Beyond Breaking White Silence:
The Road to Racial Justice is Paved with Continuous Actions
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words serve as a reminder that the fight for racial justice is not over until every Black person enjoys the same rights, respect and opportunities as the white population. George, Breonna, Ahmaud, Botham, Walter, Akai, Laquan, Eric, Trayvon and countless others deserve better than to be reduced to hashtags as the privileged move on to their next white savior cause. If you are truly committed to bringing about change, consider this the beginning of your journey, not the end.
“Privilege means that you owe a debt. You were born with it. You didn’t ask for it. And you didn’t pay for it either. No one is blaming you for having it. […] Being a citizen of a society requires work from everyone within that society. It is up to you whether you choose to acknowledge the work that is yours to do. It is up to you whether you choose to pay this debt and how you choose to do so.” — Courtney Ariel
“I can’t breathe” were Eric Garner’s final words, as were they George Floyd’s, when these men six years apart were being pinned down by white police officers until they drew their last breaths. In this vicious cycle of cries for justice that get louder only to drown out amid the white noise generated by the cleverly calibrated machinery that is our sociopolitical system, we can only hope that real change is imminent.
New Means to Progress Today’s Civil Rights Fight
Recent protests indicate a chilling resemblance to the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the Rodney King case which, similarly, only ended up in the prosecutor’s hands once the abuse gained publicity. Evidently, criminal proceedings were not initiated from an ideological stance — that beating and killing people because of their skin color is vile and immoral — but rather as a means to silence the masses by giving the illusion that justice had been served, and in turn, making the “problem” go away. Lasting change will not come from legislators whose intentions are to push their own agenda; it will come from the grassroots and from the people.
For the first time in history, millions of people have the ability to strategically mobilize using digital media. This offers an unprecedented opportunity to rapidly circulate petitions, stage boycotts and plan protests, with the potential for noticeable political and economic impact. As evident by past social justice movements, relentless lobbying eventually generates media coverage, and media coverage puts pressure on policymakers, making it impossible for them to ignore the issue at hand. Today’s digital tools allow us to explicitly share firsthand accounts, without a narrated story line, thus forcing people to pay attention.
Pull Your Head Out of the Sand
You can’t imagine how people could live in a time of segregation and enslavement and do nothing? We are living it right now — only in a different form — and the truth is, most people don’t do a thing to change it! Racism exists on such an interwoven societal level, systemic and normalized over the course of generations, to the point where a large part of the white population is in complete denial of its existence. When white people claim to be “colorblind,” they are undermining the struggles of Black people, failing to see the absurdity in that only someone of white privilege can choose to ignore race.
“White communities consciously and unconsciously sustain the racist policies and practices that have led to the deaths of countless Black Americans, and, as white people, we must speak out against those policies and practices. When we remain silent, and on the sidelines, we are complicit in maintaining these unjust systems.” — BLM
The reality is, over 1,000 people are killed by police every year in America, and Black people are three times more likely to get killed than white people. Trayvon Martin’s only “crime” was being Black, which to the man who gunned down an unarmed 17-year old boy, was reason enough to “stand his ground.” As a white person, I cannot possibly understand what it feels like to have your skin color always be the first thing someone sees. This is why white people need to be cognizant to the ever-presence of racism, just as we are constantly made aware of gender politics. This is a conscious and continuous effort that we must make since being white comes with the privilege of not having to think about racism all the time.
Facing Uncomfortable Truths
Breaking white silence is tremendously important in moving the needle. This means having honest conversations with our friends, family and community about race and inequality. “These conversations will help us find others with which we can build a collective voice, and in turn change the hearts and minds of those white people who are not yet with us” (BLM). Whether it comes to racism in our social circle, workplace or in the public space, we must be relentless in confronting it. Arm yourself with knowledge on social justice, implicit bias and white privilege so you can decisively refute bias comments and misinformation.
Instead of avoiding the conversation, we must face uncomfortable truths head on, not distance ourselves from our history or deny that racism is being reproduced in the present. Only then can we start writing a new chapter in our history. This includes acknowledging the pain and anger felt by Black communities, understanding structural racism, and petitioning for police accountability and a fair justice system. And most importantly, to listen. Take in what your Black friends, neighbors and colleagues are saying, ask what you can do to support them, and use it to find your own voice and boldly stand up with them.
The State of Modern Slavery
For a white supremacist government unwilling to acknowledge the unspeakable crimes against America’s Black population, the 1965 Moynihan Report came as a godsend. For the past century, the government had been finding new ways to enslave Black people, culminating in the 1970s war on drugs, which established today’s racist criminal policies that continue to disintegrate Black families and communities.
Void of basic human rights, such as the right to vote, having access to financial support, getting food stamps or gaining employment, numerous Black Americans are essentially facing genocide by incarceration. It is exactly the same as Jim Crow, only redesigned. The perpetuation of scientific racism and prevailing racial myths by those in power has unsurprisingly caused many Black Americans to have a deep distrust of any information provided by the government or the corporate media that ooze of institutional bias.
“Every part of America’s consumer culture in the Klan-riddled days of the early 20th century — from sheet music to soap to food to comics — was sold based on the ideas of Black bodies’ subservience, filthiness, entertainment or sites of abuse. That didn’t change just because the brands tweaked the mascots over the years.” — Michael Twitty
Rebuilding, Not Restructuring
To get to the core of racism, we must start in our schools. Not by reforming them but by breaking down a flawed and bias system and building a new one that fully and accurately recognizes the contribution of all cultures and races to the United States. We must demand a Civil Rights agenda for our schools, which includes the implementation of new teaching materials and an action plan to recruit more Black educators. America’s predominantly white school districts receive a staggering $23 billion more in funding compared to districts that serve mostly non-white students. Join the fight for equitable public schooling by urging senators to take action.
“Despite more than a half-century of integration efforts, the majority of America’s school children still attend racially concentrated school systems. This is reflective of the long history of segregation — policies related to everything from voting to housing — that have drawn lines and divided our communities.” — EdBuild
Rebuilding our educational system while ignoring the fundamental cleavages in society, however, does very little. We must demand changes in the racial conditions outside of schools: housing policy, income disparities, health care and mass incarceration. Sign Unite the People’s petition to repeal the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and end prison slavery in the US. Other areas of our society that require attention include public spaces and literary institutions. In several US states, statues representing white supremacy are finally being removed from public spaces, as a result of petitions and incessant protests.
A Tireless, Unceasing Fight
When you find yourself dispirited by fighting a seemingly insurmountable fight, you need to remember that Black Americans have been fighting for their lives for over 400 years. We owe it to every Black person in this country to continue their fight for as long as it takes. Get actively involved; numerous social justice organizations are fighting the same fight, so find one that you can engage with on a national level or through a local chapter. Look for socio-political initiatives that you can support.
Media often fails to tell us the whole story, focusing more on the “what” than the “why.” Be vigilant of bias in the news and interpret stories with a healthy amount of skepticism. Put pressure on the media by calling news outlets out on bias stories and flag them to organizations like FAIR. When media outlets headline their stories “looting binges,” they are reducing the message of those initiating nonviolent protests to the looting that sometimes follows.
“I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of clearing it wherever it lands.” — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
It Starts and Ends with You
Black Lives Matter provide a toolkit for white people, which was created in connection with the fifth anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s murder. Although the toolkit was created for #TalkAboutTrayvon, its action- and conversation suggestions are just as relevant today. “[W]hite people who are really interested in seeing change should go back to their families and friends with messages and action plans to fix their communities. Those who are “woke” need to wake up others. Take the fight to places that black folks don’t have access to” (NG).
It is our responsibility — the privileged white population — to look to our own implicit prejudices, own our actions, dig deeper into racial injustice matters, and attempt to understand them from the viewpoint of the persecuted. Read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the beginning: The definitive history of racist ideas in America. Watch Ava DuVernay’s 13th and Just Mercy. While these resources don’t begin to cover the vast complexities of racial oppression, I hope they may offer some context, and that they may motivate you to learn more about our dark history and how we can fight together toward a brighter future.
Stay informed, speak for those who don’t have a voice, cry for those who have been unjustly taken from us, and only then can you free yourself and help free others of the crippling mental confines of a society tainted by segregation and oppression. I challenge every white American to watch the entire 8 minutes and 46 seconds of the filmed murder of George Floyd, begging for his life, without feeling absolutely appalled and enraged enough to take action. White people — it’s time we WOKE up!
I want to extend a special thank you to my dear friends who helped shape this article by offering invaluable feedback and advise (in alphabetical order): Chuck English, Dennis Leid, Nova O’Collins, Claudette Pilgrim and Shadz of Red.