Dear White People: Ferguson Protests are a Wake Not a Pep Rally

White House #ferguson Rally

I get it. You’re frustrated. You’re angry. You’re sad. You’re confused. You know that the killing of Mike Brown and the lack of indictment of Darren Wilson are a travesty. You are probably aware that the system you live in, the nation that raised you, the institutions that educate and protect you, commit or support massive amounts of violence against communities of color. I’m sure for many of you the cognitive dissonance must be profoundly disturbing. For others, for those of you who, though white, are marginalized and dehumanized daily, this moment is probably an agonizing reminder of the pain you carry around everyday. I’m sure the discomfort you are feeling, the rage, the sorrow, the guilt, the confusion is probably further complicated by an excitement. I’m sure some of you are excited that things are happening, that movements are starting. I’m sure a part of you is hoping that this will be our 60’s movement moment.

I feel you. All of those emotions are valid. I share all of those emotions though likely in different combinations and at different levels of intensity. This piece in is no way intended to invalidate how you feel or to suggest that those feelings are not important. I feel your pain, I share your pain and I wish that pain would end. You need to understand however, that our pains are fundamentally different.

As most of you can imagine, this last week as been hard for me. It is not just the indictment, or lack thereof, of Darren Wilson that upsets me; in all honesty I had expected that for months. It’s the national conversation we are having on race, justice and, most importantly my very status as a human being. Can you imagine that? Can you empathize with what it might feel like for your own nation to not think that you are a human being? Can you imagine then, what it feels like to for me, dealing with all of this, to have to politely ask you to step back?

Over the past couple of weeks I have nearly been torn apart by society’s ontological debate of my humanity. Every few hours it hits me. America doesn’t think I’m human. I am just another Black man worthy of suspicion and doubt. Another looter. Another criminal. Another statistic. The only home I’ve ever known thinks that I do not deserve to live.

I am a centuries old problem with no solution but genocide.

Like Brittney Cooper said, “I am undone.” In these moments, when the despair feels like it’s ripping me apart, only the solidarity of other Black people gives me real solace. It’s the moments when a co-worker and I randomly catch each other’s eyes and we both see the pain, and the fear, and the exhaustion and one of us says “shits f%$” and we both laugh. We laugh because it’s all we can do. We laugh because sometimes the pain is too much to bear. We laugh because screaming might get us fired. We laugh so that we don’t cry.

This is why I went to the White House after the announcement. I was hoping to be surrounded by my fellow Black people, to yell, to scream, to cheer, and to sing. I wanted to gather my people around me and boldly assert my humanity to the world. Yet that’s not what I found. What I found was a mostly white crowd of college-age liberals chanting, hugging, and taking selfies with their overly-dressed up roommates. There was energy, an excitement in the air that I couldn’t share. Being surrounded by a group of young white people alternating between hugging friends who had joined them and shouting angrily at the cops (many of whom were Black) was not validating my humanity.

I questioned leaving then, angrier than I was before. Eventually, Howard University students showed up and staged a die-in. Their powerful, distinctly Black presence was welcomed. I felt alive in that moment. Later, their cries of “HU” were punctuating cries of “Black Power” and for moment I felt that sense of unity mix with the energy: I felt hope. I really believed that together we could do this. Then other chants began to compete for air with the cries for “Black Power,” and that hope vanished.

As much as I was troubled by the cries of “H.U.” due the historic social tension between Blacks who went to Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCU’s] and those that didn’t, I understood the impulse for that level of solidarity. I understood that desire to say we are united, we are here, we refuse to be quieted and we refuse to deny our Blackness in a world that hates us for it. That unity, that solidarity, was shattered as Howard students shouting “Black Power” were suddenly competing with white people starting chants like “No Justice, No Peace.” I began to notice that even in this crowd; we have self-segregated ourselves into clumps. White people whose friends had not yet arrived were uncomfortable and searched for their own.

This impromptu rally was the perfect metaphor for the state of the anti-racism movement in America. We agree on (most) the facts; white “allies” come out to support the cause, yet struggle to feel comfortable surrounded by Black people and so clump with their friends, take pictures to prove that they were there and subtly and unconsciously fight to control the space with their chants. Often, this fight for control is more obvious, like white people taking the mic and talking about why they are there, sometimes it more subtly like white people trying to be inclusive and chanting “all lives matter.”

To be clear, I don’t think that white people were actively uncomfortable with cries of “Black Power” en masse. Instead, I think that in large crowds multiple chants always start as one side can’t hear the other. As chants compete well-meaning white people will react either by chanting the one chant they can be a part of or by trying to be inclusive by shouting “all lives matter” over the fray. Eventually though, the subconscious wills of white people will always win out.

Similarly, due to our racist history and our own internalized oppressions, little divisions in the Black community become aggravating and concerning in a mixed audience as I become aware that white eyes are watching us. I feel a need for us to represent ourselves to society instead of just being able to be. Instead I feel like I have to mediate my emotions, my reactions and, subconsciously, police my fellow Black people, to confirm to how I wish we were viewed. I feel a need to perform my Blackness instead of just being able to be unapologetically Black when my people are dying. White people need to realize that their presence can change whether an event is a safe place, almost private in its feelings of security, or a threatening public space.

This is why a woman at the Rally in Mount Vernon Square got on the bull horn and re-affirmed that it was a Black issue, that the call needed to be Black Lives Matter and not All Lives Matter. It is instructive that this woman (an every Black woman who spoke at the beginning) was interrupted by cries of “no justice, no peace.” <— Giving the words an added level of unintentional irony.

It’s a subtle problem. But subtlety builds over time. Eventually, as moments turn into movements, it stops being subtle. So here we have it, the crux of why I’m writing this letter. You need to understand, that for many Black people, Ferguson protest are not a public pep rally for racial unity, they are a living wake. We are dying. We are being killed by the police. We are getting lynched by the media. Our souls are nearly suffocating by the pressure of being a problem.

Pep rallies: A pep rally is a gathering of people, typically students of middle school, high school and college age, before a sports event. The purpose of such a gathering is to encourage school spirit and to support members of the team for which the rally is being thrown. The pep rallies are often very loud and have a lot of excitation to keep all the students excited for the upcoming game and to cheer on the team.

Wake: A wake is a ceremony associated with death. Traditionally, a wake takes place in the house of the deceased with the body present; however, modern wakes are often performed at a funeral home. It is often a social rite which highlights the idea that the loss is one of a social group and affects that group as a whole.

Now, not all wakes are solemn, tear-filled occasions taking place in funeral homes. In fact, all cultures do wakes differently. Some celebrate the dead. Some drink until they can no longer feel the pain. In Black communities wakes take many forms but often try to bring the community to not only mourn but reaffirm our hope that things will get better. The most well-known example of this is perhaps the funeral processions famous in New Orleans. In Black churches across the country funerals are often filled with Gospel songs brimming with a mournful, desperate hope as friends and family members testify about the life of their loved one. These spaces are about community healing. Community solidarity. Individual validation through collective story telling. It builds to a sense that we will continue on because we have no other option, together we will move forward because its only way we know how, together we will change the world.

This was the tone of all the actions run by the Black Youth Project 100 yesterday. While the demands delivered to people in power were crucial to getting change, equally important were the validating cries that protestors shouted in unison.

“It is our Duty to Fight. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

The group was instructed to look each other in the eye, to make connections, to validate each other. What might seem like a great photo op to outsiders was an unspeakable validating experience for me. I was nearly in tears connecting eyes with other people, mostly Black, and shouting my humanity to the roof tops.

It was wake. It was a celebration of Black lives cut too short. It was a dirge for the death of our perpetual bondage.

When white allies clump together at protests and fight for inclusiveness, that community healing can’t happen. Imagine going to funeral services of a good friend’s brother. You might be very close with your friend, you might even be closer to them than distant relatives. Yet you have to remember that as close as you might be with them, as sad as you might feel for them, as much as you might have loved their brother you are not family. You have to take a step back and let the space be what the family needs it to be. By asserting that “all lives matter” you are denying us a chance for internal solidarity, not standing in solidarity with us. This is to not say that white people are not welcome, or needed, in this movement.

Quite the contrary, racism is a problem for white people to fix. This piece is just to say, that if you are white and you find yourself at a march for racial justice surrounded by white people: something is wrong. I understand the inclination to be surrounded by your own, just remember that you have the luxury of being surrounded by your own every moment of every day. POC have to seek out.

So to all my White friends, community members and allies, I hear your desire to express yourself and to be a part of the solution. Please remember that sometimes the most radical thing an ally can do is show up and remain silent, to allow Black people to lead. Sometimes the best way to insure that All Lives Matter is to give Black people room to own a space, to be surrounded by (mostly) fellow Black people, to yell, to scream, to cheer, and to sing. Give us our space to mourn our own deaths.

74 thoughts on “Dear White People: Ferguson Protests are a Wake Not a Pep Rally

  1. Pingback: Dear White People: Ferguson Protests are a Wake Not a Pep Rally - AGITATE DC

  2. Thank you. This is the tough stuff that needs to be said. It’s hard to say it, partly because it’s so hard to be understood, when people go straight to hurt feelings instead of listening sometimes. It feels like a risk to even bring it up. But we have to, if we are to understand solidarity, how to truly support.

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    • Thank you for reading and for taking to time to comment. I starting writing in earnest when I saw a quote from Zora Neale Hurston saying “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” Its important to me encourage a complex dialogue about these issues, to validate how I actually feel. I’m not sure I always do it well but I’m committed to keep trying. Thanks again for reading.

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  3. Pingback: Must Reads-Race, Ferguson, The State | Julie Gillis

  4. I can’t say much about this. I’m here, really, to listen and to understand.

    I’m trying to figure out for myself how I can help, trying to figure out what actions I can take, and trying to make the actual moves that show support, the actual moves that will make a difference.

    I am willing to be corrected.

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    • Great, I’m by no means the final say on this but I think that is a good attitude to have. We will get nowhere without being open to correction. We will fail without integrating our reflection with our praxis.

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  5. Pingback: dirge for #Ferguson: a song of condolence from a white ally | storm garner

    • Thanks, I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of responses to this post.

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  6. Pingback: Silence is (em)Power(ing) | Rev Rachel Rambles

  7. It seems to me there’s two different things going on here. 1)Who leads and gets to define what the event is about, what the narrative is? and 2)Should white people be there at all, since black people need a place to mourn without having to engage with white people? The answer to #1 is easy. You (black people) get to lead and define what the event is about and what the narrative is.

    That doesn’t mean I’m never going to talk to you, politely, if I think there’s something important not being said, but I’m sure as hell not going to do it in the middle of an event. Once we’re at an event, you’re in charge. Period. On a political blog, or someplace set aside for discussion, that’s different. Then I’ll say whatever I think is true (politely, I hope). For instance, I’m painfully aware of how the racism that’s always been here has been horribly merged with a post-9-11 security state, as evidenced by things like the Ferguson police chief getting training from the IDF in so-called “counterterrorism” for God’s sakes! I think of what’s happening now as a two-headed monster. I think ignoring either head is dangerous. So if you talk to me on a blog, I’m likely to say just that, in the spirit of Hey, don’t forget there’s a second layer of institutionalized horror that’s part of this–keep your head up! (The second layer means, among other things, that there’s a frightening surveillance capability implied here.) Unfortunately, sometimes people think that means I don’t believe in the 300-year-old head of the monster that is institutionalized racism. But you’re not going to catch me chanting #AllLivesMatter, which to me is a mealy-mouthed evasive piece of BS.

    As for the second question–should white people be there at all? I have, up to now, been extremely relieved that a lot of white people have been protesting, because I have an ugly feeling that somebody in America really would love it if we had a full-scale race war, in which the majority of white people wanted to kill black people and the majority of black people wanted to kill white people. I think that sort of thing would be really convenient for certain people who want to finish dismantling and looting this place in peace

    So, since I’m against them and I don’t want a full-scale race war, I’ve been seriously relieved to see a lot of white people protesting. Also, I’m glad that there’s still white people who give a shit when black people get killed.

    Your piece has made me re-think that. Maybe it’s not so good that a lot of white people came out. I certainly don’t think it’s a good idea for us to take over the events, the chants, the movement. Should there be some POC-only events? Is that even workable? I know the media would go into a feeding frenzy over it. Should any of us (white or black) care what the media thinks? I have more questions than answers.

    But your piece made me think.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you very much for taking the time to read my piece. I really appreciate it. I don’t think that white people should not show up to events. I just think that white people should be aware of their surroundings and not take over the space. If you are surrounded by other white people reflect on that and maybe fan out. Showing up is great but don’t take over. I never advocated that white people stay home. I will say, that this is not the 1960’s. In the 60’s Blacks and Whites never spoke to each other so integration in any form was an incredibly radical act. Blacks also had so many Black spaces to process that idea of having “no black space to escape to” would be unheard of. So we need to rethink how we integrate spaces and how we interact.We need to be concerned about the re-segregation of America to be sure but I don’t think a race war is likely. If only because mass destruction on that level would upset the balance of power and the state would clamp down on it immediately. There are POC of color events and groups all the time. The Bud Bilikin Parade on the South Side of Chicago, HBCU homecomings, national conferences of Black leaders, NOI’s million father march. It happens all the time, its just not national news until White People have a reason to care. It is feasible, though again, I am not suggesting that White people stop showing up. Just trying to put this conversation in context.

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      • I guess I’m a little more paranoid than you, in that I think there’s two kinds of Powers That Be: One is the law-and-order kind. You know, “Keep everything stable so we can keep making money!” then there’s the Disaster Capitalism kind, which is more like “Wreck everything 1)so we can keep making money off of selling weapons and the oil that fuels tanks and such at an ever-increasing rate of profit,”and 2)”so that the people are so busy tearing each other apart that they don’t even think about us, much less try to make us stop hurting them.”

        I’ve seen this kind of thing on a smaller scale in the South all my life. White working class gets racist dog whistles blown at it and then goes after black people, while the richer white people screw them to the ground. It works frighteningly well. But the particular theory I went into above (somebody powerful wants an all-out race war) is the most negative, deepest bottom of the well of my worst thoughts. It could well be untrue. I sure hope it is.

        Meanwhile, I’m really glad when things like Moral Monday happen, or when white people turn out against the police murder of black people, because it’s much harder for certain bad things to happen when white people decide that the death of unarmed black people by cop is objectionable. I find it really objectionable that it’s even a question, or that we get to decide whether or not #BlackLivesMatter, but if we’re gonna have white privilege, we’d damned well better use it in the right direction. Every time we do, I breathe an internal sigh of relief, b/c it means that things are better than they could be.

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      • I hear where you are coming from but honestly if a race war happens they will kill white people too. You might be interested to look at how many white people the KKK lynched. Seeing the races mixing does not cause those types of bigots to second guess themselves. It has never been that Black and White even when looking at Black and White Race relations. Whiteness will define itself how ever it needs to to temain in power either including the Irish or casting out their own as “race traitors”

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      • By the way, thanks for your kind response. I usually post at Daily Kos, so am used to getting attacked a lot of the time. It’s nice to be able to have a conversation without freaking out at each other.

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      • Thanks for this piece and your further comments. I’m really interested in the call to move differently in the physical space. I’m not American, but I’m white and I come from a mixed-race society. When I was at school I had a POC teacher who got sick of the segregated habits of our class & school, and she rearranged our desks so that we had to sit in groups that alternated brown and white individuals. The disruption and outrage amongst us as 13 year old girls was enormous. There was hurt and resentment from everyone, but the outrage was mostly from the white kids, daughters of educated liberals who thought they already knew about racism and were better than that. I learned a lot. How you can oppose racism at some levels of behaviour, but cling to the security of the familiar like a life-raft throughout. As if a little alienation or isolation would be the living end. It doesn’t add up. At some point, I think, to face the inheritance of unconscious racism as a white person, you have to be willing to physically feel some of the crap that is constantly pushed onto the ‘other’ when the majority insists on shoring itself up.

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      • Thanks for reading and giving your reflection. “At some point, I think, to face the inheritance of unconscious racism as a white person, you have to be willing to physically feel some of the crap that is constantly pushed onto the ‘other’ when the majority insists on shoring itself up.” Couldn’t agree more

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  8. You say “A wake is a ceremony associated with death. Traditionally, a wake takes place in the house of the deceased with the body present; however, modern wakes are often performed at a funeral home. It is often a social rite which highlights the idea that the loss is one of a social group and affects that group as a whole.” Since when do people riot at wakes? What does this prove? What does rioting, looting, and burning down businesses (that are owned by members of THEIR community) prove? Hmmm. I would really like to know your thoughts on this.

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    • So this post uses the phrase “Ferguson Protests” to refer to protests around the nation in response to the Grand Jury decision not civil unrest in the city of Ferguson itself. I’m not sure if I misread your question or if you miss read my post.

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  9. Thank you for writing this.
    A few years ago, the organization I work for brought Paul Kivel to speak. He asked those of us who do not normally experience racial, economic and social injustice to stand up and be an ally. That term, ally, resonated with me and and gave me a framework in which I could see my part in the struggle. It also brought up, and continues to bring up on a daily basis – because of where I work, who I work with, the demographics of my son’s school and the neighborhood in which we live – the question of how I can best be an ally.
    Last night I attended a presentation by the Youth Justice Coalition. The topic was Know Your Rights. I could tell that people were curious, maybe even to the point of being uncomfortable: What the hell is a mid forties white woman doing here?! I get it, and totally accept it. We placed our chairs in a circle and when it was my turn to give some context to my being there, which was basically to get educated and be able to help the kids I’m connected to and who I know will be targeted by the cops in our neighborhood just because of their skin color or who their uncle is, I felt a slight shift in the comfort level (maybe it was mine, maybe it was others’.)
    What I have found in participating in work meetings (where most of my colleagues are POC), in hanging out in the parent center at my son’s school (where I am the only non-Spanish speaker) and in attending neighborhood meetings such as the one above, is that it’s my obligation to listen. It’s my responsibility to become educated and not make assumptions, to learn about other people’s experiences in order to really able to be empathetic. I think for women, it’s a little more complicated because we’ve spent most of our lives trying to find our own voice and, for those of us who are white, we don’t realize that in the big picture, that just by virtue of our skin color, we already have a powerful voice and it’s okay – necessary – to step back and listen.

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  10. Thank you! As a white person, I know we need to hear this. I was thoroughly disappointed when I was at Atlanta Occupy and instead of listening to John Lewis speak, I was forced to listen to mostly young white males debate whether we should listen to John Lewis speak. Some say this divide is one of the reasons the Occupy movement fizzled out. I do suspect that until white activists learn the lessons you write about, we will never have a larger united movement for justice in this country.

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    • Thanks for reading. I am inclined to be an optimist. I think we will talk about it, screw up horribly and then talk about that. Eventually though, we will figure it out. I have a lot of faith in White people. At the end of the day we are all just people. Oppression does crazy things to both sides but at the end of the day peace and love are easier than hate and war. I believe history follows the path of least resistance and as long as we take pains to process the fear and the discomfort that path will lead towards more justice and equality. What I fear is fear. If we refuse to process it that, or refuse to engage with it, it will be easier to be divided than let ourselves be vulnerable to the unfamiliarity of real social integration.

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  11. As a “white” person, I’m fighting through my urge to be offended by this article. The post saddens me… for reasons other than (I assume) you intended. Referring to groups as “black” and “white” only serves to widen the divide. Shouting “Black Power” is no more acceptable than shouting “White Power”. Yes, our country has a terrible history of dehumanizing people based on the color of their skin… Yes, I would change it if I could. But dialogue like this article only reinforces those 400 year old barriers. It’s almost like you are shaming “white” people for showing up and caring… and I’m positive no “black” or other color people took selfies or took comfort in seeing familiar faces at these rallies? I propose you not claim a rally for a race unless that race is the human race. Thank you, that is all.

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    • First of all, that you for taking the time to read my piece. It seems like you are saying that calling attention to the problem is causing the problem which, to me, suggests that you think the problem will go away if we ignore it. I wish that were true. We have to talk about this issues openly and honestly. This means that groups in privilege will have to get uncomfortable not because their discomfort is the goal but because examining ones complicity [even unknowingly] in injustice is hard.

      Shouting “Black Power” is not the same as shouting “White Power.” White power is call for white control of the country. It is a reactionary call stemming from a believe that America is a white nation being overrun by non-whites. Black power is a call for unity of Black people to advocate for justice. Black power is a proactive response to white supremacy. It is a call for people power. If I wanted to shame white people, I would tell them not to come. I offered a constructive critique of how white people “showing up and caring” was, in my opinion, hijacking an important space.

      The point of my piece was to suggest that White people have no standing to critique how Black people grieve. It is, to continue the metaphor of the piece, a family affair. The howard students taking selfies bothered me but mostly in the context of how white people would receive it. It should be said that social media is viewed differently in the black community. There is a line between selfish egoism and when loving yourself and sharing your activities is a political act because we live in a world that tells us we are ugly an not valuable. I think a few black people might have crossed that line but crucially, it is not your place to judge how we grieve. I hope that makes sense and I appreciate you taking the time to read my piece.

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      • Fair enough but you’re kind of just proving my point. You are making generalizations about black and white people that A) are untrue and semi-racist and B) only serve to widen the divide. The only people “critiquing” anyone are the people in power who are being protested (many of whom are not white) and you. You are doing exactly what you are asking people not to do. I don’t advocate complacency or ignorance. I advocate change by example… and that starts with stopping your prejudice and accepting people for people – black, white, yellow, purple or green.

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      • Please tell me which generalizations I am making about White and Black people and how the are untrue and racist. Please also illuminate where you think the divide is coming from. I am not asking people to look beyond race. I am asking people to be critical of the space they are in. I am not sure how that makes me prejudice or racist.

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      • My point exactly. Why would you NOT encourage people to look beyond race? Yes, people should be critical of their space, but not based on race. To say that every black person who has participated is mourning and that all white people are taking selfies and protesting wrong is a massive generalization and an oversimplification of a much bigger issue. Yes, it may make you feel better to vent and put it down in writing, but that doesn’t make it right or noble. I don’t believe any of this IS or should be made a race issue. It’s an issue of police abuse of power and use of force across the board. The system is broken and we all have the power to create a path to fix it. Why can’t that be a rallying point for everyone? You are absolutely entitled to your opinion and I’m not implying that mine is better or more valuable than yours – but if change is the goal, unity and mutual respect is the only path. Lumping people into hard defined categories of Black and White and pointing fingers doesn’t promote unity, it promotes division.

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    • I am white, I don’t feel shamed by this at all. The world treats black people and white people differently. Black people suffer for that. You say you would “change it if you could”, but when a black person is asking for different behaviour to help them deal with the fall-out from those biases, you are offended. It makes no sense to me to admit that the world treats black and white people differently, but to expect black people to behave as though that is not true, when they are living every day with the reality that it is true.

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    • Look, Matt, we white people have the privilege of being able to look beyond race. Is that a massive generalization about “white people”, yes it is. Is it 100% true? Yes it is. For white people who rarely see racism in everyday life, asking them to realize that “looking beyond race” is not an actual thing for anyone but white people – it’s like asking a fish to see the water it’s swimming in. You don’t notice white privilege is there unless you don’t have it, or you can listen to people who don’t have it without taking it personally.

      It is hard to hold in your mind that this is a white problem, and we are white, therefore we will never not be part of this problem no matter how loud we shout “no justice no peace” at these protests. But we are less part of the problem than our parents are, and maybe if we do our part, our kids will be less part of the problem than we are. We have to admit it. We have nothing to lose but our privilege.

      If you want to live in a country where we can all look beyond race, tell that to the people with badges first. I want to live in that world with you. And if black people making issues all about racism still seems like an issue to you after we’ve demilitarized our police force and passed laws appointing a special prosecutor every time an unarmed civilian is shot by police — you can take up that issue then and we can all have a national conversation about the plight of reverse racism. But in the meantime, let’s prioritize. Are we the ones getting shot, choked, or beaten by the police? No. We are not. Let’s just trust that black people know better than us on this one.

      Would I feel uncomfortable if I had been at this rally and people started shouting Black power? Yeah I definitely would have, I would have felt like a total outsider. But you know what? Eventually they’ll start chanting something else. Or I can leave. I will survive!!! This is NOT ABOUT ME. I am not fighting back against an issue I will EVER face. NONE of this is about how this makes me feel. It is only about what I can do.

      In this case, unity for white people means standing up, shutting up, and being there as allies in this struggle that black people were fighting long before we got to this comments section.

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  12. I was at the Ferguson protest in Boston and even I noticed this occurring (I’m white). From the instant I got there, I saw groups of college girls pushing themselves through the crowds to be able to see better or hear better when black speakers would speak. Instead of just being the “response” in call-and-response chants being led by black community activists, they took over the “call” role. In my head I screamed, “This is not about you! This is not about me! This is about the black community and what they’ve lost and lose on a daily basis!” I spent much of my time at the protest considering whether I belonged there. On the one hand, silence and complacency in the wake of these past and continuing injustices against black people feels amoral. On the other hand, I didn’t want to be one of those white college kids who were there more to socialize and feel like part of a movement. As a member of the LGBT community, I know to a lesser extent the frustration of being surrounded by “allies” who tell us how we should act and what steps we should take in our movement and what we can do to fit in more or make ourselves look better to straight people. I don’t want to be a cause of that type of frustration for POC. I don’t want to get in the way. But I don’t want to do nothing either. Your post will require me to reflect even deeper going forward about what my role should be. Thank you for that.

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  13. I am a Southern, white female. I have not attended any protests yet, but it is something I’m interested in. I’ll admit, before finishing your article, I was a bit taken aback and wondered if some of what you were saying promoted segregation, rather than integration and cooperative support. That being said, having finished your article, I understand and appreciate your concerns. I can’t imagine how hard it is to feel as if you’re constructively criticizing those who want to help, and I appreciate your willingness to address what many probably aren’t comfortable saying. Whites who truly want to support Blacks in this obvious injustice need to defer to Blacks on how we can best support you. This is a Black issue, and as strongly as Whites may feel about the injustice, the pain can’t quite be the same. Thank you for expanding my understanding of how I can help. It was a very thoughtful and moving article.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for reading and for pushing past your discomfort to finish the piece. Its not an easy thing to do. I’m glad it helped deepen your understanding.

      Liked by 1 person

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  15. Thanks for writing. As a white person at the Ferguson protests in Boston, i definitely looked around for my friends and found myself by the end clumped with other white folks (organizers) I knew. I had the somewhat absurd urge to hug the young black men and women there and say, like, you are loved. But since that’s beyond awkward, I just tried to March and chant with all these folks who live in my city who I may only see as strangers on the bus. It was cool, in our very segregated city, to see a mixed race crowd out in the streets for this. But where do we go from here? Shut up and listen seems like a good start but what else? Food for reflection.
    Also, wanted to say that BYP 100 video made me really happy- so much positive power, joy and hope

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! Where do ee go from here is indeed the question. I assume we will figure it out together.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Thank you for writing this. In photos from recent protests it has made me uncomfortable that so many of them are of (well-meaning) white people. That is not what this narrative should look like. I am searching for ways to be the best ally I can, and I find that I’m learning the most by just listening.

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  17. I am a white male and I totally respect what you’re saying here.

    I can only truly be a tourist to ‘how it feels’ — but I do have to say that the recent Grand Jury decisions as well as the violent, senseless abuse of police power and the resulting deaths truly sadden me, regardless of my tourist status. The news brings a new flood of the horrific reality around how America treats our black citizens, and — as you clearly express in this post — our status through these actions in 2014 indicate that we’ve regressed in a huge way. The most alarming to me is the continued perspective we’re seeing that persists today — that somehow each race is somehow almost a different species of human being. Blacks, in particular — and especially young black men — are being treated as disposable animals with police culture throughout the nation demonstrating an ability to simply kill black people at { pretty much } the wink of an eye. Its disgusting, abhorrent, unacceptable and both the actions and attitudes need to stop and change.

    I did not attend any of the demonstrations. And its not due to my whiteness. Its also not due to my lack of support for the cause. I might not know how to respectfully show my support and solidarity as well as my sorrow for the black community across the nation, but I would anticipate that an appropriate way to participate as a caucasian American { or even as a non-black American } would be:

    • through our daily relationships and interactions with the black people in our lives { those POC that are our friends, our family, acquaintances, colleagues, etcetera };
    • through silent, humble presence at a set of specific demonstrations, but standing side-by-side with the community where respectful and appropriate { and wanted };
    • through sharing the first-person perspectives as expressed by members of the black community, both online and in person { where appropriate };
    • through non-touristy and tasteful participation that shows some sense of selflessness, honor and focus toward the community that still suffers, struggles and strongly fights for their God-given rights as American citizens to be treated just like everybody should be treated as a human being

    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Or let me know if there is any other way to properly show my support or help — if even in some small { but hopefully significantly meaningful } way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading. Unfortunately, I too don’t have all the answers on these questions. White people will have to adopt a system of action, reflections, re-building relationships, action, reflections, re-building relationships like all good activists. I think what you have outlined is a good start. Think also about organizing White people for solidarity actions and financial support. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for your insight and advice, I truly appreciate it and hope there are ways I can truly help as we move forward.

        Like

  18. I want to thank everyone who commented. I have closed the comments section because, frankly, I don’t have the time to respond to all of these comments and am unwilling to have an unmoderated thread given the subject matter. I appreciate all of the critiques and support articulated. I will take both to heart.

    Liked by 5 people

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