While families mourn their dead, my life goes on
Today, I go to sleep in my bed while Alton Sterling is dead. While Pedro Erik Villanueva is dead. While Melissa Venture is dead. While Delrawn Small is dead. While Philando Castile is dead. While families mourn their dead, my life goes on.
According to numbers compiled by The Guardian 560 people have been fatally shot this year in the United States by the police, 135 of them were black.
White people, we need to stand up. Our country is at war. Our country is at war against black people. It is all of our responsibility to stand up. I hear daily that our black and brown neighbors and siblings need, and want, us to stand with them in the fight. Rosa Clemente said, “I need a white accomplice, freedom fighter, revolutionary on our sides.” Will you join her in the fight?
Hannah Adair Bonner wrote a piece about white responsibility where she discusses Peggy MacIntosh’s “white backpack” Hannah says, “I was recently asked whether it was acceptable to use white privilege for good. My response was that it is not ours to use; once we know that, we can never use it alone again. We must first gather around the table with those who do not carry white privilege, who we trust to hold us accountable. We must then empty the backpack onto the table, and ask the community how we will use what is rightfully communal property.” What does that look like to empty the backpack? Hannah says it looks like white responsibility, I agree. And, I would add that an empty backpack means working to destroy whiteness.
To me, white responsibility means accepting that you are part of the white supremacist system and actively working to get rid of the whole system and thus whiteness. White supremacy is not something just referring to people in white hoods holding Trump for President signs, it is all of the things that are in Peggy MacIntosh’s “white backpack” and more. White responsibility also means that accepting this is not enough, we must choose to do something instead of wrapping ourselves in a blanket of white guilt.
Kevin Rigby Jr. and Hari Ziyad explain that “Black liberation means that white people can only destroy their own whiteness or be destroyed with it. White people cannot exist as white and do anything to address racism, because whiteness in action is racism.” They go on to say, “whiteness cannot be done well, cannot be done without violence or without being in opposition to Blackness and Black freedom.”
So, what can we do? In my little rural New England town we had a proposal a couple years ago to make all door-to-door salespeople and second hand dealers get fingerprinted before conducting business in the town. I remember when people started saying that this was because the year prior there had been a couple of individuals going door-to-door. Folks felt unsafe and called the police to see if these were “known unsavory people” in town. My neighbors are nice New England liberals who don’t see color so, they never said the race of the folks knocking on their doors but I knew exactly who they were talking about. My town is overwhelmingly white and there had been a couple of black salespeople knocking on doors talking about changing energy suppliers after Massachusetts energy was deregulated. My neighbors were scared of black people. I, and others, stood up at town meeting and spoke about the inherent racism in this proposed law. I share this as a simple example of a way to stand up. But, we must do more. We must put our our own whiteness on the line, we need to work against whiteness.
Andrea Ritchie reminds us that, “When protesters developed a platform to end police violence in the wake of the 2014 police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the first of their 10 demands was to end “broken windows” policing, the law enforcement paradigm marked by aggressive policing of minor offenses and heavy police presence in low-income Black communities.” Alton Sterling was killed because he was seen as being someone who was breaking the law, he was seen as loitering, as an unsavory character standing outside the convenience store. We now know that Alton was friends with the store owner, but the police clearly didn’t see him as a friend. They thought they were cleaning up the street by murdering someone in cold blood.
How can we demand that police end their model of “broken windows policing” not just in policy but end it in practice? One way we can stand in solidarity with our black and brown siblings is to address our own communities. Don’t call the police when things happen in your neighborhood that make you uncomfortable, go talk to people. Listen to their needs.
Indigenous Action Media suggests that we need to watch out for our tendency to be ally “saviors” who see folks as tokens instead of people. We also need to beware of co-opting or taking over work that indigenous and people of color started. We need to check ourselves to see if we are advancing ourselves or the people we are standing alongside. We need to be careful to not proclaim ourselves allies, accomplices, or woke. Only the people you are standing in solidarity with can call you an ally, you have to show the actions, not the title.
Indigenous Action Media has a great list of what accomplices look like, and us white folk love lists. I added the phrase “people of color” in addition to “indigenous people” in this list for the sake of continuity in this article:
- Understand that it is not indigenous and people of color’s responsibility to hold your hand through a process to be an accomplice.
- Accomplices listen with respect for the range of cultural practices and dynamics that exists within various indigenous and people of color communities.
- Accomplices aren’t motivated by personal guilt or shame, they may have their own agenda but they are explicit.
- Accomplices are realized through mutual consent and build trust. They don’t just have our backs, they are at our side, or in their own spaces confronting and unsettling colonialism. As accomplices we are compelled to become accountable and responsible to each other, that is the nature of trust.
- Don’t wait around for anyone to proclaim you to be an accomplice, you certainly cannot proclaim it yourself. You just are or you are not. The lines of oppression are already drawn.
As you continue to watch the murders of black people being played on constant loop on TV and the internet, ask yourself, what are you doing to stop it? If your answer is that you are unsure, or that you are doing nothing, then you are just consuming black death. Stop watching black people die. DO SOMETHING! For crying-out-loud, use google and educate yourself.
But, don’t just educate yourself, act! The police are here to protect property and capitalism, shut that down. Show that your neighborhood, city, state, country cannot keep working, buying stuff, and going on like nothing is happening. Go shut down your local police station, shut down a street, or shut down lunch at the local cafe. Gather your neighbors in a discussion about how your neighborhood can put anti-racist practices into place to break down whiteness. Ask yourself why is your neighborhood predominantly white and why are your friends mostly white? Then change that! Don’t just get a token black friend, get involved with anti-racist organizations. Join organizations like Showing Up for Racial Justice to get more ideas on what to do and to get further educated by other white people.
Our country is in the middle of a a several centuries long war. The fact is that we are on stolen land and this country is built on the backs of black people on top of the graves of Indigenous people. What will your piece in this history be? How will you change this trajectory?
So no, I’m not just going to sleep, I am continuously waking up to what’s going on.
*This piece was originally published 7/7/16 on Huffington Post