Dear White People
When studying the history of the civil rights movement, I used to look to the Freedom Riders with admiration. And I used to wonder, had that been my generation, would I have had the gall to join their ranks?
Well… this is my generation. Injustice is still taking place before our eyes. And I can show up and be there or I can make up an excuse to bow out and watch others fight while my silence suggests I implicitly accept this as the status quo.
Black men are dying. No. Black men are being murdered. And the white men responsible are walking free without so much as a public trial. I know this much — that is not what this country stands for.
I’d never joined a protest before last week. I am one of those white people who voices my outrage on social media. Yet when it came to actually show up, I didn’t know what my place should be. But when I saw my friend Marques post on facebook “See y’all in Union Square?” and no one had yet responded, my sense of solidarity kicked in and I typed, “I’ll meet up with you.”
Still, walking down to 14th Street from work that evening, I felt a bit uneasy. Not for the cause I was joining, I had no uncertainty in that. I just wasn’t sure how I would take part. As I waited for my friends to arrive, I walked around and checked out the scene. Some seemed like naturals; this was not their first rodeo. The were fully integrated into the crowd, sign in hand, chanting along. I chose to stand to the side, silently, allowing my presence to show my support. I didn’t feel my voice was needed at that point; I was content to commiserate and listen.
Eventually I met up with my pals and our group took to the streets. It wasn’t until we were marching that I started to really understand why people bother to do this. There truly is a healing nature to this type of action. It allows you to express the pent-up energy of the frustration you’ve been keeping in. The movement feels productive; you are, quite literally, making progress. And there is a palpable sense of power you feel when you take over a street — you disrupt the normal flow of what may otherwise seem like a typical day and demand that your voice be heard. The chanting, cheesy as it may seem to an outsider, even began to make sense to me. You find community when your voice pairs with the call and response of another. You finish each other’s sentence; your two voices become one demand.
At one point walking down the middle of Broadway, I remembered how much I appreciate the view from the middle of a street; how when you slightly change your perspective everything looks different. And I thought of Michael Brown and his friend walking down the middle of that fateful street, and the calm before everything changed. I turned to Marques and said “This is where it all started.” He just looked at me and nodded.
When news of the Eric Garner decision came down, I was outraged. But, to be honest, I was also tired. I really didn’t want to spend my evening marching through the cold streets again, just one week later. But I guilt-tripped myself into going. I thought to myself — how convenient that I get to choose when I want to be involved. How privileged I am that I could decide to just sit this one out. And so I forced myself to go. And once again, I’m glad I did.
Last night, we marched uptown. At one point in our chant, the call became louder than the response. Surprising myself, I stepped up to fill the gap.
“ER-IC GAR-NER,” they said.
“REST IN POW-ER!” I yelled.
As a queer woman, I understand how important it is for a minority to be supported by the majority. If many straight people didn’t make my rights their personal battle, I would have far fewer rights today. African Americans only make up 13% of the national population. If we truly want to effect change, we all have to join the fight.
Black teens are 21 times more likely than white teens to be shot and killed by police. Not all cops are racist, but all people of color live with the threat of a racist police force. With each acquittal or decision to not indict, it becomes even more clear that the system that should protect us all is repeatedly falling short. As Martin Luther King, Jr said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Black, white, whatever — this is our fight. Until we get out there, show our strength in solidarity, and demand the system be changed, none of us can breathe.