As a White social justice writer, I often hesitate before writing about the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a respect thing. It has to do with the fact that I am not Black, so I often feel as though I should not be commenting on Black issues. Who am I, this little White girl, to be standing up for a group that I am not a part of? But when you have an awareness of an injustice or reality, it almost becomes your duty to do whatever is within your power to rectify that injustice. If it is within your power to do so, you almost always should.
I have been beaten by the police before, within the privacy of my home. There were no video cameras present, and even if there were, no one would probably even care. I’m a social activist, now a rapper, and where I come from, the term “White privilege” is not even in the realm of consciousness. Understanding it is simply not a priority. So you can imagine how welcome my activism was in that community. As in…not at all.
In case you’re wondering, I fought back.
Then I got thrown into the system, and was faced with a reality that I had never seen before. Violence is almost always the first resort of those in authoritative positions. I have been beaten to the ground by 8 systemic workers, and trust me, they were anything but gentle. One man nearly broke my arm until I screamed “you’re breaking my arm!,” then he stopped. I guess he figured it wasn’t worth the potential lawsuit.
Certain lives are not given value in this society. Certain voices are not given a platform. Certain individuals make the TV screen, and certain voices have to take matters into their own hands.
If you felt nothing at the Alton Sterling murder video that surfaced Tuesday night, or the Philando Castile video that surfaced the following day, there are a few potential explanations. One, you are brainwashed. Two, you are numb. Three, you have never been on other end of police violence (or even the threat of it).
If you are brainwashed, there is always room to enlighten yourself. Educate yourself on what the Black Lives Matter movement is about. Read up on MLK, Malcolm X…but you have to want to know what this struggle is about. Second, if you are numb, chances are you know what this struggle is all about, and are just desensitized by the realities that surround us. You are even more difficult of a case than the brainwashed among us, because you know, but just can’t process yet another innocent Black life lost at the hands of the police. You are awake but temporarily asleep. This is probably not your fault, we can only process so much, and the media images that surround us push us back into a deep slumber. And third, if you have never been threatened with police violence or been privy to the special treatment police dole out to anyone who needs to be “kept in line,” then chances are you just don’t see it at all.
The systemic murdering of Black men (and women) is the definition of genocide, and I do not use that word lightly, I am very well aware of its weight. The very dangerous thing about the U.S. media is that is America’s greatest export, and right now what we periodically see on our Twitter feeds worldwide are innocent men getting killed because of the color of their skin. No other reason. Simply because they are not White, or more accurately, because they are Black. This rhetoric is spreading globally.
Alton Sterling was selling CDs. Eric Garner, loose cigarettes. In both videos you can see the lack of humanity in the actions of those who are charged with the task of protecting our communities. Neither Garner nor Sterling were violently resisting arrest, so there was no just causes for the excessive use of force. There was no need for this escalation of violence in either case. But then again, this is protocol, now isn’t it?
I have yet to even watch the Philando Castile video in full. My heart can’t take it. More than being mad, I am heartbroken. I feel as though the world has lost its sense of humanity, if it ever even had it. And worse than that, it is not open to the answers that are so blatantly in front of our faces. We need leaders to lead, organize communities, and mobilize. On the ground, in your offices, in the home. Marginalized communities need to come together around one central cause, improving the state of our world. We need to get a handle on this situation NOW. Not tomorrow, not in ten years, not in 100…NOW. And White people need to get on board.
It’s about time we stop being “shocked” that another innocent life was taken in such a brutal manner and start recognizing the institutionalized racism that exists in our society. THIS is how Black men and women are treated in 2016. THIS is reality. Stop telling yourself otherwise. A group of NYPD police officers came forward on television to inform the public that YES, harassment is protocol. YES, vulnerable communities are targeted, and YES, it comes down from the top as a command and trickles down. I want to give a special “Thank You” to those brave officers, they are undoubtedly feeling the wrath of our clandestine society right now.
People often throw their hands up at what the potential answer is. To me, it is simple. Our world needs a morality adjustment. I used to speak more liberally about the potential answers but then…well, I value my life. And when people doubt the reality of what happens to activists, people who speak out, Black people, Latinos, members of the LGBTQ community, they are just a part of the problem. A major part. Because they pull the ostrich approach and stick their heads in the sand. It’s funny, because more often than not, these people are privileged and White, and while their heads may be buried in the sand, their asses are still safe above ground.
If Jesse Williams‘ BET acceptance speech did not resonate with you, then I am sorry for you. Really, I am. If you cannot see the incredible value in his powerful words, then you are truly going to be left behind. But if it did resonate with you, and if you did feel something when you watched Alton Sterling’s senseless murder, or Philando Castile’s, ask yourself the tough questions. How did we get here? Why are things the way they are? And, what can we do to stop it?
There are some things we have to accept in life, like the inevitability of death. But one thing we DO NOT have to accept are the killings of innocent members of our society based on the color of their skin.
I see a general theme of people not knowing what to do anymore, but we have more power than many would like for us to believe. If you’re a public figure, this is a time you should be speaking up. You never know where expressing your opinion can go. All change begins with a conversation. It may seem like a futile exercise next to the firing of bullets, but it is actually our best weapon.
Many White people do not even recognize their privilege. This is almost not even their fault, as they often do not know any better. All it takes is conversation or the dissemination of information to wake someone up, and we all need to come together over this cause.
I will be the first to admit that I did not understand the concept of White privilege in full up until a few years ago. While I recognized racism and injustice from a very young age, I was taught to place my religious group’s prosperity over the promotion of others. That was how I was supposed to identify myself. Distrust of the other is taught in our system, and putting your head on the chopping block for the benefit of another group’s well-being is not desirable to many.
I hear racist comments all the time and have to bite my tongue for multiple reasons, namely for security and safety purposes. There is NO shame in that, although you may feel like you are betraying both yourself and others in that moment. Social justice is a careful balancing act. Identify which situations you should speak up in and which ones you should not in order to preserve your wellbeing. That being said, when and where you can, ALWAYS educate others. Ignorance may be rampant, but it is not a death sentence for our society. Recognize which battles to fight. And always put your safety first.
Our Black brothers and sisters are watching as members of their community and their family and friends get murdered by those who are supposed to serve and protect ALL. But the reality is that police are protecting the elite. Not those of us with darker skin, progressive opinions, or the poor.
I was put through extensive silencing tactics by our system. Clearly it didn’t work, but I did learn an important lesson: be cautious. And while I am telling you to step up if you can, do not forget the realities of our collective situation.
I want to leave you with one final thought. I had an epiphany of sorts the other night. While discussing this issue with a friend, I touched on the importance of education for people of all backgrounds in the Black Lives Matter movement and realized that we cannot rely on our education system to properly educate. It is run by the very same people who institutionalized these inequalities in the first place. The private sector must take education of the public into their own hands, because order will continue to be preserved in the current manner until it is forced to change.
Change starts with you and what you’re willing to do to make it happen.
Choose love. Choose to be awake. And if you’ve got a voice, don’t be afraid to use it.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty