All originally posted to my Facebook account, but I need to post here more regularly (jeez, it’s been over a year now), and I feel strongly enough about the discussions I’m seeing in the aftermath of the Ferguson decision that this seemed a good way to get some movement here.
Let’s talk about an active role for white people in the fight against racism because racism burdens all of us and is destroying our communities. And, quite frankly, because white people have a role in undoing racism because white people created and, for the most part, currently maintain (whether they want to or not) the racist system that benefits white people to the detriment of people of color. My white friends who’ve spoken out harshly against the murder of Michael Brown end with a similar refrain: What can I do that will matter in the fight against racism?
White people who are sick and tired of racism should work hard to become white allies.
In the aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown, may he rest in power, here are some ways for white people to become white allies who are engaged thoughtfully and critically in examining the situation in Ferguson and standing on the side of justice and equity. This list is a good place to start your fight to dismantle racial inequity and shine a light on the oppressive structures that lead to yet another extrajudicial killing of a black person.
The young people know about John Crawford III, a 22-year-old black man who died after an Ohio police officer shot him for carrying an unloaded BB rifle in the pet-food aisle of Walmart, whose mother misses her son and doesn’t understand why an Ohio grand jury did not indict the cops responsible for this death.
The young people know about Eric Garner, the 43-year-old black father of six who died after a New York police officer put him in an illegal chokehold, whose family awaits in tears of rage as a grand jury still has not indicted any of the cops responsible for that death.
They know about Darrien Hunt and Vonderrit Myers Jr, another unarmed teenager shot dead by a white law-enforcement officer with a gun. After this weekend, they know about 12-year-old Tamir Rice and 28-year-old Akai Gurley. They know about Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell; I am teaching them about Edmund Perry and the Edmund Pettus Bridge. But do they know about Ezell Ford in Los Angeles or Marlon Horton in Chicago and all the black and brown bodies gunned down by cops every day since that August afternoon when Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown after those 90 seconds on Canfield Drive? Does a grand jury of our supposed peers – an extreme version of the kind I sat on – mean to say that if the cops are never wrong, they never shall experience any penalty or consequences for their errors, especially when they prove fatal? Or do we just expect this and that death, do we just embrace this failure of humanity?
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.
Protests and looting naturally capture attention. But the real rage smolders in meetings where officials redraw precincts to dilute African American voting strength or seek to slash the government payrolls that have long served as sources of black employment. It goes virtually unnoticed, however, because white rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures and governors, who cast its efforts as noble, though they are actually driven by the most ignoble motivations.
White rage recurs in American history. It exploded after the Civil War, erupted again to undermine the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision and took on its latest incarnation with Barack Obama’s ascent to the White House. For every action of African American advancement, there’s a reaction, a backlash.
As white people, it is NOT OUR JOB to tell black people how to react to centuries of still-ongoing oppression at the hands of white people. We all benefit from the institutionalized racism in this country. We don’t get to tell them how they’re doing Being Black (or Hispanic, or Asian, etc.) wrong. We don’t get to tell them they can get our attention, but only in ways we can ignore.