Waking up to the murder of another black person by another police officer (or group of police officers) has become commonplace. There are as many people expressing how numb they are to this reality as there are expressing their rage. One commonality among both groups is questioning where all of our allies are — other people of color and white allies alike. What I think eludes most of us is knowing the difference between an ally and a sympathizer.
Sympathizers are silent
Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Letter from Birmingham,' talks very succinctly about the white moderate and how this group can be problematic: "I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."
Sympathizers might feel bad about what's happening to us, but their suggestions will ask us to work with a system built against us and that, with all of its surface amendments, has never truly been inclusive. Sympathizers will suggest that we wait a bit longer or ask a bit quieter. They are more compelled to quash our resistance and rage than to listen to, accept, understand and mirror it. Sympathizers will tell us that "they're hurting, too." They will say that they understand where we're coming from, never having experienced what we've experienced. Most importantly, when we ask them to stand with us, to bleed with us if necessary, sympathizers will quickly vanish, like a lukewarm boyfriend ghosting a girl he never really liked "like that." A sympathizer will call themselves an ally, just as a wolf will cloak itself in wool in order to be accepted by the herd, only to devour the herd while they slumber.
Allies take action
Dorothy Pittman-Hughes and Gloria Steinem (pictured above) are one example of two people of different races coming together to advocate around issues of race, class, and gender. Ultimately, it is a question of risk and belief. Do you believe in my equal right to justice and freedom enough to risk your justice and freedom so that I may obtain mine? An ally will get out in the street with you, speak up on your behalf and bleed with you, if need be.
One of the most important things an ally can and will do is to go into spaces of their own, call out and speak against prejudice, bias and racism and to help transform the thinking among their own groups. It is not black people's jobs to educate the oppressor (or their descendants) about how they have been oppressive or have benefited from the oppressive systems built by their ancestors. An ally will acknowledge this and vigilantly take up the cause to educate their own about acknowledging, relinquishing and/or leveraging privilege in service of a more just society for everyone.
The harsh reality
If your great, great, great grandparents made millions killing people and building businesses by killing people, but left you millions or billions of dollars in their will, would you acknowledge the ugly and criminal way in which wealth was passed down to you? The benefit of being a sympathizer is continuing to unfairly gain from unjust systems to the detriment of everyone else, while also feeling that you've cleared your conscience by saying "how terrible" things must be for "those people" over there.
When we're asking, "where are the allies," it's not that they don't exist, it's that they are few and far between. Sympathizers don't understand that their silence or lack of action makes them collusive in the oppression of others. The reality for many who have been privileged their entire lives is that equality will feel uncomfortable and, in some cases, unfair.
Sympathizing is comfortable. Becoming an ally feels dangerous. Either way, change feels afoot. Which side are you on?
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Why are black people getting all upset now? They've become more sensitive over the years. I remember back before the Civil Rights Movement they used to be so happy
Although these are not the exact words of one person, these are sentiments that I have heard over the years regarding the simple request that America begins paying attention to the plight of Black Americans. There is a ton of research to prove that black America is struggling within the educational system, housing, job opportunity, wages, etc.; however, we've become more sensitive since the Civil Rights Movement.
Recently, Scholastic Corporation ATTEMPTED to release a children's book called, A Birthday Cake for George Washington, in which the slaves of George Washington were excited to make a cake for his birthday. Slaves smiling in private quarters while making food for a man that owned them like property. But it's a book for children, so we can cover the truth up a little, it means nothing – no harm, no foul right? In their high school geography textbooks, McGraw-Hill referred to slaves as workers. A mother in Texas had to make the story public before the company apologized and took action. A textbook meant to teach children about slavery, referred to slaves — a stolen, abused group of people — as workers.
Actions such as these sensationalize slavery and remove the inhumanity of the situation. It screams, "How dare we show children that slavery was a horrible time in history where human beings were beaten mentally and physically, starved, belittled and humiliated?" At a point in our life where we are absorbing the world around us the most, we minimize the effect of an actual historical atrocity. I'm not asking that we put the mangled bodies of slaves in children's books, but happy 'workers' is an outrageous understatement of the climate of slavery at the time. If we can't teach the truth in a space where the historical truth is meant to be taught; how do we expect to understand where we are in our current lived realities?
Once we’ve confronted the political and economic advantages that came with ending slavery, we shouldn't celebrate Abraham Lincoln as someone who ended slavery because of the inhumanity. We can't begin to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. without confronting why he became a prominent leader in the Civil Rights Movement. We can't celebrate Rosa Parks without confronting the dark history of Jim Crow, and we can't celebrate Thurgood Marshall, The Little Rock Nine or Ruby Bridges without assessing the current climate of inequality in the education system.
And this is what we've done. We celebrate the successes without understanding the depth of the climate that forced success in the first place. Most Americans can tell you that MLK was a black man that fought for black people's rights, but they can't tell you how terrifying it was to live in the South under Jim Crow as a black person. They can't tell you the dehumanization techniques utilized during and after slavery to belittle black Americans.
You have to recognize our pain, in order to truly celebrate our successes.
Since we've minimized these atrocities in our minds, as well as ignored the mental effects of slavery and Jim Crow, it's easier to attribute the current state of black America to a group of people rather than on the institutionalized systems of oppression — where it belongs. As a country, I don't expect us to understand microaggressions and systematic racism when we feel comfortable teaching black children that their ancestors enjoyed their pain, but we don't feel comfortable telling white children that their ancestors might have enslaved people, or that they sat quietly as human beings were hung from trees, spat on, hosed down in the streets and beaten. Don’t let us tell them that their ancestors might have been involved in the lynchings and beatings of human beings because that's just too much.
So no, we're not being more sensitive and no, black people were not happy living in fear of what might happen while walking down a sidewalk or boarding a bus. The only difference between now and then is that now we have the strength, numbers and platforms to say we're not going to deal with it anymore. #RecognizeOurPain
Celeste Russell is a recent graduate of the Mailman School of Public Health. She's currently spending most of her time trying to figure out this thing called "adulting". As an aspiring social epidemiologist, Celeste is interested in understanding how racism truly impacts mental health for both the minority and majority groups. She's an avid overuser of exclamation points and can often be spotted catching a theatre show in the big city. Follow her on Twitter at @defy_gravity96.
What more can be done to get to teach the complexities of institutional racism?
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Judge Clifton Newman granted bail on Jan 5th, 2016 for former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager. Slager is charged with the murder of Walter Scott, an unarmed Black man whose death was captured on a cellphone video. The reason may surprise you.
Another judge actually ordered the same prosecutors to try Dylann Roof for murder in July. If the name Dylann Roof sounds familiar, it’s because Roof was the terrorist charged in the mass killing at Emanuel AME Church in July. With both trials imminent, prosecutors needed time to prepare and asked for a November trial date for Slager.
Due to the potential delays, Slager’s legal team asked the court to reconsider the decision to hold Slager without bail. The judge granted a $500,000 bail and set the trial for Oct. 31st.
Then this happened.
When I misbehaved as a kid, my mother told stories of monsters who lived in the dark or under my bed to scare me. She said that sometimes these mythical creatures crept out of the closet to frighten children into good behavior. The measures I took trying not to disturb the dark included leaving the lights on to ensure a good night's sleep, and making sure my feet were tucked in securely, my head buried under covers while in the fetal position. I was told following these guidelines prevented monsters from finding me.
But what if I told you I still believe in monsters?
The very thought of them makes me a coward, a wimp, a scared little child who jumps at shadows or any bump in the night. I nearly soil my pants when I feel someone walk up on me. I exercise my right to fear well.
And they like it.
Monsters in uniform that prey on my panic-induced adrenaline rush. Creatures of the night dressed in blue, riding in like death ready to Miranda rights my soul. Looking at me with flashlights, making me a suspect, hearing the feedback from dispatch, making me a match.
Will it be a routine traffic stop or a final destination? I know this monster all too well.
“Hand me your license and registration.”
"Sir, place your hands on the steering wheel!"
"Sir, step out of the car!”
Hand on holster, drawn revolver. Being pulled over by the police is a scary story told too often. They like to yell "BOO!" with their guns.
I don’t want to uncover my head today!
Hands over eyes, trying to make the monster go . awayOfficer, I promise I won't misbehave! I didn't mean to drive while black today! I didn't mean for my skin to be the darkness that attracts you. Surely you wouldn't be here if you saw the light. If my skin was white. But instead my hands and feet are tucked into handcuffs securely. And you are still the architect of my fetal position.
Might as well walk in the woods when walking home at night. There are creatures with tasers for tongues who stalk the streets at night. Their howling sounds like, “Freeze, put your hands behind your head!” In every encounter they let me know they are here to serve and protect white privilege.
It's a full moon tonight. Lycans travel in packs. And they be Lycan the way I resist arrest when handcuffed lying facedown on the ground. They be Lycan the way I talk back when I say I can't breathe. They be Lycan the extra beat in my heart when I hear them growling, kicking and beating my Africa under rainbows. They be Lycan when I'm not moving. To them, dark meat is the easiest prey.
The police have been haunting my people for years. Turning lives such as Akai Gurley, John Crawford III, Dante Parker, Tyree Woodson and Tamir Rice into horror stories to keep my people from misbehaving. They know their hate crime will be televised and labeled a closed case because, for a police officer, a conviction is a fairy tale. And this is a horror story with a litany of never-ending sequels. And Chris Thomas could be the next entry.
So, mom, you've done it. I'm scared.
One of C. Thomas's major abilities is how he weaves his emotions into accessible works of art. His poetry proved not only a cathartic experience for him, but for peers and strangers alike. No stranger to the stage, C. Thomas has been a feature for numerous venues including, Save the Arts Community, Sweet and Natural and Spit Dat. Today, he is a host of two venues in the D.C. area by the names of "Mic Check" which he founded and Busboys and Poets 5th and K. From the moment he shared his poem, "I" a piece offering insight in accepting one's own strength, he has gone on, and will continue to go on to conquer mindsets and stages. Ladies and gentleman, C. Thomas is poetry's host.
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