Race & Identity
How To Be A Better Ally To The Black Community In Mourning
"Caring about your black loved ones only when a headline reminds you of their pain is performative."
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Murdered on March 18, 2018.
Shot 20 times.
In 11 seconds.
It is 2018 and we are currently witnessing what is essentially the modern version of lynching that is sanctioned by state violence. When you watch the video of these murders, when you read the news articles, as a white person, you have the luxury of being able to assume that something like this may not happen to you or your children. How did we get back to the '50s, you ask?
I'd like to argue that none of the hatred, anti-blackness and racism ever left. It merely took a new form. It has shape-shifted and crafted new disguises that are backed by the media and the people you've elected into public offices. The prison system in America currently holds 40 percent of the black population according to a 2018 census on prisonpolicy.org, and the numbers continue to grow. Queer black people suffer the weight of sexual violence while incarcerated. Trans rights are being ignored when assigning jails or cells. The inmates are subjected to forced labor, which some will argue isn't forced at all. However, demanding that someone works for 86 cents an hour, and punishing them with solitary confinement should they refuse, constitutes as slavery in my book.
Continued state-sanctioned violence has been brought to the attention of the public since the death of Trayvon Martin and, with that, a very coy form of white supremacy has sought to silent activism by justifying the murder of each black person that becomes a memory and a hashtag. Over 95 percent of cases against law enforcement end in vain as there is a continued trend in a lack of justice for the families of the deceased. Moreover, statistics also show that black people are three times more likely to be shot, despite being a minority in the population, and the fact that 69 percent of black people murdered by police have no involvement in suspicious activity or any weapons when they are killed. So how do we justify the deaths of the other 31 percent? We don't, and here's a few reasons why.
Philando Castille was murdered in Saint Paul, Minnesota for exercising his second amendment rights, and being honest with the officer about his weapon while following an officer's instructions. In contrast to this, a white terrorist by the name of Dylan Roof murdered several people from a black congregation in Charleston, South Carolina, and was not only apprehended peacefully, but was treated to a value meal. Cases like this have become so common that most black people no longer sit in shock when it happens because it's an epidemic that our nation is willingly perpetuating. We've known this since the day we realized that we needed a hashtag to remind people that our lives matter.
In times of grief, those in mourning are most likely going to reach out to those who they consider a support system. In some cases, the people on the other end may reach out first. The handling of grief can, in many cases, be so well-intentioned but still so mishandled that the damage may open more wounds than it heals. In consoling a black person grieving for their community, here's where some may fumble.
"Are you aware of these happenings?"
There can only be two outcomes here. Your friend will look at you and calmly say, "yeah," when deep down they may be wondering how someone could ask about a death in their own home. Would you ask a Jew if they've heard of the Holocaust? Would you ask a Rwandan if they've heard of the genocide? Would you ask a queer person if they've heard of the Pulse shooting? If the answer is no, don't ask black people about a recent murder in the same way you'd ask them if they've heard about the latest Black Panther meme or a new Etsy store. It's not a trendy conversation starter that could produce anything besides inner turmoil and tears.
The alternative is that the answer to your question is "no." This now puts you in a unique position. You have now become the friend who will break the news to them that another death occurred in their tribe. You'll be the one to remind them that the genocide of their people continues while the world watches. And then what? Do you expect a medal? A cake for the most "woke"? Sadly, your reward is the heartbreak of a friend.
"You'll be the one to remind them that the genocide of their people continues while the world watches."
Now, this may raise the question, "How did they not know?" Because without the white privilege that you possess, knowledge of these murders manifests itself into tears that fall into their mothers' laps, anger intertwined with pain that burns their throats as they speak and marches into blood-stained streets that will label them terrorists rather than activists. Black people have the right to not know, as much as they have the right to know about police brutality. If a black person turns off their phone, takes a break from social media and does not wish to engage with images of black genocide, that is their right. If they hear about it late, it doesn't make them any less black, because regardless of when the news reaches them, the reality of the situation affects their life more than it will ever affect yours.
With white privilege in hand, it is your duty to go out with this knowledge and talk to other white people. It is your labor to process how you contribute to a system that allows these atrocities to happen. It is your labor to confront your racist grandma who still calls your friend "colored" when they come over for dinner. It is your labor to make your children understand not to mouth off to cops when they're with their black friends because they won't be the ones to face the consequences. It is your labor as a white person. What is the black community's labor, you ask? Being black. That's our full-time job.
Before you open up a conversation about police brutality like it's casual, consider the alternative. Caring about your black loved ones only when a headline reminds you of their pain is performative. Instead, develop a habit of checking in regularly with them about their well-being, regardless of what's in the news. Ask yourself how you can be supportive at all times instead of just appearing when you feel like you have a chance to be a "hero."
"But I wanna be the friend who's there for them right now."
Let's make one thing clear: Your box of chocolates, your accompanying white tears, your social media captions, your snapchats and anything else you do will never fully rid the black community of the weight of racism. You are not here to save the day. You are here to clean up a mess that white supremacy and white privilege created. If you are talking to black people about police brutality so that you can be dubbed "the woke white bae," I'm gonna need you to leave your white Oprah complex at home. What does that mean? White Oprah Complex, also known as White Feminism 2.O, is performative neo-liberal allyship that can never fulfill its duty without the promise of praise. WF2.O is on display when every conversation with your black friend is about all the people you told off for not checking their privilege. WF2.O rears its head when you share content from LeftBook (the Leftist side of Facebook) on your page for likes, but never take the time to self-crit and think about why you're exactly the kind of Becky the article you shared is talking about. If you support the black community in a way that always requires you to be seen, you are no different than someone who shows up to class so they are not marked absent, even though they couldn't care less about engaging with the subject matter.
What are your other options? How about letting black folks decide who they let in on their grief? Let them decide who they feel safest crying to. Maybe it will be you at some point, but when it isn't, use your time to talk to other white people. You have so much to talk about. Talk about why Stephon's murder happened because someone called the cops on an unarmed black man using his phone at his grandparents' house where he's been so many times before. Talk to them about why this is so similar to the death of Emmett Till. Talk to them about why they support gun violence protestors, who are white, come from affluent neighborhoods and use the same tactics as Black Lives Matter, while they think it's OK for the black youth in Ferguson to have been hit with teargas. Talk to them about why they can comfortably sit and try to concoct several possible excuses for a murder. Talk to them about why their black friends, family members or partners do not exempt them from racism. Talk to them about why them not saying the n-word, but still treating black people in a way that implies the n-word, is just as racist. Talk to the six out of 10 white women who voted for the atrocity in the White House, knowing the implications on minorities. Talk to the ones who voted for Hillary because she's a white woman and ignored her decades of anti-blackness simply because she did that disgraceful Nae-nae on Ellen. Talk to other white people because black people's voices are going unheard. Talk to the person in your mirror too and consider your role in all of this.
To my fellow black people:
Cry, or don't. Scream, or don't. Stay silent, or don't. March, or don't. The manner in which you engage with yourself and your community during these times is completely up to you. Your pain is valid whether it is quiet or loud. Your pain is valid whether it is seen or hidden. Your pain is valid, my friends. Can I ask anything from you at this point? All I ask for is that you keep a pulse. Even then, I feel that I cannot ask that of you because that's never really in our control. The important thing, my family, is that we're trying.