I just wrote a whole post on Ferguson, white privilege, and racism. It was all about overt and institutionalized racism and the difficulty of seeing your own privilege. It recognized my own privilege as a white man and asked people of color to have patience with those of us who have a melanin deficiency as we try to figure out how to handle these successive rounds of evidence of systemic racism in society. Then I threw it out.
It was way too “Great White Father.” I was speaking to the white community, not the African-American community, but it still smacked of power and privilege. I can afford to sit down and think about these things because they don’t affect me. That’s privilege.
Yet I still want to get beyond the immediate injustices because they are symptoms of a much larger problem. We are afraid to talk to each other. People of color fear having their very real problems marginalized (again). Their white allies fear to say the wrong thing, knowing they can never fully understand the Black American experience, so they censor themselves. Plus, people of color need white allies to be vocally on their side. And that is a huge problem in all of this: we need to communicate, both to each other and within our communities.
In my presentation at the Pagan Activism Conference, I proposed this elemental model of activism:
Fire represents that immediate, get out on the streets and march element of seeking social justice. That is a vital element, but there is so much more to it. At some point, the different combatants in a dispute need to talk to each other. They need to understand each other’s problems. Otherwise one side sees only the angry picketers and burning buildings that the media shows them on TV and the other side sees only privileged, smug silent observers sipping their Cabernet as others fight for their basic legal rights. If no discussion happens, the sides don’t understand each other. The problem escalates.
We need that lesson of Air. Communication includes both speaking and listening. Argument is good, but screaming over each other as if we are guests on Fox News is not. Going forward in this fight for justice, I hope people of all opinions can quench their fire enough understand that there are real people suffering. Listen to their concerns without becoming defensive and without belittling their true experience. Speak your beliefs in a way that helps the other side truly understand your point of view.
There is so much pain in all of this. Listening to the voice that has hurt you will not be easy. But successful movements must convey their message to the other side in a way that helps them understand it. Protests bring attention to an issue, but it is negotiation and clearly framed messaging that changes hearts and minds, especially the way our media covers these events.
We who live with privilege can no longer ignore it. This constant denial of the basic rights of safety from harm that our brothers and sisters of color suffer cannot continue. It’s not one instance; it’s the pattern. The Wild Hunt’s Crystal Blanton, a stalwart advocate for real equality puts it so poignantly:
The fear that I carry as a mother of Black children is not different than the fear of mothers from any historically oppressed population. On Monday night, as my son walked out of the door, I stopped him to tell him not to wear his hoodie on his head and to put his dreads back in a ponytail. The fear that he may be mistaken for a thug because people will see him as a Black man first is a sad reality for many parents.
That’s not OK. Experiences like Crystal’s need to be communicated to those of us who are free to wear hoodies with impunity. We need to see and hear and understand these little bricks of privilege. The problem is clear, but let’s begin to focus on communication and healing for the long term.
Sometimes that may include that may include uncomfortable choices like writing a blog post you’re afraid to post or keeping a racist friend on Facebook so that you can scrape away at them with messages like Crystal’s. But then, if that’s the most uncomfortable decision you make in all of this, you’re ahead of a lot of other folks who are afraid to go to the corner store in a hoodie.