Hey Other White People, We Need To Talk

BY ROSEMARY DONAHUE

Black lives matter.

Top Row: Ethel Lee Lance, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd Middle Row: Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Susie Jackson Bottom Row: Myra Thompson, Reverend Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton Source

Top Row: Ethel Lee Lance, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd
Middle Row: Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Susie Jackson
Bottom Row: Myra Thompson, Reverend Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Source

Before we talk about anything else, we need to talk about something disturbing that's been happening ever since the #blacklivesmatter hashtag and movement first emerged. We need to talk about changing the wording of the message. When we change the statement "black lives matter" to "all lives matter," it is a harmful redirection of the narrative, it is a childish display of "but what about me?"-type thinking, and it is missing the point entirely. We say that black lives matter because right now, seriously and desperately, we need to call attention to the injustices that happen on a daily basis in our country—to the fact that a huge number of people are systematically treated as if they don't matter. Those of us who are used to power and privilege (thus, to "mattering" in this country) need to correct/resist all language and action that makes our messages louder than those that are more crucial at this time. That is not to say that we need to stop talking completely, but that we need to focus on this crucial conversation—more than ever, we need to talk about what we can actually do to change our racist institutions, to prevent further tragedies, to get justice for those who have already been killed or hurt in other ways, and to raise the next generations in a manner that is as far as possible from the racist roots our country has grown from. 

So, let's start talking. Let's talk about the events of this week, and every other week in our collective memory. Let's talk about the discrepancy between how black people who have done NOTHING (or committed very minor offenses) are treated, and how white people who are known killers are treated. Let's talk about Charleston. Let's talk about McKinney. Let's talk about Waco. Let's talk about Fairfield. Let's talk about the vast difference between Officer Casebolt's knee pressed into the back of Dajerria Becton and the bullet proof vest placed on the chest of Dylann Roof for his own protection. Let's look at our own insidious and implicit biases, at media treatment of those involved in these incidents based solely on race, at how fucking ugly the situation is in America and talk about what we need to do from here on out.

Let's talk about how people of color don't get the benefit of the doubt when they commit a crime (or even when they don't). How they don't get the luxury of claiming mental illness. How the actions of one person reflect their entire race if they uphold negative stereotypes, yet when a white person commits an act of terrorism, they're considered a "lone wolf."

Let's also talk about how mental illness (real mental illness, not racism we are scared to name and therefore misclassify) is hugely stigmatized in this country. How people are scared to get help when they need it because our culture tells us that therapy is a last resort, medication is a crutch, and showing emotion is for the weak. When people call for help because they're worried about unstable behavior of family members and friends, those loved ones are often killed or injured because of irresponsible and inexcusable assessment of the situation by police. And yet, here we are, tying tragedy born of racism to mental illness once again.

Let's talk about all of the black women killed in police encounters and during acts of racial terrorism. Let's talk about how the death of a black woman is even less likely to get media attention and public outrage then when a black man dies. Let's pay attention to movements like #sayhername and then, let's say their names. And let's give recognition to the black women leading the movement, even though the media chooses to ignore them. 

We need to call things what they are and look racism in the face, not make excuses or rationalizations that'll end up harming more people in the long run. Saying that Dylann Roof's actions were the result of mental illness is to contribute to the erasure of experience (telling someone who has experienced racism that that's not what actually happened) and the further stigmatization of real mental illness. Saying that he's a lone wolf is a refusal to acknowledge the racism that runs rampant in America today. Saying that this was an attack on Christianity rather than an act of racial terrorism is irresponsible journalism and is blatant ignorance to the facts of the case. 

We need to talk about all of these things and we need to start the conversation yesterday. Silence is compliance, and talking is only the first step. But it's one we need to take. 


"At this point, I’m not interested in your listening. I think the danger in this listening posture is, while it seems like the mindful and conscientious thing to do, it can also be far too convenient. It’s a great way of doing nothing. For the sake of finding the right action, you take no action instead. We have had the benefit of years — centuries, literally — of thought, narrative, scholarship, literature, film, fiction, non-fiction, and discussion to help us all understand these issues. We’re the most connected and information-overloaded that human beings have ever been. We can transmit entire books to our hand-held devices. Class has been in session. The school bell as now rung." —Soula Scriptura Blog