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The Myth of “Choice”

Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!  – John Brown, 1837

Yesterday I read Kyle Korver’s self reflective piece about his emerging race consciousness. His story models the process of how white people go from centering white cultural norms to an emerging awareness — which in itself serves as a beautiful counter-narrative to white omnicompetence. He does this vulnerably. He highlights how ugly and violent white unconsciousness is and calls us to greater action within an honest interrogation of what we believe and the actions we take. So much of what he shared shows our white community a way forward.

And even in the midst of so much truth-telling, I believe we need to grapple with one of the assumptions we are holding in the white community as is evidenced in his piece. Kyle writes…

“What I’m realizing is, no matter how passionately I commit to being an ally, and no matter how unwavering my support is for NBA and WNBA players of color….. I’m still in this conversation from the privileged perspective of opting in to it. Which of course means that on the flip side, I could just as easily opt out of it. Every day, I’m given that choice — I’m granted that privilege — based on the color of my skin.”

The idea that white people, by way of our privilege, have the “choice” to enter or not enter the movement to abolish white dominance, is incomplete and dangerous.

If we are unwavering in our solidarity with Indigenous, Black, and Brown people, we have no choice.

If you ask John Brown and Angelina Grimke about this, they would say we don’t have a choice. Angelina Grimke wrote, “The denial of our duty to act in this case is a denial of our right to act; and if we have no right to act, then may we well be termed the white slaves of the North, for like our brethren in bonds, we must seal our lips in silence and despair.”

To believe that we have choice, reveals and further entrenches the dehumanization our white community has hid behind for hundreds of years. In this, not only do we have blood on our hands, but we continue to train ourselves and our children that we are somehow not responsible and that none of this is our concern.

If your ancestors fled oppression and came here to build a better life and no member of your family has yet compensated the Native people that were murdered and displaced from the very land where this took place — you were birthed from dehumanization.

If you search back through genealogy records to find census reports that prove your white ancestors did not enslave Africans yet see those vulgar tally marks that tell of their neighbors that did; and you don’t also know that your ancestors participated in the counter-legal practice to free enslaved people — your ancestors chose dehumanization.

If your family participated in any kind of legislation that supported the economic uplift of white people via land grants, social security benefits, GI bill, and so many more — you have benefited from dehumanization.

If you have ever seen violence inflicted upon another human — and you reacted by looking away, denying, arguing, or standing on your soapbox to tell of how you are not at all like those that do these things — you are guilty of dehumanization.

The myth of “choice”…

…is to choose evil.
…is to choose powerlessness.
…is to be convinced there is an “other” to blame.
…is to be the henchperson of those who benefit from our division.
…is to put up a billboard that says healing and liberation is impossible.
…is to give up all agency to create a just world.
…is to deal a deathblow to our humanity.

Rejecting this myth must be our first choice.

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Rebecca Greenidge

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