Robby Herbst

Robby Herbst

Robby Herbst – I Used To Be A White American (1 of 3)

“I used to be a white American”

by Robby Herbst

Not to worry, the event was about more than simply listening to speeches.  The crowd also had the opportunity to join in a sing-along with a quartet whose repertoire included lyrics attacking US military contractors and mocking national missile defense. For those who survived the day’s program, there remained the treat of perusing the literature tables that overflowed the front patio of the auditorium. Here one had the chance to obtain materials explaining the cruelties inflicted by the United States on the rest of the world, the urgency of releasing Cuban political prisoners (held by the US Government, not Cuba), and the need for the state to pay women for their housework. One could also purchase a t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “I used to be a white American, but I gave it up in the interest of humanity.

From “Leftists Rally Against Bush in Los Angeles” by Edgar B. Anderson (, Friday, February 22, 2002)

A young lady handed me a square of posterboard washed in pink watercolor with a brighter pink star painted on it and PEACE painstakingly lettered across the front. A family displayed a photograph of Afghan women, labeled “Our Afghan Sister Family.” They gave me a printed handout stating that the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan had “condemned the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance for a ‘record of human rights violations as bad as that of the Taliban’s.’” The handout ended with the sad and deflated sentence: “This statement has apparently been ignored by George Bush and his associates.”

A young man wore a t-shirt saying, I USED TO BE A WHITE AMERICAN BUT I GAVE IT UP IN THE INTEREST OF HUMANITY. But another demonstrator wore one of the Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirts that recently had been withdrawn from stores following accusations of racial insensitivity. A fat, slant-eyed bodhisattva appeared above the slogan “Get your Buddha on the Floor.” Nearby was a banner from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

From Peace Kills: America’s Fun New Imperialism by P.J. O’Rourke (Grove Press, 2005)

The murder of James Byrd, Jr. didn’t happen just because three white men got into a drunken rage. This was a crime birthed and nurtured in the cradle of AmeriKKKa. Lawrence Brewer, Sr., the father of one of the men who killed James Byrd, spoke to this as he repeatedly stressed his sympathy for the victim in this case, “If the color of your skin is gonna cause you to be killed, there is something wrong with society.”

In the hours after hearing about the murder of James Byrd, Jr., I spoke to many friends about it. A lot of white friends expressed their horror and disgust at the murder. What they were saying reminded me of the Refuse & Resist! slogan: “I used to be a white American but I gave it up in the interests of humanity.” A few Black friends seriously challenged me off of hearing about the murder. They wanted to know if, in the face of all this—all the insane cruelty and hatred crammed into the murder of James Byrd, Jr.—I still believed that things can and will change.

From “Amerikkka 1998: The Lynching of James Byrd” by Michael Slate (Revolutionary Worker #962, June 21, 1998)

Robby Herbst is an artist, writer, and radicaly oriented cultural organizer. He is a cofounder and former editor of the critical art collective the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest, as well as the instigator of the geographically sited critical landscape projects of the Llano Del Rio Collective. His writing and artworks engages with contemporary and historic experiments in sociopolitical aesthetics. He is the 2014 winner of the the Graue Award for a public project to be completed in 2015 in San Francisco exploring the legacy of the humanist New Games Movement.