All over the country I’m talking with white anti-racists who are struggling with the tensions of centering Black voices and leadership and the slogan “white silence is compliance.” I’m talking with experiencedwhite anti-racists all over the country who only want to take action if a Black activist personally asks them to do it. I’m talking with white anti-racists all over the country who both feel the enormity of this heart breaking and powerful Black Lives Matter movement time, and are blocked from moving forward out of fear of becoming part of the problem. Here are five reflections shared with the goal of helping us step upand bring other white people with us.
1. Following Black Leadership in this time: Yes, it is essential that we are looking to Black leadership for vision, strategy and direction. But that doesn’t mean waiting for personal direction from a Black activist before taking action. It doesn’t mean only going to Black organized demonstrations and events. It doesn’t mean only doing support work and staying in the background. Black leadership for over 100 years has been calling on white people committed to racial justice to BRING racial justice leadership to whitecommunities, to organize and mobilize white people to come together to demonstrate and protest againstwhite supremacy and for racial justice. The time is now to organize vigils, demonstrations, speak outs, and fundraisers for BLM efforts -in white communities, white/mostly white congregations, white/mostly whitenetworks where ever you are at. Look for ways to build deeper, trusting relationships with Black leaders in your area, and listen for ways they are calling on white people to act, but also know that Black leaders are already spread thin organizing in their communities and building this movement. You can ask “I’m working to get more white people involved and if you have any thoughts on how we can be most effective, let me know”, and you can already start getting white people on board and ready to go.
2. Take Space to Make Space: Yes, we want millions of white people to listen to and respect the voices, experiences, leadership of Black people. And that does not mean we don’t need to also bring in our voices, experiences and leadership to help make that happen. We need to TAKE SPACE with whitepeople and in white communities to passionately, creatively, honestly, tell our stories of coming into anti-racist/racial justice consciousness as a bridge to helping other white people develop their hunger to do the same thing, and also give other white people insights and directions on how to do that. We need to encourage, support, love on other white people who we think can move, and open their hearts in this moment, and boldly ask them to join us in going to demonstrations, organizing a contingent in your congregation, neighborhood, school to come out to protests, write letters to the editor, take public stands in support of Black-led Black Lives Matter movement. We take space to then MAKE SPACE for white people to hear and respect Black voices, experiences, and leadership. But we can’t wait for white folks to do this on their own, as white anti-racists, part of our work is taking responsibility to move other white people into action.
3. But I need to be more educated/trained to take action: Yes, we need education and yes we need training. AND, we learn so much in the process of taking action, joining with others, and having transformative experiences of putting our ideas into action. Many white people think they need more education and training because they are terrified of making mistakes and saying/doing the wrong things. This comes from a good place of not wanting to reinforce systems of oppression on people of color. But here’s the deal: the greatest threat to communities of color isn’t the mistakes of well intentioned whitepeople, the greatest threat is structural and cultural annihilation from systems of oppression. And let me tell you: there is no such thing as “having it all figured out”, we figure it out as we go. You can’t workshop away your fear, but you can reach out to comrades, acknowledge what emotions are holding you back, and together support each other to step up to the historic times we live in. We have to be careful that anti-racism for white people doesn’t become a monastic life hoping to educate one’s self out of compliance withwhite supremacy – we aren’t looking for individual enlightenment, we’re looking to be part of dynamic, messy, grassroots initiatives to disrupt and challenge white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, by building the capacity of ourselves and other white people to both respond to the calls (and there are many) fromBlack leaders on actions to take, to join with national white anti-racist networks like Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), AND taking initiative to organize events and actions in white society that advances the message, vision and demands of the #BlackLivesMovement.
4. But I’m afraid that everything I do will suck: On some level, nearly everything we do sucks, not just forwhite people, but for all of us. We must overcome the fear of how we suck, so that we can see the ways that we are also awesome, and to see the ways that we can be awesome for racial justice. If your focus is on how whatever you do can in some way reinforce white supremacy, then yes, you will have a very strong sense of how everything sucks. But this is a time that calls on white people to face our demons – not through analysis alone, but through heart and soul work – and begin, in whatever ways you can, to take steps towards action for racial justice. For example, white people in Baltimore organizing an action to break the curfew, with signs about racist enforcement, about Black Lives Matter. White people in congregations around the country, organizing Black Lives Matter vigils, fundraisers for BLM, hanging BLM banners outside their churches (as many Unitarian Universalist churches are doing), and organizing rapid response groups to be able to turn people out to protests, community events, and vigils for racial justice. In NYC Jews for Racial and Economic Justice organized civil disobedience actions with Rabbis, community leaders, and activists to raise awareness in the Jewish community and unite their community with Black Lives Matter. In Knoxville, Tennessee white racial justice organizers have been part of organizing multiracial teams organizing Black Lives Matter demonstrations and bus rides to Ferguson to unite the raise the wage fight with Black Lives Matter. There are white anti-racists supporting the capacity of Black-led organizing by cooking means for meetings, doing childcare, providing rides, raising money – and doing all of this with an eye towards recruiting white people who might not go to a demonstration and risk arrest, but can and want to throw down. And then asking white people who get involved, in whatever way, to share why they’ve done this with white people in their lives, do report backs to their congregations or unions, share why they did it through social media, encourage others to get involved and provide a step for how to do it.
5. But is it my place to do these things: Yes. Do you believe in Black Liberation? Do you believe in collective liberation? The changes we need will not be brought about by thousands of white people coming into anti-racist consciousness and then deciding the best thing they can do is step back. We need whiteanti-racists all over the country to STEP UP, but step up DIFFERENTLY, then how white supremacy tellswhite people to do – step up because everything is yours. We need white anti-racists to be mindful of privilege, but to not forget to also be powerful for liberation. Try to cultivate a mindset that doesn’t start with “how can I not screw up”, but rather asks, “how can I be awesome for liberation”, knowing that this will always include listen to other people, supporting Black and people of color leadership, but also bringing your own leadership, initiative, creativity and passion to the question of “how can we bring more and morewhite people into racial justice action, because this is about a future in which Black Lives truly Matter, and our place is in the struggle to end white supremacy and build up collective liberation. Yes it will be scary, yes it will be awkward, yes you will second guess yourself, yes you will ask “but I’m I really the person to be doing this”, but tell that voice in your head to relax, and look for others to work with, look to more experienced white anti-racists for support, join with people of color and Black-led efforts, listen to the many ways white people are bring asked to step up, and take the first step.
To white people who want to see a different world where Black Lives Matter, knowing that this will also be a better world for all of us, I love you. Not because of the ways you are awesome, but also for the ways that we suck. We can do this.