I have just been in a million conversations with white people about allyship. All weekend long. We have a ton of questions. To protest or not to protest? To post pictures of oneself getting arrested or not to post pictures of oneself getting arrested? To preach sermons about race or not to preach sermons about race? And, incidentally, how many hours per day is it acceptable to spend worrying about whether or not we’re doing this right?
I’m going to state my position on this as simply as I can. I believe the most important thing a white person can do, today, to help the Ferguson movement, is to BE INTERRUPTED. Accept the interruption. Accept that there is something profoundly wrong, and something profoundly right wants to grow to replace that wrong. Accept this fact as deeply and truly as possible, even to the extent that it might alter your deepest sense of self.
News flash: this is not actually very sexy work. It’s not the kind of work that gets you awards and accolades. Or, hello, it would have been done already. It’s much more like sorting dirty laundry.
I often see white people, especially ones in leadership, wanting to work on racism via our public selves. This is basically socially acceptable, partly because we are in an era in which we work on a lot of things via our public selves. Start with your Instagram and then work backward into your soul, right? But I digress.
Allyship fails in the distance between our public and private selves. This is the distance between our most altruistic selves and the selves we aren’t so proud of. I don’t mean to say that racism doesn’t happen at high noon, because of course it does. And I don’t mean that we should fail to speak with our voices and our bodies, too. But I am concerned that granting validity only to the wide open, can’t-be-missed indications of prejudice leaves a huge dark spot in shadow. And I believe that it is precisely in that shadow that we are breeding the fear and intolerance that maintains racial violence and persistent inequality as the norm for all.
It was with this phenomenon in mind that I put together this quick resource list for BEING interrupted. Not just causing an interruption, but experiencing one, in a private, personal, working-on-yourself kind of way. This list is created with a white reader in mind, although it may be interesting reading for anyone. And, whether you use this list or not, please consider it an invitation to all, even the most publicly anti-racist saints of the heart among us, to find ways to challenge the internal prejudices housed in our private, most secret selves.
Ten ways a white person can be interrupted by Ferguson, and the Ferguson movement:
- Subscribe to this newsletter. “This is the movement” by DeRay and Netta. Read the articles they link. If you ever find thinking to yourself, how can I possibly help?!!…maybe try taking their suggestions.
- Follow this list on Twitter. Maybe this list, too. Word to the wise, this can overwhelm your feed real quick. And it is perfectly possible that there would be some feelings of resentment related to that inconvenience. Try to put those feelings into context. What is it, exactly, that is being inconvenienced by ALL THE TWEETS?
- Read the words of POC writers and activists until they say something that makes you feel ALL THE FEELS. Depending on your habits, this could take a while or it could take like five seconds. Whatever it is, instead of bouncing back from it, arguing with it, or retaliating, just hold it, for as long as you can stand. Hold it, and breathe, like a stretch. Repeat.
- Take some time to observe the makeup of your friends list, like this woman did. But don’t do it for your public self. Do it for your private self. So it’s not like, Oh damn, I need more black friends to the tune of XX percent. It’s more like, My view of the world is white-washed to the tune of XX percent. Hmm. Maybe I don’t actually know all the things I thought I knew. (Incidentally, her follow-up post is here, if you want to know how it goes to do that with your public self.)
- Watch this (super disturbing) video of the choke hold injury that resulted in death for Eric Garner.
- Watch this (super disturbing) video of the gunshot injury that resulted in death for 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
- Now, watch this video of a speech by A’Driane Nieves. Or read the text here. Observe that she is responding TO a problem rather than CAUSING a problem. Now, observe that if you hadn’t watched those other two videos (and maybe you still haven’t, actually, but I’m not here to judge…) you might feel outrage towards HER instead of outrage towards THE ACTUAL VIOLENCE. Ask yourself if your feelings have ever been drawn through this kind of bait and switch. I’ll bet they have. I know mine have.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^You guys, this is a really key and prevalent phenomenon, in which people of color are identified as ANGRY or AGGRESSIVE or IMMATURE, because they are responding audibly to violence that didn’t make it past our filters. Let me say this again. Completely articulate and accurately informed people of color are disbelieved and/or identified as problematic, because they are responding visibly to violence we didn’t have the stomach to watch. Let’s see what we can do about changing THAT.
- Reach into your pocket. Maybe skip a dinner out and donate to the Ferguson bail fund. Or donate to The Gathering For Justice. Now, if you are skipping past this one real quick, maybe just ask yourself if that’s really because it would be so crazy to support protestors? Or if it is just basically that you don’t want to part with your money. Which maybe is a privilege? Which maybe is a privilege related to race? Okay, yeah, let’s go here. Consider that maybe racial prejudice is deeply entangled with financial privilege and greed, at levels that we don’t even know how to acknowledge. BECAUSE THAT SUPERHIGHWAY DOES NOT WANT TO BE INTERRUPTED.
- Maybe it’s easier just to buy the tee-shirt. That’s money, too. Do read it before you wear it, though.
- And understand that those tee-shirts aren’t big enough. Maybe get a pen and paper and write down all these names. Oh, these names, too. Maybe even, just for context, ALL THESE NAMES.
I know, that would take a long time, wouldn’t it? It took a long time to enact all this violence, and my lifetime is not long enough to witness it all. But think of it this way. If this work had already been done, it would be done. And in our hearts, I believe that’s what we really want.