White people, including myself, need now more than ever to speak up loud and clear against racism. To have the difficult conversations with other white people who don’t believe racism occurs; who suggest that black people need to just “get over it” or “stop whining” (quotes from my Facebook feed); who try to co-opt the work to end racism for their own wants and needs; who flat-out use/exhibit old-fashioned racism, whether that’s at the grocery store or around the dinner table; and so on.
It is our job, because we are the only ones whose voices are listened to. So here’s a racist statement someone made to me recently, and here’s the reply I would like to give to him, and everyone else who ever says something like this.
He said, and I do quote, “Black people aren’t being killed randomly, these are criminals with good pr people.”
(Among other choice statements like “I’m not oppressing anyone. You are.”)
The easiest thing for me to do would be to unfriend him, to tell him what an idiot he is and then walk away. But I won’t, because if I don’t talk to him and people like him, he’s never going to change his mind. And it has to be me, or someone like me, because he’s never going to see out a minority voice and listen to it without a lot of work from people like me first. And he is contributing to a dangerous narrative that actually hurts and kills people.
So I fight back with my words. I do the best I can. I tell him, and everyone who thinks this, things like:
So does this mean you think it’s ok to shoot people who haven’t been proven guilty? Or only the black ones? Because usually that’s not ok.
Are you just flat-out saying that “black people are criminals,” or did you have something else in mind? How can you tell me racism doesn’t exist if that’s where you start?
Have you ever heard that statement about how if you don’t learn the lessons of history, they have a tendency to repeat themselves? Do you agree with that or disagree with that? If you agree, then shouldn’t you agree that ignoring or dismissing the possibility of racism in everyday life, is, in fact, perpetuating it? If you disagree, may I lend you a history book or movie or take you to a history class?
Can you really tell me, if you look at the evidence, or even if you use your common sense, that black people and white people who ARE proven criminals will be treated equally? What does it cost you to try to see this? Why do you think you’re unwilling to?
Can you really tell me with a straight face that Tamir Rice was a criminal? What about Amadou Diallo? Philando Castile? Dude, have you even, at a minimum, ever Googled this?
Can you tell me what exactly an innocent black person would look like to you? How can they live up to your standard? And why do you get to set that standard? Because they are expected to be ten or a hundred or a million times better than you every second, and it still won’t be enough. You get to be cranky. You get to look disheveled. You get to forget to be respectful for a second. You get to go over the speed limit. You get to wear your style of clothing. You get to have a license to carry a gun and actually carry it. You get heroes in every kind of media to look like you; they get bad guys or token roles. You get everything on this seminal list of privileges without having to lift a finger, just because of what you look like. THEY DON’T.
So when I hear Trump supporters say they’re scared to share their political views in liberal oases, I get angry. I point out that it takes a lot of guts to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, and they should imagine for just a moment that they are NOT Trump supporters, and think about how they’d feel sharing THOSE political views in Trump Central. Scared that your views are not popular is different than SCARED FOR YOUR LIFE.
Black lives SHOULD matter. They should matter just as much as your life. Remember how a lot of people who share your worldview like to talk about the sanctity of life? Well, here it is. Black lives matter. But that’s not how society treats them.
It’s not criminal to be a minority, to look different or act different or BE different.
And it’s up to us to make sure that this fundamental right to equality, safety, LIFE, for each and every human is protected and raised up. Stand up, speak out, connect. Make a difference. Be the change.
In response to this article that explains how painful it can be to hear privileged liberal white people reassure themselves (ourselves) with “Everything’s going to be ok,” here’s what I want you to know if you are black:
All I can say as a white person is that I will do everything in my power to try to assure that everything will be ok for you too, all of you. To protect you, to speak up for you, to call out and take down racism every single time, to educate other white people and get them to stop being so racist, to learn more and grow more myself, to recognize and combat my internalized racism and to listen to what you need and respond appropriately. I know that’s not enough. And you deserve so much more. And I am so, so sorry that we let this happen.