The Bigger Picture

Should White People Be Silent on All Things BlackLivesMatter?

Are you kidding me? Tell me people have no doubt as to what to do. Of course, white Americans should speak out in support of black Americans and BlackLivesMatter. EVERY-FREAKING-ONE should be speaking out in support leveling the playing field for black Americans and all people of color.

One chorus, many voices

If all it took to end racism was for black Americans to speak out about it, it would’ve happened already. We all have a unique voice to lend to the chorus that speaks out against racism. Some people are singing the melody, some bass notes, and others harmonies. Only you can deliver the message that is uniquely yours. There are things that you can say as a white person to another white person that will … have a different affect on a white listener.

There are people on Medium who are learned about social justice in both academic and social work contexts, and the way they write about race relations blows me away because of their depth of knowledge and passion to affect positive change. And that’s okay, because a learned or hands-on approach brings a new depth to the conversation that might otherwise be missed. This in no way takes anything from people with a more visceral approach to their writing or those who take a more detached approach in their writing, but we all need as many people attacking the problem (not each other)in order to make some serious headway. There’s more than enough racism out there for everyone to tackle in their own circle of influence.

In matters of race relations, your role as a white person is the same as that of any person of color: to do as much as you feel compelled to do. If you want to be an ally, be an ally. If you want to be an activist be an activist; but whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly. But as a white person, keep in mind: it’s not about you. It’s about those who are oppressed by systemic racism.

Timing is everything

I’m sure there’s plenty of non-black people reading this who feel that they should be silent on all things BlackLivesMatter.

Question for you: why do you feel that you should be silent on all things BlackLivesMatter? People are dying in the streets. Literally. I’m not suggesting that you take a bullet for anyone, but if you’re willing to speak out in the name of social justice, no one has the right to say, “Be quiet, I/we got this.” And the best time for you to speak is when you feel you absolutely have to … be it the subway platform, the grocery store, the club, the gym, wherever.

It took me years to get to the point that I would willing address racism in my writing and public speaking. Apparently, people are interested in what I have to write/say. Who knew?! And I’m sure there’s plenty of people who are interested in what you have to say, as well.

If you feel you need to educate yourself, that’s probably is true. Welcome to the club, my friend. Your membership card is in the mail. We all need to educate ourselves on this. No one knows it all. And the more we all try to broaden our point of view, the better off we’ll all be.

Silence gives consent, but not always.

I have a friend who feels his silence is viewed as support of subjugation of his fellow humans who happen to have a certain skin color.

If that’s you and you’re fine with that, own it. But I must say, unless people tell you that they take your silence as tacit complicity, you don’t know. What matters most is what you think of your silence. To remain silent out of fear or because you don’t have the right words or you simply don’t know how to voice your opinion in an appropriate manner, is not a bad thing. But to remain silent at a time when you know the right thing for you to say or do and choose not to, that’s supporting subjugation.

Everyone has to figure out how involved they want to be for him/herself. If tweeting and sharing the concerns of black people is the extent of your activism, tweet and share with every fiber of your being, but do it respectfully. By doing so you’re adding another form of activism that previously didn’t exist. Should I as a black man participate in demonstrations? Probably. But that’s way outside my comfort zone, but I’ll write an article or respond to an email in a nanosecond. You have to do what works best for you.

Cultural (mis)appropriation

There’s a lot of talk going on about this. How do you know if you’re getting too close to committing this blunder? I don’t know. But my guess is that it comes down to how do you as someone of a dominant group intend to use the cultural elements of minority groups? And do you understand the meaning of those elements in relation to that group? If your intent is not forthright and honest or your plan is to “borrow” or use those elements as “props,” avoid coopting those elements. Here’s a few litmus tests —

  • Exploitative purposes primarily for monetary gain? [buzzer] Wrong answer!
  • As a means to enlighten/educate/bring awareness? [ding-ding] Always a good answer!
  • Denigration/mockery? [buzzer] Nope.
  • Personal enrichment? [ding-ding] Can’t go wrong!
  • Personal Dolezal-ization? [buzzer] Only if you’re looking to be nationally vilified.
  • To act as an agent of positive change? [ding-ding-ding] You betcha!
  • And how does one do this? It’s simple, but not always easy —

Speak to people with respect and care. And practice active listening.

Love one another.

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