By Chris Crass
Notes for a white anti-racist struggling with white friends about #Baltimore(in this case a friend who has loved ones who are police) : I love you comrade, and I’m so grateful for the ways you throw down. What helps me in moments of frustration and disappointment talking to white people about #BlackLivesMatter is to strive to balance one hard interaction with looking for two or three things that inspire me and give me positive energy to move forward – remembering white people in my life who have moved and are now working for racial justice, and then sending them a FB msg or text loving on them and naming the ways I appreciate them, or if it’s been a particularly hard day, even watching the Helms Deep battle in Lord of the Ring, and thinking “damn that looked bleak, but then your comrades have your back.”
And for your friend, two things. One, is this worth your time? Do they seem movable, open. What’s your relationship like and what do you want to invest? And then, what are you hoping to accomplish? Moving someone from seeing the people in Baltimore as “thugs” to becoming a prison abolitionist, isn’t realistic, but maybe becoming open to reading, with an open mind, some of the things people from the BLM movement are writing, is a good place to start.
If you do want to approach, here are some thoughts: Honor what she’s taking about, having friends and family in law enforcement and then seeing these protests and feeling defensive. I would say being able to step in her shoes and acknowledge that for their family, the police as trying to help people and their community stay safe, and just be in that, connect to what that means to her, and then try to explain that all those people in Baltimore are taking to the streets protesting, are doing it for the same reasons – they want people and their community to be safe, and structural poverty, the violence of the police and racism of the criminal justice system is making their communities deeply unsafe.
I respect that she sees law enforcement that way, and asking her to consider that the people in Baltimore are giving everything they have, including risking personal safety (like her husband and friends) to bring about peace and justice, and to take space not to judge them ( like she feels she is being judged) and instead ask, “why are they protesting and what can I learn that can help me understand them (the same way she wants to be understood), make it clear she doesn’t have to agree with everything you think, but just as she doesn’t appreciate being painted a particular way, it definitely doesn’t move anything forward to just write off the people in Baltimore and around the country protesting that Black Lives Matter, who are risking their lives to help make this a safer and healthier society for everyone.
And even though you believe the criminal justice system is a racist institution, you know she and her husband want to do the right thing, and we could likely all agree that major changes need to be made in this country, and that a really good place to start is actually listening to what the Black Lives Matter movement is saying.
I don’t know if that resonates, but I think trying to open hearts and minds by trying to understand where white people are coming from, giving them space to articulate deeper values that motivate them, and make connections between their values and the values of the BLM movement. But again, I think it’s vital to have clear goals and expectations of what you’re trying to accomplish. Far too often the biggest jackasses capture our attention, and people who are more open to movement, more open to learning and potentially acting in this moment are ignored. For example, I would say getting one person out to a BLM demonstration with you, who wouldn’t otherwise have come, is far more significant then 20 intense FB arguments.
I think the key overall, is trying to reach white people’s hearts and connect their hearts to the devastation of white supremacy in the Black community, and their (potential) desire for a world that respects everyone, and then giving them things to read (a poem, a novel, an analytical essay) coming from the Black liberation tradition or the white anti-racist tradition. But by all means, try not to let these interactions lead you to the dangerous cocktail of 30% self-righteousness and 70% hopelessness that any real change can be made. Your spirit, energy, capacity to make an impact is all precious and needed to build movement in this time. Eyes on the prize, hearts on fire, powerful together in the streets, we will win! #BaltimoreUprising
(Photo by Josh Sinn)