The photos (above and below) show a Black Lives Matter protest in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on Saturday, June 6, 2020. I was deeply moved by the protest, but I fully acknowledge that protests alone aren't enough. As one poster there said, "This rally is performative. What are you going to DO now?"
I'm pretty new to my understanding of my own complicity in a racist society, so I'm sorry if this post sounds so obvious that you're heard it all before or like I'm screaming at you. I don't mean to do either of those; I'm writing to help myself figure things out and to encourage others to do the same. If you're already ahead of me in understanding, keep on keeping on. If you don't agree with me, maybe reading this post will open up a dialogue between us. I welcome any exchange in which everyone keeps an open mind and heart.
Several years ago, I took Harvard's Implicit Bias test online. When my results indicated that I'm not implicitly biased against black faces and features, I patted myself on the back and thought, "Thank goodness I'm not part of the problem," and I went on my merry way being part of the problem. See, I was thinking that the biggest obstacle in the path from a racist society to a just one was all those individual racist people, but the problem is WAY bigger than those jerks.
Racist people are a problem, sure, but they're just being upfront about wanting to perpetuate a system that I've been protected by my whole life because of the way I look. The structure of society that keeps white people in positions of power and keeps people of color in positions of powerlessness is the problem. Here are some (by no means all) of the specific areas in which white people have had centuries of advantage over people of color. Over such a long time, the benefits and detriments have accrued to maintain an unjust system:
- criminal justice
- mortgages and housing
- job opportunities
- health care
So showing up for a protest might stop traffic and help the people making decisions know that we're not happy with the way the odds are stacked against justice, but we have to do more than show up. We can't just be not-racist; we have to work actively against racism.
Most important and possible for everyone over eighteen, we have to vote. I saw a social media post that said, "Not everyone who votes for Trump is racist, but everyone who votes for Trump has decided that being racist isn't a deal-breaker." Yes, yes, yes to that, and I hope people will read that line again substituting "racist" with "misogynist" and "bully" and "xenophobe" and "anti-Semite" and "transphobe" and "liar" and more. If you don't see those as deal-breakers, you're giving that man a platform to strengthen those kinds of hatred. You're letting him push a racist, sexist, bullying, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, transphobic, and dishonest agenda.
And voting against Trump isn't the only important vote. Congressional elections matter. Local elections matter. If everyone in office worked together to end social injustice, we might stand a chance of moving society forward towards the ideal stated but not enacted so many years ago, "liberty and justice for all." We need every elected official at every level to believe in and work for the benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
And we vote as well with our dollars. There are so many great organizations out there doing the social justice work. Here are a few:
- Human Rights Campaign (LBGTQIA advocacy)
- Sentencing Project (reducing incarceration)
- Cut 50/ The Dream Corps (reducing prison population)
- Border Angels (immigration reform)
- Head Count (increase voter registration)
- WokeVote (increase PoC voting)
- HealthWell Foundation (helping underinsured with medical costs)
- Planned Parenthood (reproductive rights and women's health)
- National Alliance to End Homelessness (name says it all)
- Black Emotional And Mental Health Collective (name says it all)
- Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (shift resources from prison to opportunity)
- National Black Justice Coalition (civil rights for black LGBTQ people)
- The Bail Project (combatting mass incarceration)
Those are just a few groups. I encourage/challenge you to pick any cause you care about, Google search a good organization related to it (if it's not one I've listed above), and donate what you can today.
In addition to showing up to be seen, voting to be heard, and donating to support others in the work, we can all educate ourselves. It's not other people's jobs to show us what we don't know; it's our jobs to figure out our own gaps and fill them in. I've created a "syllabus" for myself and some colleagues for this summer (and beyond -- I'm pretty sure there's no end-point to this kind of education). If you want to read any of these texts and talk about them with me, I'm all in.
What do you think about the difference between being not-racist and being anti-racist? What other organizations deserve our donations? What else do I not know that I do not know? Please feel free to leave a comment, question, or correction. I'm always eager to learn and hope you are, too.