On the day before Thanksgiving, as I was scrolling through my news feed, I noticed declarative statement after declarative statement from a number of my white friends either threatening to, or professing that they'd just unfriended several of their white friends based on "wrong," "terrible," "racist," (read: conflicting) views about the grand jury's decision to not indict the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown -- an unarmed Black teenager -- in Ferguson.
If you haven't been following the story, start with this Jon Stewart recap here.
With each "unfriend" post, I felt myself getting angrier, and sadder, wondering how on earth white people (who understand racism) disconnecting from white people (who don't) was supposed to help anyone.
As a Black person enraged by the blatant racism in Ferguson, I felt involuntarily benched by my emotions; I was too angry, sad, etc. to engage on the subject period, let alone with white people who felt differently and required that I engage "objectively." This stood out to me as a moment in which white allies could come in really handy. So, I shared the post below on my Facebook page in an attempt to articulate my thoughts and propose an alternative to disconnection: empathic engagement with the "other side" on my behalf.
The post was well-received and felt too important not to share on my blog. It also crashed my site, preventing way too many folks from viewing it this past week. So here it goes... After reading I encourage you to share your thoughts -- on being an effective ally, on facilitating critical conversations, on connecting with unlike minds -- by commenting below.
Dear white allies, this is not the time to "unfriend." This is the time to "engage."
This is the time to remember that the outrage you feel can in no way match my own and therefore you have way more emotional capacity than I do to talk some sense into the "other side."
This is the time to remember that your "solidarity" does not render you powerless; in fact, the entire point of your solidarity is to lend the power you DO have to folks who do not.
And by the way, this is the time to remember that you do have power.
It may not feel like much -- your empathy may temporarily make you forget that you're not Mike Brown, you're not "one of us" (i.e. folks who've been bearing the brunt of racism their entire lives) and that in fact you are still one of "them" (part of a group of people who despite your political progressiveness or "good intentions" still benefit from a racist system). Nevertheless, please try and remember how USEFUL you could be should you decide to be brave enough to speak up to the folks more likely to hear YOU than me.
I'm seeing one too many white people bragging about de-friending other white people. I don't need your condolences. I don't need rash actions that absolve you of the responsibility of facilitating hard conversations with folks I will never be able to reach.
I need you to step up in a major way, and leverage the connections you DO have to address ignorance with conversation and interrogate white privilege with compassion. Because I will not do this. I cannot do this.
My rage as a black person witnessing yet another moment in the endless cycle of racism in the U.S. prevents me from engaging in "level-headed" conversations with people who see this terribly unjust Ferguson ruling as just another news story to banter about at the water cooler.
But you, don't do me any further injustice by claiming to stand in solidarity with me while really (really) excusing yourself of the hard work that is engaging with fellow white people on this issue. Don't hide behind "being a good ally" without actually doing any work beyond merely echoing my cries of pain, anger, and soul wrenching disappointment.
You're a socially conscious white person? You don't share *their* views? It's disappointing to hear your friends say racist things? You don't wanna talk to them? I hear you. I really do. But if you don't speak to "them" who will?
(Hint: Not me.)
So before you squander the opportunity before you in an attempt to demonstrate your solidarity, ask yourself which choice would be easier: unfriending the guy who attended your birthday party last year because he posted support of the non-indictment OR responding to his post with an open ended question to begin a (likely long and strenuous) conversation?
What would a good... actually, forget good... What would a useful, valuable, effective ally do?
We need you to be brave, now more than ever. Stop with the unfriending. Speak up. (Take a break if you must. Hide triggering posts if you must. But don't burn the bridges you are currently best positioned to build.)
And to those of you doing this already -- enduring the painful, hurtful, and frustrating conversations that have come emerged in the wake of Ferguson, doing the best you can with what you have from where you are, standing firmly in your convictions and compassion for others with different (or undecided views) -- thank you, thank you, thank you.
A version of this post originally appeared at www.spectraspeaks.com.