Is it all right for white people to participate with Black Lives Matter?

Is it all right for white people to participate with Black Lives Matter? September 15, 2015

Recently, someone asked me a question about the participation of white people in the Black Lives Matter movement: Is it cultural appropriation? Thank you for asking, friend.

Black Lives Matter is  call for white and non-Black people of color to show up for racial justice.
Black Lives Matter is call for white and non-Black people of color to show up for racial justice.

White people have a call to heed when it comes to Black Lives Matter, but it is worthwhile to examine exactly what that means. It means being willing to start at a place of being supportive of Black leadership without having to set an agenda and take charge. Specifically, showing up for Black Lives Matter is not taking from another culture disrespectfully; rather, it is collaboration for the purpose of creating justice in the place of injustice.

“We’ll probably have to have a few uncomfortable conversations to sort of get things right, so everybody can walk and enjoy America like it’s supposed to be enjoyed.” —the actor Jamie Foxx in response to Staten Island riots.

For white people, discomfort is a kind of secret weapon. Being awkward is that stage that happens right before growth, so part of being willing to grow is being willing to be uncomfortable. You know about this. You know that some how a caterpillar liquefies in the dark before it becomes a butterfly. You know that a seed has to explode for a plant to come out of it. The problem is that speaking in metaphor lies in natural tension against the way that things happen in real life.

Black people are being killed at a rate twice that of white or Latina or Latino people. (This is one reason it doesn’t work for me if you want to change it to, “All Lives Matter.” They do, but it is the Black people of the United States who are carrying a much heavier share of that burden, unjustified deaths.) What will it mean to confront this inequity? In our state of discomfort, before everything gets better, we must be willing to take risks. I say, “we” here, because as a non-black person of color, as a Latinx person, the burden I carry is not the same as that of my Black friends, comrades, and colleagues. We must be more than allies in the sense that we align our thoughts and feelings with a cause, as though saying, “Black Lives Matter” is similar to saying, “Go Seahawks!” Sure, yes. I might want the Seahawks to win, but I am not going to be invited to play.

In this case, we must begin with white and non-Black people aligning our thoughts and feelings to the reality of what is happening to Black people, and we must continue on to use our actions, our bodies, to show up for justice. This is being less of an ally and more of an accomplice. This is living as though there is a direct cost to all of us if the Black people in our communities don’t make it. (There is. A gap arises in perceiving the cost when people allow the benefits of being handed lighter burdens to soothe them into false security and ignoring what is happening around them.) White people and non-black people of color are being called to show up. The way to answer this call is to work together for new futures.

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