Life with Jesus / race / Social Justice

She Can’t Speak For Us: An Open Letter to Good White People

Hey there good white people-

We need to chat. But first, a story.

You might know that I volunteer with an organization called Faith in Texas, which is a “multi-racial, multi-faith movement developing civic leadership in faith communities for economic and racial justice.”

They had a press conference today at Robert E. Lee park in Dallas. The press conference was in response to SB4 which went into affect today (a judge said some provisions were unconstitutional but upheld the part of the law that allows police officers to request proof of immigration status), the possibility of the DACA program ending, along with all sorts of other lovely things that are currently going on (Charlottesville, confederate states, ICE operating during Hurricane Harvey,etc).

There’s alot of good reasons to have a press conference.

There was maybe 30 people, multi-racial, lots of clergy kind of milling around the Robert E. Lee statue in the park. In terms of rallies or protests that I’ve been to, it was incredibly tame. I say this not to diminish the importance of the gathering just to point out that it was clear that this was a peaceful gathering.

One elderly white lady was hanging around the edges of the crowd, taking pictures, grasping a sheet of paper. You could tell by her body language that she was perturbed. One of the Faith in Texas organizers, B.,  a Black woman, engaged with her (to see what she was doing) and the woman immediately started in on the Confederate monuments. This white lady had literally interrupted my conversation with B. about how tired and weary she was about everything that’s been going on. As this white lady started in with allllll the arguments, I could see B.’s spirit fall. When the woman started reading off her paper about how “black organizations pop up and try to remove these bastions of American history”, I shooed B. away and took over.

This was not her crap to deal with.

What followed was a 20 minute discussion with this woman about affirmative action, why “white people are being persecuted”, how we should take down statues of MLK if we’re going to take down Confederate statues, we’re in a post-racial society because Obama was president, how the people that paid for the Robert E Lee statue also pay for Parkland hospital (because if you have tons of money, apparently, you get to do whatever you want?). It was awful. This woman didn’t want to hear any of what I had to say. I told her that my Black friends got stopped by the police often. She said, “Well, I was pulled over in 2012 for a rolling stop.” Those are not the same. She didn’t want to hear what I had to say.

Another Latina woman who runs a local radio show showed up and the lady focused her attention on her. When the white lady started to take a picture of the Latina woman without asking, the radio host said she did not give permission, and scooted away. She came and stood by me and told me that the white woman had called the police to complain about our “parking”, which was ridiculous.

She called the police because of “parking”.

She finally meandered off, presumably to go tattle on us to the preservation society that oversees the park and the press conference started. I watched her with my eagle eyes while pushing my stroller.

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During the press conference, several people spoke. I had The Baby with me and so I was actually standing away from the group and watching from the shade of a nearby tree. The last speaker to get up was a DACA recipient, a Dreamer, J. She shared her story. It was moving. At one point, J. started to get emotional and everyone drew near her. It was at this point, another older white woman stormed up the steps, stepped in between the cameras and SHOOK HER FINGER IN THE GIRL’S FACE and said vehemently, “Nope! Nope! Nope! It’s against the constitution.”

During a press conference. Surrounded by 30 people, including clergy.

I will be honest. The people of color who do this work were hurt and disturbed, but not surprised. This is, unfortunately, a far too often occurrence for them. I know that I speak from a point of privilege when I say that it was my first time to observe something like that in person and it shocked me. I was shocked at her audacity and the strength of conviction that she felt that would allow her to walk into a group of people and shame a weeping young woman.

Dear good white people, these white women were not carrying torches or wearing white robes, but the effect was the same.

THE EFFECT IS THE SAME.

THE EFFECT IS THE SAME.

THE EFFECT IS THE SAME.

White women who have the bravado to demand a Black woman answer their questions about Confederate statues and then call the cops on a peaceful group of people and who feel bold enough to interrupt a press conference to wag their finger in the face of a child are sending the same message that those white supremacists sent to marginalized people in Charlottesville.

“You don’t matter. You are less. Your needs/feelings/bodies/stories/families/futures are of no import to us. We do not care about you.”

The effect is the same.

Good white people, meet your kinsman. Like it or not, these are the people that are speaking on our behalf. These are our bedfellows, our compatriots, our compadres. And they are getting their message out there. Loud and clear.

It cannot stand.

You see, I really do believe that there are lots of us “good” white people, people who are horrified by outright racism, maybe even horrified by systemic racism. There are lots of us.

But we are silent. And our silence is as good as a stamp of approval.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
Desmond Tutu

This is what people mean when they say “white silence is violence”. Our silence makes us complicit in what is happening. Whether you’re making the racist joke or you’re a bystander letting it happen, the effect is the same- someone is being dehumanized and no one is doing anything about it.

Here is the truth. I don’t think it mattered to those white women today who was talking to them. I could have been transformed into a 4-foot-tall sentient pineapple slice and that first old white lady would have continued blathering on about how affirmative action ruined her precious son’s chances at a scholarship. In that moment, I wasn’t using my privilege to try to persuade her to not be a racist. I was shielding my friends of color from having to hear her vitriol. The second lady took me by surprise but, now that I know, if I could do it over, I would have stepped in front of her, literally putting my body between hers and the press conference.

No, I’m not sure that either of those women walked away with their minds changed today. I could have wagged my finger in their faces and said, “Shame on you! How dare you treat these people as less than human! What a monster you are!” and I’m fairly certain it wouldn’t have changed their mind. These women didn’t want a seat at the table. They didn’t want discussion. They wanted to dehumanize people. They wanted to make them feel less than human.

Nope, there’s nothing I could have done to change their minds at that press conference today. It was important to me that they know that I didn’t approve of their actions, but that won’t have much long-term impact, especially for people who are so emboldened.

Would you like to know what it’s going to take?

Their kids saying something. Their sisters and brothers saying something. Their coworkers saying something. Their pastors (for the love) saying something. Their aunts, uncles, favorite dog walkers, teachers, mailmen saying something. Anyone with influence saying something. YOU saying something.

I don’t have much influence over those particular women. They likely don’t care about my opinion. I was guilty by association for being associated with a group that dared to assert Black and brown people deserve to be treated like humans. I could and should tell them that what they were doing is disgraceful, but the likelihood that it would make any dent in their thick skulls is slim.

But I bet they’d listen to their grandkids.

Especially in the South, I know that white people (especially Christian white people, especially white Christian women) are socialized to not make waves, to be polite, to avoid conflict at all costs.  It’s time for us to grow a pair, find our voice, and start speaking up because it’s quite obvious that the other side is emboldened and not afraid to say what they’re thinking.

And before you come at me with “We need to love each other”, let me tell you that I wept on my way home because I had never seen anyone act so…unhuman before.

The white woman who saw that girl as less than human, less than deserving of dignity, because of arbitrary laws about an imaginary border. I do not understand that woman. She had no sense of empathy or decorum, no propriety or compassion. In that moment, she was a monster.

If I love her, I have to find a way to stop her from being a monster. If you love someone and you see that they’re hurting others, then loving them in that moment means stopping them. Good people don’t let other people be monsters.

Loving racists means telling them to stop being racist. You will not convince me otherwise.

Yes, it will make them angry and uncomfortable. Yes, it might mean that you lose some relationships. But the truth of the matter is that there are white people out there who see Black people and undocumented people and LGBT people and Muslims and refugees and women as “less than”. And those white people are loud and bold because none of the influencers in their lives are telling them that it’s not okay. Those views are not being challenged in a way that makes them stop and think.

And those white people are bold and loud because the vast majority of us, good white people, remain silent. Silence = approval, even if we don’t mean it that way. Regardless of the intent behind our silence, the effect is the same.

The effect is the same.

We can’t leave this to others. This is our mess, good white people. It’s not on marginalized people to confront white people who are willfully ignorant or downright hateful. It’s not on them.

It’s on us and it’s time- no, it’s past time- for us to pick up our cross and bear it.

That lady- the one who stared into the eyes of a child today and told her that she had no value- she can’t speak for us.

We can’t let her speak for us.

-Beth

(PS- I know this post can feel overwhelming. Where to start? What do I say? The good news is that it doesn’t take much. Here’s an excellent story that illustrates a way that we can use our privilege to protect marginalized groups. The first time I saw this video, I felt a little lighter because it gives me something concrete I can do. As always, I’m available via email  or facebook. If you have questions or need support, I’m here. If you are asking legitimate questions and searching for help, I will not turn you away.)

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