As a white man, I am not writing this because I think I have a special insight that can’t be found elsewhere. I am writing this because 1) I have a platform, 2) to promote Black voices, and 3) to take responsibility. I will highlight things that I think are important but for the purpose of encouraging you to check out the various resources I’ve provided. A lot of this will be Booktube content, but I use them because they are completely reflective of society as a whole. I started this post with a video of Kimberly Jones, the author of “I’m Not Dying with You Tonight,” discussing the problem with the system and why the riots/protests/property damage are not the problem. If anything, they speak to the severity of the problem. What’s more, it was beautiful, profound, and devastating. Please watch it.
Now lets talk about silence and complicity. People don’t want to talk about this. Why? Because they’re uncomfortable. They’re uncomfortable because they don’t know what to say or don’t want to say the wrong thing. Well, if you don’t know what to say, do same damn research. White Fragility (check that book out, I still need to read it), isn’t an excuse not to talk. You’re going to make mistakes. I continue to do that. Just the other day, I made a comment about our responsibility and described it in a way that perpetuated a white savior complex which goes right back to white supremacy and this idea of superiority. Obviously, that isn’t what I think, or maybe my ingrained prejudices have subconsciously made me think that. The fact is, consciously, I know it isn’t true. What I intend doesn’t matter when what I say and do feed into the ideas of white supremacy and oppression. I’ve used that phrase to a lot of people, and white fragility leads a lot of us to jump to the defense. We know we don’t want to be racist, so we assume that is enough. We have to take responsibility for what we say and do and that takes work and a desire to learn and listen.
However, learning is only the beginning. Another thing Francina (the booktuber in the video) touches on is the power of social media. Those of you who haven’t shared/said even the slightest thing, I’ve noticed. I can’t make you speak out, but if you are reading this, please recognize we have to do more. Now before I go on, I recognize social media isn’t a direct reflection of what someone is doing to support. Support can be shown through donations, petitions, and protesting, and complications in life happen too that may prevent you from being as active as you’d like to be. I say this to encourage self reflection on if you’re doing enough not to pass judgment. Social media is just one small way to make a difference.
Social media, even before Covid, has become the center of some many of our lives. It shapes how we see the world (e.g. Russian bots), and because of that, it’s a powerful tool. While it is a useful means of listening and learning, it is also an opportunity to share voices that some people aren’t exposed to. It is also a way to spark a conversation. Fundamentally, it is about getting people to listen.
Understanding racism is to understand the oppressed. That means we have to listen to Black voices. Looking back, we can see how support for Black Lives Matter has evolved. Look at everything that is happening, all because more people are listening and believing. One question that Ashley (I’m unsure about the spelling) poses is “Why now?” She doesn’t believe us. We sit here showing support but history shows it’s fake. History shows we speak up when it’s trendy, and go away when it is not. Again, I doubt few of us would say we intentionally would do that, but intent and actions are not the same. We have to recognize our silence. We have to ask why, and we have to be aware of how easy it is to let it just fade into the background (because we have the privilege to do that; black people can’t escape it so easily). I still don’t know why now is the moment people are listening. I wish I knew.
The closest answer I could come to seems to be the one Ashley gives: we are afraid of being called out, afraid of being shamed. I know I am ashamed. I think back to when BLM first arose; I considered myself an ally (a term we have not right to assign ourselves). In reality, I was, at best, complicit, at worst actively fighting against it. Both are just as bad. In my years here at Western, my best friend has accused me of racism, more than once. My first reaction is to get defensive, deny, reject, and gas light. I owe her an apology. Yes, I am ashamed but not because of how it makes me look; I’m ashamed of the harm I have put into the world, even on the people closest to me. I don’t say this looking for forgiveness or a pat on the back. Yes I am ashamed. That may have been what made me care enough to listen, but that doesn’t do jack-shit to fix the problem.
I can sit here all day and cry about the bad I’ve done, but the point of self reflection is to figure out how to fix the problem. Diana, from the second video on being an ally, summed it up pretty well. Racism isn’t a black problem, it’s a white problem. We started it. We benefit from it. It’s up to us to fix it. Black people have been fighting racism for centuries because their resilient, strong, and capable; it’s on us to decide if we stand on the side of oppression or the side of equality.
Speaking up and joining the conversation is the first step. The other is calling people out; friends, coworkers, and family. Any time, any place. Speak up. This isn’t about politics; it is about basic human rights. I also intend to listen. Too often black voices are ignored, but I know as a white man, I can’t understand without listening because my experience is so fundamentally different than what it is for Black people and other POC. But more than that, I was raised by a system that taught me I should benefit from discrimination and oppression. I can easily sit here and say, “I don’t stand for that!” But that doesn’t change the fact that it is ingrained into my psyche and the society I live in.
That is why it is all the more important that we listen and believe Black people and other POC (Western students, check out the amazing memoir by an alumni of our own University, Eternity Martis). Then we use that to support them; stop supporting racist people and organizations that contribute to the oppression. Stop being silent. Lastly, vote and fight for systematic change.
I want to finish this post off with two videos from TikTok. I know many of you may scoff, but these highlight how powerful social media can be. In this first video we see a strong yet succinct message of how white people ignore Black people. Then we see a performance of a piece that references all the harm and fear the Black community has to experience. Like the first video I shared, it stresses the pain that is being felt.
September Update 2020
The more time passes the more I realize I don’t know. The biggest thing I realize is I need to listen more. There is a difference between promoting black voices and talking for them. Despite my intentions, I’ve continued to do harmful things, but it is an ongoing effort.
Support BLM: https://blacklivesmatter.com/
National Action Against Police Brutality Petition : https://www.change.org/p/national-act…
Victims Funds : https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/#v…
NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund : https://www.naacpldf.org/
Ahmaud Arbery Fund : https://www.gofundme.com/f/i-run-with…
Minnesota Based Black Visions Collective : https://www.blackvisionsmn.org/about
Read and Learn
White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
White Rage by Dr. Carol Anderson
How to Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi