‘How We Fight White Supremacy’ honors the many ways Black folks resist
'What better home is there than Blackness?'
White supremacy is a series of unending violences. As a massive system designed to privilege and preserve whiteness above all else, it requires these violences to keep itself alive, and whiteness must define itself against Blackness to achieve this. Black folks respond to, subvert, and resist this in a myriad of creative, warm-hearted, affirming, ingenious, riotous, and impassioned ways.
Our resistance is a mark of our collective power as a people. It’s important to recognize how many different forms our activism can take and to testify about their power to impact individuals, families, and whole communities. This is what guided Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin to share these stories that demonstrate our collective power, and to revere our Blackness in the process, in their new book How We Fight White Supremacy: A Field Guide to Black Resistance.
How We Fight White Supremacy is an anthology of essays, anecdotes, interviews, poetry, and art. Many of the names included are familiar—like Tarana Burke, Kiese Laymon, Harry Belafonte, and adrienne maree brown, to name a few. But there are also lesser-known folks—like Sidney Keys III, the 12-year-old founder of Books n Bros, a book club that inspires Black boys to read together and to each other; Niya Kenny, the youth activist who was arrested for recording while a school resource officer assaulted her classmate; Wazi Maret, an award-winning educator and organizer, and Development Coordinator at the Transgender Law Center; Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler and Tiffany Mikell, creators of Appolition, an app which helps direct funds to bail Black people out of jail; Margari Aziza Hill, co-founder of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative; and rapper Tef Poe (Kareem Jackson), one of the co-founders of Hands Up United.
In their introduction, Akiba and Kenrya write:
“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.”
It’s an ambitious feat. Fighting white supremacy is not something so easily summarized or succinctly captured. It’s something Black folks have been doing for centuries, since they began dragging our ancestors to the shores of worlds unknown. This collection holds record of that fight and honors the many ways Black folks choose to engage in it, no matter how small or insignificant that fight might seem to the world.
I recently spoke with Akiba and Kenrya about How We Fight White Supremacy, how it came together, and what they hope readers will receive from it. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
You were very intentional about beginning with what the book is and what it isn’t, and how raised fists aren’t the only way to fight for liberation. There are millions of ways to fight white supremacy and its violences, you say. Was this an attempt at redefining activism? At least the way that many folks tend to think of activism—usually as something that must involve raised fists, bullhorns, and picket signs. And what do you say to activist gatekeeping? To those who regard it as something with a strict set of criteria, to the point where it is inaccessible for many of us?
Kenrya: What we are trying to do with this book is to honor all the ways that people resist, and ways that people are activist. Activism is just a tiny little door into this entire world of possibilities… Gatekeeping contributes to white supremacy. When we gatekeep, we only end up privileging certain people over others.
Akiba: No, we aren’t redefining anything. This is to let people know there are different ways of resistance, it’s about how Black people cope… I am never going to tell someone who is getting up at 4am, going to a job that is unkind and doesn’t pay them enough, that they are not an activist. Poor Black mothers are some of the biggest activists, and everybody plays their role. We are not redefining, but expanding the definition of activism.
My grandmother had six kids. She cleaned floors, she worked at the electric company, and she was still activist. She was still somebody who fought gentrification. She was still somebody who was one of the pioneers of community gardening in Philadelphia, and people would ask, “Why are you gardening? Who cares?” And she was like, “First of all, gardening is good exercise, and second of all, gardening is important because we want to have pride and we want to feel ownership within our neighborhood that could become very gentrified if we don’t take care of them and we don’t regard them as our home.” I would never look at my grandma and be like, “Yeah, she was just planting flowers somewhere” because I know that’s not what she was doing.
Gatekeeping and activism really shouldn’t go together. The idea that you can shut somebody out of activism is ridiculous. If you aren’t doing anything to harm Black people, then you belong in any kind of action.
How did you curate this impressive list of writers and activists?
Kenrya: It stemmed from what we knew we wanted the book to be. We knew we wanted to cover these ten areas… So, for some, we asked people who are shining in these areas. For others, we asked folks who we wanted to help bring into the spotlight, who may not be widely known but were doing great work on the local level. For some, we reached into our networks and found people, and for some we had to just put our journalism hats on and do research. We also looked at some people who had businesses aimed at hiring and making money directly for Black folks, and not only doing the work but also defining it as fighting white supremacy… But the short answer is that I’m persistent.
You also begin the book talking about how it is unapologetically Black as fuck, and you offer no explanations for Black lexicon, aesthetic, humor, culture, or reference—the chapters have titles like “Get in Formation” and “I’m Not One of Your Little Friends.” Why was it important to you to conceive of this project in this way? What work does it do for you and for the readers to make this book as Black as it is?
Kenrya: Because we’re Black as fuck! It was never going to be anything but. I mean, we are really clear on the fact that we are not a monolith, there’s no one way to be Black… But so often, we are in spaces that are not meant for us. This is a white ass country with white supremacy ruling it and whether you’re at work or at school or walking down the street, so often we are made to feel we’re not supposed to be there, sometimes with outright violence to you and your well-being.
We wanted this book to be a place where we feel that we belong, where there was no threat of violence on the page. Also, we wanted to bring some hope, and some inspiration, and some joy. The best way to do that is to create a space that feels like home, and what better home is there than Blackness?
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Akiba: I hope readers take away inspiration. I hope they take away innovation. What I want is for people to feel like they are home. Particularly, if you have a certain set of politics, the world can be an incredibly lonely place. It’s sometimes lonely to say, “I am a Black person working in service of my people. I am rejecting white supremacy, and if you ask me about it, I might tell you about it.” That’s not an easy position to be in.
Growing up in Black nationalism, around Black folks who were beautiful and loving, but not understanding what this was all about, as a young girl, I would have loved to have something that could connect with me and tell me that there were other people out there like me. For me, it’s about creating a belonging, creating a home for Black people.
Are you willing to share with me your favorite part of this process?
Kenrya: Finishing it! We turned in our manuscript on May 1st of 2018, and I wanted to fall out. I knew we had done something pretty fucking great. It felt amazing.
Akiba: My favorite thing was when we got actual copies of the book. When we were able to hold it in our hands, and look at the texture of the cover, and read through it as a reader as opposed to an editor. It was a feeling of, “WE DID THIS, WE PULLED THIS OFF!” Not to brag, but I think we did a good job.
It was released in late March, how has the response been so far?
Kenrya: It’s been pretty dope, going on tour, doing book signings. People have come to tell us these stories about how the book touched them. One woman said it helped her to find her life’s purpose… The book helped her to remember that her work is valuable as a mode of resistance, it helped her to know that she is not alone, but part of a collective, a family.
What we set out to do is let folks know that when we all find our way forward, we are collectively moving. It really feels like a job well done.
Akiba: People in my own life, who don’t identify as political, have told me that it made them feel inspired, that they felt like it was for people like them. I’m glad because we were intentional about making it accessible.
How We Fight White Supremacy: A Field Guide to Black Resistance is available for purchase now