Dear Fellow White People: I’m Disappointed In Us.
Last weekend, millions of my closest friends and I pulled on our pink pussy hats, brainstormed clever protest signs, and took part in the Women’s March. In cities all over the world, we chanted “This is what Democracy looks like!” and “Keep your laws off my body!” We made new friends and took protest selfies and maaaaybe got some Starbucks as we trudged back to the car.
We felt so good about ourselves! “Look at me!” we thought rather smugly. “I’m resisting! I’m taking part in the political process! Zeitgeist etc!”
And it seem that’s where it ended for many of us.
In the last week, Donald Trump and his administration have:
- blocked immigrants and visa holders from seven majority Muslim countries — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan — from entering the US for 90 days. This includes people from those who currently hold green cards and are permanent US residents
- directed the Department of Homeland Security to begin construction on a wall on the US-Mexico border
- issued a freeze on public communications (like news releases and social media posts) and grant spending at several agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency
- blocked federal funding for any global health organizations that provide or even discuss abortion
But just look at our Instagram feeds. In the space of a week, we’re back to posting photos of lattes, cute pets, books we’re reading. Maybe a post here and there about intersectional feminism or showing off political buttons.
By and large, it seems many of us — my dear, fellow white people — have been lulled into overwhelm or a bad case of “Well, I guess we’ll just wait it out.” Or we’re subscribing to the notion that “the most I can do is be kind and helpful to the people around me.”
Meanwhile, Iraqis who worked for the American government are denied entry to our country. A mosque in Texas is burnt to the ground. North Dakota is trying to pass a bill that would protect drivers who ‘unintentionally’ hit Dakota Access protesters with their cars.
Yes, it’s important to be kind and helpful to everyone around us. It’s great to wear a safety pin to denote solidarity and attending one protest is better than attending zero protests.
But fellow white people: silence is support.
We’re not required to document our activism on social media but we are required to do something. We cannot act as though this is Business As Usual because it patently, dangerously, isn’t.
If we believe that Trump’s policies won’t affect us, we’re both unkind and unwise. And more importantly: whether the policies affect us or not, they affect millions of other people whose lives are exactly as valuable as ours.
We can’t pretend Trump’s policies don’t affect us. They’re coming into our lives, our families, our neighborhoods. They are affecting the people we live among, work with, and love.
And what we’re seeing is that when the going gets tough, the people we expect the most from — our friends, neighbors, and co-workers — will shout something in a anger a few times. They’ll share a few posts on social media and then resume taking selfies at football games and sharing funny dog memes.
What we’re seeing is what will happen when it’s our turn. Is it comforting to know that when your family is forcibly divided and you are stripped of your rights, when you are dragged away screaming, your friends and neighbors will largely carry on?
This current moment is the Dietrich Bonhoeffer poem writ large on our lives:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
When white people are silent, whether it’s our intention or not, that silence speaks volumes. It says “My comfort is more important than your safety” and “It’s more important for me to keep all my Instagram followers than take a stand” and “Involvement is an inconvenience.” Do we want to be That Onlooker?
Is it easy to feel overwhelmed by what’s happening? Yes.
Is it hard to know where to start? Sure. (This will help.)
Are we still allowed to experience joy in our daily lives and share said joy on social media? Of course!
Is it important to take time off and time away, so we have energy for the long haul? Uh-huh.
At some point, will we say the wrong thing or inadvertently offend someone? We will. That’s okay! We can keep going!
White people, we can do better. It’s time we speak up.
photo credit: wikipedia // cc