It goes without saying that I’ve seen the news lately. And I haven’t been able to look away since. I’ve stayed up late several nights this week scrolling through every social media feed I follow, reading article after article recounting the horrific events and reiterating the fact that they are symptoms of a systemic problem in this country. I’ve felt that to speak, post, or even think about anything else is deeply disrespectful. Eventually, I realized that my guilt about turning away from the news, closing my Twitter app and doing anything that distracts me from the crisis we’re in comes from my recognition that my ability to turn it off and take a break is an immense and unfair privilege I have. Systemic racism in America has ensured that I, as a white person, have a cozy sanctuary out of reach of its consequences, which keep causing the disproportionate suffering and death of black people. They don’t get the chance to forget about, let alone escape, the problems many Americans keep denying exists.
I will be brief, because another white voice online does not need to distract from the black voices speaking out right now, but I will still post about this, because I cannot in good conscience use my privilege to remain silent and ignore injustice.
Reader, if you are a white person like me, you are likely feeling upset and helpless in the face of news items like this and in light of the other information you’re (hopefully) investigating which reveals the true extent of systemic racism in this country. You are probably feeling very tempted to throw up your hands, turn away, remain silent and retreat from social media debates and tough real-life conversations and return to your safe life where these issues don’t really touch you. I urge you to stay uncomfortable. We are not the ones who need a break from this right now. We are the ones whose education is only beginning. Black people and people of color have been suffering under this system for generations and are well aware of the situation. We need to educate ourselves. Once we learn about the issues, we need to keep learning, because our education and involvement should be an ongoing process for the rest of our lives.
Reader, if you are a person of color, I know I cannot speak for you, I cannot truly know your experience, and it is not your job to educate me. If you want to speak, I do want to hear your voice. Anything you can add to this conversation would be invaluable. If you see me overstepping my boundaries or being disrespectful in any way, here or on any other platform, please call me out on it. Like I said, learning should be a continuous process.
- Read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, and articles like “Alton Sterling and when black lives stopped mattering” by Roxanne Gay, for a start. Learn about systemic racism, how it often hides itself in plain sight, and how it negatively affects black lives. Learn about the side of things you may not have seen. Pay attention to black voices on the matter–white people like myself mean well, but we are not the authorities here.
- Donate to fundraisers supporting the families of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Anthony Nuñez, and the countless other victims of police brutality, or to organizations like Black Lives Matter. If you’ve done your research, you know that money is an extremely powerful force in the world we live in, so if you have it, use it to help.
- Reach out to your representatives in government (go here to find the names and contact information of your representatives in Congress). Let them know that you are upset and you demand change. Ask them what they are doing to reform policing in the country. Government officials have the power to institute change at a higher level, and the people have the power to guide them to make the right choices.
- Find organizations and events near you that you can join to show support with your time and presence.
- Be respectful. Like I said, right now, white people need to be doing the tough emotional work to educate themselves. Refrain from grilling your black friends about issues you could read up on yourself. Don’t toss around videos and photos of victims on social media where they may hurt people who are feeling especially vulnerable right now (some articles advise white people to bear witness to such images, but not to disseminate them). Finally, if you are (rightfully) upset but fall under the category “ally,” do not confuse raising your voice against racism you witness online or in the real world or educating friends and family about issues with speaking over the voices and perspectives that deserve the most attention here. Promote black voices as much as possible, and be willing to learn from them when they point out anywhere you may be in the wrong.
Sharing meaningful articles on Facebook is a good start, but we can and should be doing so much more.