The protests sparked by the brutal murder of George Floyd have been carrying on for over a month now. While most Americans initially seemed to be on board with the idea of protesting police brutality, white America seems to be growing weary. How much longer is this going to last? What do Black people want? I don’t know how much longer we will be able to hold the attention of our supposed allies: some seem to grow more impatient by the day.
I don’t think enough has been said about the patience of Black people in America. We endured 246 years of legal slavery only to be freed to starve without a penny to our names. After a brief period of deliberately sabotaged reconstruction efforts, we weathered the storm of Jim Crow with its separate and wholly unequal treatment. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s finally secured the right of Black men and women to vote. Our nation began to desegregate, but the Reagan administration began slowly chipping away at any racial progress.
We sent you Fredrick and Dubois, Harriet and Sojourner, Martin and Malcolm, Medgar and Baldwin, Nikki and Nina, Rosa and Fannie Lou, Smith and Carlos, Angela and Fred, and so many more that I don’t have time to name. More recently, Colin Kapernick has used his platform to peacefully protest police brutality, but was largely silenced. What do we want? Equality. After hundreds of years of oppression at the hands of the state and federal government, Black people are not calling for the overthrow of the government, we are asking that our basic human rights be honored in this land we have labored in for so long. We are still waiting for America to live up to its promises of freedom and liberty for all.
I was talking to my son a few weeks ago about everything that’s going on in our country right now and he said, “ Mom I just think we need another MLK.” I told him that we had our MLK and he was killed by a system that refused to change. We have had martyr after martyr in our march towards freedom, but what we need now is for everyone to take responsibility for dismantling the system of white supremacy in our country.
I’ve talked to many well-meaning white “allies” who want to know what they can do to help the Black community. They want to talk about “black on black” crime, fatherlessness, single mothers, Black children who are not performing well in school, gangs and the school to prison pipeline. Theirs is an endless search for problems and fault within the Black community. These are bad faith questions that are coming from a place of white supremacy.
But when will the moral depravity that brought us to these shores be addressed? Why did white colonists bring Black slaves to America? They wanted to grow rich through the free labor of the slaves. The root of racism in this country is greed. As Ta-Nehesi Coates says in his book Between the World and Me, “You can make peace with the chaos, but you cannot lie. You cannot forget how much they took from us and how they transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold.”
In order to justify their greed, European imperialists all over the world came up with theories of Black inferiority. They talked about how slavery rescued Black people from lives of savagery in Africa and allowed them to become “civilized.” They said Black slaves were made for manual labor and were too dumb for intellectual pursuits. They preached about how God ordained that Black people should be slaves forever, and that slavery gave the simple-minded Blacks a purpose and introduced them to Christianity which secured their eternal souls.
Today, would-be allies love to emphasize their love for the Black community, but many have not given up their own ideas of Black inferiority. They vow to educate the racism out of their children, and claim that they love everybody. They go out of their way to be kind to Black people and families, but their good wishes and reading circles are not going to liberate the Black community— not while they still benefit from an economic system that uses the labor of Black bodies and the bodies of the poor to multiply the riches of the wealthy.
The economic system set up for us by our white supremacist forefathers— which we still profit from today— is sick. It values money over human life, and we have all been infected with the sickness. I can’t speak for every Black person in America because our beliefs are as diverse as the ones you find in the white world, but I am not asking for the freedom to participate in the upper rungs of a system that feeds on the weak. I’m interested in co-creating a system where we all have enough and use our collective money — our taxes — to take care of one another. Scarcity is a myth. There is enough for us all if we can manage to starve our greed.
So here is where we need the help of our allies. While it is true that as a result of hundreds of years of oppression, Black communities need programs for social, educational, and economic uplift, who is reaching out to wealthy white communities? They are so desperately in need of programs of moral uplift. Where are the programs reaching out to the politicians and CEOs, the graduates of prestigious business schools, and the white youth programmed to believe that accumulating wealth is more important than the quality of human life? Who is working with young white males to help them understand their history and the source of their power? Who is making sure that young white children do not become radicalized and fall prey to white supremacist organizations?
Oppressors bear their own trauma, and it is rarely dealt with because they appear strong. But the “strength” that strives to keep the Black community in their place through the power of the badge, the gun, a firm chokehold, and qualified immunity is actually weakness. It is a sign that we have become callous and blind to the cries of those we have used and tossed aside. What does a group of people who oppress need? They need to figure out why their need for power, wealth, and superiority eclipses their humanity. We cannot be truly human if we are living under oppression, and we cannot be truly human if we choose to oppress other human beings.
Renee Henson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and raised in Marietta, Georgia. She moved to Vashon three years ago with her husband and four children. She has a professional background in non-profit public relations and development.