Monday morning was the first time that I felt uncomfortable in a protest that was under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter. It was organized by Philly Showing Up for Racial Justice , a chapter of a national group that promotes white activism for the cause. At 8am, about 50 activists, almost exclusively white, came together in front of the Philadelphia City Hall. The most common sign: "white silence is white violence."
The first thing that caught my eye, aside of the lack of non-white organizers or protestors, was the lack of police. Aside from a few police officers on bicycles, no police were around. Less than 12 hours before, I was marching in the exact same location with the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice, a Black led organization, in a protest that was predominantly Black. Throughout the protest there were more than twenty police vehicles surrounding us at all times. Both protests were peaceful, but that is an assumption that the Philly PD makes before the protest only when the organizers are white.
The protest took to the street quickly, and the organizers with the mic read the names of Black men who were killed by police. After every name they said something about the victim. "He was a good person", "he wanted to help his community", "he was a good father." Here I started being very uncomfortable. I started to feel that the protest is feeding to a false narrative of solidarity that perpetuates white supremacy. Why should it matter if Brandon Tate Brown wanted to help his community? Or that Alton Sterling was a good father? It is indeed heartbreaking to hear, but there is an implicit subtext that these positive characteristics make these killings unjust and that the victims deserved due process because they were good members of the community. Because, using the dichotomy of prominent sociologist Elijah Anderson, they were "decent" and not "street." But being "decent" is not what grants the right to not be deprived of life without due process by the 5th and 14th amendments. This right is the right of "any person" regardless to how "decent" or "street" he or she is. After the name reading a white organizer read a short statement. Black lives matter, but apparently Black voices don't.
At some point I started talking to one of the only Black marchers. He didn't know about the action but was around city hall and decided to join. He told me that he hopes that this is a part of a learning experience. "They come here, where they are comfortable, and maybe tomorrow when I'll ask them to join my action they will come." But these are pressing times. We have to ask ourselves how long? How long will it be until we, white people, stop allowing ourselves to continue and gather courage? How long will we, white people, fear to be uncomfortable? This goes to the heart of the racial divide in America, even northeast liberal America. The only difference between the content of the march yesterday and the March today was that the people leading the way were white. As long as we, white people, are uncomfortable with Black leadership, change is impossible.
This movement is not about the conscious development of white America. That is a means, not an end. It is about the day-to-day struggle of millions of Black and Brown Americans, and many immigrants, who feel threatened by agents of the state. It's about institutional racism that takes its tool with Black and Brown lives. At some point the crowd chanted "I believe that we will win." But this is not our battle to win. More than that, it's for sure not our battle to risk losing. It is the battle of the affected communities to win. It is the battle to end our privilege. The battle to end our fear of Black leadership, the same fear that leads police officers to fear Black men. There is no need to create safe-space for white protestors, white spaces, because most places are white spaces. There is no reason to promote white leadership because all power is white by default. One of the signs read, "white people, what will you do to change our legacy of violence?" Here is my answer: listening, supporting and marching with Black organizations, and resisting the urge to be comfortable are the first steps.