A primer for non-Black folks who—finally—want to talk about racial injustice.
This week, I took my own advice and asked my Black friends to tell me what they needed from me. What could I do to support the fight for racial justice? And how could I make sure not to add to their pain in the wake of the events following the murder of George Floyd?
I thought they’d surely want me to go protest in Downtown Miami with them and was already getting my Miami COVID protest gear ready. But guess what? My friends didn’t want me to protest. (Possibly to avoid being seen with the Puerto Rican lady in her lame “woke” person getup.)
A couple said, “donate to a bail fund.” So I did.
“What else,” I asked on call after the call because I was angry and wanted to do something. Do you know what almost every Black friend I have said? “Just don’t say stupid white people shit?”
“Excuse me?” I asked for clarification because even though I am not Black, I am also not white. Had I been saying stupid mestizo shit? Apparently, once or twice, I had.
So I decided to take my friends’ suggestions and put them together in this list of things people need to stop saying after police killings of unarmed Black people. It shouldn’t take the murders of countless Black people to see their humanity, but here we are. This list is the least we can do. Here goes:
- Understand nobody has time for white guilt. Be real. If you feel something, say it. If you want to help, donate, speak out, babysit a friend’s kid so they can go protest. But don’t go preaching about your wokeness to Black people. Show them. They don’t have time for the rest.
- Do not EVER say that all lives matter. All lives are NOT under attack. The word that is implied in the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is “too.” Activists are not saying your life doesn’t matter (and everything is not about you). The fact that your life matters goes without saying on most days and twice on Sundays. Not so a Black person’s life. BLM is a movement intended to bring light to the issue. When you chime in with your “all lives matter,” you’re negating that there’s a problem. (I know this goes without saying, right? Like not saying your best friend is Black, or asking a Black or Latino person where he is from “originally.”)
- Do not say you are shocked George Floyd’s death happened. Or Breonna Taylor’s. Or Ahmaud Arbery’s. Don’t say “wow” and “this is effing unbelievable” (as I did the other day in a tweet). If you are surprised or shocked, you have been active in not paying attention. You know why? Because it did not affect you directly, and willful ignorance of facts of what Black people go through in America is one of the reasons America has such a huge racism problem.
- Understand that Black people took to the streets as a last resort, in a largely peaceful way. Do not accuse every protester of looting or of violence. Get the facts. There are plenty of videos of police attacking peaceful protesters first, and even the free press. Understand the history of riots and what it achieves and why sometimes, unfortunately, it’s the only thing that will do.
- If you find yourself ready to judge protesters, ask yourself this: Why are you so quick to judge a Black person?
- Don’t care more about material things than you do about the life of a Black person. I have been a business owner. I get it. Nobody thinks destroying somebody’s property is right. But also understand that Black people have been protesting peacefully for decades and that it hasn’t gotten them a whole lot. When you don’t have justice, you can’t have peace. If you don’t want to see looting, speak up (for real) when the police kill another Black person. Move that butt of yours as if it were a white person killed. (In Puerto Rico, people protested to kick out a corrupt governor (“Ricky Renuncia!”). Old San Juan owners supported protesters because they knew it was just and there is no community if we all don’t support each other. They later got help cleaning up and painting from local organizations and protesters like many did this past weekend in the US).
- Don’t ask what the Black person was doing when the police attacked them. It doesn’t matter. Whatever it was, even if it was a crime, does not warrant murder.
- Don’t spout off about how racism goes both ways. Of course, anybody can be racist. But when you’re talking about a whole group, make sure you understand the history (present events included) that got us all here.
- Don’t be so surprised that a Black person is beautiful, smart, ambitious, talented, and innocent. In the wake of a white woman calling the cops on an innocent Black man in Central Park, people saw photos of Christian Cooper and had lots to say. But some white people were surprised that he is handsome, a Harvard graduate, and a bird watcher. (Okay, okay. The bird watching surprised me too. But only because I thought that only happened in British detective series.)
- Don’t try to convince a Black person you don’t benefit from white privilege by explaining all the things gone wrong in your life (you’re poor, your parents died, you have a disability). This is not a competition. If you really need confirmation that white privilege is born with you, take this quiz.
- Don’t try to be Black. You can be sorry for what is happening and active in combating it, regardless of the color of your skin. Relax. Black people are individuals like you and me. In my group of friends alone, we have Black people who love classical music and donate to NPR religiously, a bunch of salsa lovers, and one lone country music fan. (Right, Wilson?)
- Don’t say you don’t see color. Why not? Black people don’t need you not to see their Black skin. They need you to see it and value it. They need you to respect them, their communities, and their culture as your natural equal. That’s all.
There’s much more we can learn not to say. Add your thoughts in the comments or hit me up on Twitter with your suggestions. It is not going to solve most things. But it will be a good start.