To my white friends:
I am writing this in a way that I would understand it. My tone isn’t going to be acceptable for everyone, because not everyone is where I am. If you think I’m being too aggressive, then maybe you’re not ready to hear what I have to say. Come back in a year.
Let those who have ears hear it.
Photo: Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune
White friends- you need to stop. However you are reacting to the latest headline-grabbing murder of a black man by a white person who assumed a position of power (no, not that one, this one), you need to stop and think about the role you play in this narrative.
If you’re like me (and if you’re reading this, you are), you were raised to believe that you were special, that you could do anything, and that you would have the power to change the world. None of that is bad, and maybe some of it is true. So when you see atrocities like what happened to George Floyd in Minnesota, it feels natural to call for justice. Justice is what makes sense, because it puts the bad guy where the bad guy should be.
In the ongoing saga of white on black murder, white people will not write the story. It seems obvious, when we call it “white on black murder,” that a white person willing their voice into the conversation, even to speak as an advocate for the disenfranchised, is a further penetration of white culture into the black experience. Yet, with every Facebook debate, with every oh-so-clever picture comparing Colin Kaepernick’s kneel to the one taken by the Minnesota officer onto Floyd’s neck, I feel the urge to jump in, to opine and give my unique insight about a problem that I have never faced. The last thing the world needs is another white savior who thinks he knows what’s best for people of color.
The lived black experience is not a safari you can go on. You can’t buy a ticket to your nearest black neighborhood and come back a radical convert. We don’t get to seat ourselves in the back of the bus and claim experiential knowledge of the struggles of being black in America. You can’t get woke in a weekend. Even white scholars of black America may not be invited to the cookout (and I definitely shouldn’t be talking about the cookout).
When black people march in the streets, break windows out of police cars, or whatever they choose to do in that moment of protest, our first course of action is to be quiet. We’ve spent 400 years on this continent telling black people how to act. If you want to see change, then change your reaction. Deciding the “right way to protest” isn’t up to you, because the man under that police officer’s knee doesn’t look like you. He didn’t have the lifestyle you do. He didn’t worship in your church, get his haircut at your barber, or quarantine in your HOA. His experience is not yours, and you should not project your experience onto him.
I’ve been wracking my brain about how to address what we can do. As is usually the case, the best thing I can think to do is listen. If you’re having a conversation about the best way forward, and see that there are more white people chiming in than non-white people, stop and think about what is happening there. That conversation reinforces the idea that white people are endowed with the responsibility as stewards of the world. Make an active choice to be the less-dominant voice.
Hear what your black friends and family members are saying. See how they grieve. Grieve with them if you’re invited, but otherwise, leave yourself out of it. When it comes time to act, act with your black friends and family members. Follow their example, even (especially) if it means forsaking your white friends, because white people will not be the ones to fix white on black murder.