“If you are a Person of Color (POC), you have enough on your plate! It’s not your job to educate white people about privilege, racism, and what’s really going on in the world. If a white person is filling your social media with white nonsense – anything from overt racism to well-intentioned problematic statements – tag us and a white person will come roundup our own.”
The above quote is from White Nonsense Roundup, a coalition of white people whose mission is to address racism online. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Layla Tromble, one of White Nonsense Roundup’s founders, on the mission behind this unique volunteer-run project.
Can you tell me why you started White Nonsense Roundup and what year? Was there a specific event that sparked the formation of WNR?
We started almost exactly a year ago; our first post went out July 17, 2016. Our volunteers are all across the country and a few in Canada. Our Core Team is located in northwest Washington State.
Who are you?
Our founders are Terri Kempton and myself, Layla Tromble. If you watch this video that was done at the time of our launch, it will give you a lot of the basic information. Our other Core Team member is Amy Melin who does our volunteer coordinating and has been on board since the very first days. (One correction from this video is that I am a non-binary queer person who uses they/them pronouns so identifying us as two “women” is incorrect.) In a lot of ways, we are just people who had an idea. Terri was the first to have the idea, and it grew from that seed. I am a writer, though not professionally, and Terri is a musician in a more professional capacity than my writing. I have always been passionate about justice and social issues, but this has been my first foray back into daily activism since my 20s. As a rule, we do try and focus on the work and not ourselves, and because we have volunteers from all over the country, we don’t want them to be discounted, as they make our daily functioning possible.
Tell me how you recruit, train and education your volunteers. Who are your volunteers?
To date we haven’t had to recruit volunteers, they have come to us as they have found out about what we do. We choose volunteers who already have a basis of knowledge in issues of race and white privilege. Many have studied critical race theory, and all of them are passionate about discussing these issues with other white people and trying to help educate others. When someone submits a request to volunteer, they are given an application with sample situations they may face online. We also vet their social media to ensure they are already engaging in the types of dialogue we attempt in our official capacity. We also share resources with one another to continue to expand our knowledge and continue our education as individuals. Our volunteers range in age, education, socio-economic class, and location. The only thing we all have in common is a passion for these issues and a desire to reach others.
Most of the negative response has been from white people who want us to shut up.
Have you had a lot of response to your web site?
Our Facebook page has a lot of engagement, vs. our website which has not been our primary focus. We engage on social media posts every day via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Our “What We Do” post was the first we ever did and has had a great deal of engagement. Our daily posts have varying degrees of dialog depending on the topic, and we are tagged into conversations across Facebook on both posts by media outlets and person profiles. That is our primary function, answering tags from people who are requesting us to do some of the emotional labor of educating our fellow white folks. We also respond to direct messages helping folks formulate their own answers and providing resources for people to further their own education.
What is the best thing that has happened since you started?
The best thing is every time we really reach someone. There have been interactions where someone really says, “I never thought about those things that way,” or actually engages with the resources we provide and it changes their understanding of an issue.
And the worst?
The worst are the occasions when our page gets shared among racist groups and they target us with waves of trolls who post vile, racist, and threatening comments, messages, memes and our time is taken up reporting, banning and deleting that content. It is frustrating and emotionally challenging but definitely shows us what still needs to be done.
I love your “code of conduct.” How did you come up with it?
We sat down (with our Core Team) and discussed it based on our knowledge and what we were hearing on social media from black and brown activists about what was needed. We tried to come up with something that allowed us to help but kept us in our lane.
Seems like this is some hard stuff to tackle. Is humor something you use to combat racism?
It is some really hard stuff to tackle, and each volunteer has their own voice when it comes to dealing with these issues. Humor is definitely sometimes appropriate and sometimes vitally necessary when dealing with these issues.
Do you think you are making a difference?
I have to believe we are making a difference or it wouldn’t be possible to do this every day. I think each of our motivations is different. For me, I keep doing it because as a white person in the United States the hardship and emotional labor required to deal with other white folks is nothing compared to what it takes to get up every morning and face racism. We signed up to do some of that labor, and that’s what I intend to do.
Do you have organized meetings whereby you discuss current events and issues? How often do you meet?
We have not yet had in-person meetings, but we have a secret Facebook group for our volunteers, so we stay in daily contact and have many discussions about our experiences there as well as resource sharing.
How are you funded?
Currently, all expenses are covered by our Core Team. All of the labor we do is volunteer and unpaid. This may change in the future, but as of yet, that is our situation.
What has happened since Charlottesville? What has been the response to WNR?
The events in Charlottesville definitely increased our traffic, particularly with the folks who tag us with requests to enter into conversations on facebook. The pace of those tags always corresponds with the news cycle. We have seen it over and over again, and Charlottesville stuck with that pattern. We had a lot of folks tagging us into conversations, particularly conversations around Black Lives Matter and the false claims that Black Lives Matter is a hate group as well as a violent protest movement. We are engaged in a lot of conversations around that issue. Also, something we see when major events like Charlottesville happen, we see a market increase in the number of folks who are sending us emails wanting to volunteer for WNR.
It seems as though when you began, over a year ago, you received a lot of attention in the media. What has happened or changed in WNR in the year since you began?
As everybody knows, the whole landscape of the dialogue has changed very significantly in the last year. We did not expect to take off the way we did. We did not anticipate the speed at which we would start to grow, so we have more systems in place to handle that, as well as a solid base of volunteers. There is always flux and change, but we are very excited to be building on our success. We want the future to hold for us having dialogues about racism in person and in real time. We’d love to take WNR on the road. But before that, we want to make sure that we have a more established advisory council of people of color to work with. We do not feel we are the authorities on what the movement needs or what is the best course of anti-racist action in a broader sense. We have had a lot of success in what we do, which is in engaging other white people online, but if we want to grow that we need a strong coalition with people of color who are willing to offer guidance and direction because we don’t want to screw it up.
Have you had any negative responses from people of color?
Not really. Most of the negative responses have been from white people who want us to shut up. There have been some specific moments of feedback from people of color where something wasn’t handled quite right, or we haven’t done it perfectly, which we expected to happen. In those cases, we take accountability and correct ourselves and move foreword.
Do you think perfectionism and the fear of doing it wrong keeps a lot of white people silent?
If you mess up, apologize and do better next time.