Despite my attempts to have something smart and useful to say concerning current events most of the time, my friends and family have probably noticed my conspicuous absence of late on the Michael Brown and Eric Garner killings.
I’ve not been quiet because I had nothing to say about it. Far from it; I have plenty of thoughts about many aspects of these horrible situations, from police brutality to systemic racism, from media coverage to our “justice” system in the United States. I’ve been involved in activism since my teen years, and most of that in the civil rights category. Not just letter writing or the “slacktivism” of the Internet either. I’ve chained myself to a door; I’ve been detained during a protest (though passing for white and being a girl were probably why I didn’t end up getting arrested, like the black girls or the men who were also part of those protests). I’ve been part of various protests and even led them on occasion. So I am no stranger to any of this.
What I am today, however, is cognizant that the last thing that anybody in Ferguson or on Staten Island really needs right now is for me to add to the pile on of white and white-passing people offering their “advice” or explanations or ideas on this. A big part of the way that systemic racism continues to do its invisible and devastating work is the ease with which black voices are silenced. This doesn’t happen just through the ranting of outright racists, or by the lack of response from white people whose silence is louder than any words. It also often comes from well-meaning people trying to talk about being “colorblind,” or making assumptions and statements about black life in the United States that are simply not theirs to make.
The only thing I want to say is that I am listening, and I will do whatever I am asked to do, to help. It may be that there isn’t anything I can do personally to help. It may be that there is. But I am listening, and waiting for direction from the people who are directly involved, instead of deciding that for them. As a mixed-race person and a woman, my experiences, varied and sometimes distressing as they might be? – will never be the same as those of young black men. I will not speak for them, nor will I speak over them.
I will only speak long enough to say I’m listening, and I am hoping that others will shut up and listen too.