You do not have to debate with racists, says Andre Henry

What is activism for? Who does it serve?

Last week, 19 children and two teachers were shot and killed in an elementary school in Texas. The week before ten Black people were killed at a grocery store in New York. That same week, six people were shot at a Taiwanese church in California.

In response, we heard grieving, we heard anguish, and we heard the cries of activists demanding change. Imploring us to stop things like this from happening again.

Of course, then you heard the backlash. “This isn’t a gun problem. This is a sin problem.” Or “this isn’t a race issue; this is a mental health issue”. You heard people say “now is not the time for politics.” Or some variations on “well that slogan or campaign isn’t going to persuade anybody on the other side of the aisle.”

But is persuading people on the other side always the goal? There is power in nonviolent disruption. There is strategy in persuading people in the middle or on the fence. But is there wisdom is in channeling your energy toward converting the people that are stubbornly opposed to you?

I don’t know the answer to this question. So much national policy rests in the hands of a 50-50 senate that, I guess, sometimes, persuasion is necessary.

But a new book from Andre Henry really changed my perspective on what activism is supposed to do. In his book, “All the White Friends I Could Not Keep,” Andre Henry describes what it’s like to live through an apocalypse. And he’s going back to the original roots of that word. A time of revelation. For Henry, the last few years in America have laid deep truths bare.

He grew up in Stone Mountain, Georgia. He had close white friends. People he even considered like a second family. He had a white church community. But as more and more Black people were killed by police. As Donald Trump encouraged more and more racism in the public square, Henry started to realize that he was spending so much of his time trying to convince people he thought were his friends to just see his humanity. It was draining him of his time and his art.

Instead, he threw himself into activism, art and study. He studied global activist movements at the Harvard Kennedy School. He organized protests in Los Angeles. He wrote award-winning music. He started a podcast. And he wrote this book. Henry grew up in Georgia but can trace his activists roots back to his family’s history in Jamaica. You’ll hear a little bit about that on today’s episode of the Reckon Interview.

Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for length and clarity.

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Reckon: You open your book, All the White Friends I Could Not Keep, with a provocative idea, that for the past few years we have been living through an apocalypse, which is a word I think most of us probably associate with the end of the world or maybe with X-Men, but it’s not exactly what you’re talking about here. So unpack for us a little bit what this apocalypse is.

Andre Henry: Yeah, for sure. So when I say apocalypse, I’m alluding to an ancient genre of literature, very symbolic, full of imagery and deeply political, used by marginalized and oppressed people to talk about the way that power works in society, specifically the violence of living under empire, and coded language. I think part of that coded language is to protect the author. But another part of that coded language is to kind of evoke imagery and iconography and, I mean, most of all, sentiment that these oppressed people are familiar with to remind them of ways that they’ve won in the past over oppression, really.

The most famous of these that we know of in our culture is the Book of Revelation in the Bible. The Greek name for that book is Apokalypsis. When you separate that from all the distortions that Christians love to do to ancient texts, you can see that the author, John, a political prisoner, is doing a very deep critique of the Roman imperial system, really trying to undermine the imperial ideology of ancient Rome, which is Pax Romana, this idea that the whole world will know peace if Caesar rules over these nations.

He’s writing this as a political prisoner because, well, it seemed like there are two reasons. One, there’s one guy that’s mentioned in the Book of Revelation that’s killed, Antipas. When I thought about the mentioning of that one person, because there’s this whole idea, at least for me growing up in church, which I’m sure we’ll talk about a bit and going to seminary, that the early church was facing widespread persecution in the first century, which some historians really have called into question, like maybe not.

One guy’s mentioned in this apocalypse in the back of the Bible. In this apocalypse, John imagines the entire Roman system being annihilated and a new, more beautiful arrangement of the world, a healing of the world happening with the dismantling of this violent system. He does that with only one person named. That made me think about some of the conversations I had during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement where some people would say, “Well, it’s not that many Black people being killed.” I remember asking the question, “How many Black deaths is enough for you to realize that this whole system has to change?”

So I write about the Black Lives Matter movement as an apocalypse because I feel like the movement was doing something similar to that ancient genre of literature, that the movement is pulling back the veil on not just the ideology of America that says that we are the paragon of democracy and wants to emphasize this kind of heroic innocence and championing of democracy around the world, but many nations around the world. Because we have a global movement that is saying that land theft, genocide, enslavement is at the foundation of so many of the founding of these nations and the building of this global capitalist system.

Reckon: Well, that brings me to my next question because, chapter by chapter, you’re going through these apocalyptic revelations that you’ve had in the last few years. One of the earliest ones that you introduce is that the whole world is Stone Mountain, Georgia, which is where you grew up. Tell us about Stone Mountain, Georgia, and what it was like to grow up there.

Henry: Stone Mountain is the place where the Ku Klux Klan was reborn. So there are deep ties to the Confederacy there and to anti-Black violence. But as we know, we’ve not been able to have a very straightforward conversation about chattel slavery in the US and especially the reasons why the Civil War was fought, the reason why the Confederacy was founded. Even though that tradition or that history is so strong there, I didn’t learn a whole lot about that. There was no straightforward conversation about the Klan’s ties to the Confederate monument on Stone Mountain.

That history is very strong, but no one really talked about it that much. I remember trying to identify or name, rather, not identify, but name experiences where it seemed obvious that Black people were treated differently in Stone Mountain when I was growing up. White adults around me would often say things like, “You’re playing the race card. That’s a serious accusation,” all those kinds of Things.

So in the book, I’m making this correlation that, on a systemic level, there’s this kind of racial gaslighting because that monument on Stone Mountain, the rock that we call Stone Mountain was the idea of Klan sympathizers. It is the birthplace of the modern Ku Klux Klan, and there’s no mention of it in Stone Mountain Park. There’s this cover-up that is emblematic of how so many white nations or nations founded by white empires, white kingdoms have this history of racial violence at the foundation, but they won’t teach about it in their schools.

They don’t take it as a foundational event as a part of the mortar of their societies. And then there’s this individual kind of racial gaslighting where individuals act like Agent Smith in The Matrix. You know how in The Matrix anyone can become Agent Smith and enforce whatever the rules are supposed to be in The Matrix? This is kind of how people in Stone Mountain would react to anyone trying to name the continuing or the lingering, enduring culture, ideas, whatever you want to call it, the legacy of that history, the afterlife of that history, I guess is a good way that one scholar says Title IX.

Reckon: Well, and you mentioned this gaslighting aspect of it and the unwillingness to address and acknowledge the history of the Klan’s rebirth there. My understanding is that one of the things that they’ve done as a way to whitewash that is that there’s now a small Martin Luther King memorial at Stone Mountain that, rather than acknowledge that this is where the Klan was born, we’re just going to throw up a small little memorial to Martin Luther King instead of acknowledging that there are four giant Confederate generals carved into the side of this mountain.

As you were going through this book, you were talking about white people in your life that you have had to break ties with. One of the earliest is this white family that, growing up, you considered kind of a second family. And then there was a point where you reached a breaking point with them. Tell us what happened.

Henry: In Stone Mountain, my grandmother took me to her church, the Assemblies of God Tabernacle, which is a multiethnic Assemblies of God church there. Many of the white people that I write about in the book I met through not necessarily just that church, but through my involvement in white evangelicalism, really, because I went from that church to an Assemblies of God college and then went and worked at an Assemblies of God church in New York City and moved to LA and went to seminary, not Assemblies of God, but still in that world.

So anyway, I call them the Stones in the book. Obviously, that’s not their real name. We were very close. They kind of became adopted family. Around the time that Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, I started to very gently try to talk to some of the white people in my life about the fears that me and other people had in my life about us being killed by the police, whether it’s in a routine traffic stop or we’re just walking down the street or something and maybe someone find us suspicious or something.

There was this denial, this desire for them to really avoid the conversation. As the Black Lives Matter movement began to intensify because there were a couple of waves of Ferguson uprisings, and then the next year, Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland. Eric Garner was, I think, 2014 as well. I think that was 2015. These deaths continued to go viral online and around the world, really. My involvement began to increase.

At first, I’m speaking very vividly about what I know about growing up Black in this country and what I feel. But as the movement intensifies, because the debts keep stacking up, I get drawn deeper and deeper in and I start speaking up more vocally and more boldly. The more I get involved in the movement, the more a rift begins to grow between me and those families to the point where it feels like if I’m really going to involve myself in the movement for Black lives, in the movement for Black freedom, then there’s no way I can keep on having these arguments and debates with these people who want to tell me that racism is not a problem anymore.

Reckon: Well, you introduce this idea and I think it’s important because a lot of people wrestle with how responsible are we? Well, I say “we.” I’m a white man. But how responsible are people for convincing other people of their point? You introduce this idea that support for Black lives may fall on a spectrum, that it’s not a binary. There’s not “racist” and “non-racist” necessarily, but that there are people who are worth maybe trying to persuade. And then there are people who are just not worth that time. How do you break that down?

Henry: Yeah. So I mentioned that in the chapter called “We Do Not Debate With Racists,” about the spectrum of allies because this was a very liberating framework for me to learn that many activists use, which is exactly like you said. I used to think that there were two types of people. There are people who are for this thing, and there are people who are against this thing. The work of people who are against this thing is to kind of play this tug of war where we pull the people who are against over the line and now they’re anti-racist.

Now, all my experience tells me, first off, that that doesn’t work. It doesn’t work. When it does work, it doesn’t work at scale and that’s a huge problem with it. The problem of racism is a massive system that’s deeply entrenched and longstanding. Even if you could convince one Klansman or Richard Spencer or something like that, that everything that you’re saying is true, it doesn’t address the problem at scale.

Luckily, we don’t have to do that because there is this spectrum of people who are completely against the movement for Black lives and the movement for Black freedom, and they’re actively against. They are the leaders of the Proud Boys and white supremacist groups or whatever. But then there are people who are against the movement for Black people, but they’re not active. They’re not doing anything. They just disagree.

Then there are people who are kind of neutral. They feel like they hear so many things. They don’t know what to think. Maybe they feel like they hear “both sides” and all that kind of stuff. You could go down to the people who are in support, but not active, and then the people who are actively supporting the movement. In struggles around the world for freedom, what people have often done in order to build movements that win is they focus on those people who consider themselves neutral, and basically they kind of polarize the issue until those people who feel like they’re neutral have to make a choice.

They’re faced with an ultimatum. Do I agree with the segregationists that are beating up children and old people and ministers in Birmingham? Or do I believe that these people who are fighting for their freedom deserve to sit out at a lunch counter and order a hamburger next to a white person without being harassed? You focus on the people in the middle and the passive allies and get them to be active, and that tends to be way more effective and quicker and able to address those problems at scale.

Reckon: I guess that is a question that maybe a lot of our listeners would be interested in exploring more, these passive allies, these people who are in the middle. You mentioned, obviously, Birmingham and the civil rights history in Alabama and Mississippi and all across the South and the country. And then we saw that again in response to the murder of George Floyd. For a moment there, it became more clear for a lot of people, people who weren’t necessarily marching when Freddie Gray was killed or when Michael Brown was killed, but they marched when George Floyd was killed.

Now we see some of those people who were in the middle have maybe gone back to the middle. They’ve gone from being passive allies or active allies. They’ve gone back to the middle or they’ve gone even further away. How do you keep those people engaged long-term when the George Floyd marches wrap up for most people, when you have the counterparts on the other side, the punch that we’ve seen from white nationalists in the last few years? How do you keep those people engaged?

Henry: No, that’s a great question. I can’t pretend that I have all the answers to it, but I do have some thoughts. One thing that I’ve thought about from my experience just on the street is that ... Okay. When I’m comparing my experience on the street to everything that I’ve studied about nonviolent struggle, we have to look at history. You’ve read my book, so you know that I have a couple of mentors that have helped people around the world, movements around the world topple dictators and all that kind of thing.

In those struggles, what often really helps people, movements, is organization and structure. These are not usually things that we think about when we think about uprisings or nonviolent struggle because there’s this widespread idea that movements just spontaneously erupt from the sheer force of passion, from what they believe in and their values and all those kind of things. They overwhelm the powers that be, and they create change.

But that’s not really how it happens. So I actually just had a conversation with Erica Chenoweth, who is a renowned scholar of social movements. In fact, her work with Maria J. Stephan is how do we understand the 3.5% rule, that massive study of 627 conflict situations that revealed that no regime could withstand just 3.5% of the population in sustained, active nonviolent struggle. Dr. Chenoweth was telling me that, around the world right now, we are losing more battles through nonviolent struggle than we’re winning.

It doesn’t seem that we’re losing these battles because of something inherent in the nonviolent approach, but because people are not applying the most effective and disruptive means of nonviolence, the boycott strikes, those kinds of economic pressures, and people are not really investing in structure and organizing. I saw this on the street, especially in 2020, because a lot of people were out on the street and very passionate and protesting, but protest is just one form of resistance.

It’s not the most disruptive or powerful. People can’t remain engaged if they don’t have clear roles to play and without structures that keep movements going. I just want to say one more thing about this. When we look at the movements of the past, like in India, for instance, or even the civil rights movement, the Montgomery bus boycott was 13 months long. Gandhi’s campaigns went on for years at times. The thing that allowed them to continue to do that sustained work was structure and organization.

So I feel like in 2020 we had a lot of people that were activated, but there wasn’t enough structure and enough organization around what we were doing to keep people engaged and keep people involved.

Reckon: I have not studied this like you have, but just kind of as an outside observation, just thinking out loud, it seems like the far right have figured out that structure side pretty well in terms of how to put things from the far right media ecosystem into the mainstream, right-leaning ecosystem and to effectively hijack an entire political party in the country. So it’s interesting. You talk about that 3.5%, but there’s obviously that 3.5% on the other side of things as well. What happens when 3.5%’s going up against another 3.5%?

Henry: Okay. I think that you’re absolutely right about this, that what we are seeing, the principles that I’m spelling out here seem to be principles that the right understands. They do because they studied the civil rights movement. That’s the thing that people don’t understand. They learn how to organize these things by stealing tactics and strategies from the civil rights movement in ways that many people I feel like who are more on the left side of the spectrum have rejected.

Look at how it’s working. We see a minority that’s basically ruling the majority because the polls say that most people ... Okay. Reproductive rights, for instance, the majority of people in America seem to feel that no one should be forced to give birth. But how long has the right been working on this to overturn Roe v. Wade? For decades, that sustained struggle. So yeah. I mean it’s a very good example that you’re bringing up.

Reckon: Well, I think to talk about that one a little bit, another idea that you introduce later on in the book ... We’ve talked a little bit about persuasion, but you also introduced this idea that there’s power in being divisive.

I think when seismic public events happen, like the possibility that Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned, the likelihood that it’s going to be overturned, you sometimes see people that kind of sit back and comfortably armchair quarterback a little bit and say, “Well, you shouldn’t protest outside of justices’ homes or that Black activists shouldn’t denounce white women who supported politicians who were anti-abortion or you shouldn’t say things like defund the police or Black Lives Matter because it can sometimes lead to the backlash.”

You argue that there’s power in just owning being divisive rather than focusing on the persuasive elements. Break that down for us because that’s an interesting idea.

Henry: We only have to look at history to see that trying to create agreement on someone’s human rights has not been the way that human rights have been won in the past. The civil rights movement was incredibly divisive. It got ordinary white citizens out into the street to attack children in Birmingham, that when Bull Connor set dogs and fire hoses on kids, it was that upsetting. When the Freedom Riders decided to create their own integrated buses, it caused riots.

Because the thing that causes that backlash is not the organizing of the oppressed because the people who are on the side of the oppressive system have a choice. They’re not obligated to go out and attack people who are fighting for their rights. They could stand as allies. So we can’t say that it was the Freedom Rides themselves that caused the backlash. No, those people chose to go attack the Freedom Riders of their own free will.

That kind of divisiveness, that kind of crisis creation, these crises were intentionally created. When you read Dr. King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” he talks about that, how he intended and wanted to create a situation in Birmingham that was so crisis packed that it would expose the issue of racism and all of its ugliness. We have to do that because of where we start in the book.

The big lie that the white world wants to tell is that this is not a problem. This is not an issue. So we often do have to do things that disrupt the peace and destabilize the status quo nonviolently and destabilize the status quo because, otherwise, we don’t even have the conversation. Otherwise, the powers that be don’t even come to the table to talk about it. One more thing I’ll say about that is it’s that kind of polarization that has been helpful throughout history.

Reckon: You’re talking about the big lie perpetuated by white people. Another provocative idea you discussed in this book is that, well, whiteness is not a biological thing. We can all be white at times. That includes white folks like me, obviously, but you also talk about non-Black people of color and even Black people sometimes adopting whiteness. Can you explain what that means for people?

Henry: One thing that I talk about in the book is I quote a Yale professor named Willie James Jennings, and he has a lecture that I watched every few months called Can White People Be Saved? In that lecture, he seems to have this moment almost spontaneously. I don’t know if he planned to say this, but it drops almost like an epiphany. He says, “Anyone can be white, friends.” I used that as the title of that chapter to talk about whiteness because one thing that ... I think that Dr. James says this so eloquently.

I don’t know if I could put it better, so I’m just going to quote him. He said, “There’s no such thing as a white biology. No one is born white.” I think that what he’s doing is so profound because he’s highlighting the fact that race is ... It’s a social construct. It’s something that people made up. Because of that, it can be kind of malleable. It can be kind of flexible. In many ways, it’s a convention. Whiteness is a convention.

So anyway, whiteness is another way of talking about ... You could replace white with human because during the Enlightenment period, white men started talking about humanity in a different way and conflating whiteness and humanity together and doing this so that they could justify the abuse that they were enacting upon indigenous and Black people, African people.

I feel like this is an important point because when we talk about race and racism, sometimes there is this essentialism that I think we engage in that makes it sound as though if you have melanin in your skin, then you automatically understand this racist system and that you can’t participate in white supremacy because you have melanin in your skin.

But it’s important that I make this point that race is not just about skin color, that whiteness is more abstract than that, so that we can understand that if whiteness and humanity are conflated, then logically ... When you look at the history, it’s not just logic. It’s history. History shows that, that what the white colonizers have been trying to do to African people, to indigenous people, is pressure them to assimilate into the white system.

Paulo Freire talks about how the colonization and the colonized oppressors, they prescribe how indigenous people ... I’m counting the African captives as well as indigenous people because they were African indigenous people. They’re prescribing to indigenous people how we should live, how we should talk, how we should dress, how we should present ourselves, who we should worship, how we should pray, how we should move our bodies, all those things. In that way, anyone can try to be white.

A part of our task of liberation is for us to understand the ways that we have been indoctrinated into that system to where we believe that white people actually are the quintessential picture of humanity and that we should aspire to be like white people and that to be white or to conform to white norms is to be civilized, to be educated, to be intelligent, to be beautiful, all those things.

Also, when we think about that, it explains, I think, the dynamics of anti-Blackness that exists within communities of color toward Black people and themselves. Colorism, I believe, is a part of that, is a product of anti-Blackness and the pressure to assimilate into whiteness and the anti-Blackness that exists within Black communities, when you see people like Candace Owens who denigrates Black people for money.

Reckon: Our listeners may be detecting a little bit of your Jamaican accent coming through. There’s an interesting part where you talked about that, the colonization of language and your decision to ... Your father was Jamaican. He comes from a long, long, long line of Jamaican activism. I guess, to understand that first before we get into the language aspect of it, tell us a little bit about who the Maroons were and their part in Caribbean history, but also in American history.

Henry: My father is very proud to be a descendant of the Maroons. The Maroons were people, they were African captives who they were captive of the Spanish because Spain ruled Jamaica first. That’s how it got its name. Jamaica is Jamaica in Spanish. It mean land of wood and water. My father tells this story all the time. He tells the story of how the Maroons, they liberated themselves from Spanish slavery, many of them.

Well, the Maroons did. I say many of them because there were captives that did not escape from slavery. They stayed. But there was a community of them that did escape from Spanish slavery. They go and they made communities in the hills of Jamaica, in the mountains. The British came in and they took over the island. They tried to recapture these people, and they waged war on the Maroons and they lost. The Maroons, they routed the British.

The British couldn’t get them back into captivity. So they fight so long that eventually they had to make treaties to just bring about a truce of some sort, a peace, because there was no way that the British were going to be able to recapture them. My father has talked about this my whole life, and I didn’t really appreciate that until I was going through this political awakening.

I got to the point where I realized a couple of things. I realized that there is this culture of individualism in the West that often tells us that our ancestors don’t matter. I think part of this has to do with white identity formation because in order to become white, you kind of have to forget your ancestors. That’s what they did. So you had Irish people coming over here and they’d changed their names. They took out the Irish-sounding parts of their name so they could assimilate into whiteness.

I have a friend, actually. They have a new name now, but their last name was Fallon. The truth is that their family name is O’Fallon, but they dropped the O on the way over here. They imposed that onto us African people in the most violent way because what they did when they took African captives over as slaves, they separated families. They separated brother from sister and mother from son and daughter and father from son and daughter and all of that and erased our names and gave us the names of our so-called masters.

So I didn’t realize that some of my disconnection from my ancestors, even though I’ve always been proud to be of Jamaican heritage ... I’ve always been proud to be of Jamaican heritage. My mother and my father really instilled that into me as a boy. My mother would take me to Jamaica, even from when I was a baby. I didn’t even know that until I saw a picture a couple years ago when I was too young to remember, but my mother has me in her arms by Dunn’s River Falls.

But I didn’t have that connection to my ancestors in a emotional way. When I started to really deconstruct from the Pax Americana, the ideology of America’s heroic democracy, my connection to Jamaica became even more important to me because I started to think about ... Well, I tell the story in my book about how my father was telling me about my mother’s first ancestor that we know of. She was an African captive named Bidda.

I think she was owned by a man named Pennicook. I know the man’s name was Pennicook, but I’m not sure of their relationship. I’m not sure if she was enslaved to him or what. I’m assuming that she was. He was a slave owner, and he was a slave owner in Jamaica. That started in Westmoreland, Jamaica. So when my father tell me about Bidda, I just became so curious about her. I just wanted to know more because I can trace my father back to the Maroons and I can trace my mother back to Bidda and Pennicook.

So anyway, I know that I’ve gone very deep into this. But I talk about the question that came to me, which was who taught us to treat our ancestors like strangers? Why was that so important for colonizers to do? It must be because there’s something powerful about being connected to them and to those stories and to understanding who we’ve come from. That made me want to really dig into that identity of mine, my Caribbean heritage more to where I don’t always talk like this my whole life.

I’ve not had a Caribbean accent my whole life. Part of it is talking patois with my father again and going back to Jamaica and living there. I went to Jamaica with the intent of staying there. But there’s another part of it where I am growing to become more comfortable talking with my Caribbean accent because when I talk to people and my father is gone because my mother’s already passed, I want people to know from the moment that they start talking to me where my ancestors come from.

Reckon: You talk about the origins of the patois and how it was subversive. It was not just that these were not people who were incapable of learning the rhythms of English, that this was a way of revolutionizing and organizing beneath the eyes of the colonizers, which I think is a really interesting idea. It’s also just interesting how connected the story of the United States is with Jamaica in ways that we don’t necessarily get taught about in schools.

The enslaved African people that were in the Southern United States might not have known the stories of the Maroons, but the enslavers did and it scared the hell out of them. So they tortured their slaves even more and were very afraid of the uprising and the revolts there. So that charted the course of the Southern United States. And then of course, Marcus Garvey, who you referenced throughout the book, was Jamaican and he had a major role in influencing America. Tell us about Marcus Garvey.

Henry: Oh yeah. Marcus Garvey, they feared him in America because he was preaching on not just ... He was teaching Black liberation, but he was also telling us that we could rely on ourselves. I think that was a very dangerous message. It’s part of what I’m saying in the book in general is one truth of social progress is that the oppressed will have to organize themselves. We can’t depend on the people who are invested in our oppression or who are directly enforcing it to free us. This seems to be the consensus throughout history.

Marcus Garvey was saying that throughout his career, and that’s why he got deported from America. I want to say he had millions, but he had at least a million followers. He had at least a million, and that’s huge. That’s such a huge following, especially for the time that he was living in. So yeah. He definitely had contributed a lot to that idea that Black people, we can build our own institutions. We can build our own nations. We can govern ourselves. We can build our own businesses and all of that.

Reckon: Well, I mean just, I guess, broadly looking at the greater Caribbean, Stokely Carmichael, Kwame Ture, he was from Trinidad and Tobago. I’m just fascinated, I guess, with the connection between the Caribbean and the greater South and the greater United States.

This has been a multi-year journey for you. You’re looking at six to eight years. You obviously left your path to become a minister and chose a different path. If you were looking back at who you were then or wanting to talk to somebody in those shoes now, what would you tell them? What would you do differently? How should people start now if they are on this path?

Henry: Yeah. Well, that’s exactly why I wrote my book. I wrote the book that I wish that I had had eight years ago. I wrote this book because, eight years ago, I thought that what I had to do was convince the white people in my life that racism is a problem, in some ways, almost take responsibility for them to have their own political awakening. It took me years and many difficult conversations and even sometimes I was just in my apartment and just crying, just weeping on the floor over these people that I really did love, and I still love them.

But I came to understand that it’s not my responsibility to save them from their anti-Blackness. It’s not my responsibility to educate them. I can try to give them information, but if they don’t listen, then all is not lost because the movement doesn’t depend on people like that. It is a movement that we need. It’s not just conversations where we come and understand each other. It’s actually organizing to confront the structural injustices and the structural violence that we face every day.

What I would have told myself, if I’m time traveling back to 2014 and I meet younger Andre and I’m telling him about what he’s going through back then, I would tell him, first off, there is hope. Things don’t have to be this way. There is a solution. You don’t have to just sit here and feel powerless and all these things. But the way that these things are going to change is not by arguing with these unmovable people.

That’s why I dedicate my book, the dedication is to Sam. I do have a friend named Sam that I was thinking of. Sam is kind of this ... He’s a representative of all of the people who have still been taken in by all the pressure that this society tells us, that the only way that we will be free is by begging our oppressors to give it to us. That is never how oppressed people become more free. It’s always through our own organization, to meet our own needs and to confront the obstacles that stand in our way.

John Hammontree

John Hammontree | jhammontree@reckonmedia.com

John Hammontree is a co-founder of Reckon. He currently serves as Executive Producer of Reckon Radio, host of the Reckon Interview podcast, and author of The Conversation, a weekly newsletter that digs into ideas, perspectives and people that you're not likely to find in other media.

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