Saturday, July 9, 2016

I Went To A Black Lives Matter Protest Last Night And Had Privileged Thoughts

This summer has flown by - we are already about three weeks away from Harry Potter's birthday and quite a lot has happened since my last published blog post. I have a few posts that I've been working on still in draft form, but I am jumping my drafts to write what feels like the much more important piece. Bear with me here.

This week, the deaths (read: public executions) of two black men at the hands of police officers made important headlines and the Black Lives Matter movement found another rallying point with which they could provide an outcry about the systemic and institutional racism that feeds our country.

From my privileged place of white woman in America, I feel the Black Lives Matter pain when these headlines appear on my Facebook feed but very rarely in my everyday life. So with the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, my pain appeared and my heart was heavy with hurt and guilt. I felt at a loss for what to do and how to fix the biggest problems our country has been facing since it's beginning.

I sat at my computer all day (still not working at a job by the way) seeing people on Facebook saying the wrong things and the right things and being unclear where my voice was needed. I re-posted as many things as I could and tried to silence the "All lives matter" contingent that couldn't see what harm they were doing. But I knew I wasn't doing enough and I was at a loss for what more I should/could do. And then, the Facebook event invite to a local Black Lives Matter protest came to me. I finally had a way that would feel like action in all the passivity that social media provides.

So I pondered attending. I wondered if people I knew would be there. I wondered the extent to which I would be welcome. I pondered and pondered and continued to ponder. Not a drop of action. And then, my mother texted me to ask if I was attending because she was thinking about attending. And I said yes. Someone had reached out to me directly and that was the sign I had been waiting for. Since my family would be there, I would feel a little safer and a little more welcome and I knew I would be with my community.

Ugh, the privilege is palpable. I had to have my own supportive community around me to feel safe and comfortable standing on the sidelines and demanding real justice, equality, and peace. I needed to have my mother and father nearby to feel comfortable putting myself in a potential line of fire and supporting people who, by their skin color, are always in the line of fire. I couldn't find it in my heart to actually put my life on the line and put my opinions out there in public if I didn't have my support system behind me. And I think that's wrong.

I think that if I have an important opinion, especially one about the natural human rights of the living and breathing wonderful human beings in this world, that I should shout it whether or not my family is behind me. Whether or not I am standing amidst white people who also support those opinions. Whether or not I might meet some scary person who disagrees. So I think I'm going to try to shout from now on. Civil disobedience and protests still feel like all I can do, but to me, it feels better than sitting around re-posting and sharing on Facebook. I have already surrounded myself with people like me and most of the people I know on Facebook are on the right side of this, even if passively, as I am ashamed to admit I am. I need to leave Facebook in order to be heard and to be effective and to be a part of this important movement.

So I attended the protest. I started silently. I listened to the chants and tried to figure out which people holding megaphones were in charge. I began to think about what extremes I would be willing to go to when I heard them speak about leaving the sidewalks and entering the intersection during the rush hour commute home on a Friday. I measured, for myself, the amount of vocal white and black people there and tried to decide whose lead I should be following. I started crying when people entered the intersection. My heart started beating extremely fast when I saw the police officers entering to remind people that this was unlawful and they needed to return to the sidewalk. Tears streamed down my face when I saw their hands to their batons, ready to pull them and, I assumed, use them. My heart slowed down when people backed to the sidewalks and out of the intersection. When the cops returned to watching the peaceful protest from a safe distance, I felt that I was finally ready to contribute.

I noticed when a black person lead a chant and after twenty minutes or so, finally had the courage to chime in. I also noticed when some white members chose to say "Hands Up!" rather than the "Don't Shoot!" echo, and my heart ached for what they didn't even realize they were doing. I noticed people greeting friends and colleagues who they recognized. And I noticed when this important protest became a social hour for my parent's colleagues. For a moment, I think they forgot where they were and what their focus should be. How do I remind them?

When my mom felt strange crying "No Justice? No Peace!", I yelled it all the louder and sank into the confusing feelings because we needed to be present and follow the black leaders. When we discussed the addition of "No Racist Police!" to that same chant, I felt like we were learning and growing together.

When white people lead a chant, I wanted to silence them. When they were interviewed for a TV camera, I wanted to silence them. I had learned (that very day) that Black voices needed to be heard far more than white voices. I learned (that day) that my silence was just as important as my presence.

I learned how to be active and passive all at once. And all I can do now is hope it helped. All I can do now is try again next time and be louder sooner. I can bring water for people to drink and granola bars for people to eat and trash bags to help keep the area clean. I will think clearly about a sign I would like to write and hold with pride. I will think consciously about drawing just the right amount of attention to the group, but not to myself. I'm still white. My place is behind the Black leaders - supporting their every move and echoing their fight, unless they ask me to stand before them and protect them.

I know that I'm still learning. I know that I'm still hoping. I know that I'm still praying.

I know that I still hold racial biases, no matter how hard I fight. Learn for yourself whether you have implicit biases you didn't even know you had. Share with your colleagues who think they are color blind and above racial bias. We all need to be aware of our faults and our privilege before we can move forward and actively fight against our faults and our privilege.

We can do better. We have to do better. Black Lives Matter. Full stop.