Since the arrival of COVID-19 and the start of a global uprising in May of this year, social justice organizations across the country have had to mobilize in the face of daunting new challenges in unfamiliar territory. Because these recent protests have been spurred in response to the continued propagation of Black death by the nation’s racist police force, many white and non-Black led organizations have been searching for a more intentional and informed way of working in solidarity with Black organizers and movement leaders.
In light of this, there has been a major push as of late to confront a certain discomfort around racial tension — a feeling known as “white fragility” in some circles — and to confront it head on in order to have better conversations about race. The call for some has been to acknowledge their reluctance towards giving up the position of authority and influence whiteness or proximity to whiteness provides and work to avoid defensive postures when confronted by world views that differ from their own. Developing self-awareness and empathy towards others is a worthy cause to pursue, however for those of us invested in systems change and the transformation of culture, it is important to ask ourselves, what is the end goal? What purpose should these conversations serve? For whites and non-blacks, revealing their own biases can sometimes give us further insight into the work that still needs to be done with regards to political education, and can even have a cathartic effect. But the confessing of one’s own shortcomings is only one early step in a much longer process of racial healing. For the reality of the situation for Black people is this: report after report has shown Black people are dying of COVID at higher rates than white people in every state. With so many of us working low paying jobs in the service industry, we are more likely to be exposed, yet despite the fact that so many of us are considered “essential workers,” most employers have implemented little to no safety measures to mitigate the health risks their workers face everyday. And given the reality of housing shortages, food insecurity, limited access to maternal health or child care services, and other risk factors that disproportionately affect Black communities, quitting in favor of observing the stay at home order is not an option for most. Yet in spite of all of this, on May 26th an estimated crowd of 6000 came out and into the streets in the midst of this global pandemic to protest the theft of yet another Black life by the MPD. Thousands of us, many of whom were already grieving for loved ones lost to COVID, many of whom knew the chances of receiving adequate care, or any care for that matter, in a racist medical system were slim in the event that we too caught the virus, purposefully exposed ourselves to this disease because we understood we simply had no choice in the matter: as has happened countless times in our history, the state declared war on us, and we had a duty to fight back in defense of ourselves, and in defense of our value as human beings.
We are living in a white supremacist, settler-colonialist state. What this means is that access to care is made available through whiteness and/or proximity to whiteness. It means that the structural and ideological integrity of the nation is maintained by defending whiteness at the expense of everyone else. If white people want to join the struggle against anti blackness, then whatever conversations we end up having must begin with the question of how can we rid the world of the conditions that have made our current reality a possibility to begin with. Therefore, white people must move beyond statements of support and admission of guilt and focus instead on redistribution of wealth, resources, and land. White people must also understand that regardless of how pure their intentions may be not all Black people want to be in the same space as them — however it is still necessary to listen and take direction from Black leadership in all matters pertaining to our liberation. For non-Black people, we acknowledge our shared struggle against white supremacy and that indigenous and latinx people in particular have suffered the same, if not worse rates of Corona related deaths and hospitalizations as Black people. It is important however to remember that white supremacy and anti-blackness, while related, are not the same things. Many solidarity movements have been undermined by a stubborn attachment to the idea of racial hierarchies even though we share a common goal and a common enemy. Non-blacks must learn to articulate violences specific to their communities without capitulating to anti-black notions of worth. By doing so, we can build effective coalitions in which all of our political demands are given the attention they deserve. While people of all races can all benefit from more honest conversations about race, honesty without action is meaningless. Solidarity can only be established through genuine investment in abolishing all systems of oppression, racial and otherwise, by any means necessary. When we commit ourselves in earnest to that work, the conversation we need to have will follow.