In the wake of recent police murders and violence, I have no 5-step guide to offer; no instruction manual for white folks who want to help. For the 48 hours after a publicized police shooting, we are always so desperate for ways to help; to ease our white guilt or sometimes genuinely offer condolences to people of color. It’s clear that condolences aren’t what’s needed. Apologies don’t end genocides. Still, we want to fill the void between our separate realities with good intentions; we want to show up.
My gut reaction was to do just that. White supremacy teaches us to want to fix other people’s wounds (hence the masses of white social workers and nurses – myself included). I called my friend, a Black woman, a day or two after the shootings. I apologized for not having the right words, automatically turning the conversation back to me despite the collective trauma she and her community are currently processing. “That’s the thing,” she replied, “you don’t have to find words for it.”
She’s right. Whiteness buys me out of having to do so. It buys me out of fearing for my life every single day, out of watching cops get paid leave after killing black and brown people, out of the intergenerational grief and trauma of breathing while black in America. Whiteness acts as a shield. The vast majority of us do not think about race because we don’t have to. We are conditioned not to; waking up to the institutional oppression and genocide of black bodies would be detrimental to the functioning of white supremacy.
It has been almost two weeks since the shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Hours after the two shootings, my Facebook feed was flooded with grief and condolences, autoplay videos of the murder, Twitter funerals, policy changes, pointed fingers, photos of families ripped apart by police violence. White friends and family that usually scoff at my organizing efforts were demanding change, some with detailed police reform agendas, others with bleak declarations – “enough is enough.” There was an extreme sense of urgency – an urgency that, unfortunately, has surely been felt and passed by before.
A key component of white culture is believing that we (white people) know the “right way” of doing things and solving problems, rather than trusting people of color’s experiences and knowledge. Last week, white friends of mine were quickly up in arms about the shootings and wanted to DO something about them. “Let’s meet up, let’s plan some shit,” they’d say. I understand the urgency and energy, but both people of color and white folks have been organizing around police brutality and racial justice for years. This isn’t an isolated incident, nor the first of its kind. White privilege is feeling good about wanting to DO something right away, regardless of how potentially harmful it could be to organizing efforts led by people of color. Our sense of urgency must translate into a consistent and unwavering commitment to anti-racist organizing that is accountable to black-led organizing.
Now, a week or so later, my Facebook feed is mostly vacation pictures, personal rants, Pokemon Go reviews … it seems the majority of America has moved on to the next headline, privileged in the ease of back to “business as usual.” Business as usual in America is racial profiling, stop and frisk policies, un-investigated deaths in police custody, un-indicted police officers – a slow genocide of black and brown bodies.
White privilege in the wake of racial injustice is choosing to move on to the next headline. It’s feeling angry, and sad, and guilty for a moment, until our short attention spans are caught by something else. Can you imagine if white people cared as much about the murders of black folks as we do about Pokemon Go? How embarrassing is it as a country that there are more people talking about Pokemon and living in a virtual reality than talking about police brutality and the murder of black and brown bodies? #whiteprivilege means safely walking around in circles through the city trying to catch some mythical creature on your smartphone and not feeling the heaviness of loss and grief from your community.
Where do we go next? What comes after the heavy grief, the empathy, the loss? How do we collectivize consistently in our communities against racism rather than focus on just being good, even the best, individual white folks we can be? Because being good white folks is not enough. Being sad when black men are killed at the hands of the police again and again is not enough. As a group, we need to go deeper into our roles in this system that perpetuate violent, homicidal racism. We need to understand that we are, in fact, a group – not individuals – and that group is promoting the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and hundreds if not thousands of other black and brown bodies in the name of our collective safety.
Oftentimes we feel shielded from racism and police violence in the supposedly liberal Pacific Northwest. But right here in Seattle, Che Taylor was shot to death by Seattle Police officers in February. His brother, Andre Taylor, has been organizing for “The People’s Initiative,” which calls for the ability to prosecute a law enforcement officer in a use of deadly force murder (currently Washington state has the most protection for officers to get away with using deadly force). Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC), a Black-led organizing group, has been organizing against the new youth jail on 12th and Alder for the past four years. The youth jail will cost $210 million to construct. Meanwhile, Seattle Police Department plans to build a $130 million police bunker in North Seattle. The militarization of the police state and the racist violence it perpetuates is very prevalent in Seattle. White privilege allows us to be naive to this reality.
So white folks: When POC organizers propose revolution, the dismantling of policing and incarceration, perhaps it is time we listen rather than compromise; time we follow instead of problem solve; time to learn from history rather than reinventing the wheel of collective organizing and action that POC organizers have been doing for far longer than we have known about our privilege. We need to collectively encourage our white communities and all the amazing individuals in them to do the same. Because, whether we like it or not, we [white folks] are responsible for each other as a group and the fluctuations of our individual feelings do little to change the reality of that. It isn’t what we do right after a publicized shooting that will spur change, but how we collectivize as white folks to undo racism when police violence is no longer in the headlines.
About European Dissent
European Dissent is a group of White anti-racist organizers organizing in solidarity with People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, Ending the Prison Industrial Complex, Youth Undoing Institutional Racism, the Village of Hope, the Black Prisoners Caucus and other groups led by people of color and grounded in the principles of Undoing Racism. In this growing movement to dismantle White supremacy and build racially just communities, we believe that White people must take responsibility and work with each other collectively, while taking direction from those most affected by racism.
We hold monthly community meetings to deconstruct whiteness and discuss current organizing efforts. Our next community meeting is on Tuesday, July 26th at Madrona Grace from 6-8:30pm. It is a potluck and all are welcome. To get involved in European Dissent, join the European Dissent Seattle group on Facebook or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.