Using Consciousness as a Weapon: The wisdom of Loretta Ross

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Site Contributor. Motivated to do most things by food.

It seems that as each new day dawns, a new hashtag arrives glaring on social media to remind us that another life – a black life – has been unceremoniously taken too soon. I find it hard to hope that things will get better. How lucky I am to have the ability to step away from the coverage and go on with my daily life, with nothing in my immediate family or circumstances having to change because of my pale skin. That is what privilege is – the ability to step away as desired, to turn a blind eye, because my life is not being targeted. My skin color is protecting me from having to live day in and day out with racist microaggressions – and outright aggressions – directed toward me.

Perhaps now is the time, in the midst of my sadness, hopelessness, and anger, to recall a recent conference I participated in and the wise words of Loretta Ross in her “Appropriate Whiteness for Feminist Activists” workshop. The CLPP (Civil Liberties and Public Policy) Conference called “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom” is held every April at Hampshire College in Western Massachusetts. It’s an incredible weekend full of activists, it strives to be inclusive for all, and it offers sliding scale with no one being turned away for inability to pay. It’s truly an incredible weekend that I look forward to all year, and I highly suggest you check it out.

So, for those who don’t know about her, Loretta Ross is an absolute rock star. She’s engaging, down to earth (I love people who drop f bombs in the middle of their presentations), and brilliant. The most that I can do to honor what I heard is refer to my notes and attempt to come up with some semblance of structure to pass on her wisdom to all of you.

Loretta Ross reminded those in the room that it is a privilege to be aware enough of racism and structural oppression to even come to the workshop. She stated that sometimes, those who have consciousness about these issues use that consciousness as a weapon against those who don’t. Loretta made the argument that we need to call people in – into the conversation, into the activism – rather than call people out.

Let’s pause here for a moment. Even reviewing the notes that I took a few weeks back, I’m reminded that Loretta Ross, who worked for anti-Klan causes, was the executive director of the first rape crisis center in the country, and has been targeted by any number of people on any number of occasions both for her work and her skin color, is calling people in. She is taking the time to try to have conversations with those who are steadfast in their hatred; to meet in the middle those who have differing views on the world. If she can strive – and as she admits, sometimes fails – to do this, I surely can.

She reminded us that prejudice is not the same as white supremacy or racism. Prejudice needs power in order to create racism. White supremacy is not, in fact, based on ignorance as some of us (this writer included) occasionally like to spout. It is based on very manipulated white anger.

All of this is to help ground me and revitalize my determination to make a move against white supremacy. It’s not always the right move, but it’s something. This is about taking action to honor those who have been murdered and challenge the systems at play. It’s about not accepting the world as it spins while black and brown people are being gunned down in the streets. And make no mistake – this is not about white people coming to save the day. As Loretta said, “We don’t need missionaries. We need co-conspirators.”