When history looks back at the Civil Rights Movement in the US, I am pretty sure that August of 2014 will be significant. That was when, in response to the police shooting of Michael Brown, the riots in Ferguson happened. But these were different than other riots in response to police violence, such as the LA riots in the 1990 – these seemed contagious. For a number of reasons, this was not a one-off, but the beginning of a movement.
Out of this came the rallying cry that #BlackLivesMatter, and an unveiling of the many ways that police violence affects people who are Black in different ways than it affects people who are white, like me.
And yet, the police violence continues. As I write this, George Floyd is the latest high-profile case of a Black man being killed by a police officer. Despite Floyd’s death being filmed, and the officer obviously, purposefully, holding Floyd down with his knee on Floyd’s neck while Floyd begs for help and then dies, and while other officers look on without saying anything, none of the officers have thus far been arrested.
And so there is a lot of anger and frustration in the Black community right now, and there is little hope that justice will be done, and so, when people feel unheard, they do what always happens when they feel unheard – they riot.
I have never rioted, and I am pretty sure I will never riot, but for the same reasons I have never eaten opossum – I have never needed to. As a cisgender Christian white straight male in the United States of America, I have always had more socially acceptable methods of addressing my grievances, with the confidence that I will be heard. When you hear people (who generally look like me) say that riots are not the answer and that there are other ways to protest, what they mean is that there are better ways to protest if you look like me.
Because when armed white militias show up at state capitals, the police respond peacefully. But when unarmed native peoples ask to not have their sacred spaces marred by a pipeline, the police bring out teargas and riot gear.
So what can people who look like me: White, cisgender, straight, Christian folk do? Or more to the point, what can people who have Social Power – that is, Power gained by being part of the dominant culture, the power that comes from being the sort of person who looks “respectable” to the dominant culture – what can those people do right now that is helpful to this movement?
Here are six things that are almost always helpful when you see injustice against people who have less power than you do.
- Check-in. Reach out to your friends who are Black. Check-in. All of this is traumatic as can be, and merely checking in to say, in effect, “I see you. I am listening. I hear you” is huge. And, if you don’t have those relationships, work to change that.
- Speak out. Martin Luther King said that “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Silence is violence – please speak out in support of Black folks, be vocal about your position of support. If anyone is in doubt about where you stand, you are doing it wrong. To not speak out is to do active violence against the oppressed.
- Curate and Amplify. In times like this, there will be many voices who will use this tragedy to push their harmful agendas of hatred and violence. We have an obligation to curate those voices out and refuse to amplify them. Do not share their posts, do not link to them, do not acknowledge them. They thrive on the attention – we shall starve them out. Conversely, please share, retweet, repost, and otherwise amplify Black voices.
- Step Back. The Black community does not need us to tell them how to handle this, and they do not need our leadership. Instead, they need our support, love, and solidarity. Don’t make this about you – about what you feel, think, or want. Be quiet, show up, and listen.
- Pray. If you are a person of faith, by all means, pray. But don’t just pray on your knees, but then you need to stand up and work for justice, build relationships, bug the crap out of your elected representatives and set about the hard, banal work of building the better world we all dream is possible – a world built by countless small decisions, each which is individually insignificant, but that collectively moves us toward a more just world.
- And finally… don’t be afraid. The world can seem a scary place on days like today. And while the reality is that the world is actually safer than it has ever been, the media cannot sell that story – so they sell you a story based on fear. They literally make money by making you afraid. Don’t listen to those people. Don’t be afraid.