When the story of George Floyd’s murder and Christian Cooper’s harassment spread across my social media feeds last week, I felt the usual horror and the shame in that horror being familiar. I did not watch the video of Floyd’s murder. I’m grateful to the young woman who took it at profound risk to her own physical and mental well-being. I did not watch it because I understood what had happened and did not want to reduce George Floyd to those final horrific moments.
I also didn’t post my own thoughts on the murder of George Floyd or the harassment of Christian Cooper, tired of the choir of too many white-like-me people pouring their energy into decrying racism on social media as if that has yet stopped one white person from killing one black person. (I did share Baratunde Thurston’s take on Amy Cooper.)
So that was Tuesday. And then, on Wednesday morning, What a Day co-host Akilah Hughes spoke about the video of George Floyd, the trauma inflicted on black people when such videos are “haphazardly” shared via social media feeds, and the lingering emptiness where justice should be.
“When I say, “Don’t look away,” I don’t mean consume black death like it’s a meme on TikTok. I mean look in the mirror, look at your family, look at the community you live in, look at your friend group, look at the wealthy white woman with the rescue dog in the goddamn park, OK, and don’t look away. Because we know what the problem is. No one is unclear on what the problem is. So where’s the justice?”– Akilah Huges, “What A Day” podcast
And then, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, today – protests and images of an America alight, my social media feeds lit up with photos of power clashes between cops and the public they swore to protect. I’m grateful more people than ever are outraged. I appreciate how many businesses and organizations are speaking out. But all these posts, if they don’t affect the outcome, which is to say, if they don’t lead to actual, measurable change, i.e., less black people being killed by white people, then all the reveling in our righteousness means little outside our own (privileged) lives
I have plenty of white friends (I have plenty of white friends) who strive every day to be anti-racist. We vote well and call our elected officials and give money to the right causes, watch Get Out and Atlanta, listen to Kendrick and read black poets, rant and send each other “75 Things White People Can Do For Racial Justice,” but still, racism goes on, murder goes on and none of it is enough.
So these Facebook and Instagram posts – with accompanying outrage and sorrow from the poster – show up between easy dinner recipes and cute kid photos and garden shots and images of dogs and cats in varying stages of repose, and I think about how racism has flourished not only because Trump and his Republicans feed it, but because we deposit our outrage on social media as if that is enough.
But these posts about Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Philando Castille and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and and and and and and and and and and and and and now George Floyd do not transform into a refusal to rest until progress is made, until justice is served, until racism is eradicated, if not from people’s hearts, then from the systems we have build this country on, systems greased with the blood of black and brown and indigenous peoples, systems white America has an interest in keeping in place, frankly, because even sharing power is a form of giving it up.
White people interested in dismantling structural racism, it seems we have four things to give in the effort: our bodies, our money, our time, our voice.
“In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage.”– Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Between the World and Me”
We talk a lot about the mind, the soul, the heart, but it is the body that is everything. It is the body that absorbs the bullets, the beatings, the body that is held in a chokehold or under a knee, the body that wears the skin whose color determines the value of one’s life in America, the body whose inability to stop bleeding, to find air, will cause the mind, the soul, the heart to come to an end.
I think a lot about bodies and the harm done to them and what can be done to stop the abuse, the killings.
“Be complicit in dismantling racist structures by taking risks, putting your bodies on the line in the streets….”– Mervyn Marcano, spokesman for Ferguson Action
“It’s time for people who self-identify as progressives and liberals to put their bodies on the line. Because if they do that, not only are they helping protect black and brown bodies, they’re using the elevation of their white body in service of the black and brown body.”– Anika Nailah, “Every Day in the USA: 30 Black Moments”
“If you are going to be here, you should defend this space”– Chanelle Helm, a lead organizer for Black Lives Matter Louisville, to white protesters at a rally for Breonna Taylor in Kentucky
“I pledge, as an old white woman, that if I witness the kind of police brutality that is killing black citizens in this country, I will move on those police. It is only when they start killing white people that something will change.”– JB, Facebook
Women know what it means to have your body, by its nature, make you a vulnerable thing. Nonetheless, we white women have the choice to serve as the antidote to the Carolyn Bryants and Amy Coopers of the world. Our bodies can serve as shields. Like this. Or this.
One of the most effective ways to make change – arguably the most effective way to make change – is to give money to the groups that are already doing the work successfully.
Even marching in the streets won’t change things if the system remains intact.
Study up and support Campaign Zero, a campaign to end police violence through policy solutions.
Bring your concerns about police violence to your City Council meetings; insist on issues of race and equity being included in votes about what development is allowed and how resources are allotted in different neighborhoods.
Get involved in political campaigning. Make the calls, help with the organizing, get the best people elected.
Then make the calls black activists say need to be made: to mayors, to courts, to Congress, etc. Keep at it.
I think about what Hughes said about trauma and how many of my social media friends only post images of black or brown people who’ve been murdered or abused, a fact that reminds me of how often the media does the same, plus all the mugshots from arrest reports courtesy of a criminal justice system that has racism embedded throughout. And I think about how white people need to read black authors, watch black films and shows, support black activists – I refer you back to Corinne Shutack’s list for guidance.
All of which made me consider, what if we dedicated our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter platforms wholly to sharing the work of those artists and activists?
What if every post we made, every photo we shared, every recommendation we offered was done in the service of ending racism? Of celebrating the value of black and brown people who are alive with the same enthusiasm with which we share their deaths and horror? If we set ourselves aside and let people of color do the talking? If we altered our friends’ views of the world and showed ourselves committed to the cause? We’re already seeing some of this on Instagram and Facebook with #BlackOutTuesday (which, it should be noted, caused more problems than benefit because well-meaning people tagged their black squares with #BlackLivesMatter, undermining the use of that hashtag as a way to find information).
If you’re not already following enough people of color to be able to share their work, no time like the present to do better. In addition to all the accounts referenced above, you should know these 16 black women fighting for civil rights, check out these black leaders and influencers, and keep broadening your horizons.
But… where will you share your life? Text people. Call them. Trust me, if your friends want to see photos of your baby or your dog or that awesome salad you made or that body of water you visited, you can still share those things! Just, directly. Look, I know, in a time when we don’t get to see each other in person much, losing the connection social media brings might sting a bit. For people especially isolated, this might be an unfair ask.
But for the rest of us? This is easy, truly. And if we’re unwilling to share our voices, shift public perspective in this simplest of ways, what does that say for the work that is hard, that must be sustained? Because the rest of it, the actual dismantling of structural racism (especially in the time of Trump)?
That will take everything.