The education of my white friends
From an ethnically ambiguous non-white person: If you don’t get it, it’s OK to ask for help
Last week, the first waves of protests in response to the police murder of Stephon Clark hit the pavement. I left the SN&R offices to support and document the protests. I filmed the police, updated the SN&R instagram, saw friends and hugged them tightly. I was moved by the movement that is demanding change. This time feels different. This time feels worse. Together we mourn the unnecessary and gruesome death of Clark at the hands of the state that is supposed to be protecting people, not property. I chant his name and know that black lives matter, and that racist systems continually disregard black bodies. The protests continue.
One morning last week, after an exhuasting text exchange about the protests with a friend the night before, I pulled out my phone. I received a lengthy email from my friend. Subject line, “Educate me.” This friend is a white male.
The email goes on at length about watching the helicopter video, watching the bodycam video, listening to the 911 call. My friend said that prior to 20 rounds being aimed to kill Clark (what else would happen?), the color of his skin was unknown. All of this I already knew from researching for myself. My friend concludes that this appears to be a case of excessive force, and is confused as to why the subject of race has protesters in the street imploring, “Black lives matter.”
“Why is this a race issue?” he concludes.
I take a deep breath and roll my eyes. Moving my phone away from my face, I recall all the memes and Twitter rants online from black and brown people tired of having to educate white people about racism. How, even when black and brown people do break it down, white people still don’t believe them.
I’m half brown and half white; a kind of mixed-up ethnic mutt. On race and ethnicity surveys, I check a bunch of boxes—or when I feel like it—“other.” When people pass me on the street, they’re unable to assume a great many ethnic stereotypes about me. All they can tell for sure is that I am not a white person (even though, I kind of am). What this means for me though, is that when white people (or ignorant people in general) don’t get it right away, I get it. My mother’s body that I came out of is white. Mine is not. The world treats us very differently. She will never know what it feels like to be a minority in a white supremacist structure. We will never fully know what it’s like to navigate the world in the bodies of others. But what we can do is listen and believe folks when they say they are suffering. And we all have to learn and understand the disgusting, sordid institution of racism is still very much alive and working today.
The system of racism aims to keep us separated. To keep us controlled. To profit where, when and off of whom it decides. To divide us up and keep us distracted from who is ultimately benefiting from tearing communities apart. To make black and brown people feel crazy and scared, and make white people feel crazy and scared. But we are all here together, and we have the power to make it how we want.
Break it, burn it, tear it up and rewrite it. Educate one another if you love them and want to make change real. Love without boundaries. Do work. This is not a fad. If you can’t get in the street, talk to a friend about the history of racism. Send this article by Alan Pyke to your white friend who sees this as an excessive force issue and not a race issue. Then get in the street. Because they’re killing black people. And it takes all of us to make it stop.