The United States is in the midst of a reckoning about the legacy of racism that touches every part of our culture. Or, put another way, it is always in the midst of that reckoning, since from the beginning there have always been those who challenge the injustice of white supremacy. But, for the most part, white people aren’t forced to acknowledge it. This is one of their privileges.
Silence is not an option now, with the country roiled by demands to defund brutal police departments and prosecute killer cops, all under the expanding banner of the Black Lives Matter movement. White folks have a choice: ally with the oppressors, up to and including the president, or with peaceful demonstrators who have been harassed, provoked and assaulted by the foot soldiers of a cruel and rotting system. To say nothing is to side with ugly fascism, and plenty of well-meaning white people don’t want that. So they have to formulate a statement.
You can already see where this often goes: Like a brand awkwardly inserting itself into a national crisis or tragedy, the online white voice is commenting under duress, mostly to assure the followers or fans that they’re down with racial harmony and making the world a better place. Actually, you’re bound to see a sentiment like “we must do better” in their tweet or Instagram post, if not any particular example of how “we” can do that. The white commentator chooses their words carefully — maybe too carefully to convince, as with corporate “here for you” posts. The ultimate aim is to suggest solidarity with protesters, without touching the thin blue line.
Here’s an example from Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who seems like a good guy headed in the right direction. But, some notes: First thing is maybe, as a white guy, you don’t need to post the black power fist. (The social media event he’s taking part in, “Blackout Tuesday,” has its own issues you can learn about here.) As for the text, well, glad you have black friends, but I’m not sure they want to hear that you “could never understand what they have to experience” — sort of alienating way to put it, and I think they probably know.
Anyway, onto the racial injustices, yes, don’t want those. And doing better would be good. The calls to action are appreciated, and so is the nod to “systemic changes.” That, however, is about as far as we go. Trubisky is saying that posts “aren’t enough” in… a post. There’s a lot of redundant urging in this, though no solid indication of what we are urged to do. No mention of protests, bail funds or calling elected representatives.
Neither does he bring up, you know, the police — instead George Floyd is the victim of ambient bigotry and violence. Likewise, a company is apt to thread the needle in this tortured way, offering fuzzy, generic support that stops just shy of being a material donation or strong endorsement of activism on the ground. It’s almost as if they, and these sympathetic white Americans, are still hedging, still calculating.
That’s not to be too harsh on these allies, of course — only to say that they might want to cut a few of the utopian clichés and start opening their wallets, or at least state the problem of cops destroying black lives in more specific terms. The best advice I can give, as a white man who believes in #BLM and tries to amplify its message, is to keep stuff simple and try to find your own words, as opposed to the exact sequence of words you think others want to hear, which always comes off as dry and focus-grouped. The fear of saying the wrong thing shouldn’t keep you from speaking from the heart. Sincerity is everything here. And I’ll say this again: Donate.
Also, if you have to sound like a brand when you address racism?
Look to Ben & Jerry’s.