Black Lives Matter and Why #BLM Should Matter to White People Like Me…

A Juneteenth Celebratory Post

People speaking out during this time of protests in the aftermath of the murder of unarmed Black men by armed police officers has raised the overall consciousness of the nation. 

More and more, White people are seeing that we are not nearly where we’d like to think the nation is when it comes to race and equal treatment under the law. As these young Black men have died right in front of our eyes, we cannot ignore nor deny the systemic racism bleeding through our institutions. And it’s not just in policing. It’s in access to healthcare. It’s in access to education. It’s in access to safe living communities. It’s in access to money and all things related to financial prosperity and building wealth.

And, it’s buried in the lack of trust, one race of the other. It’s the difference in real and imagined fear. The real fear of historic and deadly consequences Black people have endured for centuries, occurring even now in broad daylight and recorded for the world to see. The imagined fear of white people of what would happen if the shoe is ever moved to the other foot, if true equality for all somehow means less for White people. Fears encoded in the stories told generation to generation that continue to sow the seed of racism. Fears represented by every single monument to the Confederacy existing in our country today.  

From the peaceful marches and the inflamed chaos rises inspired serious conversation of the country. Here are the words of others on Racism, White supremacy, the Black experience and the inextricable link of peaceful protesting, looting and rioting. It’s the language of today, where we are in 2020 and where we need so desperately to go as one.

 “While I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: You take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.” — Scott Woods, African American author and poet

“As a white male of the South, I know all too well the impact of segregation and injustice to African Americans. As a politician, I felt a responsibility to bring equity to my state and our country. In my 1971 inaugural address as Georgia’s governor, I said: ‘The time for racial discrimination is over.’ With great sorrow and disappointment, I repeat those words today, nearly five decades later…

“People of power, privilege, and moral conscience must stand up and say “no more” to a racially discriminatory police and justice system, immoral economic disparities between whites and blacks, and government actions that undermine our unified democracy. We are responsible for creating a world of peace and equality for ourselves and future generations.

“We need a government as good as its people, and we are better than this.”

– From Former President Jimmy Carter, Atlanta Journal-Constitution “Political Insider”

Four U.S. presidents spoke this week about systemic racism and injustice. They used their platforms to illuminate the humanity in all Americans and to decry the dehumanization of some. And they summoned the nation to confront its failures, make change and come together.

A fifth U.S. president spoke instead this week about using military force to dominate Americans who are protesting racial injustice. He declared winners and losers among state and city officials trying to safeguard their streets. And, with his reelection campaign in mind, he sought to apply a partisan political lens to the national reckoning over racial inequities.

The outlier was President Trump.   – From the Washington Post

I don’t often post about political topics, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that this isn’t political. This is personal. I am the proud father of two Black teenage sons. Many in this country view them as threats, just as I have been viewed, as my brother and brother-in-law have been viewed, and my father and father-in-law have been viewed.

During the initial night of protest turned riot in Atlanta, I was watching the coverage live on TV. The White male anchor asked, “Where are the Black leaders that can talk to the people?” I am sure many other White people were asking the same thing. My reaction was, and still is, we do not need to hear from “Black leaders” because this is not a Black problem. We need to hear from the “White leaders” because racism and all its trappings, police brutality for example, are a White problem! – From Paul Goodloe, friend, golfing mate and Weather Channel Meteorologist 

How a White person should apologize

“I won’t insult your intelligence by saying, ‘I am not a racist’ becauseI know I am. As a white person in a society where every institution is geared to advantage people like me, it is literally impossible for me to be anything else. In that, I am like a man in a male-dominated society. He cannot help being sexist, his good intentions notwithstanding. Saying he’s not sexist is like a fish saying he’s not wet. 

“Many of us as white people struggle with that. That’s because we process racism as a loathsome character defect, when really, it’s the water in which we swim.

No, the question is not whether we are racist, but what kind of racist we will be. 

Will we be the overt kind, whose behavior marks her from a mile away? In many ways, her very obviousness makes her the least dangerous.

Will we be the racist in denial, who thinks that because he doesn’t use racial slurs and eats lunch with a black guy at work, he’s all good? He’s ultimately the most dangerous, because his racism is reflected in implicit bias but otherwise hidden, even from himself. 

Or will we be the racist in remission who knows good intentions are not enough, that he must consciously commit not simply to being nonracist, but actively anti-racist?

“That’s what I aspire to and what I hope I achieve more often than not. – Excerpt from Leonard Pitts Jr, writer/columnist for the Miami-Herald on how a white person should apologize for saying something racist.  

The civil rights movement was not purely non-violent. Some of its bravest, most inspiring activists worked within the framework of disciplined non-violence. Many of its bravest, most inspiring activists did not. It took months of largely non-violent campaigning in Birmingham, Alabama to force JFK to give his speech calling for a civil rights act. But in the month before he did so, the campaign in Birmingham had become decidedly not-non-violent. 

Though the Civil Rights movement won many battles, it lost the war.

Mass incarceration, the fact that black wealth and black-white inequality are at the same place they were at the start of the civil rights movement, that many US cities are more segregated now than they were in the sixties: no matter what “colorblind” liberals would say, racial justice has not been won, white supremacy has not been overturned, racism is not over. In fact, anti-black racism remains the foundational organizing principle of this country. That is because this country is built on the right to property, and there is no property, no wealth in the USA without the exploitation, appropriation, murder, and enslavement of black people.

Modern American police forces evolved out of fugitive slave patrols, working to literally keep property from escaping its owners. The history of the police in America is the history of black people being violently prevented from threatening white people’s property rights. When, in the midst of an anti-police protest movement, people loot, they aren’t acting non-politically, they aren’t distracting from the issue of police violence and domination, nor are they fanning the flames of an always-already racist media discourse. Instead, they are getting straight to the heart of the problem of the police, property, and white supremacy.

Excerpts from “In Defense of Looting” an essay by Vicky Osterweil published in The New Inquiry

Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air. 

What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.

Op-Ed: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge

There’s overwhelming evidence that the criminal justice system is racist. Here’s the proof.

Of particular concern to some on the right is the term “systemic racism,” often wrongly interpreted as an accusation that everyone in the system is racist. In fact, systemic racism means almost the opposite. It means that we have systems and institutions that produce racially disparate outcomes, regardless of the intentions of the people who work within them. When you consider that much of the criminal justice system was built, honed and firmly established during the Jim Crow era — an era almost everyone, conservatives included, will concede rife with racism — this is pretty intuitive. The modern criminal justice system helped preserve racial order — it kept black people in their place. For much of the early 20th century, in some parts of the country, that was its primary function. That it might retain some of those proclivities today shouldn’t be all that surprising.

In any case, after more than a decade covering these issues, it’s pretty clear to me that the evidence of racial bias in our criminal justice system isn’t just convincing — it’s overwhelming.  – From The Washington Post

White people have continued to cordon off Black people in where they live, school, work, play and seek healthcare. Advancements have been made. More people of color are in high local offices, from mayors to police chiefs to city council members. More people of color are rising in the ranks of business executives. And yet our prisons continue to be predominately filled with black citizens. 

The first step in eliminating white supremacy lies in eradicating the notion that freedom in America is somehow a level playing field in 2020.

White Supremacy is an environmental seed implanted in children by their parents and nurtured by their community. It isn’t genetic. But, once planted, that imprinting lives in the brain as if it was wired in. 

I know. I’ve spent a lifetime fighting that internal demon of racial judgement. Once I realized what racism was in my life, I’ve worked hard to keep it in remission ever since. Somehow I became racially aware at a young age, that it lived in our own home, our neighborhood, in my school, at the public golf course across the street, and downtown in the movie theaters, lunch counters, clothing stores and water fountains.  

Even still, at 67 years old, things of the past pop up in my brain that I must recognize and discard, again. It’s a never-ending process.

What I’ve learned, to borrow from Leonard Pitts, is my responsibility as the lifelong benefactor of white privilege: to consciously commit to be actively anti-racist

That means enjoin in the fight #BlackLivesMatter. Voice the requirement to fair access to healthcare, education and loans long withheld from African Americans. Eradicate Voter Suppression so that all have their say in the political future of our country. Hold our elected officials accountable to pursuing the overriding of these injustices. Learn how to talk to family and friends honestly about racism.

Right now is our time to put our shoulders together against the flywheel and generate the energy of real progress. It is time to stop wringing hands about history. It’s time to make history and ring the bell of freedom for all. 

Each of us have to help each other find a way to contribute to the overarching cause. Each of us have some gift that we can share in this cause, whether it is money, talent, ready hands, will, desire or all of the above. 

Some of that work is political. Legislative. Realigning the power structure of our country so that the party of Whiteness is overtaken by the party of Inclusion. 

Much of that work is personal. Reexamining and reimagining how we live our lives. Where we live. Who we sponsor. Who we invite into our personal life bubble. How we raise our kids…and influence our kids’ kids…how we share our lives and life experiences for the greater good of understanding. 

That’s the hard work and nothing could be more rewarding. And, we must do that starting right now. 

My niece voiced her well-intentioned desire to turn her “upset into action.” She asked if I had formulated a personal response plan and, if so, would I share it with her. It’s a great question. What I’m reading and writing about is making me more aware, more engaged and more communicative of how to interpret and act upon what’s going on in our country and the world regarding race and racism, and how we can get involved. In answer to her direct question, do I have a response plan. I’m working on it. Hard.

Thanks for reading these words of remarkable people in these necessarily changing times.

Paul Goodloe suggested a couple of books that I plan to read to grow my understanding and turn my upset into action.

The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander for the history of how we got here. “White Fragility” by Robin Diangelo speaks to how we can move forward from here together. 

I have some suggested reading as well:

And, I encourage everyone to listen to the podcast, “1619,” by Nicole Hannah Jones for The New York Times 

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

4 thoughts on “Black Lives Matter and Why #BLM Should Matter to White People Like Me…

  1. Well written and definitely moving. Coming from Canada the awareness was not the same as living here in the South. I am ashamed of how little we have all changed in this day and age. I do not like the violence, looting and burning of buildings, but I do understand it. This is the breaking point and our politicians need to step up and do what is right for all the people, not just the privileged. I pray that in 10 to 20 years from now we will look back on this and be able to talk about the monumental changes that occurred in 2020 to make this world a much better place to live in where we are all treated equal. #blacklivesmatter

  2. Add to the reading list: The warmth of other suns, by Isabel Wilkerson, and Death in the Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, by Scott Ellsworth. And, if you really want to cry, read, or even better, listen to Maya Angelou recite “I know why the Caged Bird Sings.” One thing more, try, as a white person, to not make this about yourself, how you are feeling, how dismayed you are. Ask a black person. Get an education, no matter how painful. It will be revelatory and a good start.

  3. I was watching a segment on Morning Joe today and was reminded that we are at a turning point in history. We can recognize that we are at risk of losing democracy in US and worldwide or sit by the sidelines and allow authoritarianism to take over. It took a war to get rid of Hitler. If it takes the video death of George Floyd crying out to his dead mother to draw people together, it might just save the world. Well done, Steve. Also, read Sarah Kendzior. She is a scholar on authorianism. She has been scaring me since 2015, when I first learned of her warnings about Trump-ism.

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