In most of my columns here, I tell you what I think, and although I always welcome comments, it’s not the main idea. This one is going to be a little different, because I want to hear what you think. I really want to get input and feedback on what I’m going to be talking about here, and I want it to come from you. So comment on the article here, or on the CueTheRant.com facebook page, or shoot me an e-mail–I want to hear your opinion.
I really just haven’t had any of the right words to describe how I’ve felt since the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury decisions were released. I’m sad and angry and overwhelmed, on a level that just can’t compare to the sadness and anger that many black people are feeling. But at the same time, I’m hopeful that we’re finally going to tackle our painful “race issue” in a way that we’ve avoided doing for so long. The #BlackLivesMatter and #ICantBreathe hashtags have swept the nation, and have catapulted us into having these conversations. One of the other tags that has been heavily talked about is #CrimingWhileWhite, and it brings me to my topic today. What is the role of white allies in the struggle for racial equality?
I’ve heard some very positive thoughts and some very negative thoughts on the #CrimingWhileWhite tag, both on a national level and personally coming from people that I very much respect. Those who like the tag–white and black–think that it’s an awesome show of solidarity from white people who understand that they have benefits in society simply because of their skin color. Those who dislike it–white and black–see it as a vehicle for white people to monopolize the conversation and make it all about them, which of course is what’s been done for hundreds of years and needs to stop.
I think I get where this pushback is coming from. There are definitely white people who are trying to co-opt this tag and the #BlackLivesMatter movement in general. I’ve read several articles detailing how white people grab microphones and bullhorns at these protests and change the call to #AllLivesMatter, changing the nature of the protest from a peaceful one standing up for black lives to a more aggressive one centered on confronting police. This is harmful. Also harmful is using the tag, or your voice as a white person, to advocate for black civil rights in order to be seen as a “good white person” by black people. If #CrimingWhileWhite is used primarily in these ways, then I have a real issue with it.
But…I’m just not sure that it is. There are certainly some white people who are using the tag to brag about committing crimes and getting away with it. But it seems to me that the tag, and the white people choosing to use it as a recognition and introspection on their own advantages, have roles to play in this struggle, just as male allies can advocate strongly for feminism without drowning out women’s voices, or straight allies can advocate strongly for LGBT equality without letting their perspectives override those of the LGBT community.
I think that the role of white people in this struggle and this debate can be to help minister to other white people who may be on the fence. Those who don’t want to see anything change (for example: Fox News, conservative talk radio) blanket the country with their propaganda and try to imply that this is a black people vs. white people issue, and so the white people who hear this commentary will be more likely to dismiss the problem if they see that only black people are talking about it. Does this suck? Yes. Is this (the dismissal, not necessarily the person) racist? Yes. But I’m trying to look at this in a pragmatic way, and I think that many of these white people just don’t take the time to fully understand the other side. If they see that blacks AND whites come together to point out inequalities and to try to change them, they may be more likely to stop thinking about things casually through a racist lens and actually change their views. I think a lot of white people hold racist views unintentionally because they simply don’t know any better, and white allies can be part of an educational movement.
So if you’re tweeting #CrimingWhileWhite, or participating in the movement as a whole, to get approval from black people, or to get attention from your progressive white friends, just stop. Stop it. You are part of the problem. But if you’re tweeting and speaking to a wider audience, in an attempt to help other white people actually understand the racial problems that still exist in this country, I don’t think there’s a problem with that.
Again, sound off to me in the comments! Am I off base here? Am I just completely wrong? I want you to tell me if I am–I’m open to changing my view on this, and I want to have a conversation.