Yes, It Actually is a Race Issue
With tears falling on my trembling fingers, I sit down to address the grief sweeping our nation; the grief making a home in my heart. In the past three days, two black men lost their lives at the hands of police brutality and five officers were shot and killed by a third party shooter during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. I have been logging onto social media less and less, afraid of what new tragedy I may find.
The tension is palpable. The black community, already so heavily burdened by generations of abuse and inequality, is outraged. They are grieving. They are standing up, demanding that we say their names: Alton Sterling. Philando Castile.
Can you hear it? Voices are rising; cries for justice are getting louder. But, even louder still is the overwhelming silence of white people everywhere.
Our grief is selective; our outrage, discriminatory. As a collective group, we have mourned the deaths of Dallas policemen without uttering a single legitimate condolence to the black community. “This is not a race issue,” the white masses protest. “This is an issue of respect! The media is lying to us and we don’t know all of the facts!”
Is the media only trustworthy when a white man dies? We demand evidence, but if video footage is not enough, what will be?
I will not pretend to write this as though I am somehow better. I am white, and I am blatantly privileged. My entire life, I have benefited from a system founded on racism and on the backs of slaves. I do not fear for my life when I walk past a cop. I do not automatically raise suspicion when entering grocery stores. I am generally treated well and listened to when voicing concern. If I were to die at the hands of gun violence today, my loss would likely be immediately mourned, questions of whether or not I provoked it not even considered. I grew up being taught we lock our car doors when a person of color walks past, that we live in “these” kind of neighborhoods and not “those” because they’re “sketchy and unsafe.” This is the reality of my life, the result of systemic racism plaguing our country.
If you are white, this is your reality as well.
And, listen. I get it. Being told you’re automatically privileged because of the color of your skin is a tough pill to swallow. (Racial prejudice stings, does it not?) But we have to. We have to. We have to. Because, and this is where I keep meeting resistance: white people are inherently racist.
Stop. Did your defenses go up? Mine did too when someone first threw that in my face.
But that doesn’t make it any less true.
We are raised in a culture and country that predisposes us to believe we are better and deserve more than minorities. This is our default. And when I first began considering this possibility, it’s as though the black voices that have always been crying out for justice were amplified.
They expressed recognition of my racist comments and prejudice, whether my intent was to imply white supremacy or not. [See: assuming young, black mothers were unmarried; assuming black men walking on the sidewalk with baggy pants were rebellious thugs; assuming police brutality against black individuals was provoked and deserved, but simultaneously believing violence toward white people is an outrage; assuming I am more educated than most African Americans I work with.] In fact, being racist without intending to be racist is a prime example of an age-old, systemic issue; one that is breathing, moving, and killing.
My black brothers and sisters graciously brought it to my attention that to even have the option of deciding whether or not a racial injustice concerns me is privilege. To say nothing is complicity, and to ignore it is to contribute to their oppression.
This is a lot, and this is summarized. No amount of words or grief can erase our hand in the oppression and marginalization of African Americans. No amount of apologies will be enough. Even recognizing the privilege we receive cannot heal wounds that have been carved by generations of injustice.
But we can, right now, choose to repent, stand up, speak up, and be a good ally. We can, right now, commit to advocating and fighting for the oppressed. We can, right now, actively pursue justice and encourage others to do the same. As Desmond Tutu said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
So, what steps can we take?
- Do not ask African Americans around you what you should do. That is not their responsibility. Let them mourn. This is for white people to (finally) figure out.
- Stop saying #AllLivesMatter as a response to #BlackLivesMatter. You effectively silence those who are crying out for justice, implying their specific pain does not need addressing or healing.
- Amplify the voices of black men and women, and be willing to be told that you are wrong.
- Be vocal about why you’re fighting for the equality of the black community. I think we often convince ourselves that by staying silent, we are making room for people who “really” know what they’re talking about. Silence, however, invokes no change. Silence has a body count.
- Join your local NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). It is $30 for an adult membership, and it is worth it. It is the beginning of getting involved with real initiatives for change.
- Contact your county authorities and begin a discussion about protocol for how police are trained to address minorities in the community. Let it be known that you care deeply about making sure police brutality against black people ends.
I am still learning and I am still figuring out that I am often wrong, but I do not have an excuse to remain stagnant. I hope we all see that, really, none of us do.
Be a good ally, today.
Piper Lynn is a woman (not-so-gracefully) stumbling, learning, and growing through her twenties. She is engaged to her very best friend, a lover of animals, slow mornings, and Netflix binges. Piper is a passionate woman, whether it's in regards to social justice, poverty, or fighting to break the stigmas around mental health by writing openly about her own mind's daily battles. More than anything, she is an advocate for humans, working hard to use the words she writes to fight for others. For her, writing is more than a hobby; it's a vital part of reaching people who are in need of a safe place, offering a simple, "Me too."