I am a white, straight, cis-gender, upper-middle class woman. I march with Moms United for Black Lives. We are in the fight of our lives. All of us. Whether we know it or not.
By day 70, Portland’s Black Lives Matter protests have begun to resemble what they haven’t been. And what the police have been calling them all along. Riots. They are not riots actually. They are protests resembling riots. Because the protestors know, when only one-hundred Portlanders will come out to support you, when those thousands who cared enough to come downtown now sit in their homes telling themselves it’s over because the Feds have gone home, a dumpster fire means their protest makes the news. And if it doesn’t make the news, white America rolls over and goes back to sleep while Black people continue to get brutalized by police.
White people only ever cared about the Feds being here. It scared them to see those thugs in tactical gear harming white moms. Now that the Feds have ceased to arrest people off the street, into vans without due process, I hear the white people breathing their sighs of relief and talking about unity and love. I hear their exasperated complaints. “What are they still protesting? It’s been 70 days. The feds are gone now. What do they even want?”
They want you to defund the police. Take a great deal of their power away. That’s what this is about. That’s what this has always been about. Because Black Lives Matter. How many times must it be said? My frustration makes my body feel like it wants to turn inside out. Repeating myself and having it fall on deaf ears. And then I try to imagine the frustration my Black friends feel. My body starts to resist. To say no, don’t think about that. Keep it light. If you go much further into that feeling, it will hurt you. Just thinking about how it must feel to Black people threatens to hurt me. What in God’s name is it doing to them?
I know that so many white people will never know a Black person. Love a Black person. So at the risk of paraphrasing inaccurately, I’m going to share with you that this is what I feel like I’m hearing my Black sisters say.
The systems of power act deaf to my voice. No matter how loudly I yell, it never gets through to that white man mayor with his blonde hair and his icy eyes and his insistence that he’s a good guy. He stands there and says he’s listening but that he doesn’t quite yet understand. Over and over. As if we speak different languages. But we don’t. He understands me. He wants something that he isn’t saying. That he can’t say because it would be to admit that he values his life over mine. As long as he does what the really violent white ones want, as long as he lets them have their power their way, his babies will be safe. He will be safe. So what do I do with my rage? This “good” guy could fight alongside us. But instead he lets my babies be killed with impunity.
As a white woman, I have lied to myself all my life. Lying to yourself is easy. It’s comfortable. Underneath my “I don’t understand” is this belief. Something about what they’re telling me is not about them being unsafe. It’s about their being Black. I hear the quiet voice I’ve been taught, telling me that this racism thing is their thing. It’s their lot. I live in a sea of white people believing it’s their lot. That there is a secret thing about Black people that makes them more susceptible to being harmed. And that I couldn’t possibly relate.
Not one white person with any kind of deep power is admitting that aloud.
When I don’t lie, I am chilled to the bone with the truth. It could happen to any one of us. Black Americans are lifting their voices for us too. They are gracing us with the most important truth we could ever hear and we’re going to sit on our couches and lie to ourselves. Maybe feel a little bad for ourselves that we haven’t had a break from the kids in months due to quarantine. We’ll have intellectual conversations about Black Lives Matter and wave some flags and pontificate on what’s going to happen and who will be elected in the city council race. And we will continue to believe that our whiteness will protect us. As if it’s the God given right that white America has always proclaimed it to be.
But our whiteness isn’t what protects us. It’s our complicity that protects us. This is how it works.
Trump comes with his thugs who sneakily arrest people, are unidentifiable so there is no way to hold them accountable, who have arms and can subdue or take anyone if they want to.
They come and test things out.
They are able to take some people but they give them back. Because they want to.
But they don’t have to. See that? I didn’t have to.
They have already come for the immigrants. There are babies in cages. There are babies missing.
But there are so many others who are not complicit. They only have to go door to door to find them. Ask neighbors. Look at yard signs. Check public records for names that sound “different.” And then they go with their arms and “take them in for questioning.” They could terrorize every Black person in America by taking their neighbors. But they could also terrorize every Mom in a yellow shirt who stood up against the Feds. They have pictures. They have technology.
Then they might just want to play around. To see how far they could go. So they come for anyone LGBTQIA. Anyone who has ever typed the word “antifa.” They just have to look at Facebook. There are so many indicators when you’re not complicit with the system.
Voting records work. How about just taking in some white women democratic voters. Why not? Especially the Pantsuit Nation ones. They’re really fun when they get groped. And why couldn’t a little groping happen during arrest? There is nothing stopping them.
There is one group that is pretty unlikely to be taken in for questioning. White men. Less likely to protest, to make changes that benefit women and children and Black and Indigenous and People of Color when they have the chance, to buck the systems of police, to stand up to the Proud Boys and other white supremacist groups. They are the most complicit.
So, white men. Have you noticed that most of the people with almost all of the money look like you? Have you noticed that most of the people with almost all of the lawmaking power look like you? With most of the law enforcement power? With most of the terrorizing power – the shootings, the threats against the innocent. Have you noticed they look like you?
They have the money and power. They’ll do what they have to, to keep it. And, progressive white man – they’ve given you a membership card to their club. Even if you didn’t ask for it.
You don’t want us to notice this, but you haven’t said no. You haven’t burned their card in their faces. You just tuck it away in a drawer in case you need it. They give you some of the spoils. Loans and access to housing and better jobs and physical safety. Again, you didn’t ask, but those things are nice so you may as well tuck it away in a drawer. Just in case.
I wonder what you will do if they come for your wives, who are in that Black Lives Matter Facebook group that you notice but don’t participate in. I wonder what you’ll do when they come for your kids who are raging in the streets because their young, uncompromised minds see the truth. I wonder if you’ll be left all alone with your other white men. Or if you’ll decide that you’re more than your color. Than your gender.
I wonder if you’ll fight. I’m waiting.