By Anna Dick Gambucci
As with many of you, I was stunned and angry to learn of the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murder by an all-white jury in July 2013. That verdict struck my moral alarm. Unjust, fundamentally racist systems are still dictating justice in American society.
I have since learned more about systemic racism in America and in Minnesota from friends, bloggers, and black leaders, including the ways that African American communities and individuals are policed differently than white ones. A national conversation is occurring now because of the Black Lives Matter movement, which began one year ago, out of the protests of the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. You are invited into the conversation and into the movement.
As a white person, I’m not faced with getting pulled over for “driving while black,” a likely arrest or fine for petty offenses, or even police brutality. But black folks (especially in black neighborhoods) here and nationally are targeted for this. I’m interested in helping deepen understandings and promote change, along with others already working on social justice issues or those who want to do this work but don’t know where to start. We all take different paths in into the movement and join for different reasons. Here is my path; here are my reasons.
In November 2014, I attended the Twin Cities event “Solidarity training for white folks doing racial justice work,” along with 300 others. The following are highlights of conversations and teachings that form my meaning:
White privilege in our culture is as ever-present and as invisible-to-white-folks as the air we breathe, and unconsciously, most white folks react sharply—instinctively to maintain the system when challenged. It’s a closed loop design. Most white folks honestly aren’t aware that this framework exists, especially disadvantaged whites. But people of color know.
White privilege and racial oppression are two sides of the same coin; one group cannot be advantaged without disadvantaging another. White privilege and racial oppression are the social foundation upon which America was founded and our national wealth built (native genocide/land grab/slavery). White supremacy was not snuffed out by Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights progress. Today’s system is veiled in coded language, unspoken assumptions, prescribed racial scripts, etc.
Everyone holds some degree of subconscious racist belief, even black folks, since messaging about worth tied to whiteness (. . . maleness, heterosexuality, etc.) in our culture is so strong. Expect to make racial mistakes, but imperfect action is better than perfect stillness.
Notice and shift away from white defensiveness and white fragility in the face of personal challenge.
Avoid white saviorism—it saves nobody and perpetuates the status quo. Include marginalized folks at the outset of all discussion regarding their and our collective needs, since, as they say, “Anything for us, without us, is against us.”
It’s not enough to aim to be a “good white person”; our goal should be to end racial oppression and exclusion and white supremacy.
Aim to open the hearts and minds of other white folks about these hard truths and responsibilities through honest conversation.
And lastly, follow these basic “white folks etiquette” at black-led protests: embrace black leadership, refrain from interfering or offering “helpful advice” to organizers, participate in chants and actions that are authentic to all, but refrain from enacting black-specific scenarios (die-ins), decline media interviews and instead redirect the media to black organizers for comment.
I attended the first of many #BlackLivesMatter rallies that November 2014—the day after Michael Brown’s police shooter was not indicted and two days after 12-year-old Tamir Rice was murdered by police in Ohio. There was intensity, purpose, shutting down highways, and learning powerful street chants. Another power moment was participating in the Mall of America protest in December to help give black protestors a sizable number of white-bodied shields, and to participate in the Woolworth soda-fountain sit-in of this generation, being where we were unwelcome with our peaceful protest and our urgent message that Black Lives Matter.
If you are white and would you like to learn, connect, or show up for racial justice, join SURJ MN (Showing Up for Racial Justice-Minnesota). It is an excellent resource specific to white people. “Like” them on Facebook or visit www.showingupforracialjustic.org.
For all community members, if you feel ready step into the Black Lives Matter movement and hear about its news and events, you can find “Black Lives Matter Minneapolis” or “Black Lives St. Paul” on Facebook or follow @BlackLivesMpls on Twitter.
SURJ MN will be distributing Black Lives Matter yard signs to interested neighbors in predominantly white neighborhoods in the metro area. Would you like one? Or do you want to form a community racial justice book club? Any other ideas?
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anna Dick Gambucci lives in St. Anthony Park.