Whites want to join the Black Lives Matter conversation, but we’re afraid
The death of Robin Williams wasn’t August’s only tragic anniversary — a year ago, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. From that moment on, racism in the U.S. was propelled into everyone’s awareness via the Black Lives Matter movement.
Whoa. Wasn’t racial discrimination kind of over in the 1970s? Since then, we’ve had a plethora of amazing black athletes, musicians and singers, politicians and business people, and we elected a black president, and come on: OPRAH! Isn’t it all better now? Nope. Racism simmered quietly along, below the average white American radar, but with the Michael Brown shooting, it boiled over.
How did we get here? The answer is that oppression of blacks arrived in this country from Mother England. When our Founding Fathers signed the U.S. Constitution, enslavement of blacks was part of the fabric of our society, and that fabric was part of a larger European patchwork. We view that with disgust and horror now, but in the 1700s, the oppression of the powerless by the powerful was the way of the world. People in those days accepted it as “normal.”
America is the spawn of a British monarchy (and the ultimate rejection of it), and if you think America’s brutal, read up on pre-Elizabeth I history. Our founders were the products of an astoundingly brutal culture. They made ISIS look like preschoolers. Americans seem to view oppression of blacks in this country as if it occurred in a vacuum. It didn’t.
A British website called “History in Focus” discusses the history of enslaving Africans from a non-American perspective. Among the points made are that Europeans enslaved Africans because they needed laborers to work in the New World (us), and found the Native American population completely uncooperative. (Surprise, surprise!)
The website notes that European efforts to export prisoners and indentured servants failed because “both groups either succumbed to diseases new to them, or ran away to freedom.” And so, the powerful turned to a different powerless population: Africans, who did not have guns, and were captured as prisoners of war and sold by other Africans to Europeans. And, kids, this is how racial inequality began in the U.S. — it was here from Day One. From before Day One, actually.
It took us 85 years before at least half the country realized that slavery was wrong, and the Civil War hammered that point home. It took another hundred years before whites realized that not only was slavery wrong, but denying blacks equal rights was wrong too. There’s been a slow grind of improvement since then, but as long as a black person gets eyed suspiciously by a white clerk when entering a store, we’re still not “there” yet.
Nonetheless, change has occurred. Look at black civil rights in 1776 (non-existent) as compared to black civil rights now (theoretically equal), and we’re about three quarters of the way “there.” But oh, this last quarter — what a bugger. Thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement, most whites seem to be on board with the fact that there’s still progress to be made. And black America, you need us to be on board. And the fact is, we truly want to be. Consider our history.
In both the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, progress was made because of the buy-in of whites, and I know how harsh that sounds but that’s the reality. Of course, not all whites bought in, as is evidenced by the continued existence of the Ku Klux Klan and those who continue to wave the Confederate flag, even in the wake of the tragic Charleston shootings in June. Thankfully, those whites who can’t evolve beyond poisoned thinking are clearly the minority in this country.
Consider the demographics of the Civil War. In addition to a white president leading the charge, there were 2,489,836 enlisted white soldiers as compared to 178,975 black soldiers. That’s a lot of whites fighting, and dying, for the rights of blacks. It additionally took a majority of white Congressmen to pass the 15th Amendment in 1869 to give black men the vote. (Women didn’t achieve that right until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, and similarly, it took a majority of men to grant that right to women. See? Just as all whites are not racist, all men are not sexist.)
In the Civil Rights movement, whites also began to see the light and joined in with Civil Rights protests, and the Voting Rights Act was signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, also white. These landmarks didn’t solve the problem, but at least they put the country on the right trajectory.
Sadly, racism has been simmering away all along, particularly in neighborhoods scarred by chronic poverty, unemployment and violence, where blacks are exponentially overrepresented. High crime means more conflicts with law enforcement, and the subconscious erroneous association of skin color with crime. Black America knew this all along, and with the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement, now white America knows too.
But here’s the thing: Most white Americans want to support the continued efforts toward racial equality, but we’re becoming afraid to join the conversation. The temperature in the room is very hot right now, and frequently when whites attempt to chime in, we’re shouted down with “white privilege!” which has the same effect as “Shut up!” And so, fearing being called racist above almost anything else — we do. But: Shutting whites out of the conversation hurts, not helps, the effort toward racial equality. We need each other.
Whites hesitate to say a peep, because when we attempt to engage in the racism conversation, we become the proverbial bull in the china shop, causing disaster every time we turn around. But, in our heart of hearts, we want to help. And to love. We really do. History has proven that.
So, fellow black Americans, please consider that most whites support your cause and want to join the conversation, even if we put our big fat bovine feet in our mouths when we try.