The night of the George Zimmerman verdict, I was on Twitter--reading and tweeting and sharing a sense of anguish with many of my fellow Americans. Then I had an exchange that led to me deciding to shut my mouth for a bit (and I may have gone one tweet too far before I did it--Twitter as a medium does not promote thinking before speaking).
Since that night I have really been wondering--what is my place in this conversation?
I came across a link to this article on Twitter and hoped it would have some answers for me. I'm not sure it does (I just can't agree with everything she says) and I'm not sure there is one. I actually found the discussion in the comments to be reassuring as it seems there is not just one school of thought (duh, right?) among people of color on how white people can best help fight racism.
I am of the opinion (and I believe that this thought itself might be deemed re-centering on whiteness), that nothing will change in this country until everyone that sees the injustices speak out against racism. While I do not and can not experience racism as a person of color would, I think I can and do practice empathy for those that are potential casualties of a racist society, I educate myself, I engage in difficult conversations about race with people from many places in my life, and I raise my voice as part of the chorus of Americans who are saying enough is enough.
Now whether or not I know I'm doing the "right" thing is small potatoes in the hierarchy of issues in this situation. I get that. In no way am I conflating this worry rolling around in my brain with the far-greater struggles faced by those that are on the front-lines and in the trenches of the fight against the systemic and institutionalized fight against racism in this country, but it is something I am pondering.
At my workplace, I was the only white person to bring up the verdict the Monday after it came down. I was certainly alone in engaging in dialogue and trading postings, videos and articles about Zimmerman and Trayvon with my black co-workers.
One woman and I spoke at length, and on several occasions, about many of these issues (including the work she is doing in her community and my one-woman crusade to get the less enlightened members of my extended family to educate themselves before forming opinions and sharing racist images on FB) and one day she was sharing with me her outrage over black hip-hop artists, their use of the n-word and their negative (her word) influence on black culture and especially on black teenage boys.
I have a very strong opinion about rap music and misogynistic lyrics, but I did say to her, "I think that's one issue I, as a white person, don't get to have an opinion on. You take that one up with your people and I'll keep working on Paula Deen with my people."
Sometimes all you can do is the best you can do; I think I'll have to keep doing that.
P.S. Go see Frutivale Station--you probably already know the story of Oscar Grant, but this movie will help you FEEL the injustice and horror of what happened--and what continues to happen.