This morning I jumped on social media immediately. Twitter was going strong, and Tumblr had lots of detailed posts, rebuttals, people outing the rumors and affirming the truths. Then I went on Facebook, and I was stunned. Three people had posted about Ferguson. Three.
Interspersed were posts about puppies, job troubles, traffic, the day-to-day. Stuff that's fine to post about, but it felt shallow and evasive in light of everything happening. I wanted to ask people if they could just take a moment of social media silence, a day without funny memes, to respect those who are fighting for their rights.
You can post about your daily grind on the other 364 days this year. Today, just listen. Go silent.
Maybe you are listening and reading. But when you keep on posting your normal life, it appears that you don't care.
Racism persists because we don't take the first step of listening. Listening is a way of allowing someone to have power. Lending your ears makes their voice significant. When you don't listen, you let marginalized voices continue to go unheard. I know you don't mean it this way, but that's how it is.
Start by going silent and listening.
If you want to say something, quote black people. White people in America don't know what it's like to be marginalized because of our race. If you want to say something truly worthwhile about racism, quote one of the black leaders fighting for black rights.
"Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."~Martin Luther King Jr.
Some of you
- don't think this is a race issue,
- don't want to support the violence,
- are calling for a color-blind* America, or
- agree that racism is an issue but believe Darren Wilson was in his rights for self-defense.
I have a couple things for you to think about. First, this is a race issue because one of them is white and one of them is black. Unfortunately because racism is a thing in this country, any time we have issues between a black person and white person, we have to consider that racism--conscious or unconscious--may play a part. Minorities are still fighting for equality. There is a power difference between races. Race must be a part of the conversation.
Second, the violence of the protests in Ferguson is not a good reason to be silent about racism. It's a big topic right now. We need to address it. Just because someone is going about something the wrong way doesn't mean their cause is unjust. I don't believe in violence either; I beg the protesters to be peaceful. But I can't say that violence hurts their cause. We refused to listen for decades while racism affected the daily lives of millions of our citizens. With the violent protests, we're finally paying attention. There's a reason things escalated, and not listening is one of them.
Furthermore, reports confirm that a lot of the violence is being done by white people. If you heard about someone setting fire to cars, the main perpetrator was a white male. Some people take advantage of causes to create anarchy. Stop blaming the black people. Most of them are peacefully holding up signs and chanting words--which they are within their rights to do. And they're getting tear-gassed for it.
Thirdly, color-blind America is not something to strive for. The desire to ignore race is a uniquely privileged idea. (Only white people suggest this solution.) Color-blindness is what has caused a lot of the race-related problems today. When we refuse to see race, we can't address the racist discrimination that continues around us.
Refusing to acknowledge someone's racial or ethnic background is offensive to those who have a positive racial identity. It's part of who they are. Imagine if you refused to acknowledge that I'm a woman because "we're all people." Yes, but being a woman is still a part of my identity.
It becomes downright stupid to ignore race in some cases: black hair and white hair are different, and you can't necessarily treat them the same. Can we celebrate the beauty both of them have? And what about "nude-colored" band-aids or tights? Not everyone's skin is pale beige. In order to make skin-colored band-aids for everyone and thus treat everyone equally, we have to acknowledge that there are different colors of skin.
I dream of a world where we can both see and celebrate race. Where you can rejoice in your identity, be it white, black, Asian American, Latino American, Native American, or anything else. Where people won't be afraid or judgmental, but curious and enthusiastic. Where biracial people won't be surrounded by discussions of whether they're white-passing or "look too black," but can be a joyous mix and perfectly themselves.
We say we want color-blindness, but what we really want is for people to not be judged on the color of their skin. It's possible to see color and not judge. We just haven't figured out how yet.
Maybe you're still on the side of Darren Wilson and you're glad he wasn't indicted. If that's the case, please don't ignore the discussion of racism going on. Being pro-cop doesn't mean you can't be pro-equality. This is an important discussion, and it's rare that these issues get this much coverage. Listen, and try to understand why people feel the way they do.
Finally, remember that a young man died. At the end of this, even if things end well for everyone, the Browns will not get their son back. Michael is dead and when the dust settles, their family will still be forever changed.
I think sometimes we think of the Ferguson discussion as an Issue situation. But it's personal. It's about real, individual people. Someone died, you guys. The world is a little less bright. No matter how it happened, no matter whose fault it was, we should all be mourning.
Give the Browns a moment of silence. And if you have it in you, listen to the desperate words of those who want to be heard.
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter."~Martin Luther King Jr.
Word count: 1,062.
* I'm not referring to the medical condition of being unable to see color. I mean the practice of ignoring people's race.