This is an open letter to white people (me being one of them):
Late into the evening of the Black Lives Matter protest in honor of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile here in Seattle, we made our way to the freeway entrance under the shadow of the King County Juvenile Correctional Facility. We began chanting, “We’re here for you, we love you.” Suddenly, multiple stories above us, the young kids, caged in by the barred yellow opaque windows, clamored and clapped against these barriers with fervor and life. There shadows outlining the depth of the genocide and oppression that rains down blood and slicks our streets without pause. We who are white in America walk by with our privilege keeping us at a safe distance from the constant onslaught of hurt and fear that our black brothers and sisters are subjected to every day. From the black men, women, and children who have been stolen from their earthly bodies to the young black girls and boys locked away like animals and are denied a childhood or compassion… This is genocide and oppression. This is white supremacy.
Every black life in this nation is born a crime under the eyes of our government and we perpetuate this hatred through the systemic ingraining of images and behaviors that tells all who see them to fear black and brown people. Every time a young white person sees their white parent cross the street because of the presence of a black person, the white kid receives a message. Every time a young white person turns on the television or goes to the movies and sees black characters killed off before anyone else, the white kid receives a message. Every time a young white person sees their young black friends treated as “criminal” for doing the exact same thing they as white kids were doing, the white kid receives a message. And that message piles higher and higher with age until the message becomes a manifesto in their minds and suddenly the consternation and confusion they felt growing up is now a fear of black people and an indifference towards black lives that they pass on to their white children and so the cycle continues. The reason black lives are being murdered at a relentless rate is because we have embedded within our psyche that black people are dangerous, evil, and disposable and that for white lives to be valued, black lives must be valued less. From that naive state of being as kids following us all the way up to where we find ourselves now, we have allowed the irrigation of a lie, seeded deep within the soil of our national identity and existence, to inform and make manifest the hemorrhaging of an entire people.
When we do not feel the direct brunt of oppression ourselves, it can take being shocked into reality to become disillusioned. I hope by now, though I know for some it will never be enough, you have at least awoken to the fact that the shooting of our black family by police officers are not isolated incidents. Your involvement as a white person cannot end with awareness though. Please, I implore you, do not get sucked into the trap of trauma porn that enables you to watch the murders of our black family again and again and walk away thinking to yourself, “I saw it. I know it. I felt it. I can now leave it.” It is important that those who do not understand what is going on be awakened by these videos, but what you do once you’re awake is the most important element.
If you are white, you are in a position of extreme power and privilege and it is your patriotic duty to your black and brown brothers and sisters to use that power to ensure that bars of mass incarceration are taken down; that kids are allowed to have childhoods; that the only thing that slicks our streets is the clear mountain rain; and that families can rest easy at night because all are accounted for. If you are white, you must wake yourself up to the reality of your black and brown brothers and sisters because it is in your placid dreams that they walk the streets in terror. Them being silenced is dependent on white voices being silent. That’s how white supremacy operates and grows. It’s not the radical outwardly racist white supremacy groups that got us to where we are today, but the quiet moderate majority who looked on and allowed the hate to thrive.
This is not a call for white saviors. I don’t believe in that. All of my brothers and sisters who are black and brown are just as strong as my white brothers and sisters and that has nothing to do with our skin color and everything to do with the fact that the spirit is the most vital life force in existence and we all entered this world with it. What I am calling for is white people to use the scepter of power handed down to them through generations of vitriolic fear and foolishness, to force open doors, to demand we change laws, to insist upon holding court and indicting those who have murdered our fellow citizens, to link arms with people of color in protest of these murders, to embed empathy and humanity into all of our children, to not be complicit in this genocide, to ensure that this ends now, to invest in and protect black lives because they do matter and until we do all lives will not matter, and to use that scepter as a force of love and not hate.
Our black brothers and sisters have been carrying this burden upon their backs and in their blood streams their entire lives and their ancestors before them. Yet we have an American Dream and ideal in this country that the land upon which we stand is safe for all; that within the comfort of our white picket fence we have nothing to fear. However, this remains a dream for all who do not match the paint of the white picket fence. And for those of us who do, it is necessary that we form a living-breathing fence of love, solidarity, and protection around those being hunted and persecuted for merely existing in order to end the injustice, cruelty, and murder. Stand up for your fellow human beings and put your stake in the ground. It is our civic duty to show up for one another. Amidst all this hurt, I know many white people are wondering how they can be of service. What I have curated below is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a place to start for those wanting to do something but not sure what to do. Please, if you feel I have overlooked something and it would benefit #BLACKLIVESMATTER and the fight for justice for our black family, leave it in the comments for all to read and use. I compiled this list from listening to black friends, reading articles written by black authors and social justice activists, and listening to my own intuition. We are at a tipping point. There is a bloodletting of our citizenry and that blood is on our hands if we see it and do nothing. I am scared for those I love to walk out into this world. We need to start anew. Silence is not an option. My rage is privilege. If you are white, your rage is a privilege. Use it for good. Use white privilege to end white supremacy.
“So early in my life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.” -Malcom X
1.PROTEST. Get synched in with the Black Lives Matter movement and find out when and where protests are being held near you. Attend. Invite. Stand arm in arm with your fellow human beings. http://blacklivesmatter.com/getinvolved/
2. CALL YOUR CONGRESS PERSON. https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials
-Demand a revolution around policing. Big Dreams and Bold Steps Towards a Police-Free Future is an intriguing article that should be read: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32813-big-dreams-and-bold-steps-toward-a-police-free-future
-There are also reforms that can take place now that train police officers to deescalate. In Las Vegas, Nevada, police shootings of civilians have gone down due to the reforms they have put into place. It’s far from perfect but it is something: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/las-vegas/federal-report-las-vegas-police-shootings-down-department-reforms
-Demand prison reform to end mass incarceration that imprisons 2,217,947 US Citizens… more than any other nation in the entire world. http://www.prisonstudies.org/highest-to-lowest/prison-population-total?field_region_taxonomy_tid=All
The majority of those in prison are people of color and for non-violent offenses. This is not an accident. Read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander to learn more about this new form of slavery.
3. CHANGE THE STORY, END THE CYCLE. Educate other white people. Through your actions and words in every day life, you can help a young white person in your neighborhood, family, or school grow up to not irrationally fear another person based on the color of their skin. Inform white people about white supremacy and racism in America today. It may be uncomfortable and awkward, but it is necessary. Expose white people around you to representations of people of color in television, film, books etc. that break the mold sold by the media over and over again.
“Because white men can’t police their imagination, Black men are dying.” -Audre Lorde
Do not depend on people of color to recount again and again why they are tired and hurting. They are tired and hurting. Let them rest.
4. BUILD COMMUNITY. Volunteer at schools, a local Boys and Girls Club, or a juvenile correction facility by teaching a class or extending yourself in some way those kids need and want. Bring your neighborhood together for community events, parties, voting etc. Cross the street to the other side that you usually wouldn’t and extend your human hand to another human hand and recognize yourself in them. Show up for one another and defend one another.
5. RESPECT. How we deal in times of intense grief is deeply personal and just as you would want someone to respect your process, extend the same respect to all those around you. If you are a white person reading this, you cannot know and I cannot know the full weight of what our black family and friends are going through. Respect that gap of understanding. Saying, “It’s going to be okay,” comforts you and no one else and can be extremely insulting. You could instead offer up, if it’s authentic to you, a blanket statement on social media to anyone, especially friends and family who are black, to let them know that you are available to talk, hug, laugh, or just hold space for them to feel and express all they need to if they want. And remember to treat yourself kindly amidst all of this too. Surround yourself with those who you can be honest. Take a shower, eat a home cooked meal, watch a funny show. Take care of yourself and respect yourself. It’s the surest path to respecting others.
6. LISTEN. Listen to those who are reminded of their blackness in America everyday as a liability instead of as the gift that it truly is. Listen to their pain and understand this is not a fleeting occurrence but a pent up well that is bursting over the corroded bricks and won’t stop unless we do. Listen to those who live their lives inside the bodies that are being targeted. Listen to their laughter amidst the hurt. Listen to their stories. Listen when they say they don’t want to talk right now. Listen with an open mind. Listen, because as a white person, you and I don’t even know the half of it. Listen. Listen. Listen.