On privilege and respectability at protests

This past week the confederate monument fight came to my hometown of Bradenton. I’m planning on writing more about what happened in a day or so when I’ve processed what was a stressful few days, but I wanted to talk for a minute about using respectability and privilege as an intentional protest tactic.

After our march calling for the monument’s removal was announced, a pro-monument, pro-Trump group “America First–Team Manatee” decided they were going to counter-protest our march. Thanks to some sensationalized reporting from the local paper and fear of a repeat of Charlottesville, the whole thing ramped up into a local government panic. Not enough of a panic to convince a majority of county commissioners at an emergency meeting the Friday before our march to remove the monument before our Monday protest, but enough that there was a massive police presence. Meanwhile local white nationalists were declaring to the local paper that they were going to “protect” the city from violent anarchists. It had the potential to be a powder keg, and our repeated assertions that we were planning a peaceful protest weren’t enough to convince them we weren’t a threat. In the end, some of the same Nazis from the group “Identity Everopa” that were in Charlottesville showed up in Bradenton to join the small pro-monument counter-protest, though that’s a story for the longer write up in a few days. (Spoiler alert, the county commission on Tuesday afternoon reversed their Friday vote and decided to move the monument, and part of me is surprised we actually managed to pull it off)

When I talk about showing up as a “respectable” white person, I don’t mean playing respectability politics or suggesting that members of marginalized groups aren’t respectable, and it’s not about being a white savior. Rather, it’s about using your privilege to act as a buffer to help ensure that others can protest safely.

We live in a racist society where social and government structures are set up to protect middle class and wealthy white people, especially white women. Recognizing the privilege that respectable-looking white women have in American society, at protest marches and events it’s important to use that privilege to help protect those who are more marginalized. The reality is that the police are less likely to crack down on a crowd full of respectable-looking white people, and white nationalists are less likely to start beating up respectable-looking white women because the entire system is set up to protect us.

Until we are successful in dismantling the systems of white supremacy in this country, it’s important for white people to recognize what our privilege gets us and use it as a defensive strategy. Since I don’t really read as queer even if I shave half my head, and since I’ve got the ability to clean up nicely and play the part of the respectable establishment politician, I figure the most important defensive action I can take is to play that to the hilt. I can do more to prevent injuries or the loss of life by putting on business clothes and a flag pin than if I put on my armored motorcycle jacket and boots and took up Nazi punching.


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