Letter From the Editors
Leviathan Editors and Staff address topics that we’ve found compelling to discuss, reflect on, write and make art about in the current times. We encourage Leviathan’s contributors to create their own work around these themes.
Leviathan’s signers reflect on what it means to speak about anti-racism as a white, Jewish staff.
Defining what it means to be anti-racist while benefiting from my white status in the places I live is difficult. I believe to be anti-racist is to practice anti-racism every day, to do something that contributes to dismantling the white supremacy so deeply ingrained in the United States and, as importantly, listen. Just listen, not speak. I recognize that I hold internalized racism as all white people do, but I don’t know how or in what way. So when I have the opportunity, I listen, and when I witness active racism, I say something if it is my place to do so. To be anti-racist, I believe, is to recognize how much you don’t know, that there are faults you hold that you are unaware of, to speak up when your voice is needed and shut up when it isn’t, to be a body at demonstrations and protests; not lead, just be a body, and do that whenever you can.
Challenging your internalized racism is difficult but necessary to unlearn. Anti-racism should not be a burden put only on folks of color. It should not be a performance, a commodity, or a hashtag. It should not remain silent. I think there’s many more questions about what anti-racism should be. Particularly what it should look like when engaged by leaders in white institutions and systems of power. Personally, I’d like to pass along the call, particularly to other white folks in leadership roles. Investigate the ways in which you are privileged or ignorant and look forward to being challenged on it. Challenge your peers; do the work. If I could recommend two books I’ve read and engaged with as resources for interrogating my own ignorance of the persistence of racism it would be Melissa Harris Perry’s Sister Citizen and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.
To be anti-racist as a white individual is a practice of inquiry and education each day, because to be disengaged, or to be silent, is to be complicit. To be silent is to be complacent. Activism that is performative or isolated serves no purpose — it’s not activism. It’s a practice that must be implemented into everyday life. Recognizing and interrogating bias and privilege, or internalized racism, is fundamental to unlearning. This is crucial to work towards dismantling the system of white institutions and spaces that have caused so much oppression and suffering. A book I would suggest to other white folks to broaden their understanding of their privilege and bias is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Some other ways to contribute and offer support are by supporting BIPOC creators and small, independent businesses. Contributing financially to creators who put their work, goods and art out into the world is a way to begin redistributing wealth. Capitalism plays a huge role in keeping the marginalized silenced and oppressed and it is at the crux of how things can change going forward. I’d also encourage others to seek out organizations that advocate for institutional justice and worker’s rights, a movement that is inherently tied to racial justice, particularly in the United States. This year I joined an activist organization and became more proactive. Learning about history that is removed from the European world has also been an informative place to start. We often are taught a whitewashed history and it is so important to expand your understanding of history beyond the whitewashed narrative.
Within the last year or so, I have been expanding my understanding of anti-racism and learning more about how to be anti-racist. As a white person, I should not be leading this discussion. Here are some resources I have been learning from. You will have to spend money to access these writings, but BIPOC educators should be paid for their work, especially in a world that devalues their labor. Wealth redistribution is a key part of antiracism. These texts are both written by Black women educators:
Layla F. Saad’s Me & White Supremacy book
Rachel Cargle’s The Great Unlearn (available on her Patreon- access from $5/month) https://www.patreon.com/thegreatunlearn
However, I usually find smaller chunks of information viewed on a frequent basis to be easier to incorporate into my everyday. Here are some antiracist educators whose accounts I follow on Instagram (some of whom have also produced texts I am planning to read). Whenever I learn something from what they post, I make sure to pay them what I can (no less than $5) as I am able (we are still college students after all). Their venmo/ paypal/ cashapp is usually accessible somewhere on their page in bio or highlights. Here are a few folks I follow:
Despite years spent in Hebrew school, before my mother herded my father and I into Catholicism, it took a long long time for me to identify as Jewish. I was unaware that I bore the features of an ethnic Ashkanazi Jew, that I was identifiably different, until I faced severe antisemetic rhetoric and threats while visiting Italy. Ever since, my ethnic Judaism has been a key component of my identity. With the rise in antisemetic rhetoric driven by neofascist politics in the United States, it has become ever more pertinent to embrace Jewish heritage in protest of those who would have us extinct. It is a means to assert that Jewish Americans have a space in our cultural spectrum, a sort of line to hold in the face of increasingly dangerous mainstream discourse. Antisemitism is exactly what drives me to embrace my ethnic and historically religious Judaism. For American Jews, I believe it has never been more important to wear your heritage loud, to assert that you deserve space, to make clear your existence in protest of those that would have us not exist at all.
When I log into class from my laptop, there is a brief moment between when I click the Zoom link and when my little black box joins all the other little black boxes in class. There is a brief moment where I stare at a small pop up window against my overcrowded desktop, which displays that infamous loading wheel and simply the word, “connecting…”. Doubtless this word was coined at the birth of the internet, in the era of a novel digital world at man’s fingertips. This proto-terminology, that implies that this new tool would unify the globe, now carries a sardonic tinge as I rely on it for any and all interactions. I don’t feel very connected in class, not in Zoom wine nights with friends, or Facetime family dinners with grandparents I haven’t been able to hug in a year. I don’t feel connected in cross-unifying ways when I read about the Internet’s role in catalyzing the polarization of our political spectrum. This new routine has replaced riding the bus, packing my lunch and walking around campus. The little windows of my classmates’ video streams have replaced gathering together, meeting in the Press Center, and studying in the library. Yet, in the face of the pandemic, connection feels more crucial than ever for staving off our isolation. Connection, love and belonging are basic human needs (Maslow’s Hierarchy tells us). How do we connect when we are remote from school, work, friends, and family? What triumphs and failures have we experienced in our efforts to “connect” in the past year? What happens when we disconnect? How has the pandemic impacted our understanding of connection and disconnection and how will that change us in the future?
In general, civil unrest occurs when government systems fail to meet or actively work against the needs of the masses or significantly oppressed classes, when the structural mechanisms in place to catalyze progress fail entirely. Civil unrest is a necessary function of progressive activism in the face of oppressive forces. It is not a symptom of a sick society as it is often painted in mainstream media, but a tool to heal. It is also the most white washed element of historical civil rights movements. The misrepresentation of Martin Luther King’s philosophy on both sides of the current two-party system is emblematic of this. The running thread that the most significant figure of the mid-20th century Civil Rights movement disavowed civil unrest is nonsensical, and the misconception that he intended to bridge the gap through some sort of centrist position even more so. While he did believe that violent unrest will ultimately be self-defeating, he found the occurrence to be a natural and necessary consequence of systemic oppression.
“…a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.”
- Martin Luther King, “The Other America”
Now we must again ask ourselves, what is it that America has failed to hear? Has anything changed at all? How are those “large segments of white society…more concerned about tranquility…than about justice, equality, and humanity” continuing to suffocate contemporary civil rights movements? What can we do, today, right now, to turn the tides of social wellness towards a society that values human lives as equal entirely?
Healing is a labor. Healing is an embrace. The process of healing is an inquiry into institutions as to why I consider my strengths, or my ideas, or my body to be “imperfect”. Healing empowers me to think that I am enough. Healing is an act of community, whose strength together can be a psychological safety net for individuals, and a radical act to process generational trauma.
I hang on tight to historic narratives of isolation. I read stories, news, fiction, looking for clues of how to survive in this paradigm shift and period of isolation, and even how to spend my time or direct my thoughts. I also read to investigate the impact isolation has on us, which is a subject many writers have been obsessed with themselves. From old testament stories where isolation is necessary for spiritual reverence, to Frankenstein’s monster, to the narrator of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, I feel drawn to these stories now more than ever. I read about the history of the Influenza plague, knowing that it is necessary to wear masks and socially distance, seeing it mirrored years ago makes me feel like history is never new, while at the same time I watch elected officials of the United States disclaim or blaspheme those same ideas. Isolation is our duty, to slow the spread, but it is also a sacrifice of many things.
Normalcy During COVID-19
How do we find time to maintain our normalcy when school, jobs, friends, passions, and our societal and social supports have been uprooted? Did you take for granted something that felt ‘normal’ at the beginning of the year, but that you now long for deeply? Are there elements of life before the pandemic that may never return to what we once thought of as normal? Normalcy during covid is an inquiry of the institutional strings pulling our future but also a reflection on loss, and small moments of triumph building new routines or habits.
Self Care and Community Care
When I’m able to take care of myself, both physically and mentally, I am better able to care for the people around me. In the face of a pandemic we’ve seen communities uplift each other and put their bodies on the line to protest systemic police violence and the unjust killing of black and brown Americans. In the current moment, many may echo the care I give, but not everyone has the privilege to attend to themselves before attending to their community. Many of us have also had to relearn how to care for ourselves, our family, or communities, under unprecedented circumstances. Self and community care is not just a topic that is provoked by the current moment, rather, it is a daily reminder to look introspectively at what may need care and then to turn your gaze outward and offer care to others. Offer care to friends, family, and to larger communities that need your care to continue their work helping those in need and seeking justice.
For me, social media is a paradox. On one hand it is my access to the world, now more than ever. At the same time I’m unnerved by the performativity explicit in it’s design that convinces us to spend our time in endless feeds and buy in to idealized lifestyle trends. At it’s best, social media is a tool for connecting with others, making friends, expressing our identity and having it validated and echoed back by others like us. At its worst, it begets a distorted perception of reality, simplifies complex ideals and discussions, fuels our obsessions, and depreciates our mental health. For each of us, social media is a unique story.