As I’ve periodically posted before, I’m a member of the Outer Alliance mailing list, a mailing list for queer authors and queer allies. One of our members, Dennis Upkins, is a gay man who also is black. And as you might expect, Dennis has been paying very hard attention to the events that have been taking place in Ferguson over the last many days.
He’s put up a post called Your Ferguson Resource Packet, which is pretty much a roundup of a lot of critical reading, especially if you’re a white person who might need to make sense of the massive shitstorm of FAIL that has been Ferguson’s handling of this entire affair.
Go read what he has to say. And if you’re a white person and you find yourself getting angry or defensive, read it anyway.
Because here’s the thing. You may not be a racist yourself. Your friends and loved ones may not be racist. You may personally know and love honorable members of your local police force. But you need to recognize that this isn’t about you. Or about people you personally know and love.
This is instead about the bigger picture of how the justice system in our society is massively skewed against anybody who isn’t white. Ferguson has been an all-too-graphic case in point about this. So was the entire Trayvon Martin case. So was the Marissa Alexander case–which, notably, was a black woman trying to defend herself against an abusive husband, which should have been a legitimate defense for Florida’s Stand Your Ground law and yet SOMEHOW was not applied to her. GEE I WONDER WHY.
And there are dozens of other examples. Dennis points at only some of them. Google. Educate yourself.
Recognize too that even if you yourself are also a member of a minority (e.g., you’re a woman, you’re queer, you’re cisgendered, you’re poor, etc.), if you’re a white person, you are not exempted from experiencing white privilege due to being any other kind of minority. And what does your white privilege mean? It means that chances are really good you’re never going to experience the kind of shit from the police that Ferguson citizens have been enduring from theirs.
Likewise, it means that if you stand up and say “this is bullshit and it needs to stop”, chances are likewise really good that your voice will be given more weight simply because you are, in fact, white.
This is what privilege means. It doesn’t mean you have to feel guilty for being a white person. It means that you simply need to recognize that by default, having white skin will give you more power in our society than being any other color will. It’s the same principle in play that gives straight people more power than queer people, rich people more power than poor people, the cisgendered more power than the transgendered, and men more power than women.
And if you also think that is bullshit and needs to stop, if you want to know what you as a white person can do to help, then again, go read what Dennis has to say. And seriously listen to what he’s saying, and think before you reflexively try to engage him or any other PoC in counterarguments. Pay particular attention to what microaggressions are, and learn to recognize when arguments you may want to put forth to people of color are in fact microaggressions that they hear day in and day out, ad infinitum, and which are way, way more common than you may think. Because I guarantee you that a lot of the counterarguments that may spring to your mind are ones they’ve heard before.
(And if you’re a member of any other minority, try the mental exercise first of seeing how you’d feel if a hypothetical other person tried to wing the same counterargument at you–about women, or the poor, or the transgendered, or what have you. If it would piss you off if somebody said that argument to you, that would be an indicator that maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t say it.)
And don’t stop there, either. Here is a roundup of campaigns and fundraiders to help Mike Brown’s family and the people of Ferguson in general. If you want to put your money where your mouth is, that would be an excellent place to start.