How My White Ferguson Protester Friends Lost Me
First, some mild credentials.
I live in St. Louis. Remember when the protesters shut down the Highway 44 Grand exit on the night of the Darren Wilson non-indictment?? That’s how we take our son to school. I am not clueless to the history of tense race relations in this city, or America in general. I am sympathetic to the discussion about systemic racism. As a video game developer, I directly addressed that very issue in my last game, wherein a black female character is hopelessly confronted with ingrained American prejudice. (And as a bonus, she proves to be the hero, ultimately rescuing the male player character. Take THAT #gamergate! Also: spoiler.)
With that out of the way, let me state unequivocally from the top: the following isn’t addressed to black protesters.
I respect your frustration. It absolutely isn’t my place to dictate to you how to express your frustration, your anger, your struggle. My only job right now is to listen to you and try to understand. I will humbly shut my mouth except to ask questions and seek to do what I can to help make the world a better place in whatever small way I can.
No, the following is addressed to the white protesters. I know and really like many of you. I’ve encountered a lot more of you around town. First off, sincerely: good for you! It’s important to stand up for others.
And yet, as much as I hate to admit it, and despite my best, most ardent efforts… you’ve lost me. Argh! I just can’t deny it an longer! As a friend online said the other day, you’ve jumped the shark.
Here’s the bald truth: I’m actually further away from understanding the cause of systemic racism now than I was before you started. I am dismayed by this, but it’s just true.
And I’m not alone.
So this is for you. If you really and truly care about the issue of race in America (and I believe you do) then it seriously behooves you to consider the actual outcome of your involvement (unless you are just too righteously angry or enjoy hating people like me too much. If that’s the case, do carry on. You’re having the desired effect).
Otherwise, this is my perhaps lame attempt to illustrate the outcome white Ferguson protesters are having on the other whiteys out there. Let’s imagine a scenario where the entire white population of America is distilled down to two people, a white protester and a regular white citizen.
The Protester says, hey, cops kill black people and there aren’t any consequences. Systemic racism is a thing.
Citizen Whitey: Ok, really? That’s a pretty shocking issue. Do you have some data to back this up?
Protester: Here’s an Upworthy story about a black man killed by a white cop. Join the protest now.
Citizen Whitey (reads the article): I’m sympathetic but this article is just one example, and the facts are a little fuzzy. It looks like it was an accident, or the guy was resisting arrest, or he actually attacked the cop. Do you have any broad data on the subject?
[Protester lies down in front of the citizen and dies.]
Citizen Whitey: What are you doing?
Protester: I’m having a die-in to raise awareness of this important issue.
Citizen Whitey: I’m aware of the issue. You just told me about it. I was just asking for more data.
Protester (standing again): Here’s a Huffington Post story about a little black girl killed by a white cop. He got away with murder.
Citizen Whitey: What?? Are you serious?? He just killed her?
Protester: Shot her dead while she slept.
Citizen Whitey: That’s outrageous! That’s…! (Reads article) Hold on. It says here this happened during a SWAT raid while they were looking for a murderer. The cop says it was an accident.
Protester: So you’re on the cop’s side? Are you a racist? You must be a racist.
Citizen Whitey: What?! No! I just… You said he murdered her. It’s just, the article… This was a raid. He didn’t just walk up to her on the street and… It’s a little more complicated–
Protester: White privilege!
Citizen Whitey: Ok. Ok. Yeah, maybe. I mean, I’m white… So…
[Protester moves challengingly close to citizen and glares.]
Citizen Whitey (taken aback): Why are you doing that?
Protester: I’m blocking the highway.
Citizen Whitey: Wha– why??
Protester: To raise awareness of systemic racism.
Citizen Whitey: I… I’m aware! Look– weren’t we… Aren’t we talking now? Like, about this very issue?
Protester: I’m tired of talking. Join me. You need to make a difference.
Citizen Whitey: I… Maybe, ok? But I have questions. Is this… You know… Really happening?
Protester: White privilege!
Citizen Whitey: Yeah, we established that. I’m white. I haven’t experienced what you’re talking about. That’s why I’m asking. But, like, if it’s true, I want to try to stop it–
Protester: BLACK LIVES MATTER!
Citizen Whitey: …er, yeah! Yes! I… I agree with that. Can you, maybe, take it down a notch? I’m just… I’m white, so I need to understand better what’s going on. Like I said, are there… Say… Studies that show systemic racism with police shootings and stuff?
Protester: You are awful. Your need for evidence is evidence of your awfulness. You’re the problem. Where’s your white hood, Adolph? Racist.
Citizen Whitey: No! No, really! I’m not… I mean, I try not to…! Look! I’m just… Can you explain it to me? Can you show me examples? I really do want to understand.
Protester: HANDS UP! DON’T SHOOT!
Citizen Whitey: Ok. Yes. I hear you. But…
Protester (challengingly): What??
Citizen Whitey: Well… (Sighs resignedly) Michael Brown didn’t put his hands up, though. Right? I mean, those testimonies turned out to be unreliable. He attacked the cop. Maybe… Maybe that’s not the best example to use to make your case?
Protester: Only if you believe the COP. He’s obviously lying.
Citizen Whitey: But… The witnesses… They saw the fight. And Brown came back at the cop…
Protester: It’s the last straw!! Cops murder black people all the time, constantly, everyday, with no consequences!!
Citizen Whitey: OK, listen, that’s an outrageously huge claim. You can’t just say that without giving hard evidence–
[Protester shoves a sign in the citizen’s face.]
Citizen Whitey: What–!! Why are you– I can’t even read that! It’s too close!!
Protester: I’m raising awareness of cops murdering brown people!
Citizen Whitey: I’m aware!! We’re talking about it right now!!
Protester: You’re not aware enough, otherwise you’d be protesting with me.
Citizen Whitey: Ok, look, I did some research on my own. It’s true that cops hardly ever go to trial for killings in the line of duty. Not just when black people are the targets, though, but when anybody is the target. Maybe there is a problem there, and I want to be sensitive to it–
Protester: How many innocent black people have to be shot dead in cold blood before you’ll care???
Citizen Whitey: I…! None? I’m just… This is a super serious allegation you’re making, and I just haven’t experienced it. Can I… Is it ok if I want some broader evidence? Some data? Before I start condemning all cops as racist murderers?
Protester: We need to just raise awareness.
Citizen Whitey: We’re aware! Everyone’s aware! This is the only thing that’s been in the news for, like, months. Nobody doesn’t know about it, ok? We’re just… Help me understand that the problem is as massive and pervasive as you’re saying…
Protester: How can you be so blind?
Citizen Whitey: Look, you said it yourself. I’m white. Help me out here.
Protester: You just don’t want to see it.
Citizen Whitey: Seriously, I’m trying. You’re white, too, so what convinced you? At least tell me that.
Protester: I’m making a difference.
Citizen Whitey: How? How are you addressing the problem? What people are you actively helping? Are you feeding the inner city poor? Supporting job training programs or something? Proposing laws for police video documentation? Serving as an ambassador between the police and the community? Speaking to suburban schools about the experience of people who are affected by systemic racism? What?
Protester: I’m protesting.
Citizen Whitey: To what end?
Protester: To raise awareness.
Citizen Whitey: I’m aware, dammit! And I’m sympathetic!! I just don’t understand the breadth of the problem as you describe it! All you’re doing is making noise and being an inconvenience and shouting broad accusations at all the rest of us! Convince me! Show me what’s happening with actual studies and data and statistics, not anecdotes and clickbait stories and insults! I’m aware! I’m sympathetic, but you’re right– I’m white! I don’t get it! Maybe I am even part of the problem! Instead of being a nuisance and an antagonist, be an advocate! An ambassador! You have my attention! Make it count! Help me understand!
Citizen Whitey: ………
And that’s how you, the white protester, come across a lot of the time.
Believe it or not, a lot of us have been listening. We are aware. We have questions, yes. We may require some input, some statistics, some broad evidence. But surely those resources exist, right? You’re white. You’ve apparently overcome your own white privilege enough to understand and respect the struggle of black America. Why don’t you tell us about that? Be an ambassador of their struggle. Don’t let us think you’re only protesting because you don’t have anything more meaningful to say.
But even more than that, how about getting down in the community and planning more than protests?
How about planning some meaningful meetings between the authorities in these communities and the affected citizens? You’re in the unique position to be the go-between. Start a petition to require all cops to wear those cool Go-Pro camera headsets I’ve seen all over my Facebook feed. Launch a program to work with inner city kids. Show them some white people who care, who want to know them, and understand them, and come alongside them. I’m just spit-balling here, but the ideas seem endless. Don’t they?
There’s only one thing these ideas lack: they don’t include you standing up publicly for a big newsworthy cause. And let’s be painfully honest here: there’s a lot of satisfaction in that, isn’t there?
I hate to tell you this, but a lot of people (probably wrongly) think that’s the only reason you’re there.
My suggestion? For what it’s worth?
Show them they’re wrong.
That will be more convincing than any words or protests. That’s the kind of progress people will get behind. That’s what will make a difference in the long run. I believe you want that. And I believe a lot of us would join you.
It’s a worthy cause. It’s an important discussion to have. But jumping the shark won’t get us there.