I have been hesitant to say much publicly about the recent murders, protests, and riots firstly because I wasn’t sure what would be helpful for me to say and secondly because I’m not convinced that posting on Facebook really amounts to much. This is precisely the kind of situation where voices like mine need to become less. But it is also the kind of situation where I must be unequivocal, so I offer a few words to white people.
I have decided to say something–even the bare minimum–because I know I have the space and the privilege to do so without consequence. White people need to be talking about these things and we need to be making progress on them right now. It is not a time to wait and take stock (though it is absolutely the time to listen). This will not be exactly the right thing but I feel that it is important to try.
I urge you in the strongest way to seek out first the voices of people of color and heed what they have to say. Only when you have done that do we come to this place to be really clear with ourselves where, exactly, we stand and to communicate that we are doing something about it.
As a small aside, because music is powerful for me, I want to call to your attention this version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic and in particular this line, which replaces the original “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free”:
Dismantling our empires ’til each one of us is free.
This country is and has always been built on racism, colonialism, and misogyny. Not accidentally but with absolute deliberation and clear intent. Do not appeal to the Constitution, it is a racist document written by racists. Those legacies have never been dealt with. There have been acts of progress but we as a racial majority in power have never fully reckoned with the roots of oppression, the realities of privilege, and their generationally compounded costs on uncounted lives.
All of our systems have been built by white supremacy. Law enforcement, politics, voting, education, healthcare, employment, entertainment. Everything. As a white person, it is a mistake to imagine that I can erase my complicity by any action or wokeness. Those actions and that awareness are critical but just by living here I continue to be a part of systems of oppression. This is not about white guilt but an admission that we are all touched by white supremacy and there is no escaping it.
I support any protest of injustice, particularly when the language of protest has again and again been restrained, reinterpreted, co-opted, and rejected by those in power who are not the victims of that injustice. I do not love violence, I do not think that we should repay evil for evil, but I will not condemn people for responding to unanswered violence that has been done to them.
No one can tell you how to respond. People change, even as people grieve, in their own ways. But I will advocate that you listen to the needs of your community–local and national–and respond appropriately.
Donate regularly and strive to keep racial justice in your active consciousness, as people of color have no choice but to do. Watch and read stories and information that will teach you truth and help you respond. Listen to people of color and let them guide you on this issue, though be wary of expecting them to instruct you constantly. Use your political and economic privilege to agitate continually for a better society. Look into local police. Contact your local politicians. Protest, if you think that’s right for you. Do the rhetorical work when people of color are tired of explaining their existence. Acknowledge the diverse intersectional nature of injustice, from race and ethnicity to class, gender, and sexuality.
I will tell you that one thing I am doing is reading I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown. There are many other resources available for you to take advantage of without requiring personal emotional labor to teach you. I posted a friend’s helpful list on Facebook with many good options. You can also look here, here, here, here, and here. There are a million more places to look, literally google “how to educate yourself about race” if you have to. Do not feel like you must learn it all, read it all, master it all. But do not feel like you’ve done enough.
We must dismantle our empires. Tear them down. It will take a long time. It will often seem hopeless. Do it anyway. Do not stop until each one of us is free.