Dear fellow white people,
Every morning that I wake up to hear about another fatal shooting at the hands of the law I am so utterly disappointed. As a society we blindly trust in a broken system that is meant to protect us all, yet causes very real danger for some. I mourn the reality that systemic racism is still very much alive and well today.
Here is the reality…
“Young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers in 2015, according to the findings of a Guardian study that recorded a final tally of 1,134 deaths at the hands of law
Despite making up only 2% of the total US population, African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprised more than 15% of all deaths logged this year by an ongoing investigation into the use of deadly force by police. Their rate of police-involved deaths was five times higher than for white men of the same age.
Paired with official government mortality data, this new finding indicates that about one in every 65 deaths of a young African American men in the US is a killing by police.
“This epidemic is disproportionately affecting black people,” said Brittany Packnett, an activist and member of the White House taskforce on policing. “We are wasting so many promising young lives by continuing to allow this to happen.”” – The Guardian
According to the Guardian project, US police have already killed at least 136 black people in 2016.
You cannot deny the truth that lies behind these facts. Racism has continued to weave its way through the “justice” system. We see this when we look at the staggering statistics like those mentioned above. We see this when we hear stories of police brutality, assault and mistreatment of Black men and women. We see this every time a killer walks free after a Black life was so unjustly stolen. What’s more important than the numbers themselves, is the reality behind those numbers. When adversity like this begins to surface, you hope to see people come together to rise up and fight for what is right… but I have to admit that I find myself disheartened by some of the responses to the tragedies happening around us. With each report of another life lost, we witness a tidal wave from the #BlackLivesMatter movement, a movement grounded in love, peace and the hope for real change. But unfortunately, with it often comes a backlash of the controversial #AllLivesMatter ‘movement’.
There is nothing I despise more than a white person with a saviour complex, and that is not what this letter is about. This is about calling white people out – because it’s about damn time.
Many people are expressing their support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement – but despite the many people that support the movement there are too many ear shattering voices fighting against it, or worse, standing by silently.
Over social media I have witnessed many Black women express their heartache and sorrow for what has been happening in our world as of late. I also see the frustration that so many people feel from the criticism and/or lack of support from white people in particular when it comes to this movement.
When I began to see this opposition to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, I asked myself, why would someone reject such an important protest to violence, death and destruction? Here’s what I’ve come up with…
Number 1 | Ignorance
There are many people who don’t understand the history of systemic racism, the increasing number or tragedies or the #BlackLivesMatter movement itself.
To those people, I ask of you – before publicly or even privately staking your position and sharing your opinion, educate yourself first. When we speak from a place of ignorance we continue to strengthen the very systems that instill racist thought and encourage racist behaviour in our world.
Want to learn about the movement? Check out the Black Lives Matter website.
Number 2 | The Rejection of the Existence of Racial Discrimination
Many people reject the necessity and the value of the #BlackLivesMatter movement because they reject the very existence of systemic racism. I find that this happens for one of two reasons:
One, because systemic racism doesn’t impact them or the people in their world (or at least they don’t realize that it does) and therefore it must not exist.
Or, because the recognition and acknowledgment of systemic racism creates a moral dilemma that many people would rather ignore.
Acknowledging discrimination forces people to recognize their own privilege in life, which brings me to my next point…
Number 3 | The Fear of Our Own Privilege
Peggy McIntosh, an American feminist and anti-racist activist, describes white privilege this way:
“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks” -Peggy McIntosh, White Privilege and Male Privilege
White Privilege is a term used to define the unearned societal benefits awarded white people.
Now I am not suggesting that individual people do not experience discrimination in some form (e.g. femininity & womanhood, economic or age discrimination) but despite these individual circumstances, the underlying privilege of your whiteness still exists.
Acknowledging the existence of white privilege does not make you racist. But denying it’s existence creates both visible and invisible barriers to creating real social change and equity in society.
When any person of privilege takes offence to the empowerment of another group of people it usually comes from a place of fear – fear that somehow they will lose their standing and their place in the world. This needs to stop. We need to strive for equity and in order to achieve equity we need to acknowledge the reality of our current state.
We can’t change our world until we acknowledge the reality of our world – let’s just be real and tell it like it is no matter how uncomfortable it may make you feel. For centuries our whiteness has provided us with undeserved, unquestioned privilege. We serve no good by pretending it doesn’t exist. Get over it.
If you think this phenomenon doesn’t exist – then you need to check your privilege. Take a look at this great article on Mapping Power, Privilege and Oppression or refer to Peggy McIntosh’s list of real-life Daily Effects of White Privilege. I would also encourage you to read Peggy’s article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.
Number 4 | Attention Seeking
Many people who reject the #BlackLivesMatter movement do so through the implication, and sometimes explicitly stating, that we shouldn’t just focus on Black people because they (you know who you are) experience discrimination too – which leads to their argument that “All Lives Matter”.
A perfect example of this occurred when a previous co-worker of mine posted her feelings about the #BlackLivesMatter – #AllLivesMatter controversy. Another person, who is white, commented on her status complaining that white people have experienced racism from Black people who wouldn’t accept their support in the movement.
My response to this? There is a monumental difference between situational and systemic racism. Just because you experienced a situation where you felt you were treated unjustly due to the whiteness of your skin does not erase the systemic racism that has permeated its way through so many pillars of our society.
Your whiteness does not create cultural, economic or physical barriers on a systemic level. Your whiteness does lead to systemic injustice.
And let’s not forget – the #BlackLivesMatter movement does not imply that only Black lives matter, it does not imply that Black lives are more important than other lives. As Judith Butler & George Yancy wrote, the #BlackLivesMatter movement:
“…states the obvious but the obvious has not yet been historically realized. So it is a statement of outrage and a demand for equality, for the right to live free of constraint, but also a chant that links the history of slavery, of debt peonage, segregation, and a prison system geared toward the containment, neutralization and degradation of black lives, but also a police system that more and more easily and often can take away a black life in a flash all because some officer perceives a threat.” – Judith Butler & George Yancy, What’s Wrong with ‘All Lives Matter’
#BlackLivesMatter is a message to the world that Black Lives Matter. The “too” is implied.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before but you wouldn’t run through a breast cancer awareness event screaming about how lung cancer matters too. We know it does. Need a little more of an explanation? Check out this great metaphor from GeekAesthete.
So what am I asking you to do? To my fellow white people, I extend the following 5 challenges…
- Recognize your privilege & educate yourself
- Never respond to a movement that is calling for justice, equity and love with hate
- Remember that kid who would always started crying when another kid was hurt because they wanted attention? Don’t be that kid – no one likes that kid
- Do not confuse situational racism with systemic racism – and on that note, do not assume that one individual acting out of anger is the representation of an entire movement
- Promote love and humanity in everything that you say and do
And to those of you that are thinking “this is a Black issue”— I would like to remind you that this is not a Black issue, this is a human issue. Your neutrality is not noble – this is no time to play Switzerland.