our White sisters and brothers. I certainly have been in past chapters of my life but I am no longer and never will be again. I believe in love of self, love of us all. But be that as it may I am also clear that we Black folks do not control nor own the majority of politics and the government, education, the mass media culture, social media and technology, Hollywood, corporate America, sports teams, music and other entertainment, the arts, the book industry, police departments, anything that shapes the thinking of every single American citizen and resident during our waking hours. Not even close. We do not set the standards for what is considered beautiful or attractive, what is considered courageous or intelligent, nor do we dictate what becomes popular, visible, viable. And we certainly do not say what matters in history, what does not, what stories should be told, and which ones are irrelevant, not for the multitudes—not even close. Our stories, our versions of America, of our history, are marginalized, put to the side, specialized, ghettoized. This is why a brutally violent “explorer” like Christopher Columbus is mythologized as a hero, why Thanksgiving celebrants are in denial about the horrors done to Native Americans, why things like slavery and the Civil Rights Movement are essentially skimmed over, if taught at all, to any of us, in public schools or private schools, be we wealthy or working-class. Racism in America means being so immune from it that you do not even think about being White. You just are. Does this mean that I believe every single White person in the United States is racist? No, not hardly, because I have encountered far too many brilliant, honest, big-hearted, and integrity-filled White sisters and brothers who are willing to challenge their power and their privilege, even at their own material, physical, and spiritual expense. I have far too many White sisters and brothers in my life who are dear friends, allies, supporters, confidantes, mentors, and sheroes and heroes of mine. But what I do believe, because I have lived it and because I inhale it habitually, is that racism is a toxic and deadly cancer; no one is immune from it, and even the good and well-meaning amongst us have been profoundly contaminated with it, simply by virtue of your not wanting to have this conversation, or because you are having a hard time reading my words this very moment.

Utne Spring 2016 

Yes, I do see very clearly that we are all connected, and I truly love and acknowledge every race, every ethnic group, every identity, and every culture that exists in America, on this earth. But I, we, would be lying if we did not also admit that the longest running drama and the single most dysfunctional racial relationship in American history is between White people and Black people. That as long as that dynamic dysfunction exists, there is no way we will ever do right by Native Americans who were the victims of genocide, or ever look at Latino immigrants as anything other than cheap labor and outlaws, or ever view Asians as anything other than the stereotypically quiet and often invisible “model minority.” And definitely no way we will ever come to know and understand and feel the humanity of people who are Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim while the Black-White conundrum continues, excruciatingly, uninterrupted. Stated the way they did in “the old country”—Down South—when I was a child my momma and them said, religiously, that a liar is a thief. Well, it is way past time we stop lying to ourselves, fellow Americans, and stop stealing away the solutions that are in our very hands, and have always been there—


WE'VE HAD AT LEAST three major opportunities in American history to confront and end systematic racism directly, but we merely toyed around with the notion, then backed away.

The first was when the colonies were warring with the mother country, England, for independence. How incredible it would have been if “founding fathers” like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had seriously and instantly freed their own slaves while declaring in their promissory note “all men are created equal.” How incredible if Native Americans were treated with dignity and grace, and a part of the vision, instead of as mortal enemies. How incredible if poor Whites and women of all hues, too, were included in the concept of freedom, justice, and equality? And, my God, how incredible would it have been for those Black slaves, my ancestors, to become free women and free men and free children, to participate, from the very beginning, in the building of what we claim to be a democracy?

The second chance was during the Civil War and its aftermath known as Reconstruction. We who truly know American history know that President Abraham Lincoln was not the great emancipator he is hailed to be. Sometimes he was for slavery and sometimes he was against slavery. And unambiguously his releasing from bondage Blacks in selected states gave the North more men to fight and win the war. You think not? Then Google one of Dr. King’s last speeches where he referred to Lincoln as the “great vacillator.” But, regardless, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was put forth; he was assassinated yet still there was a flickering hope of a better day as colored folks marched from plantations to liberty. But that long walk to freedom turned out to be fool’s gold. Reconstruction lasted only a dozen years, until The Compromise of 1877 put Rutherford B. Hayes into the presidency, troops protecting the basic rights of Black folks were removed from the South, and an insidious White domestic terrorism—physically, mentally, spiritually—exploded across America for nearly a century.

Blame Black folks for every moral issue in our fair land. Make Black men and Black women the poster children for every bad behavior or crime or social misstep in America. Tell Black folks that voting is a ticket to a better society, and then deny it from them every chance you get, with poll taxes, with voter I.D. laws. Create a perpetual atmosphere of intimidation and fear where Black folks never know if they will be tarred, feathered, hung from trees, lynched, bombed, shot, racially profiled, or choke-holded to death ... simply for being Black ...

It is a minor miracle of the gods and heavens that in the midst of that post-Civil War America Blacks were able, under harsh segregation laws, to build homes, own land, create schools of every variety, set up businesses that met each of their basic needs, and have whole communities, largely separate from White America—because they had no other choice. A minor miracle, too, that as racism reared its dreadful head and destroyed peoples’ lives and neighborhoods that there were not more race rebellions, each and every year, across America during the Jim Crow era.

Kevin Powell 

Look what happened to my great-grandfather, Benjamin Powell, who was murdered amidst this racist hysteria in the early 1900s. He had the audacity to own 400 acres of land in the Low Country of South Carolina, right near Savannah, Georgia. He had the nerve to be an entrepreneur, a cook, and a man who did things his way on his own terms. The good White men of that community did not take too kindly to a Black man with that brand of swagger, who thought and knew he was their equal. They pressured my great-grandfather to sell the land. When he did not, one day his wife got a knock on the door and was told my great-grandfather had choked on his own food and was found dead in nearby water. No, they had killed him; my great-grandmother was forced to sell 397 acres of that land to the White men for one penny each, and scores of my relatives on the Powell side fled for their lives to other states, never to be heard from again. Years later, when she was an 8-year-old girl, my mother would pick cotton on that very same Powell property, her life reduced to being the help for the good White people, the same good White people whose relatives had a hand in killing my great-grandfather—

We got one more opportunity to correct the racial wrongs in the last century. It was called the Civil Rights Movement. We who know history know there had been energy and agitation for decades around voting and civil rights, but the height of that effort occurred roughly between 1954 and 1968—the years of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision and the ruthless murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi, and Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4, 1968.

What a majestic movement it was. People, Black people of all backgrounds, and some loyal White allies, too, peaceful, largely nonviolent, but courageous in the face of job firings, shootings, bombings, water hoses, attack dogs, not letting anyone turn them around. African Americans were not asking for much. Can we vote? Can we be full-fledged citizens? Can we move about without fear of being murdered simply for who we are?

The movement was powerful, it was diverse, it had voices as different as Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Dr. King, Malcolm X, and the Black Panther Party. It desegregated public spaces, it appealed for voting and basic citizenship rights; it challenged police brutality and poverty and economic injustice. There were many big and small victories and I owe the fact that I am a first-generation college student to these many unsung warriors of the Civil Rights era. But then it was over—


AS SOON AS DR. KING'S BLOOD was scrubbed and washed from that Memphis motel balcony, America, our America, under the guise of taking the country back, began an all-out assault on those very minimal triumphs that occurred during the Civil Rights era. We have witnessed Nixon, the Reagan Revolution, the crack epidemic, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex; we have seen record numbers of poor Black folks thrown off welfare and locked in jails during the era of President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton; we survived the administration of George W. Bush, his infamous wars and his failed “no child left behind,” and that hideous stain on America’s face called Hurricane Katrina. We stand idly by as gentrification, under the pretense of urban development, destroys long-standing Black and Latino communities, from Brooklyn to Oakland, from The Bronx to Seattle, from Detroit to Atlanta, leaving the very poor people Dr. King urged us not to forget largely alone to fend for their lives, isolated and alienated by the triple evils of racism and classism and indifference. Public schools and an over-emphasis on testing and zero-tolerance discipline in these poor communities are a disaster; there are little to no jobs; there is constant fear of the police and of each other; there is endless violence born of self-hatred and despair; there is little to no hope; there are racist and classist stereotypes they confront every single day of their lives; there is the looming threat of prison or an early death which have swallowed their peers and family members. If this is what integration was suppose to be coming out of the Civil Rights Movement, then it has been a complete and monumental failure for poor Black people in America. Black communities are not what they were; the multi-faceted and thriving Black “businesses” of yesteryear have been reduced to barbershops and beauty salons, churches and funeral parlors, and the mom and pop soul food restaurants. The class divide between poor and middle class African Americans is larger than ever, and there is a convenient and perpetual need to blame poor Black folks for everything that ails Black America—like guns and violence, like drugs, when we know, factually, that White folks—rich ones and poor ones—shoot guns, are violent and take drugs, too. But people lie and make up convenient truths to suit their agendas, and we know that when racism and intra-racism are the order of the day, it’s very easy to blame the ghetto, the ’hood, or so-called niggers.

And it is within that context, now, where we also bear witness to the meanness and venom manifested during the Obama years with a president elected by a rainbow coalition that made some believe, naively, that the United States was at its best: full of empathy and compassion and magically post-racial. Instead, during his term, Barack Obama has received more death threats than any other commander-in-chief in American history; he has been thoroughly disrespected by Congressional members and other elected officials, sometimes to his face; and the “they” we Black folks like to talk about still question Obama’s nationality and ethnic origins, his religion, his loyalty to the country. It is a Fox News Channel mentality that thrives on fear, hatred, violence, and intimidation. It is a Republican Party where even Lincoln’s flip-flopping politics would be welcome given the fire-breathing inhumanity spewed from its leadership in these times.

It has been in this climate that there seems to be an explosion of racial profiling cases throughout America. Say their names and you hear Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Oscar Grant, Aiyanna Jones, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, Tamir Rice ... so many dead Black bodies that I have lost count. Some killed by police, some killed by civilian White folks, some Black adults and some Black children, some where it was clear-cut and captured on video, some where the circumstances are murky, the alleged causes feeling like the lies they told my great-grandmother after her husband was found dead in that water.

But let’s be clear. These racial murders did not end with the Civil Rights Movement. They never ended. I have been an activist since I was a teenager, since the 1980s. I have worked on so many racial profiling cases that I have come to expect, weekly, news of yet another Black woman or Black man killed. What has changed is that we have, in these times, cellphones and social media to record and share these tragedies. I do not know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. For every single time a Black person has died at the hands of a police officer, or White person, usually a White male, in their car, in their church, in their ’hood, my soul grows taut and my heart aches because I know but for the grace of the God I believe in, that can be me.

Kevin Powell 

That is because to be Black in America is to live a sort of death every single day of your life. It makes for a stressful, paranoid, and schizophrenic existence: Am I an American, or am I not? You do not know how you will be assaulted, so you brace yourself for the worst and hope for the best. For me that means I am forever thinking about things my White sisters and brothers do not have to think about. Like if I carry my black iPhone in my hand will it be mistaken for a gun, and will I consequently get shot by a cop? Like if I, a marathon runner, jog my miles through certain neighborhoods at certain times of the day or night, will someone call the police on me or, worse yet, will they morph into George Zimmerman to my Trayvon Martin and be judge and jury and executioner of my life? Like if I dare to show an emotion like outward confidence will I be deemed a menace to society, a threat to the status quo, an uppity nigger or “boy” who needs to know my place, the way some in America have been offended by Super Bowl quarterback Cam Newton, his smile, his smirk, his proclamations that he is superman, his doing the dab dance whenever he makes a big play?

Like if I dare to challenge or question a White woman, a White man, as I have many times—the White female journalist on the New York public radio podcast, the White male editor of that national men’s magazine, the White women and men both who like to come on my social media pages to criticize and challenge, randomly and disrespectfully, my posts—will I be penalized, ostracized, deemed a problem child simply because I use the mind my God gave me?

Like if I dare to express, aloud, pride in my heritage, my culture, my people, and to acknowledge, through my art, as Beyoncé does with her song “Formation,” will I be told that I am offensive and unacceptable to middle America, because I also reference the revolutionary elements of my history like the Black Panther Party?

Like if I dare to convey any anger, as I did when I was in my 20s as a cast member on the MTV reality show “The Real World,” will I be branded as such for the rest of my life, to the point where, two decades later, I have absolutely outraged White people, coming on my Twitter or Facebook pages, cursing me out, telling me they did not like me then and they do not like me now? Or like every single time I am on Fox News Channel, or some other network, talking about issues like violence, guns, abortion, race, gender, whatever it may be, and I inevitably get tweets, emails, you name it, threatening my life, calls for me to go back to Africa, to kill myself, to be killed, just because I happen to be a Black man in America with a voice and an opinion—

This is what the cancer of racism does to me, to people like me. We die and have to resurrect ourselves day-to-day. We laugh and party and praise God hard to keep from crying and dying inside, from committing slow suicide. We cry and battle low self-esteem and debilitating angst and sadness simply because we wonder, aloud, what did we do to be so black and blue? We swallow the racism until it becomes as natural to us as our heartbeats, and that internalized racism becomes Black self-hatred, Black abuse, Black-on-Black violence physically, spiritually, mentally;  it becomes the Black elite, the Black gatekeepers, the so-called Black leaders and thinkers, the ones who have no real plan, no real vision, no real imagination when it comes down to the real challenges facing Black America, yet are quick to pimp or put down Black America, particularly poor Black America, every chance they get, but have nothing to say about American racism and its devastating effects, like ever; it becomes the Black woman writer who recently attacked me so nastily on social media because she did not like my private, off-the-record feedback on her work or her approach to Black issues; or it becomes the Black male airport worker who loudly disrespected me at the security checkpoint because his false sense of power told him I was nothing but a nigger to be bossed around and controlled; or the many times in my own life where I too have been so wounded by this system of oppression that I lashed out at any and all Black folks because in doing so I was trying to smash the mirror that was myself once and for all. We are pained, we are hurt, we are distressed, we are bewildered, many of us do whatever we must to dull the awful sensations of racism—with drink, with cigarettes, with drugs, with sex, with video games, with sports, with music, with violence, with mistreatment to self and to others—a very vicious cycle, a treadmill we can never seem to escape—


NO ONENo One—should have to live like this, think this, or be like this. No one should have to teach their children how to react if stopped by the police. No one should have to tell their loved ones “be safe” or “be careful” when they leave home, not knowing if they will ever return, not in the 21st century, not after all this nation has been through, not after all the many lives lost. No one, including me, should wake in the mornings wondering if this will be my last day on earth, if I will die at the hands of a police officer, or a White racist, or a deeply disturbed human being who is Black like me ...

Yeah, it is utterly exhausting to have to navigate daily the macro and micro slings and arrows that are American racism. It is doubly exhausting to have to do so and also explain to good, well-meaning White people over and over again what racism is, what they can and should do and why, and then, in some cases, be expected to hold their hands emotionally. Black folks in America are sick and tired of being the emotional and spiritual help for White Americans who want to get it but do not. We are also sick and tired of being the historical mammy figure, or the post-modern nanny, forever catering to your needs while our needs get woefully neglected. You want to end racism in America and on this planet, my White sisters and brothers, now, and once and for all? You have got to do the work yourselves, in your communities, with people who are White like you. I can and will be your ally, your friend, will work in coalitions with you. But just like when I was first challenged, by women, to think about sexism and gender oppression as a man in a different way back in the early 1990s, I could not just expect women to do my work for me. I had to do it. Nor could I expect women to hold my hand. And I had to do this work with men and boys, not women and girls, primarily. Because I needed to go to the source of the power and privilege, not to the sufferers of that power and privilege. This is not easy work, challenging systems of oppression. But the choice of doing nothing or remaining inactive means a continued death of the American soul, of the American psyche, and an acceptance of the sickness that is within all of us. To be ignorant to what I am saying is a sickness. To think I am lying or exaggerating is a sickness. To think you are somehow immune from all of this is a sickness. And to twist things around, to believe that you are somehow the victim, in sheer opposition to history and modern-day facts, is a sickness, a sort of mental and spiritual escapism devoid of truth and devoid of a desire for real healing and real reconciliation in America.


THE ABOVE SAID, this is so much bigger than #OscarsSoWhite or #BlackLivesMatter, although both are symptoms of the bigger problem. The Academy Awards are so White because America still believes it is so White, that White stories matter and that the stories of people of color do not, except on rare occasions, and with the same basic types of characters and plots. Rarely are we permitted to be complex, multi-layered, thoughtful humans on film or television, except for the masterful producing work of, say, a Shonda Rhimes, that rare Black person shining in Hollywood. This is why I say Black lives do not really matter because if they did we would not need to say it over and over again. Who, precisely, are we trying to convince of this fact?

This is also so much bigger than how we perceive a Peyton Manning or a Tom Brady versus how we perceive a Cam Newton or a LeBron James; although we know White men can be angry, confident, sullen, rude, sore losers—no backlash for Peyton Manning after his Super Bowl 44 loss and demeanor versus nonstop backlash for Cam Newton after his Super Bowl 50 loss and demeanor; we know White men can be fathers of children without being married to the mother and never accused of making babies out of wedlock, even if they did—Exhibit A is Tom Brady’s first child versus Cam Newton’s first child; same scenario but a different public reaction. And it is not mad cool when a famous or non-famous Black woman or man shows a range of emotions, including anger and confidence: she or he becomes a pariah, a thing to be marked, labeled, hated, condemned, and watched by false angels with dirty faces. Think of Serena Williams, think of Nina Simone, think of Sandra Bland when she was pulled over by that Texas cop. That said we know a certain segment of the American taste-making machine likes its heroes to be heterosexual White men. So if you are, say, a heterosexual Black male hero, you must be the apolitical and socially detached Michael Jordan type. You cannot be Muhammad Ali, or someone like Ali in his prime like, say, Cam Newton. Nah. You cannot desire to be in control of your own career, your own life, and your own destiny, like LeBron. Nah. You must be obedient, you must be grateful, you must be an employee only, one who does not think or know your own value; you must be neutral and you must castrate yourself and your dignity, by any means necessary—

Kevin Powell 

And so, you see, that is why this is also so much bigger than a Donald Trump, although we know that Trump represents everything that is wrong with America, not just because he is an angry, foul-mouthed, disrespectful, opportunistic, racist, sexist, and classist heterosexual White male, but because he knows he has power and privilege, and uses it to injure others, without any remorse whatsoever. Trump’s racism is the same racism of Barry Goldwater, of Nixon, of Reagan, of George W., of Paul Ryan, of Rudy Giuliani, of Chris Christie, of certain kinds of straight White men of means and access, who couldn't care less about middle class and working-class White Americans, but who have conveniently created and spread a lie, in thinly veiled racial tones, that the enemy of these White folks in middle America, in the American South, are the Black folks and other people of color who threaten their freedoms, their jobs, their security, and their rights. Whether Trump really means what he is saying or if he is simply being highly opportunistic is inconsequential. Fact is he is saying those things, people feel and believe him, and he continues a storyline that has brought great harm to America for centuries now. Because the greatest trick of a racist is getting folks to believe that racism doesn’t exist in the first place or that the people with no power and no privilege are the real racists, the real oppressors.


BUT IN SPITE of the questions in the title of this essay, and in spite all I have written here, I really do have limitless hope for humanity, for America. It is in my spirit, it is in my bones, and it is in my DNA. I have no other choice. I do not want to say the clichéd thing about racism not ending in my lifetime, because I will continue to do everything I can to help it end, before I die. And as I criss-cross America weekly, yes, I do hear the sad and sordid tales of racism on college campuses, of Black student leaders and Black student athletes protesting one insult after another. And yes, I do see in innumerable communities people fighting the good fight against racism, against hate. But I also see, as I speak at and facilitate public conversations in places as different as Perrysburg, Ohio, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, a genuine fatigue with the racism, with the hatred, with the fear and ignorance and violence and division, with people not talking with and listening to each other, even when it is not comfortable to do so. Yes, I have hope because of young people, the diverse groups of youthful Americans I encounter everywhere I go, who at least have a willingness to hear, to learn, to share. It is their fearlessness, their idealism, their openness that keeps me going, that makes me believe we can change history and change this world.

Finally, we have heard for years, at least going back to the presidency of Bill Clinton, this call for a national conversation on race. What I have come to realize is that that is a political football for certain kinds of political leaders to toss about when there is yet another racially motivated tragedy in our America. That if there is truly is to be a conversation, a raw and real dialogue, that it must come from the bottom up, from we the people. I’ve said all I can say about America, about American history, about what racism has done to me, to my family. I am drained and near tears, to be downright honest, from writing this piece, because it forced me to revisit both new and old traumas, to revisit new and old wars with myself, with others, wars that I really do not want to fight. I want to heal; I want us all to heal. This healing work must happen with White sisters and brothers and it must happen with Black sisters and brothers, and sisters and brothers of every racial and cultural upbringing in America. Protests, rallies, marches should continue to happen as long as racism exists, as long as there is inequality, injustice, and the absence of opportunities for all people. They must. But we also must be conscious of how this racism cancer eats at us, how it destroys us from the inside out, how we must learn the difference between proactive anger and reactionary anger. Proactive anger builds bridges, possibilities, alliances, movements, and, ultimately, love. Reactive anger destroys bridges, breeds dysfunction, and spreads more madness and confusion. Yes, passion is necessary, and we should be angry because of what I have described in this essay, for it is a natural human emotion. But that anger must not become the very hate we say we are against.

For White Americans this means you’ve got to re-invent yourselves if you are serious about ridding our society of racism. You’ve got to ask yourself who and what was I before I became White? What does it mean to me to be human, to be a human being, and what, again, am I willing to do, willing to sacrifice, and willing to give up to be a part of this necessary healing process? You must learn to listen to the voices of Black people and other people of color, you must not feel the need, through arrogance or insecurity, to tell us who we are, what we should be thinking or feeling or doing, and you must, with love and respect, understand when we may be hyper-sensitive to race, to racism, given the history and present-day realities of our America. Shutting us down or ignoring us or un-friending us says you do not truly want a conversation, as equals, especially if that conversation makes you uncomfortable.

As for me, I just want to be at peace, I just want to see love in the world; I just want to love and honor myself, who I am, without it being considered an affront or danger to someone else, because of racism, because of hate and ignorance and fear. I do not want to be, forever, that exasperation and anguish in Sandra Bland’s voice on that video where the Texas cop pulled her over, my life the heavy drag on the cigarette she smoked, not knowing just a few days later she would be found hanging in a Texas jail cell. I do not want to pick up a gun and commit suicide at the door of the Ohio statehouse because my demons got the best of me like 23-year-old #BlackLivesMatter activist MarShawn M. McCarrel II. I do not want my life to end prematurely, at your hands or at mine, and I do not want my life to be in vain, because of what I am. I do not want my work for freedom, justice, and equality for all people to kill me, is what I am saying, to destroy me, to render me mute and useless, to myself, to others. That means I just want to be a whole human being, a free human being, and respected as such. And I just want to live in an America, and on a planet, where I can dream, forever, instead of being tired, irritated, uncomfortable, and scared, forever, that my life will somehow wind up as a nightmare—


The Education of Kevin Powell

Kevin Powell is a writer, public speaker, and activist. He is the author of 12 books, including his critically acclaimed new autobiography The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster). Email him, kevin@kevinpowell.net, and follow him on twitter: @kevin_powell.





Post a comment below.

 

Randy
5/19/2016 9:27:47 PM
I feel for you and other black people who have to deal with the blunt end of American racism. I'm trying to help. Doesn't feel like I do very well at it very often. I keep trying though because I think ending racism in America wouldn't just remove a cancer (to use your metaphor). Rather, it would be a true cultural Renaissance rarely paralleled in history. Fantasizing about what it could look like for future generations and what good it might do the World is one of my guilty pleasures.

Cheryl
5/12/2016 4:33:34 PM
Wow! What an enlightening article. Even though I consider myself informed and accepting, this look into the heart and soul of a black man living the black experience has for me opened up a window. Through this window I get a fleeting glimpse of his reality. I cannot ever know what it is to live this reality, but as a compassionate soul, I can empathize. Thank you Kevin for giving me a deeper understanding of this complex situation. Humans are tribal and clannish by nature. I used to think the ultimate goal is homogeneity but at age 60, I now think we each must learn to embrace our own group, but celebrate and appreciate other groups as equals. Thinking people with compassionate spirits must continue to strive together to rid ourselves of hatred and misunderstanding. Thank you Kevin.

sandmadd
5/12/2016 12:49:07 PM
This guy is consumed by what white people think of him. Who would he be if white people didn't exist? I speak as a seventy-something person who grew up in jim crow communities, but who is no longer confined or defined by race.

Anogomo
5/1/2016 10:35:55 AM
Thank you!

Casey
4/24/2016 10:43:53 AM
I am completely grateful for this piece.Thank you for taking the time to eloquently compose this essay and give it to the world!

janneh
3/24/2016 6:44:47 PM
I am sorry that what is presently so, is so. As a shambhalian buddhist, I am taught that each moment gives birth to the next, literally. So in each moment humans have a chance, a choice. I truly wish that we all choose to be able to be kind. It seems a simple thing, but I ask when people are kind to you do you not find it easier to be kind to the next person you meet? I cannot change anything in the past; I can change something in the next moment. Thank you for your story. It brought tears and resolve to do better. Most sincerely, Judi Howell

wataugaman
3/21/2016 4:47:05 AM
Why do we have to agree with Blacks on racism or we are racists? Is there no possibility at all a Black person can be wrong, really? The smug self righteous assertion that whites must agree with Blacks on all things racial is a big part of the problem. To hold all whites responsible for the misdeeds of our long dead ancestors is such a crock of happy horse shit. Blacks tell us not to judge all Blacks by the actions of a few and are more than happy to judge all whites by the actions of the long dead. So why is it ok to judge us to standards you dont want to be judged by.

stephenmatlock
3/20/2016 1:18:07 PM
I'm sorry there is so much ignorance, and so much of that is willful. It's entirely possible for people to learn new things and to change because of what they learn. It might not be common, but it does happen. There are people of goodwill out there, Kevin, who will listen and change. I can't put a burden on you that you don't want to carry, but I urge you to speak out as your heart leads. Your passion is what makes you uniquely you. Since you have quoted poetry, let me share a poem that has resonated with me for decades: ========================== A Noiseless Patient Spider - Poem by Walt Whitman A noiseless, patient spider, I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated; Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding, It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself; Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them. And you, O my Soul, where you stand, Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space, Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them; Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold; Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

Jessica
3/20/2016 7:42:03 AM
Dear Sir, Thank you for this essay. I appreciated your words and cannot wait to share this piece with my friends, siblings, co-workers, anyone who will listen to my encouragement to "check this out". I believe everyone is open to the idea of having discussion centered around this topic should definitely take the time to read this and truly reflect on your words and the thoughts/feelings being provoked within them as a result. Again, thank you.

Denise
3/18/2016 4:53:33 PM
I appreciated your article, Kevin. And I'd like to share some thoughts. It would be wonderful if we could change the way people think. Like the "we" versus "them" mentality. But all of us have heard the words -- most likely from our parents and referring to neighbors, religions or race -- "we are better than them". Children could be taught that we are all the same, but blessed with different gifts. It would be great if people would change their thoughts on racial superiority, religious superiority, cultural superiority, gender superiority. I sincerely believe that you have suffered from racial discrimination. I think that "discrimination" is the root problem here. Note that there was no white privilege in the clay eaters of the Deep South, no white privilege in the Irish coming to America because of the potato famine, no white privilege in the coal regions where men, women and children (breaker boys) worked in the mines. You may be experiencing discrimination against blacks, but please remember that Jews experienced religious discrimination, the Christians are experiencing discrimination in parts of the Middle East, women are experiencing discrimination in the workplace and in different cultures all over the world. The Protestants came to America to avoid persecution in Catholic dominated Europe. All of us have battles to fight in our lives. So we need to treat each other with dignity and respect. We need to look beyond skin color, religious differences, sexual preferences and cultural differences. It's bigger than black and white, Kevin.

Denise
3/18/2016 4:51:00 PM
I appreciated your article, Kevin. And I'd like to share some thoughts. It would be wonderful if we could change the way people think. Like the "we" versus "them" mentality. But all of us have heard the words -- most likely from our parents and referring to neighbors, religions or race -- "we are better than them". Children could be taught that we are all the same, but blessed with different gifts. It would be great if people would change their thoughts on racial superiority, religious superiority, cultural superiority, gender superiority. I sincerely believe that you have suffered from racial discrimination. I think that "discrimination" is the root problem here. Note that there was no white privilege in the clay eaters of the Deep South, no white privilege in the Irish coming to America because of the potato famine, no white privilege in the coal regions where men, women and children (breaker boys) worked in the mines. You may be experiencing discrimination against blacks, but please remember that Jews experienced religious discrimination, the Christians are experiencing discrimination in parts of the Middle East, women are experiencing discrimination in the workplace and in different cultures all over the world. The Protestants came to America to avoid persecution in Catholic dominated Europe. All of us have battles to fight in our lives. So we need to treat each other with dignity and respect. We need to look beyond skin color, religious differences, sexual preferences and cultural differences. It's bigger than black and white, Kevin.

MEC
3/18/2016 3:15:19 PM
I read through your entire article and while difficult, it spoke the truth. I do not know the answers, but do agree racism has to stop now. As a white 50 something who grew up with a racist dad who said there is nothing wrong with black people everyone should have one tied up in their back yard. I had to live with that terrible legacy from an ignorant person from Kentucky. I've learned while in the Marine Corps traveling the world to feel the truth. Most all people want the same things. To have a happy, healthy, safe family environment. While not perfect, my hope is family by family change will take place.. One thing I may be racist about, I don't know. I'm tired of African Americans, Mexican Americans, Muslim Americans etc.; we will never work together unless we all understand we are "Americans" first. I don't mean to forget our heritage, but we need to be American first. Take away the us versus them mentality. One last comment, for those of us who find reading long passages difficult, please use more paragraphs. Trying to read 20 or more lines of text is very hard to follow. I wish you the very best... my brother American.

wataugaman
3/18/2016 4:40:47 AM
your rotten reflection, wow, we have to agree with you or we are racists. This is why you find us defensive, you tell us all that we have isnt due to our work but only because we are white. That we are consciously perpetuating racism. You think we are sick with blood of millions on our hands and then wonder why we ae not eager to agree with you. We dont have a problem with you, its you have a problem with us. Most whites today (and yes I go to the secret meetings) dont think about race, we are not plotting against you or oppressing you. You get extra points on SAT & civil service exams , we dont complain, you have Black only stuff while we have to include you in everything or be branded racists and we dont complain. You blame us for every single problem in your community and then wonder why we dont agree. We are racist for holding individuals responsible for your own actions. YOu are the problem.,

YourRottenReflectionStaringBack
3/17/2016 11:03:42 PM
Kevin, as you can see from these comments, you are wasting your time with white people. They have a vested interest in our continued oppression--or else they wouldn't defend it so passionately and consistently. It's like trying to appeal to the zookeeper to free the caged animals or the prison guard to look the other way while those locked away whom he knows instinctively have been wrongfully convicted are among those imprisoned, while those who have the blood of millions on their hands, walk around 'free'--both believe they have a vested interest in keeping the status quo as it is. White skin privilege is a safety valve that those monied interests use to keep poor and working class whites from revolting and forming coalitions with other exploited groups. And most whites have made peace with the deal with the devil they have made. In return, they don't have any real power but they can emotionally take comfort in the fact that no matter how low they fall in this apartheid society, they will never fall lower than the collective caste of black people. Again, most of them have consciously or unconsciously made peace with that and find all kinds of sick, deranged excuses for that choice but I have no sympathy for them. I am one who realizes that this sickness is theirs and theirs alone. They have a problem with us b/c of how GOD made us? Well, then you have a problem with GOD that you need to take up with HIM and since you are NOT going to win that argument, I'm sure your historical choices will come full circle at some point. It's just a matter of when, not if. Dr. Frances Cress Welsing had it right. Nothing you or I can do or say to rectify the kind of crazy these beings suffer from. Nothing. It's really pitiable.

ASmootie
3/17/2016 3:28:29 PM
Great Article Kevin. You are very thoughtful. I read some comments for a while. We all have an opinion and experience...those opinions and experiences solely belongs to that person. Kevin, this is your article, your are a writer and activist, so do your thang! As for others, our jobs is to be the every day catalyst for humanity. The conversations that go both ways, what we do and how we treat people goes both ways, ears opened listening, hearts open feeling...that's what we suppose to do. Be patient with one another views, that's how we live as humans. We ALL need to stop getting so offended black and white. Its up to all of us to do our part, stop getting offended because of differing views. Great article Kevin, speak out, tell your story!

ce0604
3/17/2016 10:12:47 AM
Outstanding and a relational reflections of my sixty years of similar experiences during my life..

wataugaman
3/17/2016 3:47:18 AM
Why do people when discussing race insist there is only one way to look at it , their way and any other point of view means that they do not get it. I see your point, I just dont agree.

Squeezeboxgoddess
3/17/2016 3:17:29 AM
I read your thoughts and honor your light and your poetry and your resistance to an ugly pressure to keep your head down. I will fight the racism in my mind and in my family's mind until it deflates like some misformed balloon monster and children dance on it. I believe in freedom, I believe in love, I believe in letting stars shine in the eyes of all children. Thank you for your brave words.

GregB
3/16/2016 9:59:23 PM
An excellent essay, and very accurate in the recent history. It is interesting, in part by what isn't there. Prior to the Rise of Islam, slavery was virtually unknown. It was introduced by the Moors, Islamic North Africans. So, yes the slave trade profited Whites in this country and Europe, but it also profited Black Africans, and there Arab leaders. And still does, to this day. It is part of the truly dark humor of The Nation of Islam. The descendants of men and women, who were sold into slavery because they refused to convert to Islam, converting to Islam. I remember, in my senior year in highschool, a boy from Zimbabwe came into our school. He was black, but that didn't matter much. We had a very diverse school. My friend Tom, who is also black, walked up one day, and said,"Howdy, Bro!" This young man turns to Tom with a huge Grin, and quite cheerily says, "You are not my Brother. My forefathers sold your forefathers into slavery because they weren't worth killing!", then jauntily walked away... This is by no means an excuse for how you and your people have been treated. Nor is it an excuse for any of the vileness perpetrated by white people against all minorities. It lays the groundwork for the Question I have ask you, and which I hope you will consider carefully before you respond. Is it at all possible, Kevin Powell, that You are a Racist? I don't ask this because I think you don't have reason. Clearly you do. I ask because I have encountered Rhetoric that says that only white people can be racist, and that is right and proper to hate white people for being white, and that that isn't Racism. Do you believe this is true? You see, I am a white male, in my 50s and I don't know what to do. I've been told repeatedly, that as a white male, I was born wrong. That nothing I do can ever fix it. I'm not allowed to die; I've tried, several times to no avail. Some would say, I've had Divine indications that I am supposed to be alive. I've been hit by Lightning. Twice. Sadly, not even that has given me a clue as to Why I'm supposed to be alive. The Rhetoric of these times is filled with hate and frustration. No one seems to have the answer; not even you. This essay is a clear cry for help; yet it offers no clue as to How to help... The only thing that I can think of that will begin the process is for all of us, including you and I, to accept that we might be Racist. Only then will we have a common ground to work from...

alldaelong
3/16/2016 3:35:25 PM
Fantastic essay. I find a couple of statements you make to border on hypocrisy, although I don't think it intentional. The phrase that reads "That as long as that dynamic.....often invisible "model minority", and some before and after seem to contradict your assertions that we are all equal. If we are all equal, and I believe that we are, we cannot prioritize the injustices against one minority group over another. They must be dealt with together. Because of the injustices suffered by black people in america, we often overlook instances of racism within our own culture. If we truly believe in and want equality, we have to pull everyone up together, we cannot just address the white-black issue, then move on to the black-hispanic, white-hispanic, and so on issues, we have to deal with the everybody issues. Thank you for the time and energy it took to share this with us, hopefully it will make enough people really sit down and think, although based on some of the responses on the utne site, some people are more than comfortable with how things are now, and will never be convinced that things can and should be better. It is equally impressive that you still have hope for this society, I honestly do not share your enthusiasm; even among the oppressed there are those who do not seek equality, but simply want someone else to step on.

Brigitte
3/16/2016 2:14:04 PM
Kevin, I applaud you for baring your soul in this article and look forward to your new book. I have followed your career since MTV's Real World and I knew then that you were someone special. Thank you for making us uncomfortable in the hopes of finding solutions for the hatred that is evident in this country. My hope is that you continue to heal and grow and continue to "make noise" in the fight for all humanity. Peace and blessings

jtmkinsd
3/16/2016 1:49:12 PM
Suck it up buttercup...you do realize there is "racism" among whites across the globe as well? You do realize there is "racism" in Africa among the different black populations? Wherever their is difference, there will ALWAYS be envy or hatred of those differences...because it's HUMAN nature...not black human nature...or white human nature. So cry me a river...stop living your life by what you perceive others think of you. You'll find it quite liberating.

TVC15
3/16/2016 1:23:28 PM
I reject the premise that I am responsible for someone’s ethnic predicament even though my ancestors had nothing to do with the slave trade, that I have to re-invent myself simply because I am white, or that “being neutral is being a coward and an accomplice to the evil sides of our history.” I will not swallow a skewed and incomplete historical narrative that depicts whites as history’s sole villains and the nonwhite world as innocent, suffering lambs. Life is never that simple, and any honest student of history knows that “good guys” don't exist-—there are only bad guys who won and bad guys who lost. Africans themselves sold other Africans into slavery to profit from the transatlantic trade, and even the noble and “pure” Native American tribes routinely slaughtered and enslaved each other for centuries before the arrival of the “brutally violent explorer” Christopher Columbus. I also reject the notion that a disagreement with Powell is a “sickness.” It’s a stretch to believe our society can ever be rid of racism unless we are physically deaf and blind or indistinguishable from each other; at any rate, changing human nature is not accomplished by decree.

jaynee
3/16/2016 11:58:35 AM
Excellent piece. For those who don't get it, well....

ErinP
3/16/2016 10:35:11 AM
Kevin, thank you for writing this piece, for sharing yourself wholly and completely, for trying one more time to help others understand the privilege that comes from being White (I say this as a White woman who grew up working class) - and for doing this knowing that you would once again be opening yourself to the hateful ignorance reflected in some of the comments below. It is beyond disheartenting to know that someone could read this piece, which so clearly lays out the historical and structural roots of racism in the U.S. - and the toll it is taking on our souls as individuals and as a nation - and still not "get it." Again, thank you - I will be sharing your piece and your message.

wataugaman
3/16/2016 9:56:33 AM
So you alone get to define racism, you alone get to tell us how we are supposed to react, you alone decide that we have to agreee with you on everything or we are racists? That is "utterly exhausting" If you read enough pieces like this, you will get the idea that Blacks think whites are evil, that every problem that has ever occurred ever is the fault of the straight white man. You absolve Blacks from all responsibility for every problem, blame whitey, just as Obama blames his every failing on Bush or whitey. Wow, stop your whining, if it sucks here, try leaving, try living in another country and see how thatworks out for you.

HonestButConfused
3/16/2016 9:18:41 AM
This is stirring and evocative and I’m glad I read it. But I need help understanding something as a white man with all the privileges that come with that. “Reparations” are not specifically mentioned here, but I can’t help but think that they are implied with the call for sacrifice. So with that in mind, beyond working as hard as I might to heed this call to destroy this cancer, what sacrifices would be sufficient? What must I give up? Because there is a bitter truth: I have children and a family of my own, and they share my ethnicity and race, and I care for them more than anyone else and anything else. I do everything for them and to make their lives potentially better than mine and would (and do) sacrifice for them. But I worry. What do sacrifices for equality look like? Should I be relieved of my job, or stripped of what meager income I get to allow for those with even less due to centuries of white supremacy? How are we to undo this damage? Sacrifice is noble, but is that sacrifice in fact the destruction of what little I have achieved because I was born tainted with privilege? In the abstract this might be acceptable. But I also know that if the time comes when I am told to lay down everything, to sacrifice everything, to knowingly make my children's lives worse in any way... then I will fight that. And I know that is racist, because that will mean that I will be compelled to use every bit of what privilege I have to protect anything I've built for my children. So how to go forward? How do we repair? How CAN we repair? Because if I am forced to choose, I will always choose my children. I honestly seek help in approaching these thoughts.

wataugaman
3/16/2016 7:00:28 AM
What was I before I was white? Really? I have been white my whole life. I have been human my whole life. I am happy in who I am, I am a veteran, husband, father, friend and contributing to society. Who the hell is this idiot to tell me I have to re invent myself? All any of us can do is treat people we encounter with courtesy & respect. Im not too hung up on what color you are, be nice to me and wow guess what I will be nice back. Act like an asshole and guess what I will treat you like. I do not owe you anything, you did not build my business nor did your ancestors, I did it, no one sad hey because you are white the mythical they did not say quit your job, heres a few million to start a business. I just had an idea, did it part time til I could do it full time. My race had zero to do with it. White people are not born to privilege. ome from small farms in Watauga County NC, some live in Scranton and other rust belt cities. I hate to burst your bubble but we are like you, some born to money, some to poverty, to assume we are all the same is puerile.

MinnesotaConservative
3/15/2016 10:03:19 PM
Okay, okay, I guess I can give you one positive piece of advice: 7. Start trying to think for yourself. Good lord, man, there isn't a single original idea in your entire essay! You can read this same drivel on 100 different sites around the Internet. Really....do some independent soul searching and I'll bet you can come up with something that might actually contribute to the lives of people OTHER than self-pitying blacks like you. Imagine that...something of universal appeal and use!

justval
3/15/2016 9:58:01 PM
Your essay was hard to read and I had to stop midway to process what I was feeling. I don't truly understand but I am working on it and will do my best to appreciate all that you and others have gone though. Things that I did not experience, but some that I witnessed, recalled with your help, and now wish I could have reacted better at the time. Thank you for putting yourself out there, I know how hard it must have been.

MinnesotaConservative
3/15/2016 9:57:54 PM
Oh, I forgot one... 6. Stop with the narcissistic posing. It is really ... weak. Stop imagining that anyone gives a crap what you think or how you feel. (Well, your mom and your friends should and (probably) do, but that goes with the territory. No one else does.)

MinnesotaConservative
3/15/2016 9:55:42 PM
Some friendly advice. 1. Stop pretending that you speak for all black people. 2. Stop pretending you have any idea what it is like to be me or to have lived my life. 3. Stop pretending that you yourself are not massively privileged. 4. Stop with the bigotry, with the attempts to lump large groups of people together (you know, just like you claim you hate when people do that to you?). 5. Most importantly ... stop the whining, grow a pair, and take responsibility for your own behavior instead of pointing fingers at other people.

MinnesotaConservative
3/15/2016 9:48:02 PM
This is so off base on history, so off base on economics, and so off base morally that only the most hateful bigot could make such claims. If you pour this poison into the minds of young blacks, you can congratulate yourself on putting a major obstacle in their way of success and on further dividing our great nation. Pathetic. You should be ashamed of yourself (but I doubt you are even capable of that basic emotion).

Kit
3/15/2016 7:18:28 PM
I found this piece provocative and poignant. I think one obstacle to reaching more common ground on this issue is that we can never truly be in each other's hearts and minds. I can never know exactly what another person experiences, nor can I always understand other people's motivations. It is vital to respect people when they share their truth, particularly their feelings. It breaks my heart to know that for so many people of color that this is their truth. I want to believe that more white people would do more to change this if they knew what to do. Personally, I get stuck. Who am I to decide what the solutions are, when my white privilege has always allowed me to define the problems and the solutions? I want more engagement across our truths. I long for opportunities to engage with people from all backgrounds. I found this piece provocative and poignant. I think one obstacle to reaching more common ground on this issue is that we can never truly be in each other's hearts and minds. I can never know exactly what another person experiences, nor can I always understand other people's motivations. It is vital to respect people when they share their truth, particularly their feelings. It breaks my heart to know that for so many people of color that this is their truth. I want to believe that more white people would do more to change this if they knew what to do. Personally, I get stuck. Who am I to decide what the solutions are, when my white privilege has always allowed me to define the problems and the solutions? I want more engagement across our truths. I long for opportunities to engage with people from all backgrounds.

pawtiger
3/15/2016 5:57:18 PM
We love you. We hear you. We are calling in our white brothers and sisters and beginning again to march. --an activist in Showing Up for Racial Justice, in San Diego

rostuart
3/15/2016 5:47:29 PM
Thank you for finding the energy to compose this fine essay, and for your willingness to put your hope and well-being at risk by submitting it for publication. All Americans are at great risk because of the cancer of racism and white privilege-- personal as well as systemic and institutional -- in the body politic of our culture and society. Thank you for your encouragement to those of us who think of ourselves as white or who are identified as white to pursue our own liberation, to stand up, speak out, protest, intervene, share our own stories, and demand progress in deconstructing racism and white privilege at every level, and certainly wherever and whenever we are able to see it.

Steve
3/15/2016 3:46:57 PM
As I finished reading the essay there was only one comment...from johntoliver30. As disheartening as that comment was, I am encouraged by most of the rest. As a white male who can check off virtually every box of privilege, I can wholeheartedly agree with Michael, Karen, and Jeff's comments (I won't attempt to say it better than them). And as to johntoliver's comment, "Didn't finish his college degree but still somehow points the finger at the white people for his shortcomings."... As I've read today about some of Kevin Powell's accomplishments, I'm reminded of some other brilliant people who left college early, most likely because they realized they didn't need a piece of paper or letters behind their name to accomplish what they intended. Finally as I think of the first commenter along with wataugaman, I am reminded of one of my favorite phrases, "Some people are born on 3rd base, and think they hit a triple!" I know I was born at least on 3rd base, and I only wish I had a portion of Kevin's accomplishments to my name. Thank you for for everything you shared Kevin! Racism (as well as sexism and all other isms) will never end until those of us who have inherited privilege (on the backs of the oppressed) are willing to hand back over that inherited privilege. And yes, that probably starts when those of us who have inherited privilege are willing to shut up, listen, and begin to learn.

Ali
3/15/2016 3:40:19 PM
I just finished reading your essay and I just want to say THANK YOU for writing this. I am going to print it out and give copies to my family members and make them read it as a family and then force them to have a seminar-like discussion with me about it. Your writing is powerful and I think it is one of the most concise clear and approachable pieces of writing of its kind, at least that I have ever read. Again, I just want to say thank you.

gracie
3/15/2016 3:30:08 PM
My mother lost a job, because the boss found out she was jewish. We live near a golf course that used to have a Sign no Jews, no Blacks. Both my husband and I have had to deal with aanti-Semetism at work. Finally I lost antire side of my family to ovens built by Mercedes Benz. Yes Im white, but I had a roomate that thought Jews really have horns on their head. Now your article is very good and makes good points, but until, black culture stops being about gang banging, and black on black crime stops, many people will continue to feel angry, about blacks.

Sandozz
3/15/2016 2:47:16 PM
This showed up in my twitter feed at a moment when I was feeling overwhelmed, exasperated at the feeding frenzy of hate and fear I've been watching play out in the trump campaign. I just want you to know that your words have had a profound impact on me for a long time. I was 11 years old the summer the first season of the Real World aired. When I heard you explain racism, "Race + Power = Racism" it changed my life. I say that without hyperbole. For a white girl growing up in metro Detroit, it was world shattering. I may not have totally grasped exactly what it meant at the time but it shifted my perspective and forced by to think outside myself and to view the world thru a critical lens. I could never take anything at face value again. I always dug deeper. It wasn't the first time or the last time I would think about working towards true equality but it WAS profound and important. For that I am forever grateful. thank you.

AKLR
3/15/2016 12:32:34 PM
Everytime I read one of Kevin's articles,blogs,writings,FB post I find this hard love delived he ha in truth and personal convictions. Through his perspective i am afforded the opportunity to learn directly from his experience. Because as a white woman he and I will never be treated the same if put into the exact same situations. White folks need to come to terms with a few things. Yes! Our ancestors did some horrible things! Acknowledge it! This society whitewashed society is jaded and has amnesia when it comes to conversations on race. No one said it would or should be easy. But don't we all deserve to heal and put the Human back in humanity? Great article Kevin! You will always have my support!

Bobz
3/15/2016 11:35:49 AM
It's 4:42am in Seattle, I couldn't sleep and I discovered your brilliant essay "Will Racism End, Will I Ever Stop Being a N----r?" I am fortunate that I was raised by white parents who never used that N word and especially a father who taught me (by his example) that people should be taken for what they say and do, not by their looks. Not that I haven't benefitted from white privilege because I have, but my heart was moved by your simple question and your pain and I know that white privilege will be ended by white people. I am working to achieve that end. I am your ally. God bless and cheers! Bob Zappone

Zen
3/15/2016 8:39:35 AM
Thank you. I'm doing the work.

Teresa
3/15/2016 7:51:58 AM
I love you. Thank you for being the magnificent voice that you are.

wataugaman
3/15/2016 6:57:41 AM
Interesting read, though I think its incredibly one sided. As Mr Powell says we cant imagine what its like to be Black, he cannot imagine what it is to be a straight white male in this era. We are told we are racists if we even disagree about a political issue with Obama. We are told that we have achieved nothing, that all we have is given to us. We are told that we are expoiting minorities and have some white privilege. I have been white for 47 years now, I have been to all the secret white mens meetings. The topic of the last one was who looks hotter with red lipstick Barbara Palvin or Erin Heatherton, it got very heated and in the end we had to denounce the trump followers for picking erin over barbara because erin is a Jewish American and Barbara is a Hungarian. Damn xenophobia. Middle and upper class whites do not discuss race and plan to squash people, we (this may get me thorwn out of my country club for telling you this) talk sports, yes many dont like cam for his arrogance but then again many of us hated roger clemmens for the same reason, we talk women, our kids and movies. Who was the best bond,who was the hottest bond girl. Many Blacks say we cannot judge all by the actions of a few, we would say fair enough, please dont judge all of us by the actions of our long dead relatives. My grandmother is from Mexico and I was raised in a Spanish speaking home, yet Im considered a white guy and I am happy to be a white guy, also not ashamed of my Mexican heritage. I have never been discriminated against, nor have i ever heard in the work place any talk of discriminating vs anyone. In college I was a Phi Beta Sigma and interacted freely in that world. I never felt the seething animosity I feel now from articles like this and posts on here. In the military my brothers and sisters in arms were those wearing the uniform. I think mR Poweell feels like us white folk have to agree with him or we are denying, there doesnt seem to be any middle ground, whites have to say yeah, we all suck, we are all horrible racists and here you go here is all of my money, i never earned it anyway, so you have it in part payment for horrible crap my ancestors may or may not have thought or did. He wonders why we get a bit defensive when the topic coms up, we are defensive because men like Powell think the 60 hour work weeks we out in, the blame for absolutely every thing that has ever gone wrong anywhere on earth gets dumped on us, yeah that gets old, can you name a single problem anywhere on earth at any time in human history that is not blamed on white men? Muslim slavery has gone on since the very beginning of their faith, no one mentions it, there are still Blacks held in bondage, does Powell et al mention it,NO, only the european slave trade was bad, does he acknowledge that whites were held as slaves by the romans, NO, does he mention the Irish were treated the same way post reconstruction Blacks were? NO. The Irish were not allowed to own land, not allowed to speak their own language, gain an education beyond the 2nd grade, sound vaguely familiar? This went on from the 1650's to the 1920's. Blacks are not the only group to have suffered. Not all whites are rich, travel to rural Appalachia where Im from, you will see no white privilege. Is there racism today, sure, its a part of human nature to prefer people like you, its why many black students are setting up segregated spaces. To me, you want to end racism, its got to be a 2 way street, blaming one side for it all and demanding they acquiesce to every demand isnt going to work.

Sandra
3/15/2016 2:50:56 AM
I definitely was brought to tears a few times reading this, but mostly I was enraptured with your style of telling a story I am unfortunately also too well versed in myself. I had a very long post I was going to put here, but I've deleted it, because yours truly handles it all. Thank you for putting our collective story out there, at emotional cost to you. Grandparents forced to sell land, grandparents who were barred from owning land despite having served the nation that hated them, equity unable to be passed down, 1st generation college attendance, our beloved, brave, yet nameless and discounted by history ancestors... It seems that we are not allowed to be proud of those amazing survivors of slavery whose resilience gave birth to all of us today. We are told to "get over it" in the face of Confederate flag idolatry, foundations of all sorts for the "daughters and sons of the Confederacy", talk of "our founding fathers" and the shadow of Mt. Rushmore on a stolen mountain. The phrase: "a liar is a thief" sticks with me, because, to me, that is the heart of the matter. The perpetuation of the lies robs us all of healing, and robs all people of color their validation as fellow human beings with a parallel and valid story worthy of the telling. I do believe that the dialogue has to begin with black and white - it is the deepest of the oozing wounds on this country. When that wound is finally attended to, the body that is America will be strong enough to tend to the other ills we must also make right. Thank you so much for your words, your heart, your commitment, and your resolve. We are peers, you and I, and I pray that we both get to witness these changes in our lifetimes.

what1215for
3/15/2016 1:54:43 AM
When I first read this title on my FB feed my mental response to the question was, when I stop being white. That can be interpreted in many ways but my way, my interpretation is when I am not viewed by my color, when no one is, when all of the lines that define us fade and we become without boundaries. Immediately prior to this article I read about the hacking death of a Dalit for marrying outside his caste, in broad daylight, in Tamil Nadu, the state in which I currently live, no one intervened. It is my greatest fear, that something will happen to me here and no one will intervene. I am a white woman and here, in India, my white skin brings me privilege, trouble and presumption. The problem of racism is global, America promotes individualism, until we see ourselves as part of the whole, not black, white or American, we will never recognize that when we discriminate against another we discriminate against ourselves.

Karen
3/15/2016 1:39:56 AM
I'm saving this article so that I can read it again and again. It's one of the most powerful things I've ever read and took me to places in my soul I never knew existed. I'm a 63 year old White woman, born and raised in the South. Your essay brought me to tears as for the first time ever in my life, though I considered myself to be non-racist, I recognized my inherent racism. Your essay gave me an incite into what it feels like to be a person of color living in a White world, and it made me incredibly sad. It made me want to understand on a continuing and even deeper level this monster called 'racism' and take action to remove it first from my life, and from the world as a whole. Thank you for opening my eyes and my heart.

tjess946
3/15/2016 12:31:26 AM
Such a beautiful, comprehensive, and thought provoking piece. Thank you for putting this out in the universe. I would love to use it as an introduction to the new Race in the US course I will be teaching at my high school!

Michael
3/15/2016 12:22:08 AM
I am a white male. I acknowledge that racism still exists and that I unknowingly perpetuate the institutions of white supremacy. I acknowledge that I will likely never understand the benefits I receive based on my gender and skin color. I understand that America can not call itself a great nation until the so-called "American Dream" is accessible to all of her citizens regardless of gender and ethnicity. I understand that I need to confront my loved ones when I encounter their racism. I understand that I need to be accepting and listen when confronted with my own racism. I will keep my heart and mind open. I will face uncomfortable truths. I will find the courage to speak. I am willing to make sacrifices in the interests of equality.

Jeff
3/14/2016 10:54:13 PM
"Whites are exhausted with these topics." Thaaaaank you, johntoliver! Read that whole article and thought to myself, "When is he gonna talk about the problems white people have to deal with?" We need more articles detailing the struggles of the white male. Cuz we've just had it so rough throughout the centuries. Congratulations on you reading that whole article and learning absolutely nothing. I award you no points. And may God have mercy on your soul.

johntoliver30
3/14/2016 9:53:07 PM
Another "victim" article. Didn't finish his college degree but still somehow points the finger at the white people for his shortcomings. Blacks cannot be pleased, even if this so called "conversation" takes place. Even if a black male sits in the white house for 8 years. Whites are exhausted with these topics. Get a job, work hard, take care of your family, love God. This is the greatest country in the world. There ARE other alternatives to America if it's so "oppressive".





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