Meet Catherine Pugh Esq., Anti-Racism Writer
And learn why she's shining the spotlight on "race abuse" to help end racism
Hello friends, Catherine Pugh Esq. was one of the writers I discovered early in my own journey with anti-racism writing. Her first piece made me rethink the notion of allyship, and every beautifully researched and annotated article since has opened my eyes to another facet of this anti-racism fight. I hope it will be the same for you. Please meet Catherine.
1. Catherine, what made you become an anti-racism writer?
Ahmaud Arbery's murder, actually. It is a bit more complicated than this, but three white men hunted Ahmaud. They executed him when he would not come to heel. The government blessed it. The entire community turning a blind eye was the final puzzle piece that said that we might be doing anti-racism wrong.
Racism is race abuse. Now, we don’t call it that and we don’t treat it that way, but that doesn’t change what it is. Pretending that it is not abuse comes at a very high price for Black Americans. Spend 60 seconds imagining yourself comforting your abuser and our pain comes into sharp relief.
I get that there was a time in history when we had to soft-shoe our response. In the 60s, for example, Blacks truly had no voice and no power. We relied on White grace and moral generosity to help the nation become racially unstuck. That buy-in was an easier sell if we avoided packaging racism as abuse.
But that was not a forever plan. We were expected to develop our voices and cultivate power in the space created by less racism. And that’s what we did. But the model stuck – we still avoid the abuser/abused model; we still sell it as if we co-own racism; we still avoid push back against illogical nonsense (i.e., Whites help us with their racism); we still treat the majority of racist conduct as a Black failure to teach, not a White failure to change; we reaffirm and reassure, and so on.
Our hearts were in the right place – we did most of that with good folks who really wanted to change. Just as many exploit that today though, and that will not serve. The racism training wheels were a short-game and that game is over.
2) What response have you had?
I have been nothing short of blown away by White folks, actually.
I wrote There Is No Such Thing as a White Ally ("TNSWA") as my maiden piece for public consumption. The public viewed it about 11k times in the first 24 hours, 50k times in the next, and it exploded and never looked back. TNSWA has now been shared just over half a million times across platforms. And when I encounter it, it is always White folks who are sharing it.
That’s deep. I ghosted a bunch of those discussions. White folks were on fire. They were checking themselves, you hear me? I would see one White reader sort of spasm at TNSWA. Before I could even finish a comment, an armada of White folks swooped in and handled business. They literally (and unknowingly) benched me. I wanted to cry. THAT is how racism should be handled - in house, no mercy.
Do I get the occasional "be nice or we won't help you" comment? Absolutely, and from White men almost exclusively. Still, over hundreds and hundreds of exchanges, I have gotten maybe fifty howlers, max.
3) In relation to racism, what is your vision for the future?
Race-abuse is abuse. Not only do I believe it is time to address it from within that natural context, I do not believe we will grow much further away from racism until we do. So that is my vision – treat race abuse the same way we treat any abuse.
What does that mean? Two things.
First, Black folks need to resign as the “thought police”, and stop acting like racism is a disease we can cure. When we are subject to abuse, impose consequences. Eventually, White folks will get the message that race abuse is costly and painful for them. They will end the abuse themselves if for no other reason than to save their skin, their reputation, and their jobs. Works for me.
We have seen this several times over: most recently in #MeToo, but also with sexual harassment in the workplace, that abuse went from victim blaming to an express ticket to the unemployment line. Spousal abuse was an overreaction. Date rape was “cry wolf.” None of this was abuse until the target made that line clear. I think we need to make that switch here.
Next, we have to get White AND Black folks to stop treating White anti-racism work as White altruism done on our behalf. I am not fighting against Whites. I am fighting against oppression. Whites are not fighting for me. They are fighting against racism. They owe me no apology, I owe them no thanks. Let's handle business, not handle each other.
Those two things alone are mountain movers. I would love to see us embrace them as modern mindsets going forward.
4) What are your top three anti-racism articles you have written?
There Is No Such Thing as a White Ally - Part I; There Is No Such Thing As a White Ally - Part II; and Two Americas in One White Nation. I have not been at this that long – four months or so – but these are literally the reader's choices - the most popular three pieces.
5) Share one anti-racism article you've read written by someone else that resonated with you.
I suspect that if you ask five Black female anti-racism writers about their muses, and you'll get five responses of Marley K and Sharon Hurley Hall. If I may, I would like to speak on how you as people resonate and inspire, instead of how your work does.
I watched your writing and Marley's writing, and was simply floored by the courage you showed, the faith in your truths, the strength of your centering.
I was scared to death of speaking my thoughts aloud. My professional space is largely a white space and - as with many Black professionals I have learned how to thread the needle. There is no "you know you're the racist in this exchange, right?" thread, either - that kind of thing just is not said. Well, watching you - reading you - gave me courage to speak the taboo. And every time you write, you remind me to be true to my own voice. You tell me that I am not alone. You show how to be honest and fair even when afraid.
More than any one piece that has moved my mind, you two have moved my spirit, my soul. I am always and forever in your debt here. Thank you.
[Editorial note: Thank YOU, Catherine. If my work inspires even one person, it’s worth it, so this makes me happy.]
Thanks for reading,