As I reflect upon the most recent Baltimore Uprising taking place in the wider movement for racial justice in the United States, I can’t help but be simultaneously frustrated and inspired by the White people in my life.
I’m inspired by White friends and mentors who are striving for accountable solidarity to Black people within the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and I am constantly taking notes about how I can do more to advance the cause of racial justice through my own work, words, and activism.
But I’m also frustrated and disappointed in how so many of us are choosing to direct as much energy as possible to blaming people of Color for their own oppression and to condemning them for expressions of grief and rage that make us uncomfortable and afraid.
So as I reflect on those simultaneous feelings, I wanted to reach out through the medium of my writing, one White person to another, in hopes of inspiring us to think and engage more critically as people of Color literally fight for their lives.
1. As White People, We Are Not Victims of Racial Oppression
There is not a statistical measure that exists by which White people are oppressed while people of Color are privileged.
As such, we get zero say in how people who are oppressed respond to their oppression.
There is vast dialogue and debate within Black communities and other communities of Color about the most effective ways to realize justice, and in none of those conversations should the voices or leadership we White people who benefit from systems of racial oppression be centered.
2. A Movement of Nonviolence Has BeenOccurring – We Just Weren’t Paying Attention
So many of us call on oppressed people to act nonviolently when they are being brutalized by violent police, institutions, and systems, but people of Color have been in the streets nonviolently for years calling for an end to racist police violence.
Where were we?
Yes, many White folks have shown up and shown out in solidarity, but by and large, we White people have been silent.
It’s entirely possible for us to believe in the transformative power of nonviolent revolution without patronizingly telling Black people how they should express their anger and rage that comes from being murdered in the streets by police.
It pains me to see anger, hurt, frustration, and pain boil over into the throwing of stones and destruction of property, but we need to remember the source of this pain: systemic racism expressed through police violence.
We simply have no right to tell a community that lives with the brutalization of White supremacy daily how they should direct or express their rage.
3. The Destruction of Property Pales in Comparison to the Destruction of Lives
Why is it that we as White folks seem to be ten times more outraged by the destruction of property than by the fact that police kill Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people every 19 hours in 2015
Why are we ten times more outraged by the setting of fires than by the racist, capitalist systems that produce the poverty that devastates communities of Color?
We can say all we like that we are “feeling for the small business owners and individuals who lost their property,” but every one of those broken windows can be replaced and every burnt building can be rebuilt.
The lives of people taken by police and consumed by our systems’ endless appetites for Black, Brown, and Indigenous suffering can never be returned.
4. Dr. King Wasn’t Here for Us – And He Still Isn’t
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is not a cudgel for White people to use against Black people who respond to their oppression in ways that we do not find palatable.
The Rev. Dr. King was a radical revolutionary who called for a complete overturning of the racist, capitalist system in which we live. We do not get to coopt and distort his legacy or that of any civil rights leaders to maintain the status quo.
We would do well to actually read the writings of Dr. King (rather than cherry pick the quotes that support our agenda) and consider his words for White moderates:
5. Stop (Seriously, Stop) with #AllLivesMatter
When we say #AllLivesMatter, we are participating in the erasure of the lives who sadly do not matter within our systems of oppression while injecting our own need to be centered into a movement for racial justice.
#BlackLivesMatter is a revolutionary call for change in systems where Black lives, cultures, and communities are devalued.
Here are a few links that explain this better than I ever could:
“What You Mean By #AllLivesMatter” by Arielle Newton of Black Millennials
“Please Stop Telling Me That All Lives Matter” by Julia Craven at Huffington Post
“What’s Wrong with ‘All Lives Matter?’” by George Yancy and Judith Butler at The New York Times