There was a time, when we were young, scrappy and hungry, when fighting for justice brought to mind picket signs, linked arms and raised fists. As our daily responsibilities multiply—and the folks who want to push liberty even further beyond our outstretched fingertips grab more unchecked power—it’s harder to make it to the front lines. But we also know that’s not the only way to fight. As we spend our days writing and editing stories about racial justice (and injustice), we are increasingly struck by all the ways Black people combat the physical and emotional wages of the system of White supremacy. Just as there are millions of us fighting, there are millions of ways to land blows.
The fact is, White supremacy defines our current reality. It is not merely a belief that to be White is to be better. It is a political, cultural and economic system premised on the subjugation of people who are not White. That subjugation takes on an infinite number of forms and is enforced with varying degrees of physical violence, mental abuse and robbery. White supremacy is the voice in our collective heads that says it makes civilized sense that one group of people gets to annihilate, enslave, incarcerate, brainwash, torture, sterilize, breed and terrorize other people. White supremacy establishes, upholds and normalizes hierarchy based on the premise that the less Black you are the closer you are to God.
We live in a country where law enforcement officers kill Black children and call them “thugs,” the mainstream media calls neo-Nazis the “alt-right” and referencing “the African Americans” in discussions about urban crime is a sufficient credential to put a third-rate reality television personality in the White House. But the encouraging reality is this: Black people are working each day to inch us closer to collective freedom. We contain multitudes, and we are hammering at issues as varied and intersectional as police violence and body image and reproductive justice and lack of inclusion in the technology sector.
We’re fascinated by those who resist and create despite the obstacles produced by White supremacy and its lackeys: sexism, homophobia, disenfranchisement, transphobia, colorism, ableism and more. We wrote this book to document the people, from the unsung to the famous, who are doing good work right where they stand, fighting causes both sexy and pedestrian. There’s the leader of a religious movement that holds up issues that impact queer people of color, the cartoonist who applies the Black punk aesthetic to the hard work of silencing White supremacists, the cofounders of a movement that made the world consider the worth of Black lives and dozens of other freedom fighters who share their work and their dreams for a future that doesn’t thrive on anti-Blackness.
Many people—both here and abroad—are considering the fragility of their freedom for the first time, and thousands of the newly “woke” need help with defining their own version of activism. Fortunately for us all, Black people can provide the key.
Black Americans have made a cottage industry of surviving, resisting and fighting. From staging insurrections after being used as the literal capital that bankrolled the birth of this nation to arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court in the face of codified racial segregation via Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, to clapping back at the microaggressions that threaten to chip away at our humanity each day, we always find a way to stand rooted in the face of oppression. You want to talk about patriots? We honor the principles of democracy at every turn, even when the people charged with implementing those principles don’t honor us. This ain’t new to us. Whether we’re singing, sitting, marching, researching, prosecuting, creating, laughing, studying, organizing, dreaming, building wealth or drawing on spirit, we battle life-threatening forces as a matter of course. Why should this moment be any different?
What This Book Isn’t
Although we sought out a diverse group of contributors, this collection isn’t exhaustive: it does not apply an international lens, and it doesn’t include Black “conservatives.” We know that anyone who is truly interested and invested in dismantling the intricate system of White supremacy will learn from this book, but it’s not here to tell you what to do, and it’s not written with anyone but Black folks in mind (see no “explanatory commas” in the next section). It’s also important to know that we began working on this book long before the election of the forty-fifth president of the United States. The acts of resistance it chronicles are not defined by the actions of one man, but by the collective longing for a justice that has so far eluded us.
What This Book Is
“How We Fight White Supremacy” is a curated, multidisciplinary collection that serves as a showcase for some of our most powerful thinkers and doers. It starts in the middle of a Black-ass conversation; you won’t find any explanatory commas about our cultural mores here. Speaking of which, to reflect the permanence of our resistance, we organized the book according to Black conventional and contemporary wisdom, with chapters like “Laugh to Keep from Crying” (our gallows humor), “Get in Formation” (grassroots organizing) and “Love Me or Leave Me Alone” (how we love ourselves whole). Each chapter starts with our take on why a particular category of resistance is integral to the fight and ends with our (very) personal reflections on the matter. Seriously, this collection has everything: thoughtful interviews, “am I really crying right now?” essays, ridiculously relatable fine art, unexpected profiles, crying laughing emoji face funny fiction, reflections from everyday people on their everyday resistance, get hype playlists and more—all breathe in these pages.
But most of all, this is a book about freedom dreams. We’re well aware of the problems we’re buried beneath. We can feel the weight of them on our limbs, the heft of them in our abdomens as our second brains gnaw on the indignity of it all. But what does it look like for Black people to claw our way to fresh air? What does freedom feel like? How does it taste on the tongue? For some folks in this book, it feels like raising kids who gleefully take up space for themselves. For others, it looks like providing the tools we need to triumph over race-based trauma. There’s the pastor who envisions a day when following his radical, dark-skinned Jesus who always sides with the dispossessed will lift us out of this hole, and the organizer who can almost smell the sharp aroma of reforming the nation’s political system. And we can’t forget the professor who dreams of the day when we can bring our full selves to every table.
Although this book is not prescriptive—if we had a magic button we could press to end this nightmare, we would have leaned on that bitch long ago—it is thoughtful and hopeful and bursting with agency. In immersing ourselves in the work of others, we can define and refine our own work; in reveling in the freedom dreams of our beloved, we can labor to make them lucid. The reality is this: if we don’t make time to close our eyes, breathe deeply, push beyond the binds we’re in and visualize a day when they don’t exist, we can never truly be free.
Our hope is that by the time you read the last page, you will have your own strategy for making our collective freedom dream a reality. We’ll see you on the other side.
Excerpted from “How We Fight White Supremacy: A Field Guide to Black Resistance” by Kenrya Rankin and Akiba Solomon, available now. Reprinted with permission from Bold Type Books.
Kenrya Rankin is an award-winning author, journalist, editorial consultant and the editorial director at Colorlines. Her work has appeared in dozens of national publications, including The New York Times, Glamour, Reader’s Digest and Fast Company. She is the author of four books, including “Bet on Black: African-American Women Celebrate Fatherhood in the Age of Barack Obama.” A graduate of Howard University and New York University, she is based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @Kenrya.
Akiba Solomon is the senior editorial director of Colorlines and an NABJ Award-winning journalist and editor whose writing on culture, race, gender, and reproductive health has appeared in Essence, Dissent, Glamour, Vibe, and Ebony, among other outlets. She is the co-editor of “Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips, and Other Parts.” Solomon has spoken about women’s and social justice issues at institutions including the Schomburg Center, Stanford, Yale, and Harvard. A graduate of Howard University, she is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @AkibaSolomon.