dear fellow non-Black people (and ESPECIALLY WHITE PEOPLE) who are angry and hurting and searching for a way to “plug in”:
I see your pain, and it is real. Don’t let anyone (especially yourself) tell you it’s not, because we need you to feel that pain and to keep feeling it long after the flowers have turned to dust at George Floyd’s beautiful memorial.
But if that pain is pushing you to send panicked texts and emails to people on the frontlines of state violence and/or core organizers (who actually happen to be pretty busy right now), telling them how lost/confused/outraged you are and asking them to figure out what role you should play in the movement right now, I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is: it is nobody’s job but your own to figure out what role you should play in the movement – right now, or ever. The good news is: I believe in you! You can figure it out!! Have you considered the STOP, DROP AND ROLL method??
1. STOP —
~ don’t hit send on that text or email unless it is either a loving affirmation WITHOUT ANY REQUEST ATTACHED and/or a CLEAR AND CONCRETE offer of support. (Saying “I want to help, tell me how to help” is not a clear and concrete offer of support; offering to drop off dinner is.)
~ pause and consider where you are. Are you operating from a place of panic and confusion? Get grounded. We are all feeling a lot of pain and anger but we can still work towards clarity and focus. The more we are freaking out, the more distracting and unhelpful energy we will bring to the spaces and people we are trying to support.
~ think seriously about your skills, offerings, and privileges. You may think you need someone else to tell you what to do because you have nothing specific to offer. That’s not true. What skills do you have that could be useful in a moment like this – even if they’re things you’ll never put on your resume? What access to resources do you have? Who do you know? What do you feel most called to do if you really stop and listen?
~ You may also think you need someone else to tell you what to do because you have SO MUCH to offer and you can do SO MUCH MORE than the paltry asks that are being put out there. Knock it off. Drop the idea that you are exceptional. You do not have to be exceptional to be useful. Showing up where and when you’re asked to, making phone calls, cleaning up debris, talking to your family members who have mistaken the Uprising in our city for a “riot” and helping them to see things more clearly, talking to your neighbors about alternatives to the police – these are unglamorous but very useful tasks. You are not above the thousands of us who are doing them.
~ Drop the idea that you know everything already, and keep ACTIVELY learning and listening, especially to young Black people. This is always part of the work, but it doesn’t happen automatically. Make time and space to listen, read, and learn. Not so that you use all the right words in your social media posts but so that you keep up with the evolving way that Black people are defining their struggle and the solutions they are putting forward. Oh and also keep following and listening to local, grassroots, Black-led organizations like Black Visions who are putting out some VERY CLEAR AND CONCRETE suggestions for what people can do.
~ Drop your judgement. Whether that’s judgement of yourself or others, it is not helpful or productive. Now is not a good time for a shame spiral, for activism Olympics, or to police other people’s anger. Actually, there is never a good time for any of those things.
~ Unless you are Lizzo (in which case none of this applies to you anyway) you are not going to get a personalized invitation to do any particular thing or play any particular role so don’t sit around and wait for it. Follow local leaders and JOIN LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS, respond to the asks they are putting out, and keep on keeping on. It’s a marathon not a sprint so even if you don’t have immediate and perfect clarity on exactly what you should be doing right now, that’s ok. Do what’s in front of you. Sit with your uncertainty and keep deepening your commitment.
~ Who are you rolling with? Keep a close and suspicious eye on your privilege (and what it wants you to think, say, do, or feel) and the impact it may have on the people around you. Commit to following the leadership of Black folks, and get comfortable with being one small and beautiful plant in one very large and chaotic forest.
~ Roll like you are going to keep on rolling til freedom comes. This struggle has a deep history and an unknowably long future. Stay accountable to the long and difficult process of social transformation and don’t drop out when the heat of the moment passes. Otherwise next time there is a watershed moment in our movements, you will be back here, feeling unanchored, sending those panicked texts and emails, and I will have to make this entire facebook post all over again, which just sounds boring and disheartening.
Got it? Sending love to all of you.
*** Rest in peace, George Floyd. Your life mattered. ***
Used with permission.