I am a middle-class white woman, and I live a life of privilege because of the color of my skin. I have never been followed around in a store. I have never been called a hateful, derogatory name pertaining to my skin color and culture. And I have never, ever feared that a police officer would kill me.
Because of something I have no control over, I am afforded with choices:
1. I can choose to protect vehemently my privilege and imaginary superiority. By doing this, by claiming that all those black men killed were disobeying the law, or that none of the police officers were at fault, or that we don’t know the whole story, or that everyone in prison deserves to be there, or that those black people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, I am no better than the screaming bouffant-haired women in the photos from Little Rock Central High School on the day of desegregation. I am no better than the many people who put their kids into white-flight schools when black children integrated with white children. I am no better than the supporters of the policemen who used dogs and fire hoses to shoot down protests and enforce ungodly laws of segregation and prejudice and hate. I am no better than the cross burners and face-spitters of the bell-bottomed era (and if we’re honest, the current era in some parts of the country).
If I choose this option of vitriol, I am choosing ignorance and hate and violence. I am cultivating a culture that pulls the trigger in the face of innocent black men. I am supporting a justice system that puts black men in jail for offenses that white kids commit as rites of passage with impunity. I am supporting death rows with innocent and/or unlawfully charged men and women. These are the consequences of my choices.
2. I can choose to be silent in the wake of racially-motivated violence because it doesn’t affect me or my closest friends or most of my neighborhood. By doing this, by scrolling quickly over the videos and hashtags, by keeping my mouth shut and my mind closed to discourse, I am no better than the many white folks who tell their kids to stay close because there’s a black man nearby. I am no better than the Christian schools who provided safe haven to the white children during desegregation and who barred people of color from admission to their universities. I am no better than the people who sat in the diners and averted their eyes when sneering men and women spit and shoved the black men and women at the counters. I am no better than those who remained silent when the policemen used brutality and cruel, inhumane methods to remove black men, women, and children off properties. I am no better than the people who saw the cross burnings and never said a word of comfort or sympathy or solidarity to their black neighbors.
If I choose this option of passive silence, I am choosing ignorance and cowardice and injustice. I am cultivating a culture that ignores the many, many videos detailing unlawful police action. I am supporting segregation, unbalanced scales, and oppression. I am supporting the status quo of racial profiling and thickly drawn lines of hate and prejudice. These are the consequences of my passive choices.
3. Or in my place of privilege, I can choose to use my voice to call out from the wilderness for justice and protection for my black friends. By doing this, by claiming that black lives matter just as much as my life matters, just as much as police lives matter, I can join others to help tip the scales of justice back to even keel. I can stand, hand-in-hand, face-to-face, side-by-side with those who are routinely profiled, systematically imprisoned, and tragically killed. I can say, “This is not right. I condemn these racially-biased actions. I call out these prejudicial words and laws and court judgments for what they are.” I can open my eyes to see that when we advocate for the the lives of minorities–Hispanic, Black, Muslim, Asian—we change all lives. I can proclaim the hard message that we suffer when we’re oppressed, but we also suffer when we are oppressors. We were not made to be tyrants, to live lives of privilege over others, of prejudice and hatred and fear. When we wield our privilege around like a weapon or a shield, the poison spills onto us, too.
If I choose this option, I am choosing solidarity, unity, love, justice, equal pay, equal rights, equal enforcement of laws, courage, community, life, etc. I am cultivating a culture of accountability for all and justice for all. I am supporting racial integration and reconciliation. I am knocking down the status quo of racism and painting over the lines of hate with a sign that says, “You are my friend.” These are the consequences of my choices. But I have to actively make a choice.
And how cowardly I am if I choose not to defend my neighbor. How shameful it is not to care that my neighbor is suffering and dying and living in fear at the hands of others. How ungodly it is of me to not step in front of my neighbor and say to the oppressor, “No more.”