Too many black people have become hashtags in the last week. Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Shalala Fletcher and Delrawn Small are just some of the most recent victims of police violence against black people. Today marks a year since Sandra Bland’s death. We haven’t forgotten Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown or Tamir Rice, and we’re looking for Ka’Milla Renee McMiller, a young trans activist for black trans women and LGBTQ youth.
This is exhausting. Too many of my people are being murdered and never get justice. Protests are met with unreasonable hostility and displays of force from police officers who look like they’re dressed for a war zone. It is exhausting, and terrifying, and ignoring it won’t make the problem go away. Black people need to pay attention to these events and call out the police, because it seems like if we don’t do it, no one else will.
But we need to take care of ourselves too. Waking up to another hashtag and another story of brutality every day takes its toll, and I think a lot of the time we don’t recognise that. It’s so important that we take care of ourselves, because when you’re burnt out you can’t keep fighting. So to all the white allies who say they want to be helpful, I say this: check in on your black friends.
Ask them how they’re really doing. Don’t push them if they don’t want to talk, but make sure they know you are here to listen if they need it. IF they need it. Ask if there’s anything they need in terms of emotional support. A lot of allies seem to think posting some message to the effect of ‘we all need to love each other’ online is all they need to do to show they care about us. While it’s very important to use your platform responsibly, saying ‘let’s all love each other’ isn’t really doing that.
Responsible use of privilege and platform is listening to marginalised voices and lifting them up. If you’re only echoing the sentiments of other non-black people who are also distanced from the reality of anti-black police violence, you’re doing it wrong. If you only care when the victim is a ‘respectable’ black man with no record, you’re doing it wrong. If you dismiss conversations about female and LGBTQ black victims, you’re doing it wrong.
If feels like “I have a black friend/partner” is the go-to response when people get called out on their racism, but they seem unwilling to actually listen to that black friend. If you don’t check in on that person when their community is under attack, you’re not their friend. If you ignore that person when they say they’re not comfortable with you using the n word, you’re not their friend. If you can’t listen to them and engage with them in conversations about race relations, police brutality and what you can do to help, you’re not their friend.
After the attack at Pulse, people were ready to check in on their LGBTQ friends. If your friend loses a family member, you ask them how they’re doing. Well your black ‘friends’ are losing family members every day to senseless violence, imposed by a system that has never cared about them. What are you doing about it?