A Handy Guide for White People
Rule Number One: SHUT UP AND LISTEN
If you’re white and you’re not sure what to do during this, the time of the Black Lives Matter movement in America, don’t worry—I’ve assembled an easy-to-read, easy-to-follow guide.
What are my qualifications to assemble such a guide? Well, first, wherever I am, I’m the whitest guy in the room. I mean, I’m so white I’m practically freakin’ transparent.
Second, I have, at minimum, half a functioning brain. Possibly more. As I keep reminding my kids, they didn’t give me two college degrees because I’m good-looking. On the other hand, I’m recovering from a pretty serious blow to the head, so who knows?
Still, half a functioning brain is really all you need to know what to do here. So if you’re white and you have at least half a functioning brain, follow these easy steps:
For the love of God, shut the fuck up and listen. As a nation, we’re possibly, hopefully, finally coming to grips with our country’s original sin: the subjugation, murder, torture, and abuse of other human beings based solely upon the color of their skin. Understand that there is no possible way for us to fully comprehend what it’s like to live as a Black person in a system that by design is structured to favor white people. I know, I know, you’re white and you’ve been through a whole bunch of crap in your life. You’ve been kicked around plenty. I get it. But we can never understand what it’s like to have the deck so universally stacked against us the way it’s stacked against people of color—from education to housing to health care to employment to political representation to law enforcement to any area in which we just take for granted that the system should work for us. We can’t understand it, but we can listen to those who do. So shut up and listen.
Learn as much as possible. Open your mind. Recognize that things are not necessarily the way you’ve always assumed them to be. Recognize the way things are, as opposed to the way you think they are, and change your belief systems accordingly. Recognize when you’ve been wrong. Take responsibility. Be accountable. Be a good citizen. (In other words, care as much about your neighbors and your country as you do yourself. See my previous blogs, “A Memorial Day Civics Lesson...” and “Be the Hero.” )
Educate when you can. Share what you’ve discovered. Enlighten others. Enroll them in what you’ve learned. (NOTE: By “others,” I mean, “other white people.” Do NOT try to teach Black people what they should think or believe about a movement that dares to support the philosophy that their lives actually matter. If you’re white, then there’s nothing you can teach a Black person about the Black experience. I really shouldn’t have to tell you this.)
Support when you can, any way you can. March in a Black Lives Matter protest. Contribute financially to organizations that help support the movement (see the link at the bottom of this article for a list of groups). Talk to people. Confront racism. Show it up and reveal it as the evil it is. Don’t teach racism to your children or to other young people. Find innovative ways to convince people who are entrenched in their own racism that they’re just plain wrong. And most of all, support the cause at the ballot box. Do not support candidates who have overtly or covertly racist views for any office. You might have heard that we have an election in November? National, state, and local leadership will be voted on all over the country. Support candidates that stand for justice, equality, and inclusion. And GET OUT AND VOTE. With the pandemic and all, it might be more difficult to vote this November than at any time in your life. Still, commit yourself to the idea that you’d crawl over a mile of broken glass to exercise your right to cast your ballot. Do it like your country depends on it. Because it does.
Be on the right side of history. To paraphrase a line from the movie Patton, When your grandchildren ask you what you were doing during the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020, you won’t have to say, “I was sticking up for the rights of Confederate statues and complaining about the Rite-Aid being looted.”
Not sure where to start with shutting up, learning, educating, and supporting? There’s a great list here with suggestions for reading and watching, advocating, supporting Black businesses, teaching your children, and more. Want to go one step further? How about making reparations through this Facebook page.
Again, all of this is really, really simple: Compassion. Empathy. Helping others. Standing up for the oppressed. Seeing the light, and redeeming sin. Seems to me that a man of color preached his own easy-to-follow guide two thousand years ago, and somehow, two thousand years later, so many of his followers still wrestle with these concepts.
It’s not difficult, people. It’s just the things we have to do to be decent human beings.
Oh—and wear your goddamn masks. Thanks.