A white woman grimaces as her uncle makes a racist joke
Over the last three weeks, while I've been moving and visiting family, I haven't had much time for the news, and I've been the last to hear about many major events. In some ways, it's been a good time to be out of the loop, since all the news has been awful, but I've never felt so self-involved and disgustingly privileged, checking facebook on the way home from dropping $120 on a toaster oven at Bed Bath and Beyond, scrolling through posts about yet more violence against Black folks (not to mention Latinx, queer, trans...) My personal comfort and happiness is a contrast to the terrifying state of emergency that so many of my fellow citizens are living in. Of course there is no guarantee that my personal liberty and health and joy will continue. But even if I or my loved ones are never direct victims of violent attacks, there is still a moral imperative to act.
But how? We're often told "do something," "speak up," "don't be like those German people who let the Nazis happen," but what can we do?
I don't claim to know the answer to that question, but I've read some inspiring things lately. Here's my current bookmark list.
- The ACLU on photographing the police - Learn your rights regarding photographing and videoing police action. (tl;dr you have the right to photograph anything in plain view when you are in a public area where you are lawfully allowed to be, including police performing their jobs. Even if you are arrested or detained, the police are not legally allowed to search your phone or delete your photographs. If you are stopped, be polite, do not physically resist, ask "am I free to go?")
- Huffington Post roundup of police violence reporitng apps - Find an app that will help you live-stream/live-save your video as you take it, so you can be prepared to create undeletable video evidence in case you witness police violence.
- Campaign Zero - Learn about the causes and possible solutions to police violence and investigate your local representatives' stances.
- #StayWoke - Fill out a survey explaining what skills you have, what you are willing and interesting in doing, and how much time you have to contribute. I've only just done this so I'm not sure if it will lead to anything, but it seems like a promising start.
- #BlackLivesMatter - The classic, of voice. The #BlackLivesMatter movement now has a great official website with plenty of information including some inspiring principles. Oh, yeah, and you can donate (via Idex.org).
Here are some other actions I've seen recommended lately. In the spirit of frugality, none of them will cost you a cent.
- Take care of yourself. This goes especially if you are Black or a member of another communities where you are subject to being harassed by the police, or you often see news about violence against people like you. The most important thing is to take care of yourself and do what you need to do to get through the day. Take care of yourself, whether that means taking a news hiatus, or spending more time with friends and family, or being a little gentler with yourself than you usually are. Even if you are not personally affected, or a member of the community that is hurt by the latest tragedy, you may be filled with sadness and anxiety and dread and hopelessness. If so, take a breath. A state of paralyzed empathy doesn't help anybody. It's not on you to save the world alone. You are not alone. The point of many of the following actions is to prove that--to show each other that we have each other's backs and we are in this together.
- Take political action by finding out what legislation is currently under consideration in your city or state, and contacting your local representatives to urge them to represent you. Campaign Zero is a great resource for issues relating to police violence, but there are many issues which touch on racism and violence, including gun control and poverty-alleviating measures such as minimum wage and fair housing.
- Amplify Black voices. When discussing an issue, make an effort to signal-boost primary sources by people actually affected by the issue at hand: Black voices about race in America; women's voices about feminism; etc.
- Don't make it about you. When Black (or other minority) people do speak out about issues that personally affect them and their communities, and you are not a member of that community, ESPECIALLY if you are white, make sure you are not arguing, criticizing, correcting, trampling over them, etc. Even if you have a negative reaction to what they say, your first instinct should not be to attack, but to quietly reflect, defenses down. Is it possible you've misunderstood or taken personal offense where none was meant? Is it possible the larger point is more important than your hurt feelings?
- Don't let bigoted speech slide in public. Go ahead and yell at racists. Or simply, calmly say, "I disagree." This is in particular a way that white people can use their privilege, because it is unlikely to result in physical danger to us. It may seem like a lost cause and a waste of time or argue with a jerk or a hopelessly deluded person, and, certainly, you are not likely to change their mind. But by speaking up, you are contributing to making it unacceptable to air racist views in public, and that may affect other people who witness the conversation. If nothing else, you want to make sure any witnesses realize that you do not agree with the blowhard. Also, on the opposite side, voice your support for people who do make positive statements, so they don't feel like you are silently disagreeing and judging them.
- Talk about what is happening. By the same token, don't be afraid to bring up and acknowledge the latest horrible bit of news when you are in public. Or ask people, "How are you doing?" When a terrorist attack or a shooting affects white people, nobody has a problem talking about it in public, but when Black people are killed, the (lack of) reaction can feel like deafening silence. This is something I need to work on. I'm shy and reserved, and I don't even like to talk about my weekend at work. It can be really, shockingly hard to "make waves" in spaces like the workplace or a public waiting rooms. These can feel like spaces that should be "politically neutral." There can be internal or external pressure to not take a public stand. But as the librarians at Storytime Underground point out, "who says taking the position that Black Lives Matter is a political statement?"
This is not a normal topic for this blog, but this blog is not poltically neutral. (Haha no space is politically neutral because poltical neutrality is tacit approval of the white supremacist, patriarchal status quo!!) I'm aware of the extreme privilege that allows me to obsess over things like what's the softest towel to buy and how to build my personal wealth, but that doesn't mean I have to accept the unjust power structures that exist to allow me to seamlessly and invisibly enjoy that privilege while violently denying it to others. Let me state here that I don't believe that there is any conflict between opposing poverty and building personal wealth, any more than there is a conflict between opposing degradation and building personal respect, or opposing disease and promoting personal health. I reject the notion that some people have to be poor for others to be rich, whether we are talking about money or liberty or happiness and well-being. I believe that society gains value when we value all members of society.
In a perfect world, we would ALL be able to obsess about towel softness while robots did all the real work; and we could all afford basic necessities and a little bit of luxury; and nobody would be afraid for their own life, or for the lives of the children, just going about their ordinary day. Let's fight for that world, in whatever way we can.