To My Fellow White Americans,
In the last two days, a lot has been said about Mike Brown, Officer Wilson, racism, and so much more. I’ve noticed that many of my white acquaintances on Facebook or other places have said or posted some pretty terrible things, perhaps not realizing it. So, here’s a short guide for my fellow white people about how to publicly engage in this situation.
- When in doubt, shut up. If it crosses your mind that it might be perceived as offensive, racist, antagonizing, or “honest,” just keep it to yourself. If you describe your post as, “Some people might get mad, but this is true…” you’ve already gone too far. Delete it.
- Racism is not “over.” You, as a white person, might be inclined to think that the Civil Rights struggle ended what we call institutionalized racism. You might think that because you have black friends, because your school has black students in it, because a black person can vote, racism is officially over. But racism is not like a football game. It is not over because someone in charge declared one team the winner, and we all move on and accept that team’s victory. Racism is more like capitalism. It’s been a part of this country’s societal fabric since before day one, and like capitalism, it cannot be voted away. Every time goods and services are exchanged in the U.S., capitalism is happening, even if you are a socialist. Likewise, whether or not Officer Wilson is consciously racist, or his actions were consciously racially motivated, his actions are a result of the racism inherent to American society, where black people, in particular black men, are regularly killed by the police.
- Nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to hear you say that white people are victims of racism too. If your response to the overwhelming number of black men who are mistreated by police is to say, “It happens to white people too,” don’t say it or post it. Anybody can be racist, it’s true. But racism in the U.S. is about the system, a system which is designed to benefit white people. Therefore, you, as a white person, cannot be a victim of racism. You can be mistreated because of your skin, yes, but you are not a victim of the system.
- Just shut up about the people in Ferguson you call “rioters” or “looters.” We all know that destroying property is not going to help the situation, but we don’t need you to tell us, and if that was your first reaction to the verdict, you should be concerned. You have no authority to tell protesters that this kind of behavior is the problem. No, the problem is what is causing the riots, and you should be more concerned about that. Let leaders within the black community and in Ferguson deal with the best way to protest.
- Not being a “racist” does not qualify you to comment on how black people should dress, talk, or act. Just stop. Really. Mike Brown was not killed because some people sag their pants. Trayvon Martin was not a thug because he wore a hoodie.
- If you are tempted to comment on the details of the case, choose to listen first. You might have something meaningful to say. You might have something blatantly ignorant to say. Wait. You might not be able to tell the difference. Let other voices who are not white speak first, and learn from them how to react. Chances are good that your gut reaction has been influenced by racism, so learn what the people most affected by the racist system have to say first.