White People: We Need to Step Up

Black Lives Matter

I won’t apologise for the level of anger in this post.

Today, my boyfriend showed me a video of the police reaction to the recent riots in the US, caused by (most recently) the death of George Floyd at the hands (or rather, knee) of the police.

‘Reaction’ is an understatement – what we were watching, open-mouthed, was police brutality.

I felt sick to my stomach, and tears pricked my eyes as I watched.

Then I stopped myself.

What good are my tears?

These people being battered, trampled, literally run over by squad cars, pepper-sprayed by cop cars driving through a crowd – they don’t want my tears.

My tears – the tears of a white, middle-class woman, with, evidently, far more privilege than people such as George Floyd – serve no purpose.

We need change globally.

That’s why these riots are happening in the US, because this is lightyears away from being an isolated incident.

How often do we all read about events like this in the media?

How often do we shake our heads, post generic ‘Black Lives matter’ posts on social media, and think that the work is done?

We’ve barely started.

White people: we need to acknowledge our privilege and do good with it.

We need to get angry. 

Platitudes of ‘why can’t we all just get along’ have fallen on deaf ears for too long.

Rage incites change.

How was slavery made illegal? Rage and protests.

How did gay people get the right to marry in the UK and (most of) the US? Rage and protests.

How did women get the vote? Rage and protests.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” – people who have been unjustly unheard are doing all they can to elevate their voice.

The NY Times put it beautifully: “[The US] has failed to provide one of the most fundamental protections in the Constitution: the right to live.”, but I’ll take it one step further – it’s not just a right in the American Constitution, it’s a basic human right.

The US riots are, on the surface, against police brutality, specifically used on black people, but they’re part of a massive global problem: systemic racism.

But it’s such a vast issue, with so many branches and implications that we need to look at them each in turn, because systemic change doesn’t come easy.

I get it, a lot of the world is in lockdown due to Covid-19, and we’re having to temper our rage to help keep each other safe from the disease.

So if we can’t protest in the traditional sense, we need to step up in other ways.

Talk about it

At the very least, talk about it – discuss all of these events with our family and friends.

Discuss the riots, what exactly you see is wrong, and why. 

Politics is for everyone, so if you say that ‘politics isn’t for you’, you’re part of the problem, and you’re part of the reason why things won’t change.

If you’re speaking with people who don’t see what’s wrong, or are, quite simply, being racist, get them to elaborate why.

Call it out and keep asking them questions to unravel their argument.

There is no argument for police brutality.

There is no argument for racism.

You might not change their mind – as I said before, change is hard – but even planting the kernels of thought can inspire the first sparks of change.

You might also find that talking about racism opens up your own unconscious biases.

As much as it pains me to write this, it’s normal to have unconscious racist biases, no matter your race – these are a direct result of our culture, education, and the influence of the media.

Look at those unconscious biases directly, and talk through them, don’t just ignore them – they won’t go away unless you actively address them.

It helps to educate yourself (as mentioned below) to prepare yourself for discussions, and potential debates.

Some people may also take what I call The Coward’s Approach, where, instead of having a healthy debate about a topic, will resort to petty insults to argue their point – they know they’ve lost, and there’s no point in engaging them any further.

Similarly, if someone posts something blatantly racist or promoting violence (or even sexist, ableist, homophobic, or otherwise intentionally offensive to particular groups), report them, even if you don’t engage with them.

Raise awareness

There are so many stories being written and shared across all platforms.

Read them. Share them.

Just make sure that they are from a reputable source – this article is the last place I thought I’d quote Trump, but there is ‘fake news’ out there.

If you’re artistic, create art about it.

If you’re a writer, write about it.

If you’re a poet, write a poem about it.

If you’re a singer, sing about it.

If you’re a designer, create posters about it.

A word of warning: racism doesn’t exist to boost your credibility, popularity, or your brand image.

Educate yourself

It is no-one’s responsibility but your own to get educated on matters like this.

Listen to the experiences of people of colour.

If you’re feeling uncomfortable about what they’re saying, you should be.

It’s hard to hear.

But it’s even harder to live through.

Read about racism, listen to podcasts about racism, watch films about racism – there is so much available.

Here’s a list to get you started – I am, by no means, an expert on this matter, but I am reading, listening and learning – and no, I don’t deserve any praise for just being f**king human – and these are things that I have found useful (no affiliations):

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (I confess, I’ve only recently started this book, but I’m finding it useful nonetheless)

15 Things your city can do right now to end police brutality by Zak Cheney-Rice for Mic.com, 1 July 2015

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

George Floyd could not breathe. We must fight police violence until our last breath – Derecka Purnell for The Guardian, 27 May 2020 

Alton Sterling and When Black Lives Stop Mattering –  Roxane Gay for The New York Times, 6 July 2016

How to Actively Oppose Racist Violence Instead of Posting a Black Square – Nylah Burton for Vice, 2 June 2020

About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge (9-part podcast)

Speaking of Racism (podcast)

You’re not expected to know everything – no-one can.

But adopt the mantra of ABL: always be learning.

Stop saying ‘All Lives Matter’

Obviously, they do.

But not all lives are at risk because of this.

White lives don’t experience the same issues stemming from systemic racism as black people, or other people of colour.

The figures don’t lie.

Proportionally speaking, there are far too many black people being unfairly targeted and, in far too many cases, brutalised, by the police.

Of course, if you look at the figures at face value, more white people are killed by police than black people, but we need to consider the ratio of white people to black people in the US.

Black people account for 13% of the US population, and yet they make up 24% of those killed by police.

Plus, on average, black people are over 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than white people in the US.

It’s particularly prevalent in the US, but it’s happening in the UK, too – we can’t ignore it.

Saying ‘All Lives Matter’ shifts the argument, and sounds like you’re pretending that this problem doesn’t exist.

All lives cannot matter until black lives matter.

We need to focus on the problems in our society, take responsibility, and stand up.

Not all of us are in a position where we can donate, but if you can, do – even a couple of quid can help, if enough of us contribute.

I won’t even say ‘please’.

Here are some places where your money (however much you can, or if you can’t, share links to these places):

Black Visions Collective

The Bail Project

Legal Defense and Education Fund

Innocence Project

Inquiry and Impact: The University of Chicago

Associated Black Charities

Runnymede Trust

Stand Against Racism & Inequality (SARI)

Stop Hate UK

Amnesty International

Get political

Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your situation: politics affects you.

So you need to get involved.

Sign petitions, go to protests (when safe – the last thing our world needs is for the Covid-19 pandemic to claim more lives), write about what you think, discuss politics with family and friends…

No-one should be afraid of or unconcerned about politics – it is there to serve you and make the world better, for everyone.

Be empathetic.

Join local social justice groups, and connect with like-minded people to collectively change society – we can only change society when we engage with society.

You should know who your area’s elected officials are, what their policies are, what your rights are, and what you think they should be – for you and the rest of your neighbourhood.

Then expand that, and keep expanding it.

With this knowledge of your rights and who is responsible for your rights, you have power.

We all have the power to change, but we have to do it together.

Sacrifice undeserved white privilege

This is one for the white people, like myself.

It sounds harder than it is.

This is our way of working to level the playing field.

We need to acknowledge our privilege and use it, or give it up to those who don’t have the same privilege.

Watch the videos of the US protests a few weeks ago – crowds of (mainly white) people standing up for their right to… haircuts. 

Some of those people were proudly brandishing guns – even automatic weapons like AR-15s (don’t even get me started on automatic weapons), screaming into the faces of the police, with barely any reaction.

Now watch the videos of the racial riots

Peaceful protesters kicked, shot at with rubber bullets, near-blinded with tear gas, shoved so hard their heads crack against the pavement…

Feel sick? You should.

The stark difference between the two videos is absolutely disgusting.

This is white privilege.

Sure, there are white people being attacked by the police in the second video, but what are they there for in the first place? They are there as allies against a racist system.

That’s why they’re being brutalised, too.

As a white person, the chances are that you’ve never experienced anything like the sort of prejudice that black people and people of colour experience on a daily basis.

If you see injustices happening, you need to address it.

Use your privilege to address it, even if it means giving it up on the surface.

Feel guilty? You should.

Want to feel less guilty? Stand up and fight with them.

Don’t just distance yourself from issues like what’s happening in the US – it doesn’t matter where someone is, globally. 

It matters that there is injustice.

Remember that the police brutality and murder of black people in the US is one part of a larger international problem.

There are countless ways in which black people, and other people of colour, are treated unjustly.

These are flagrant abuses of basic human rights.

This is not okay.

This has to change.

And we have to change it.

So step up.

Leave a Reply

© 2022 SOCIALight Magazine
%d bloggers like this: