Right now there are protests going on in Charlotte, North Carolina because yet again, another unarmed Black man was shot by the police. During this protest some people have chosen to use this time destroy property and loot. You might be compelled share some opinion about how you feel about that in relation to the protests that are happening. Don’t do that.
You may be thinking that it’s only fair to discuss the looting in as well, to bring attention to the problem. But you’re wrong and you’re likely compelled to speak on it, not by fairness, but by unconscious racism.
There will always be people who are opportunistic and use a time of unrest to be violent or to engage in some sort of criminal activity. That doesn’t mean that protest itself is about violence or that the people who are protesting are violent. However, when you focus the discussion on the violence, especially when it is in relation to Black protest, you are in fact helping to contribute to a narrative of antiblackness.
You are taking focus away from a needed conversation and discussion on racism and directing attention instead to something that fits the narrative of Black people as violent. There are people who would say that I am trying to distract from the TRUTH of how Black people REALLY are but I’m not talking to those people, because those people are openly racist. I’m talking to people who would like to work on their own internalized racism, especially white people who want to be better allies.
I want to address, here, something that I see all repeated that ignoring this violence would be like ignoring ISIS or ignoring police brutality because those are the minority of larger nonviolent groups but this is really just really one of the most common logical fallacies, the false equivalency. I talk about it a lot because it happens so often.
At first glance, protesters to rioters vs cops to cops who shoot unarmed people, for instance, seem to be comparable because they are both these minority groups inside of a much larger collection. But this breaks down when we start to look at it further.
People are protesting and some people are using the opportunity to commit crimes. The second thing has nothing to do with the goals and the drive of the first thing. But when you spend time focusing on illegal activities of that minority, you’re taking part in a narrative that supports the culture of antiblack racism.
Police officers are shooting black people while the majority of officers are not. Although the majority of officers have never shot anyone, black or white, when we pull back from these incidents and look at a larger view of the system as a whole, we can see how multiple issues feed into the end result of unjustified shooting of people of color. And honestly, we are looking at and discussing the ENTIRE justice system, not just the cops that pull the trigger.
The first step in really doing antiracism work as a white person either as an activist or just for your own self, is stepping back and realizing that you can’t discuss everything on equal terms because everything is not on equal terms. The push to make things, as they are now, seem equal in discussion is a way to discredit and undermine the oppressed.
For example, if two people go the ER and one has a crushed finger and the other a crushed ribcage, we wouldn’t just say they both have some broken bones and make them both wait for beds. Similarly, if the family of the ribcage victim is screaming and crying for help, the finger victim wouldn’t turn to them ask why they couldn’t just pipe down and wait their turn. When you look bigger picture, it becomes clear that although they have a similar issue at the most basic level, once you pull back, you can see that they are in fact very different. You have to consider the larger narrative and ask yourself what does this discussion serve?
Why are they looting and breaking things? Because those people are opportunistic individuals who have chosen to commit criminal acts. Now, what does that have to do with the protests? Does it add anything positive to conversation? Does it foster greater understanding between people? Does taking time out to discuss this minority in relation to the greater whole do anything other than support a narrative of antiblackness?
Apply that strategy to all your interactions regarding race, gender, ableism, etc. We all enter into spheres carrying our own biases and we need to do the work in reviewing them and confronting them. This post dealt with racism but the same practices need to employed by people of privilege when engaging in discussions with and regarding the needs of marginalized people. Even if you’re a marginalized person in some other way, if you hold privilege in the space you are in, then you need to do this work.