Everything short of racial justice is white supremacy. Everything.
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’” — Martin Luther King Jr.
I’m going to say something about race that may seem to fly in the face of everything we’ve been taught about how to handle complicated and divisive adult issues—but, as unproductive as it may sound, it’s the truth: There is no compromise.
There is no compromise to be had, none whatsoever, when it comes to racial justice. There are no baby steps that are acceptable. There is no middle to meet in.
Everything short of racial justice is white supremacy. Everything.
If this sounds harsh or unreasonable to you, I really need you to understand why it is not. If this last election and the torrent of narratives against “identity politics” has you thinking that maybe, just maybe, some middle ground between white supremacists and anti-racists must be found, I need you to understand the danger this belief puts us in. Because the desire to make racial equality a topic which is up for debate, or racial justice a goal that we can ease ourselves into, is what has sustained the system of violent white supremacy for hundreds of years. I need you to understand, because I need you to understand what those who say that we are “pushing too hard” or “asking for too much” or “moving too fast” are really saying.
The average American will easily agree that they believe that freedom, justice, and equality are basic rights, rights we are born with. These ideas are woven throughout the entire narrative of our democracy. But in practice, very few people actually believe that freedom, justice, and equality are rights that every American deserves. When you enjoy your freedoms, and you tell those who want their freedoms that they have to wait, that they have to go slowly, that they have to give you time to make uncomfortable adjustments to the amount of privilege that their inequality has afforded you, what you are saying is, “You were not born with these rights. You were not born as deserving as me. I have the power and privilege to determine when it is time for you to receive freedom and equality, and my approval is conditioned on how comfortable and safe you make me feel about how that freedom and equality will impact the privileges I enjoy.”
What is the compromise between justice and oppression? What grey area between inequality and equality exists? There is none. You cannot have a little injustice and call it justice. You cannot have a little inequality and call it equality. And whenever you decide that you have the power to slow or stop justice and equality for others — you are immediately ensuring the continuation of injustice and inequality by placing yourself above those seeking justice and equality. There is a claim of superiority inherent in believing that you have the right to slow racial justice. It is a claim of superiority that white supremacy has granted you, and that you cannot accept without becoming a willing proponent of this white supremacist system.
Lives are ruined while we “wait our turn.” Children are expelled from school, young adults are locked away in prison. As people of color in this country we receive substandard health care, we are denied job interviews, we are denied bank loans, we are paid less, our neighborhoods are denied investment and infrastructure, we are locked in poverty, we are erased from history books and movie screens, we are harassed by police, we are murdered by the state. There is no amount of discomfort on behalf of white America that would make the continuation of this white supremacist system anything other than inhumanely cruel.
Those who want to uphold white supremacy, or even delay its destruction, are denying the humanity of people of color in this country. There is no nice way to ask for our freedom that will lead to it being granted. Believe me, we’ve tried. Even having to ask is an act of oppression in itself.
We live in a country where people will try to convince you that if you do not prove to white America that you are worthy of freedom, justice, and equality — if you do not ask nicely, wait patiently, prove your worth with respectability and good deeds — that it is right that it would be denied you. We live in a country where people will try to convince you that you do not have freedom, justice, and equality because you have not done enough for those things.
We live in a country where people will try to convince you that pushing for freedom, justice, and equality in a way which white America has not pre-approved will only lead to more oppression, injustice, and inequality. We live in a country where people will try to tell you that white America is not at all responsible for the white supremacy it upholds, that their hands are forced by your refusal to make the prospect of your freedom, justice, and equality more comfortable for them.
There is no compromise to be had. There is nothing between oppression and freedom that doesn’t guarantee our continued subjugation. We cannot trade away our humanity to those who claim to be allies in the hopes that what they will build in our name will be anything more than our oppression. We cannot ally ourselves to those who would be turned away by our demands and ever expect those demands to be met. So if there is no compromise, what can we do?
We keep pushing. We keep fighting. We check ourselves for the internalized white supremacy that tells us that we have to take it slow, that we have to settle for less. We check our allies for the internalized white supremacy that tells them that they are not required by their belief in justice and equality to fight white supremacy, no matter how uncomfortable it may make them. We show people how their words do not match their actions. We do not for one moment let white supremacy feel comfortable in our presence.
We raise our kids with this same, uncompromising belief in our rights. We challenge any attempts to normalize our oppression. We continuously bring to light the racism that others would prefer live in the dark. We celebrate every victory and always know that it is not enough. We fight not for the hearts and minds of individual racists, but for the freedom, justice, and equality that we are overdue to receive and that they have no right to withhold. We push past our own individual liberation and comfort and fight for every last one of us. We comfort each other, hold each other, and make space for grief and despair and exhaustion. But we don’t give up. We don’t compromise our neighbors, our children, our humanity.
Do not let anyone tell you that your time has not come.
Do not let anyone tell you that you ask for too much.
Do not let anyone tell you that you should have to ask at all.
I do not know what freedom, justice, and equality will look like for us — I have never seen it with my own eyes. But I do know what our oppression looks like, and right now, it looks like the compromises of our souls that we are being asked to make every day in the hopes that it will somehow lead to our liberation.
We are worth more than this. We are worth the fight. We were born worthy.
Ijeoma Oluo: Come for the feminist rants..stay for the selfies and kid quotes. Inclusive feminism here.
This originally appeared on The Establishment. Republished here with permission.