Talking about racism and addressing racial injustice can be a difficult topic to navigate, especially if you’re White and relatively new to learning about or fighting against how entrenched it is within American society. Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPoC) have been telling us about this for a very long time; that racism is individually and institutionally pervasive. And it kills.
The amount of emotional labour undertaken by communities directly impacted by racial injustice, that lays bare both the historic and lived experience that racism inflicts, should galvanize us all to create meaningful, actionable social change. We must respect the work they’re doing and not take up space with the contention that “not all White people [are racist]” as a defence of ourselves or a balm to our own discomfort at tackling these issues. While it is demonstrably true that there are plenty of anti-racist White people, all of us — and I mean every single one of us — are immune from being racism’s recipient or target.
Similarly, if you respond to seeing anything connected to Black Lives Matter (BLM) with “All Lives Matter”, you’re choosing to not address the issues actually being discussed or attended to. It’s a common usurpation used by die-hard racists who want to derail any work being done that may create a cultural shift towards equity in the United States (and other countries around the globe). Even if you yourself are not racist and mean it as an inclusive, kind, encouraging stance, don’t fall for it’s seemingly innocuous, cute, all-loving viewpoint. It’s a fake platitude that does nothing to address what BIPoC are asking us to be awoken to. If you want to make the point that there should be liberated equality between all ethnicities and races but recognize there is much work to be done to ensure that this is where we’re heading, then say so. Explicitly.
If you’re not yet comfortable with being unequivocally anti-racist and feel more at ease saying “All Lives Matter” or “Not All White People” as a show of support — which it isn’t — it’s best to remain silent and continue learning until you are.
The United States has almost always had a racial undercaste — a group defined wholly or largely by race that is permanently locked out of mainstream, White society by law, custom, and practice. The reasons and justifications change over time, as each new caste system reflects and adapts to changes in the social, political, and economic context. | The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – Michelle Alexander
Black-on-Black crime is often used as a reason to hold back support or detract from the movement to end police brutality. I’ve seen far too many counter arguments cite it as an indicator that BLM supporters are focusing on the wrong issue. While there is no denying there is Black-on-Black crime that needs to be addressed — which for the most part, is being done through many community programs, actions and local resources — using it as a response to police killings is classic whataboutism. It’s also insidiously used to suggest that Black Americans are more likely to commit violent homicides even though the statistics for similar White-on-White crime is not that much different. You can also care about more than one societal concern at a time. Any deflection towards this is either racist, at worst or counterproductive, at best. There is also a key difference between police and community based violent wrongdoing; Black on Black crime, for the most part, does not go unpunished.
Black Americans are three times more likely to be killed by the police than a White person and 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed during these confrontations. Only 1% of police killings between the years of 2013 and 2019 resulted in the officer/s involved being charged with a crime.
This disparity is such that in eight US cities — including Reno, Nevada; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Scottsdale, Arizona — the rate at which police killed black men was higher than the US murder rate. And from a criminal justice perspective, there appears to be little connection between police killings and violent crime. Some cities with high rates of violent crime have fewer police killings than those with higher violent crime rates, a situation that can make police killings feel wanton and baseless. | Vox
Police brutality, of course, is not just levelled at BlPoC, White people experience it too — all of it in need of swift and precise structural change as a response — but this type of institutionalised aggression disproportionately impacts non-White people. If you’re so concerned about police violence against White Americans, why aren’t you taking to the streets about it and demanding change? Why aren’t you joining the call for justice and making it happen for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour AND the White people you purport to care so much about? If you really cared about White deaths at the hands of the police — or anyone’s for that matter — then you’d never, ever use it as an argument to discredit the movement and do nothing.
I’ve been encouraged to see more people I personally know becoming increasingly engaged and supportive when it comes to unpicking the structural threads of White supremacy that stitch this country together — police brutality being one particular strand — but this engagement comes with responsibilities. It is our duty to amplify the voices of BIPoC by putting their words and calls to action before our feelings. Be cognizant of the fact that the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour who share information about racism are the ones on the forefront of being affected by it. It can be a deeply traumatic and exhausting experience to repeatedly try to educate so many well-meaning White people. If there is a way you can donate money to them for the education they provide, do it. If there is a way you can sign a petition and bring it to the attention of your friends, do it. If there is a documentary to watch or book to read, do it. If there is a BIPoC business to support, do it. If there is a local march to join, do it. Do whatever it is you can. There is no perfect way for us all to engage, you will get uncomfortable, you will get corrected, you will have to examine your own biases, but being open to all of this as you learn and work for racial justice will be worth it.
Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any black man, any poor person—ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. | No Name in the Street – James Baldwin
So how do you start the work if you don’t know where to look for the information you need? Here are some things that have helped me …
*This list is by no means comprehensive, and is aimed at providing a starter for those who may be new to educating themselves about racial injustice – also don’t forget to check out the links included throughout this article.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
Support Black-owned bookstores, list here
S. Lee Merritt, Esq, civil rights lawyer and founder of the Merritt Law Firm, LLC
Tarana J Burke, founder of the Me Too movement, civil rights activist, senior director of Girls For Gender Equality
Kimberly Latrice Jones, activist, author, screenwriter, director
Rachel Cargle, public academic, writer and lecturer
The Conscious Kid, parenting and educational resource through a critical race lens
NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund (LDF), a premier legal organization fighting for racial justice
The Sentencing Project, a key organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system
Know Your Rights Camp, an organization started by Colin Kaepernick seeking to advance the liberations and well-being of Black and Brown communities through education, empowerment and mobilization
13TH – a Netflix critically-acclaimed documentary exploring the history of racial inequality in the USA (directed by Ava DuVernay)
When They See Us – a Netflix drama-docuseries about the ‘Exonerated Five’ — a group of five Black and Latino teens wrongfully convicted of the rape of a woman in Central Park, NY – directed by Ava DuVernay
16 Shots – a Showtime documentary looking at the shooting death of Laquan MacDonald by Chicago police
I Am Not Your Negroe – a Netflix documentary about the life and writings of James Baldwin
Whose Streets? – a documentary available on Netflix, YouTube, Vudu, Amazon Prime and iTunes about the Black Lives Matter protests after the police shooting death of Michael Brown
If there are any other great resources you want to share, please leave a comment!