The story of the WHAT’S UP?! people of color caucus

by anu jain

WU?! caught some media attention in January 2015 after recently-appointed Pittsburgh police chief Cameron McLay tweeted a picture of himself holding one of our protest signs, resolving to challenge racism at work and #endwhitesilence.

I wasn’t part of that action, so I wouldn’t be able to tell you what led to the photo, even though I am a member of the core organizing committee.  Since WU?! originated as a group of white-identified people collectively leveraging their racial privilege to combat white supremacy, you might wonder what I am doing on that committee, at all.

I am coordinating the caucus of people of color (POC), a protean effort in trying to identify what kinds of support are most needed by local people who are not white. Despite willful and/or ignorant denialism, it is a fact that the United States is a nation founded and still dependent upon racism, including but not limited to horrific enslavement and dehumanization of black people.

Statistically, your chances of succeeding in this country are dramatically influenced by your racial categorization— which you are assigned at birth, although you sometimes have an ability to shape it yourself as you grow older.  I am a researcher and staunch advocate of critical thinking, meaning I develop conclusions after testing my premises and gathering as much information as I can about a subject.  My life experience as a woman of color offers confirming evidence about how foundational race and racism are in determining one’s reality in the U.S., so don’t argue with me about whether racism against people of color exists or not.

If you are a POC, even if you are privileged in terms of socioeconomics or education or something else, I know for certain that your humanity and dignity are challenged due to your race in ways that white people will NEVER experience.

Recognizing the pain and the struggle that so many individuals and communities face due to the reality of racism in their daily lives (and deaths), WU?!’s people of color caucus strives to create safe spaces. What does this look like?  WE DON’T KNOW.  Except in small and temporary ways, such spaces don’t really exist in this country.  And, even when they do, they are often perceived as threats to white supremacy, so they are dismissed, violently attacked, politically denigrated, increasingly policed, and otherwise obstructed.

So, we are building our own, unimagined safe space as we go. While our stalwart (white) WU?! friends and allies bear the brunt of public scrutiny, the caucus of people of color is working to heal ourselves in community and solidarity without a focus on educating white folk, at least for a little while.  That is probably something POC will have to continue to do since our experiences are the least attended to by dominant and mainstream white supremacist culture, but we can also count on others to help us in the long and exhausting fight for racial equality. That means we are allowed to use our scant resources and reserves to take care of ourselves and each other in a society that cannot be counted on to do so.

If you are a person of color in Pittsburgh and want to help us build safe spaces, support networks, and places for resting between anti-racist efforts, reach out to WU?!at wucaucus@gmail.com. The people who respond to your email don’t have all the answers but we hope that we can ask the questions together.

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