In the first article I ever wrote for The Independent, I mentioned the concept of a white community. It was in response to a comment I often hear (and am growing really gods damned tired of hearing):
“It never fails to surprise me when I hear someone say, ‘Why don’t we have a white history month or white pride festivals?’ There is a reason so many nonwhite groups have a sense of community pride. They’ve spent generations coming together to fight oppression and inequality. That is a fire I, as a white person, have never had to walk through. So when I talk about the ‘white community,’ I am not trying to employ that term in the same way that, say, the black community does. The things that link us (white people) as a community aren’t shared injustice or discrimination but shared privilege and a shared need to look introspectively and find ways to address the issues of racism within ourselves.”
And I should have added, “and the system we live in.”
In the wake of the most recent batch of murders of black people, the concept of a white community becomes even more important, and here is why.
First, this has to stop! The fact that I just wrote the phrase, “most recent batch of murders of black people,” makes me sick. And the even more disturbing part is that these are just the ones that were captured on camera. Think about that for a second.
As white people, it is possible to have these killings be a bump in our day every once and a while. We may not even think about the problem until the media actually pays attention to a murder captured by a terrified bystander on their cell phone. Even then, we may feel a pang of discomfort and then choose to just keep scrolling or channel surfing or whatever the hell we’re doing that is so much more important than standing up for the lives of our fellow human beings, our countrymen. As Jamila Woods sings in Macklemore’s “White Privilege 2,” our “silence is a luxury,” our choice to turn from that discomfort, to ignore the ignorant #alllivesmatter posts of our friends and family because it would be uncomfortable to discuss issues of racism with them, to not call the media out for looking into a black man’s police record before anything else about him after his murder … all of these things are privileges, and ones that we should aggressively turn away from.
If you’re reading this and getting angry, wanting to use the “if they just did what the police said they’d still be alive” argument or any number of other bullshit responses, I honestly don’t know what to say to get through to you. But that’s my point! The fact that I don’t know what to say to get through to you should not be an excuse to not try.
And this is where we can see the concept of a white community becoming important.
As white allies, we cannot expect other people to teach our white friends and family. This is our community. We need to take care of this shit. We need to have the hard discussions, even if they put a relationship with a friend or family member on the line. What are we willing to risk to help stop the murder of innocent people?
Like I said, this is not something black people can just turn away from. Over the last year, I have seen the effect these racially based murders have had on my friends of color and even those who are just acquaintances. They are scared. They are tired. They have been fighting this fight alone for far too long.
Yesterday, I saw two posts in particular that I feel like me and every white person I know need to read. The first comes from Suzi Q. Smith, an astounding poet:
“’Black lives are worth more than a hashtag. Stop killing us.’ – My daughter’s current FB status. This is having a black child in 2016. My child is literally asking folks to stop killing people who look like her. Some of you know what this feels like. Some of you don’t. Again, I remind you: If the only thing you stand to lose is an argument, I can’t really engage in some theoretical debate with you about whether or not black lives matter, or all lives matter, or people murdered by police coulda shoulda, or … y’all can have those conversations amongst yourselves or with your other black friend. This is my BABY.”
The second comes from Ashley Cassandra Ford:
“Within 48 hours, two black men with legally registered guns were murdered by police officers. These are just the names we know. These are just the ones we got on tape. And your silence on this matter says everything I need to know about you, this country, and the perceived value of a black body. Their names were #AltonSterling and #PhilandoCastile. They were human people just like you. They had families just like you. Someone loved them the way someone loves you. They had pasts and made mistakes just like you. But you are alive. And they are dead, murdered at the hands of men who work for the government. As I’ve said before, I don’t hate cops. I have family and friends who are cops, and I love them very much. I think the work they do is important. I also think that if they kill someone by malicious act or gross negligence, there should be justice for the life lost. But consistently there is no justice for black lives. When we say Black Lives Matter, it’s an argument. We are pleading our case, demanding our due among fellow human beings. Because if all lives mattered, black lives wouldn’t be the first taken, and least likely to be defended or protected. Speak your piece. Don’t remain silent because they’re not coming for your daughters, sons, and friends. Speak on this because it’s the right thing to do as a human being. Speak on this because I am asking you to, because I can’t do this alone. We can’t do this alone.”
We are well past the time to feel bad, people. It is the time to take action.
Here is a confession. I am guilty of saying the following statement in the past: “This is all so terrible, and I want to do something about it — I just don’t know what to do.” I know many of you feel this way and say similar things, so this is going to hurt a little. It’s complete bullshit.
What do we do?
What do we do when we see that the lives of our LGBT friends and family are at risk? We organize, we speak up, we write our local representatives in the system that is oppressing and killing them, we help organize LGBT pride days, parades, and movements.
What do we do?
We stop closing our eyes. We stop making excuses for the other white people in our lives. We call the media out on their bullshit.
If we really want to help, and we gods damned better want to help, here is what I suggest.
First, go and watch the videos. Make yourself watch them! All of the way to the end! Yes, it is horrific and uncomfortable. Yes, it feels like something you shouldn’t be watching. But we need these murders to become real for us. We need that paradigm shift. I know this seems like something gory and horrific to suggest, but these are gory and horrific events, and we need them to be real for us, not just another black person murdered. If it takes watching it happen to do that, go watch it.
Second, these aren’t random acts. These are the result of systematic racism. The system has a problem. What do we do when the system has a problem? What did people do in ’68 when a CBS documentary showed them how many people are homeless and hungry? They wrote to their representatives. They let their elected officials know that they weren’t going to stand by and watch people starve, and that got food stamp reforms enacted that helped feed millions of people. Vote for people who acknowledge the problem and are willing to fight to fix it.
Third, organize. Pull together in support of the people of color you know and those you don’t know. St. George just came together and enjoyed it’s first ever LGBT Pride Day. I was there. It was profoundly moving. If we were to have a #blacklivesmatter rally, what kind of a turn out do you think we’d get? Ten, maybe fifteen people? Certainly not the hundreds upon hundreds that turned out for LGBT pride on two days’ notice. Still, I want to put this one to the test. Over the next week, I’m going to organize a letter-writing sit-in at the front of the Justice Court. Prove me wrong. Join me.
Fourth, financially support the groups that are fighting for black lives. In the past year, I’ve donated to at least a half dozen kick-starters. I’m sure I can find a little cash to donate to the fight for the lives of my fellow human beings.
Fifth, have the hard conversations with other white people. The ones about their stance on racial issues. The ones we’ve been avoiding. Don’t allow yourself to get angry as you have these conversations. Bitching at someone doesn’t do much more than make you feel like you’ve accomplished something. If you really want to cause change, you have to be calm (that doesn’t mean void of passion) and logical. You can be emotional. You should be emotional, but don’t let it cause your logical argument to turn into blind ranting.
There is so much more that we can and should do. Let’s stop making excuses. Let’s stop lying to ourselves saying we don’t know what to do. Let’s pull together, address the issues within the white community and the system that grants us more than our share of privileges. Let’s stop letting our silence be an accomplice to their deaths.