In the wake of deaths of black people at the hands of police violence, there is once again a new opportunity to talk about race - the right way.
Black people have been suffering at the hands of systemic racism for decades.
Most recently, there were the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who had gone for a run in his neighbourhood and was killed by a white man and his son; Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police in her home one night, and George Floyd, who was killed in police custody as a white cop knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.
Compared to those victims, Christian Cooper, a bird watcher in New York’s Central Park, was lucky: the woman who called the police on him because he asked her to leash her dog, didn’t manage to get him arrested or killed.
There have been mass demonstrations in the United States to protest against racism. These protests have brought to the fore a discussion about race and class, and how white people can be better allies to black people.
Here are some thought leaders commenting on racism and what white people can do to fight it.
Writing for the Root, former attorney Janee Woods Weber suggests rejecting the ‘good kid/criminal’ dichotomy that supports “the lie that as a rule black people, black men in particular, have a norm of violence or criminal behaviour.” She points out, “All black lives matter, not just the ones we deem to be ‘good’.”
Woods also warns about using words carefully, discarding the media's vocabulary of ‘riot’ and ‘looting’ and describing events following yet another police brutality incident as ‘a justified rebellion’.
She points out that slavery has been replaced by policing, the unjust court system and the prison-industrial complex that lock up African Americans in for-profit prisons “at disproportionate rates and for longer sentences for the same crimes committed by white people. And when we’re released we’re second-class citizens, stripped of voting rights in some states and denied access to housing, employment and education.”
Woods also recommends getting one’s news from diverse media sources to “help shape your awareness, understanding and thinking about political, economic and social issues.”
Activist and community organiser Leslie Mac, talking to Stephanie Long of Refinery 29, says “White people need to do a lot of introspective work to understand the ways in which they personally contribute to, benefit from and tolerate white supremacy”.
Mac recommends white allies-to-be to “Stop using 'they, them & those people' framing when talking about white supremacy and racism, and instead root their thought processes in 'me, we & us.'”
Mac adds that “We [black people] know it is not a question of if they [white people] will mess up but when they will mess up. What I have been saying over and over is, when white people mess up, what will they do then? Will they retreat? Will they give up? Will they lash out? Will they push blame onto others? Or will they use this as an opportunity to learn what not to do and commit to doing better?"
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BUY BLACK. Your protests and donations are crucial right now but so is long-term economic change. This is a resource that you can bookmark and return to, so tag your favorite black-owned businesses below (can only tag a max of 20 in the image). Sources: Annual Business Survey 2017 (released May 2020), Robert Fairlie, an economics professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz May 2020, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, April 2020, Center for Responsible Lending, April 2020 Thank you @aurorajames for prompting this research. Go to @15percentpledge to sign the petition and find out more. #buyblack
Data journalist and writer Mona Chalabi supports putting your money where your mouth is. She recommends that in addition to protesting and donating, people, white people especially, should shop from black businesses: “Buy black”, she says.
Chalabi’s advice echoes that of Leslie Mac’s, who says, “White people should leverage the privileges they have at all times, specifically financial ones towards those doing direct on the ground organizing work. They need to consistently ask themselves how they can remove as many barriers for support as possible.”
An example of a company giving money to black people is Bandcamp, an online digital music sales platform. Bandcamp has announced on 1 June, 2020 that “this coming Juneteenth (June 19, from midnight to midnight PDT) and every Juneteenth hereafter, for any purchase you make on Bandcamp, we will be donating 100% of our share of sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a national organization that has a long history of effectively enacting racial justice and change through litigation, advocacy, and public education. We’re also allocating an additional $30,000 per year to partner with organizations that fight for racial justice and create opportunities for people of color.”
Another example of a white ally standing up for a black person is one tweeted by Shomari Stone, NBC’s Washington DC reporter, of acting instead of paying lip service.
I will never forget this moment.— Shomari Stone (@shomaristone) June 1, 2020
A young black man jumped the gated barrier in Lafayette Park near the White House.
Then a white girl jumped the barrier and put herself between the young man & US Park Police to protect him. #historicmoment May 31, 2020 #GeorgeFloydProtest @msnbc https://t.co/4xrGNqo9Mk
In an op-ed written to mark the 55th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s arrest “by Alabama authorities for descending — with over 1,000 black demonstrators — upon, the business district of, by King’s formulation, “the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States [Birmingham]”,” Jackson F. Brown notes that local clergymen had criticised King’s campaign of civil disobedience.
Supporting King’s defence of his campaign, Brown says “Today, more than a half century later, this “stumbling block,” as King calls it, of white Americans’ complacency and rote empathy toward the struggle for racial equality remains basically unchanged.”
According to Brown, “to be truly effective allies, white progressives must be willing to set aside their ultimate birthright: comfort.”
Brown defines “white privilege” as “an implied right to silence, inaction, and avoidance of discomfort around issues of racial inequality, even among those who might consider themselves “progressive,” “moderate,” or “allies,”” and invites all those who wish to stand in solidarity with black people to speak up.
We would like to leave you with the words of James Baldwin on what the average white man should do to counter racism.
This is taken from an Esquire interview conducted in 1968 and was published soon after King’s death: “Pressure on his landlord, pressure on the local government, pressure wherever he can exert pressure. Pressure, above all, on the real estate lobby. Pressure on the educational system. Make them change textbooks so that his children and my children will be taught something of the truth about our history. It is run now for the profit motive, and nothing else.”