As I sit here writing this after learning of the brutal murder of Natasha McKenna while in police custody, a death local authorities ruled an “accident,” a familiar feeling rises inside of me. I recognize this anger and this sadness.
Sadly, this is a feeling that comes up for me nearly every single day as I work not to allow myself to numb to the brutality Black, Brown, and Indigenous people experience at the hands of the police. And frankly, I have little patience at the moment for talking to White people.
Similarly, after the grand jury decided against indicting Darren Wilson, I found myself lashing out at those who share my race and who were defending the decision. I was incredibly snarky, and I was looking for the best thing to say to sound right, not to actually help them understand the roots issues of systemic racism at play.
Seeing these gruesome images is something all too common in our age of cell phone cameras and social media – not that the violence is happening more, only that we as White people are privy to this racist violence in a way we never were before.
Yet I’m watching my fellow White people do mental backflips to justify this violence and to deny that this is in any way connected to a wider system of racism in the United States.
And I should feel angry.
If we as White people striving to be in solidarity to people of Color don’t feel anger, then we seriously ought to question our motives and wonder whether our investment is solely intellectual.
But how that anger and hurt and frustration gets expressed will go a long way in determining how effective I am in working with White people – my people – for racial justice.
In thinking about that anger, I can’t help but remember this brilliant piece from Spektra Speaks that came out after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson – White People, Stop Unfriending Other White People Over Ferguson (seriously, if you’re White, you need to read this piece).
After all, if you’re anything like me, being told to “f*ck off” or being berated doesn’t exactly inspire me to self-reflect, to consider how I can be better and do better – and cutting White people out of my life doesn’t advance racial justice.
Far too much of what I have justified as “calling someone out on their privilege” was little more than a dismissive slight aimed at boosting my ego and making me look like the “best anti-racist White person.” How does that actually help anything?
Thus, the more that I think about it, I realize that White people who wish to work in racial justice solidarity and who strive for allyship need to realize our fundamental responsibility to do more than simply “call out” other White people.
We must take up the long, difficult, often emotionally-exhausting work of calling them in to change.
The Need for Tools
Changing ourselves and other White people is exhausting, but to be honest, our privilege does not afford us the luxury of lost patience if we truly want to do the work to realize racial justice.
We have a responsibility to cultivate a deep well of patience and compassion for working to change the hearts and minds of our people, just as our hearts and minds were changed somewhere along our own journey.
As my dear friend and mentor Carla reminded me recently, I have a responsibility to cultivate a deep well of agapic love for my people, the agapic love that Dr. King wrote so prolifically about, noting that agape doesn’t ask of us that we “like” those with whom we’re in conflict, only that we work for a love based in an “understanding, redemptive goodwill for all.”
Compassion alone, though, is not enough. We need skills.