Weapons That Protect White Privilege Prevent Sustainable Community Change


Kathy Kelly | Voices for Creative Nonviolence – TRANSCEND Media Service

10 Jun 2020 – Kathy Kelly reflects on weapons and systems white people use to protect their white privilege, recalling that Dr. King likened U.S. wars to “some demonic destructive suction tube.”

In her poem, “The Revolution Will Rhyme,” Buffalo’s Black Lives Matter activist Jillian Hanesworth writes about the movement for change we now see sweeping across the world.

“It will not be developed just to be displaced
Its focus will not be extracted and refocused or repurposed
And the burden of education and comfort will not be placed on the oppressed
While understanding and tolerance is gifted to the oppressor
You will not be able to binge watch the revolution
Rewinding the comfortable triumphs and fast forwarding through the hurt”

In strong, confident language, fueled by recognition of hurts and atrocities, Hanesworth calls on white people to ask themselves uncomfortable questions. How does our white privilege contribute to racism and oppression? How can we use our privilege to bring about systemic change?

Mindful not to repurpose or refocus Jillian’s words, I think we must move forward, urgently, to tackle systemic change. We must use our white privilege to insist on and secure decent schools, health care, housing and human rights, especially for those who’ve been most harmed by racial disparities and economic inequalities in the United States.

Where are the resources, the funding, to do this? I think it’s important to examine the so-called security U.S. people purchase through funding the U.S. military and demand redirection of these resources. Money entrusted to the Pentagon and a vast array of military contractors must be spent to meet human needs.

Maybe this series of questions could help. Could I ever imagine myself paying for materials to assemble Molotov Cocktails for use as weapons amid a conflict?  Could I ever imagine myself funding a group of people known for burning residential areas? At a magnitude incalculably greater than purchasing materials for Molotov Cocktails, or burning one urban residential area, U.S. taxpayers fund weapons used to wage gruesome wars of choice in far-away places where civilians struggle with every-day hunger, thirst, and displacement.

Condemn arson? Yes, but scale up and whisper: Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Baghdad.

Imagine U.S. complicity with Saudi bludgeoning of Yemen’s cities, towns, and critical infrastructure and link that with construction, in Marinette, WI, of four Littoral Combat Ships which Lockheed Martin has arranged to build and sell to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis use these ships to blockade Yemen’s ports, causing even more starvation in a country on the brink of famine. Yes, the construction of the ships provides greatly needed jobs. But, are there other, better construction projects that privileged people could demand be given immediate priority in our war-torn world? Could Marinette’s engineers, designers, welders and builders work on projects that would help rebuild communities devastated by declining infrastructure and racist neglect within the United States?

Jillian’s poem says the revolution will be a complete overhaul, not just a quick fix. We should join her in settling for nothing less. White people who are among the privileged “haves” in our unjust society must look long and hard into the mirror of our privileged history. Why should people who already have so much be entitled to get more? And if we’re to learn how to live together without killing one another, how can we dismantle and repurpose the vast killing machine that protects our unfair white privilege?


Kathy Kelly is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment and a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, which has long-standing roots in active nonviolent resistance to U.S. war-making. Begun in the summer of 2005, Voices draws from the experiences of those who challenged the brutal economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and U.N. against the Iraqi people between 1990 and 2003. Members of Voices led over 70 delegations to Iraq to challenge the economic sanctions and were present in Baghdad in resistance the 2003 U.S. military invasion. Since 2009, Voices has led delegations to Afghanistan to listen and learn from nonviolent grassroots movements and to raise awareness about the negative impacts of U.S. militarism in the region. We are on the precipice of a full blown world war if one is not already under way. And we ask: what must our response be? And our answer- as tentative, grappling, searching and seeking as it may be- is that it falls upon us as citizens of the country initiating this world war to utilize all nonviolent means available to turn off war- to engage the electoral and legislative process, most definitely; to protest, of course; and to march and demonstrate. We must also move from protest to active nonviolent resistance. We must withdraw our collaboration and complicity with this system and use our bodies and lives as a means to bring the machinery of death to a grinding halt. Nonviolence cannot be a single day event- it must be a commitment we make and act upon every day of our lives.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 15 Jun 2020.

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