I Am Not Trying To Co-Opt The Voice, I’m Trying To Bring More Voices To The Table: My Role As A Straight White Man Wanting to Support the Black Lives Matter Movement
Let me start this off by saying you honestly should not read this article.
This article is going to be a public introspective experiment on identifying my privilege as a white man.
For too long, white people have had the option of not showing their understanding of race. However, the choice to not acknowledge racism is a facet of privilege I, and other white people, have held on to, intentionally or not, for far too long. Now, I am making the conscious decision to abandon that bit of privilege and make the decision to be publicly vulnerable. Although my voice is not what needs to be heard now, I feel my body is needed to help on the frontlines in the face of this tragedy. So, on day three of the Denver protests, 5/30, when a friend of mine (who is white) asked if I was going to the protest, I said yes.
Something within me knew I needed to do more and I knew of several community-led safe havens where supplies and medical treatment were being administered. I then found myself saying, “I’m going to volunteer as a medic”. Allow me to clarify, I have no extensive medical training, I am honestly very squeamish when there is actual blood involved, but I knew that the best thing I could do that day, was to at least TRY to help people who were actively in danger, in pain, hurt, and/or suffering. Furthermore, I understood I could use my body as an image. A white man volunteering as a medic is much less intimidating than a man in full military issue gear smashing windows with a hammer.
For anyone on the fence of how the media is perceiving the marches, small things like this can be the turning point that gets someone to show up themselves and see firsthand, which is even better for the movement. I hoped I could help change the perception of the protest literally, just by participating, and with my camera, I could provide a firsthand account of the unskewed truth of what is unfolding before us, while not allowing media bias to pollute the truth and distract from the matter that is, the unlawful murder of George Floyd, and countless other people of color (POC). This is what we should be focusing on! We should be legislating laws that create real change. Laws that prevent horrible tragedies like; Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and so many others.
With those thoughts as my foundation, I gathered liquid antacid mixed with water, goggles, food, water, and my camera, and headed down to the State Capitol. Immediately I see that this is not like any other Denver protests that I had been to in the past. Typically there is a police perimeter as the protest marches down 16th Street Mall; it is generally peaceful, and everyone usually gets along.
This time, I am met with a line of police in riot gear, equipped with tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper balls. I capture the crowd on my camera saying, “Hands up, don’t shoot”, one of the several iconic protest chants heard this week, while police decide to let loose. They began pushing forward up Lincoln Street in front of the Capitol, and people immediately began to scatter. Tear gas has stained the air at this point, and I start my service by helping people clean out their eyes. At one point a rubber bullet strikes me in the leg while I am running, and the air is popping with the sound of pepper balls. After what was realistically about 30 seconds, but felt like minutes, I started to feel the effects of the tear gas. I blindly run to 14th, next to the Capitol, and scream for L.A.W. (liquid antacid mixed with water, a common treatment for eyes affected by tear gas) as I am completely out of my supply now.
The medic group I had been with momentarily finds me nearly vomiting in the street, treats me and is gone again. To preserve identities, I will not reveal names, but they were several of the main medics over this past week that I personally saw helping people and it was truly inspiring. When the police stopped firing and people found their groups again, I tended to their wounds. You could tell people were rattled, but not broken. One important, but largely unseen factor of the protest was how it was not only peaceful on the civilian side, but also self-policing. Any attempt at violence or straying from the core message of the movement was met with collective, non-violent action, and it was a fantastic microcosm of the potential of the movement itself; the concept of civilian policing proved itself possible in the face of chaos.
I maneuvered home as 8 o’clock drew closer, as I was very shaken up, not of use to anybody, and I realized that this was only a drop in the bucket of my social responsibility. I knew I had to come back the next day.
That is my true, honest opinion, and I believe this is my role. Using my voice and privilege to tell you, that spending your time educating yourself about local artists, politicians, community leaders, and businesses within your community is what’s needed.
White people have compromised with BLM on police brutality. Police brutality is usually not a white people’s issue, so from this point on, white people need to continue to work within their circles and identify the problems within their own community. Identifying with the plight of the black community, while potentially well-intentioned, can only go so far before becoming presumptuous. There will always be a disconnect of perspective on a fundamental level. Spend your time allowing the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) to have your attention, but acknowledge and educate people on the deficiencies in your OWN community.
Straight, young, white men like me have had a very loud voice, for a very long time, and the ultimate takeaway I have from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests over the past week is that, at this moment, it is time for us, (the white people) to not shut up and stand down, but to sit at the table with everybody, and change what we have historically been saying. Advocate for the defunding of the police, tell them your interest for protection from police has changed. We no longer agree with the historical and modern form of policing in American that was designed solely to protect our interest in white superiority. When we start these honest discussions within the white community and advance the causes that DO affect us, both groups will unintentionally start bettering each other, due to not only genuine shared interests but an understanding of their community’s needs as well. Backing away from the spotlight (for once) and giving it to the people that this is actually about is great, but that doesn’t mean you should not stand up and advance your community in other ways. That is our actual role. To offer your body to the movement, help improve and advance the narrative in any way possible, to spread resources that help BLM now, and all of us tomorrow.
What White People Can Do Now
- White people need to message police that their interest for protection from police has changed. They no longer agree with the historical and modern form of policing in American that was designed solely to protect our interest in white superiority.
- White people need to utilize their privilege to demand the defunding of police departments
- White people need to identify and acknowledge their communal plight outside of the BLM movement, and organize it