Yesterday, I saw dozens of police officers clad in riot gear and armed with assault rifles violently suppress a nonviolent protest calling for police accountability, peace, and justice in Baton Rouge. Despite the fact that the protestors were acting within their constitutional rights to assemble peacefully, the police arbitrarily determined that it was no longer a peaceful protest and forcibly removed people from the sidewalks and even from the home of someone kind enough to open her space to the demonstration. The police treated the protestors like they were violent criminals ready to riot when in actuality, the only thing that threatened violence was the militarized and aggressive police force.
It is this kind of confrontation, out in the open, that makes it so clear to me that the police (and I don’t necessarily mean individual officers, but rather the overall nature, culture, and function of modern American police) really does not protect and serve the American people so much as the status quo – which means, of course, that it protects and serves white people’s interests over the interests of black people. This is such an obvious and visceral fact to any person of color, but as a white person, it’s easy to avoid. I never even faced the threat of police brutality until I participated in this protest, and even then, I was significantly less a target than any black person was and I would have been subject to significantly less violence. Moreover, as a white person, this conflict could have been entirely out of sight and mind had I just stayed home and chosen not to think about it. For black America, there is no such choice.
I have also been reflecting on the nature of organized oppression and racism in America today and how it is not confined to police brutality, let alone such obvious confrontations with the police. Racism is supported by our criminal justice system, our educational systems, our health care systems, local housing policies, corporate hiring procedures, macroeconomic policies, and individual consumer decisions, to name just a few. In general, there are endless opportunities to confront racism in American society. And for white America, it is just as easy to avoid these confrontations in everyday life as it is to stay at home from a protest.
So white people, let’s not “stay home” – let’s confront the ways that racism impacts our interpersonal relationships, our workplaces, and our communities. Let’s support local leadership and vote to bring about change. Let’s focus on transforming the systems of oppression in a constructive and lasting way. Perhaps most importantly, let’s address and correct the ways in which our actions (or inaction) serve to uphold systems of racism. If we struggle to find any such opportunities, we aren’t looking hard enough.
I also write this in the hopes that you all will hold me accountable to do the same.
I leave you with this: as many leaders have said before, we cannot fully be free until we liberate ourselves from the role of the oppressor and inextricably tie our freedom to that of the oppressed.
Thanks for reading.