Black Lives Matter: The Role of Allies
After the Ferguson grand jury decision came the Eric Garner grand jury decision. While disappointing, it was not surprising that the police officer that put him in a choke hold on camera that ended Eric’s life will not face charges. While it is widely said that a proscuter can “indite a ham sandwich, apparently it is impossible (or nearly so) to indict a police officer. Which means that not all pork products can be indicted.
Statistics all over the United States back this up. While over 99% of people arrested for crimes are indicted, at least at the Federal level, this is not borne out when the accused is a police officer. Statistics show that police officers are largely immune to prosecution for excessive force, even when it leads to the death of an innocent person.
This is not a matter of one bad cop, or one bad police station. This is a systemic issue that has repercussions throughout the United States. These repercussions fall mostly, but not entirely, on the bodies of black and brown people. Thus the hashtag #blacklivesmatter.
Of course, as inevitably happens, some (presumably white) yahoo decided to create the counter and competing hashtag #alllivesmatter. Which is true. And irrelevant to the current discussion. Because changing #blacklivesmatter to #alllivesmatter has the effect, yet again, of negating the extremely racialized issue of police brutality.
As a white person with no known blood from anywhere other than the very westernmost parts of Western Europe (no Cherokee princess, either), who lives in a town that is only diversifying in the last ten years or so after being a white working class town for a hundred years, you would think I wouldn’t get a front row seat to the racialization of violence. And yet, I have.
Unlike most white folk, I don’t have one black friend, or maybe two – my friendship group is widely diverse. My cousin by marriage is from Ethiopia. My sister’s long term partner until recently was black. My oldest son’s girlfriend. My youngest son’s best friend who is also my son-by-choice. My youngest son’s other best friend, who is Dominican Hispanic and mixed race. My oldest son, who we always thought was “just” Cherokee but turns out to be about a third black, from the Cherokee rolls. One of my three best friends. Many of my friends online whom I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting in person. And that’s just a taste of the diversity of my friends.
And my youngest son, who is just as lily white as I am, ended up surrounded by police cars and handcuffed, sitting on the curb, for several hours, for the crime of stopping to use a rest room while in the company of a mixed race and black friend. He was so ashamed he never mentioned it, and his friends didn’t let me know for six months.
And I have lost friends from my stance on the murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and all the other unarmed black young men and boys who have died in the last several years at the hands of militarized police. I have gotten angry pushback for defending the right to protest. I have been called angry and radical for objecting to the dog whistle “thug” as applied to people taking actions in their communities.
And I am exhausted. But as I am exhausted, I have to, and do, remember, that at any time I can retreat behind my white skin into silence and take a break. My black and brown and mixed race friends can’t do that. They are battered, depending how persistent they are at standing up to injustice, with charges of “playing the race card” or of being “angry black people” or of being “thugs”. They have people assuming lower competence, lower social class, lower rights, than I have just for the color of their skin.
It is not my job to educate them. They know what they can or can’t handle on any day or week or month. They know what positions they have to take, both publicly and in the privacy of their own minds, in order to survive and thrive in a world that is openly hostile to their continued safety.
It is my job to stand up for their rights to other white folks. To (depending on circumstances and energy) gently or firmly or passionately call out casual racism.
It is my job to get it, and to listen, when my friends and family and other folks of color ask me to shut up and listen.
It is my job to present facts calmly to counter misinformation.
It is my job to counter the idea that #blacklivesmatter negates the value of white lives by pointing out that it is an addition, not a substitution, for the status quo, which is already that (most) #whitelivesmatter (unless they’re female, or impoverished, or politically radical in ways that threaten the status quo).
It is my job to keep trying to change the power structure that assumes that my white skin makes me inherently superior to someone with darker skin, and gives me advantages I did not ask for and don’t specially deserve.
It is my job to challenge false equivalencies.
It is my job to keep going when those I am helping are too beaten down by a hostile world to keep up.
It is my job to use the privilege I didn’t ask for to help those who don’t have it achieve more equality.
It is my job to challenge the system one word, one syllable, one letter at a time.
Because in the end, Black Lives Matter.