Making Black lives matter in the United States requires structural change
White supremacy harms everyone, most acutely and immediately Black people, which means that we all have a moral obligation as well as a personal interest in creating these structural changes – centering Black voices as we do it. As uprisings and calls for action unfold and sweep across the nation, it is imperative to be alert of your surroundings and ensure that your involvement in these organized activities contributes to the space and the conversation in a meaningful and positive way. Below we have detailed a collection of helpful tips and resources.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
Black Lives Matter: End of discussion.
Undoubtedly you have encountered the argument “but all lives matter” at some point in the last month. This stance is a misrepresentation of the narrative. Countering with “All Lives Matter” does not call for unity – in fact, it misrepresents reality by falsely claiming , to our current society, that Black lives do matter. It co-opts a movement slogan; All Lives Matter is never a response to Blue Lives Matter.
Being anti-racist requires that we understand that “All Lives Matter” is used to subjugate communities of color. Simply put: “all lives matter when Black lives matter.”
You cannot be an effective anti-racist or contribute meaningfully to social change until you accept the root cause of the problem, which is deeply structural.
BEFORE ATTENDING AN ORGANIZED EVENT OR PROTEST
- Identify the organizer/organizing group – You might not know the individual(s) or group hosting the event personally, but try to ensure there is some degree of transparency. Understand the intent and message of the protest. Ensure you are not crashing a Black safe space as a white person. We also want to support protests, actions, and conversations led by Black voices within our communities. Be present in a meaningful way by understanding why you are there and who and what you are supporting.
- Identify the purpose of the event – Know the message, demand, and motivation of the protests. Defunding vs. abolishing vs. reforming the police force are not the same. Understand your stake in this. To make sure that Black lives matter in the United States requires structural change that would benefit everyone.
- Get educated on structural vision of police abolition – Familiarize yourself with the scholarship that has preceded this moment. A good place to start is the Movement for Black Lives’ policy platforms. [We suggest starting with the sections on “Community Control” and “Political Power.”]
- We shouldn’t even need to say this, but it happens – if you are white and you’re at a rally with people of color present, do not call the police because you feel uncomfortable. If police represent “safety” to you, check your privilege. Instead, look for de-escalators, marshalls, Legal Observers, or other trained members of the community who are there to support you. Or, leave if you have to.
- Know your rights – See the resources listed here:
- ACLU Protests Rights – Police target participants at activist events and because police and the FBI have been doing door-knocks to get information about activists and you might be put on the spot to incriminate someone else. you always have a right to remain silent.
- National Lawyer Guild (multi-language)
PERSONAL CARE AND SAFETY
Stay hydrated – Many organized protests have designated stations for water, food, and medical supplies, but be prepared. Bring water and a snack. Keeping your body fueled will ensure that you are not putting added stress on volunteer medics needed for serious injuries.
Let others know you are attending. Make a plan to check in with others either physically or by phone. Use the buddy system, and plan an emergency meeting location and time.
Your phone can be a valuable tool for communication and observation. It can also hold sensitive information that you may not want to have on you if you lose it or get arrested. If you bring your phone, take some steps to increase security. Make sure it is charged and consider bringing a portable charger or extra battery.
If you decide to leave your phone at home make sure you have phone numbers of your emergency contacts on hand – literally – you should write emergency contact information on your arm in permanent marker.
Choose clothing that is comfortable, weather-appropriate, protective, and does not impede your ability to move. Understand that you may be forcibly dispersed. Be intentional with what you put on – take care to cover distinguishable tattoos or physical features as best you can. Phones should be passcode protected, disable biometrics. Turn off location tracking if you can.
If you will be at all in danger of being arrested and you take medication: remove and store safely at home all but a day or two’s supply out of the original prescription bottle, then ring the properly labeled pharmacy bottle with a dose or two for our medicine with you in your pocket.
Tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, batons, and physical force are possible. Remember, excessive police force and violence are part of the reason for these protests.
Although businesses are reopening across the country, we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. It is difficult to maintain a minimum of 6 feet apart from one another at a protest or rally. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, stay home. Black communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. If you attend a protest, wear a mask. Consider getting tested at a free test-site. An appointment may be required.
HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH A PROTEST
If you bring a camera or cell phone to the protests be aware of how you use it. Take steps to protect the people you are photographing. White supremacists and law enforcement are known to surveil protests, so try not to publish people’s faces or identifying characteristics without their consent. A good way around this is to take videos of people’s feet marching, or you can blur out peoples’ faces using image editing software.
If you’re at a BLM protests, do not take pictures with or otherwise interact with police or give them the opportunity to use you as part of their PR campaign.
Additional resources from the ACLU
HOW TO BE A LEGAL OBSERVER
Legal observers attend protests and demonstrations as a witness. As a legal observer, you provide assistance through the recording and reporting of unlawful and improper police behavior by writing incident reports and keeping records of events – both written and recorded accounts. It is imperative that you obtain legal observer training. The National Lawyers Guild is a great resource. They train and deploy LOs. Informally LOing without going through a structured program be dangerous for you, people around you, and the nation-wide institution of Legal Observers.
SUPPORTING THE MOVEMENT – CONFRONTING WHITE COMFORT
There are countless articles that suggest how to be supportive in this movement. As Roxane Gay (author of Bad Feminist) states in Marie Claire, we need to look beyond simply being an ally.
“Black people do not need allies. We need people to stand up and take on the problems born of oppression as their own, without remove or distance. We need people to do this even if they cannot fully understand what it’s like to be oppressed for their race or ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, class, religion, or other markers of identity. We need people to use common sense to figure out how to participate in social justice.”
Yes you need to listen and be present, but action must follow. This is not an opportunity to share your experience or unload emotional guilt. Change won’t happen until we all admit the role we have played in perpetuating an unjust system, and begin to act to make systemic change that benefits us all.
- Amplify and uplift Black Voices. Do not initiate or take the mic – simply follow and support the message. Listen for cues and follow directions. For example, “allies to the front” calls white protesters to form a protective human barrier between protesters and police. Remain silent.
- Stay on message. This is not about you. This is not an opportunity to talk about another cause you’re involved with or recruit people. Structural change is needed to root our racism, it involves us all and ultimately benefits us all, but it is imperative that racial justice is at the center of movements for structural change, not only because it is morally right, but also because any movement for structural change for new forms of government that does not center racial justice will inevitably be destroyed by racism.
- Do not agitate. Aid in the protection and safety of fellow protesters. Never heckle the police if you aren’t the one they’re taking heir anger out on. But also, do not be a Peace Police on your fellow protesters, especially if you are white. A peaceful protest is defined and encouraged by people who already feel at peace amidst a violent status quo, without some discomfort and conflict this will probably never change.
- Donate to support legal aid, medical supplies, and training. Make an effort to support Black-owned businesses.
- Realize your involvement and support is needed beyond a single event. Stay educated and never miss an opportunity to act in support of Black Lives.
- Not everyone is able to attend a protest physically. There are other ways to offer support. Please see Ejeris Dixon’s resource on 26 Ways To Be In The Struggle Beyond The Streets.
SUPPORT BEYOND THE PROTEST
Black communities are subjected to systemic racism on a daily basis. They are denied equal access to economic, social, environmental, and climate justice, along with health equity, political power, civil rights, and human rights. To build a world that is anti-racist, we must educate ourselves on deeper aspects of our privilege. We must act to dismantle injustice. Begin by reading a book, listening to a webinar, and actively investigating how your privilege has benefited you and harmed others.
As RaShya Ghee states, “Colorblindness asks us to pretend that we operate in a world where race does not exist while making decisions with the full knowledge of it and often contingent on those very realities.” Do not be colorblind to what is happening in this world, because in doing so, you are remaining willfully ignorant to the injustice.
Ask yourself, how does racism uphold structures that oppress all of society?
Watch at home or share your screen with friends and family via Zoom to host a virtual movie night with the film 13th – free on YouTube.
- Books, Podcasts, Articles: bit.ly/ANTIRACISMRESOURCES
- “10 Books About Race To Read Instead Of Asking A Person Of Color To Explain Things To You”
- “10 Steps to non-optical Allyship”
- “An Antiracist Reading List”
- Read Keeanga-Yamahtta-Taylor’s columns on the uprisings.
- Read Alex Vitale’s work on police abolition.
- Read the Movement for Black Lives’ policy platforms. [We suggest starting with the sections on “Community Control” and “Political Power.”]
Feature Image: Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash