- Written by Liz Geiger
Standing in Solidarity: #BlackLivesMatter
As my time came to write this post I could not think of anything else to talk about other than race relations and the current upheaval that our country is dealing with. The recent events of the past few months have been difficult to process and I have found myself experiencing a slew of emotions. Yet, as a White individual I have the privilege to choose when and when not to talk/think about this, it is NOT my lived reality. Even in writing the opening sentence, yes these events have created a public “current upheaval” but this has always been a problem, systemic and institutional racism has and is currently a strong force in this country. It is unfortunate that it had to take publically documented footage and social media push to get America to open its eyes and question … wait maybe racism is a problem.
Although many Americans have taken this opportunity to discuss race relations, I have been having a hard time controlling my anger with people (especially White individuals) who continue to perpetuate and reinforce these systems of oppression. In trying to sift through this anger I realized that I need to do something about it, that as a feminist/womanist activist I need to take a stand. Thus, I am writing this blog post to my fellow White people about how to talk about race relations and most importantly how to stand in solidarity with people of color.
The first and most important step is to be aware of your defensiveness. When talking about racism it is almost a guarantee that as a White person you will feel a mixture of uncomfortable emotions (i.e., anxiety, anger, guilt, sadness) that lead you to put up defenses. I get it you do not want to come off as being racist, trust me I have been there, but you need to push past this. As a White person you have been socialized to hold prejudices and biases that in turn provide you with privilege. An example of one of these biases is: automatic associations of Black men being violent and someone we need to be afraid of. Although I would like it to be so, these biases and prejudices cannot be erased or deleted. Yet, one thing that you can do is to become aware of these biases and take action to challenge them on a daily basis. If you are unsure how to go about this I encourage you to read the article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack, by Peggy McIntosh. Being defensive in hopes of coming off as “not racist” is one of the worst things you can do. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to work on becoming aware of and challenging your defenses
Another important thing is to recognize that these recent events are not a “new thing.” Racism has not come back; it has always been here and is something people of color live with and experience on a daily basis. Racism does not just take form in overt and violent acts; it often takes place in implicit forms that are invisible to most White people. For example, asking an Asian American, “where are you from?” They say, “I am from New Jersey.” And you say, “no where are you really from or where are your parents from?” Although this White person most likely has the best of intentions they have offended this individual by communicating, you do not belong in America so therefore you cannot be American. If you would like to learn more about these forms of oppression I suggest reading the book, Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation, by Derald Sue.
Lastly, it is important to know your place when discussing race relations and providing support for your friends of color. Remember that you still benefit from racism, so do not make this about you. For example, if you are involved in the protests or any type of activism don’t stand in the front line or don’t brag about how cool it is to be part of this moment in history. Instead partake in these events along side people of color. Show your support just by being there and asking how and in what way you can help. If you want more information on how to be involved as a White person I suggest reading the following blog post http://www.damemagazine.com/2014/08/14/ten-things-white-people-can-do-about-ferguson-besides-tweet. I will end with a quote from an inspiring feminist in which I think nicely complements the topic of this post.
“Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet, all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensive destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection of changelessness.” ~Audre Lorde