As is so often the case in American history, white Americans frequently feel the need to get in their word about racially tinged situations. In the aftermath of Ferguson, we called for “nonviolence,” “dialogue” and “respect.” In the aftermath of Eric Garner, we called for an “end to the looting.” We called the protesters “thugs,” and “criminals.” We paint movements with a brush so broad that the nuance of grievances is often lost in the commotion. Yesterday’s shooting has been no exception, and already white Americans have started to prescribe their solutions to problems they can never fully understand.
For too long “racial equality” has been predicated upon white Americans setting the terms of discourse and the terms of “equality.” Even white allies have an ugly tendency to take on a paternalistic approach to equality, failing to internalize the message of equality itself.
The purpose of being an ally isn’t to take control of a movement. It isn’t to assert your moral superiority. You’re an ally if you want to listen, you’re an ally if you’re willing to use your privilege in service of equality and justice, you’re an ally if you’re ready to support without glory.
If you woke up to news of yesterday’s shootings and thought “How awful!” without fearing for the life of your loved ones, maybe you should listen first and speak later. If you can call up the police and without a doubt expect them to treat you with respect; listen first. If you saw the headlines of a racially motivated shooting in South Carolina and were confused as to how it happened; ask questions. Question history, listen to first hand experiences, support your friends.
By no means does this mean “do nothing.” Quite the contrary, more than ever white allies have an important and necessary role to play in the struggle for equal justice under the law and equal protection in society. Call out racism whenever you see it — tacit or explicit. Publicize that in 2015 it is appalling that black men and women cannot feel safe in their places of worship. Broadcast the media bias between the reporting of black “thugs” like Michael Brown and white “loners” like Dylann Roof. Recognize and argue that structural violence which systematic denies food, shelter and medicine to black families on the basis of economic inequality kills innocents just the same as guns. Use the resources and networks available to you to condemn racial discrimination and those who practice it.
I don’t know too much today, and I can never fully understand the experiences of people of color, as a result, I can’t speak out on what the black community should do in response to this tragedy. Instead, I can only offer the following.
I condemn the shooting of nine innocent lives, I condemn the racist paranoia that motivated the shooter to kill, I condemn a culture that accepts structural violence as the norm and a state politic that has institutionalized symbols of racist white supremacy. I am ready to be an ally to my friends of color and support for those who need it. I have no solution to prescribe beyond this: listen to others, ask questions, challenge racism, recognize that your struggle is connected with others’, understand and then speak out.
(Title image via).