Hello White People!
Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, was killed by a cop in Ferguson, MO—the serial killing of Black people goes mostly unreported or is deemed worthy only of a second section mention in a local paper, but it’s as steady and real as lynching was 100 years ago—and Black people overwhelmingly responded everywhere with sadness and outrage, while white people wondered if the police killing might just have been justified. Demonstrations and vigils and uprisings of love and rage filled the air—Black people would not let this murder go unnoticed.
And what about white people? According to opinion polls, most whites think the protests in the aftermath “Have gone too far,” proving James Baldwin’s observation that the only time white people speak out in favor of non-violence is when Black people are rising up angry.
What is wrong with you, white people?
Wake the fuck up!
“I’m not a bigot,” you may say to yourself after a quicky self-survey. “I’m not Donald Sterling or Cliven Bundy.”
Well, good for you—those guys are idiots.
Maybe you’ve conflated bigotry with white supremacy, and giving yourself a gold star for “color-blindness”—a self-serving invention that assumes that if anyone notes the racial realty right in front of our eyes, he or she is being racist—you are on the side of the angels. Not true.
The well-spring of bigotry is white supremacy, a structure that once meant the Atlantic slave trade and the system of slavery, then debt peonage and Jim Crow, and today finds its expression in the reality of mass incarceration, foreign invasions and occupation, wide-spread disenfranchisement, stop-and-frisk policies, extensive urban school closings, pervasive police contacts, the complicity of law enforcement everywhere in a code of silence regarding brutality, and more.
If you’re one of the good people in your own mind, fine. Stop congratulating yourself and get busy organizing others to attack the constitution and edifice of white supremacy for real.
Hello White People!
From my old comrade Bob Tomashevsky:
From my friend and comrade, Alice Kim:
“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance.
To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you.
To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair.
To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple.
To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand.
To never look away. And never, never to forget.”
As Ferguson rages on, as police and public officials continue to devalue and disrespect Black life, as the movement grows, I look to the words of the great writer and global activist Arundhati Roy for hope and to the ever-growing acts of meaningful solidarity with Ferguson for sustenance. Here are just a few examples.
1. Lauryn Hill dedicates “Black Rage” to the people of Ferguson via Twitter: “An old sketch of Black Rage, done in my living room. Strange, the course of things. Peace for MO.”
“Black rage is founded on two-thirds a person
Rapings and beatings and suffering that worsens,
Black human packages tied up in strings.
Black rage can come from these kinds of things.
Black rage is founded on blatant denial
Squeezed economic, subsistence survival,
Deafening silence and social control.
Black rage is founded on wounds in the soul….”
Set to the tune of “These are a Few of My Favorite Things,” Hill’s lyrics are eerily ironic and haunting. Listen to “Black Rage.”
2. Asking the world to “Activate your love & your rage and support the efforts in Ferguson in a tangible way,” poet & educator Britteney Conner, playwright Kristiana Colón, and activist & journalist Ferrari Sheppard launched the #LetUsBreathe campaign to raise money and organize efforts to supply people on the ground in Ferguson with gas masks and water bottles over the coming days. In just two days, #LetUsBreathe raised over $10,000 and the first delivery is already on its way to reaching the people of Ferguson.
To Britteny, Kristiana, and Ferrari, thanks for activating our love and rage and helping us to collectively breathe.
3. Poetry has the power to nurture the soul and elucidate moments of being and feeling. Poets are lifting up Michael Brown by writing and dedicating powerful poems in his honor.
Danez Smith composed “not an elegy for Mike Brown” shortly after the police shooting of Mike Brown of Ferguson and was featured on Split This Rock, a national network of socially engaged poets, as poem of the week.
Inspired by a demonstration in Ferguson on August 16, eighteen-year old Unique Hughley wrote this poem.
And, to dive deeper into the issues at play in Ferguson and to explore how they related to the experiences of young people, The Off/Page Project is seeking original poetry from young people that reflects how the events in Ferguson resonate with them.
4. After Ferguson police used tear gas on protesters, Palestinians in Gaza expressed their support and shared advice on dealing with tear gas via Twitter.
“Don’t Keep much distance from the Police, if you’re close to them they can’t tear Gas. To #Ferguson from #Palestine”
“Solidarity with #Ferguson. Remember to not touch your face when teargassed or put water on it. Instead use milk or coke!”
And with these tweets, we are reminded that from #Ferguson to #Palestine, killing children is a crime. Read Aljazeera’s account here.
5. A ninety-year old Holocaust survivor, Hedy Epstein, was arrested while protesting Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s decision to bring the National Guard to Ferguson.
“I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90,” Epstein told The Nation, as two officers walked her to a police van. “We need to stand up today so that people won’t have to do this when they’re 90.”
Born in Freiburg, Germany in 1924, Epstein was eight years old when Adolf Hitler rose to power. According to Newsweek, “When Epstein was 14 years old, her parents put her on a Kindertransport ship to England, the British rescue operation that saved 10,000 children from the Nazis. She never saw her parents or relatives again. They likely perished in Auschwitz.”
In the face of so much blatant racism and disregard for Mike Brown and the people of Ferguson, these acts remind me of our humanity. As poet and activist Malcolm London said at Chicago’s National Moment of Silence 2014, “Racism is alive. But so are we.”
“The US has every right to defend itself against continued terrorist attacks from unarmed black teenagers,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.