This movement is about black freedom, not white people’s comfort
Well, it’s about time.
After 400 years of Black suffering in America, a large number of white people are finally angry about anti-Black racism, at least for the moment.
The consecutive killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Tony McDade and Rayshard Brooks by white vigilantes and police officers have seemingly struck a chord in white America.
Almost overnight, and for the past few weeks, my social media feeds have been filled with white people looking for anti-racist books and resources, and my inbox has been flooded with statements from myriad organizations such as businesses, churches, universities, school districts and every other organization one could think of declaring their solidarity and love for Black people.
However, it is difficult to take organizations’ statements about valuing Black lives seriously when these same organizations disregard, devalue and marginalize the Black people who currently work in them.
White people and organizations have a critical role to play in confronting racism in this country and anti-Blackness — which Kihana Ross, an African American studies professor, describes as the “disdain, disregard, and disgust for [Black] existence.”
Although many appreciate white anti-racists and organizations that work in solidarity with Black people, this movement is not about white people. This movement is about Black people and Black freedom.
Despite the important support of white co-conspirators — which is a deeper form of solidarity with Black people than white allies — we must continue to center Black people and Black lives, now more than ever, and resist the urge to make this moment about white people’s comfort and anti-racism education.
As author Ijeoma Oluo notes, “confronting racism is not about the needs and feelings of white people.” Rather, it is about Black humanity, healing, dignity, and most of all, Black people. Because as Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza often declares, “When Black people are free, everyone is free.” So, the liberation of Black people is central to the liberation of America.
It is wonderful that white people are finally learning about racism, anti-racism, and hopefully, anti-Blackness. While reading books and having conversations about racism has a place, these actions alone will not empower Black people, confront anti-Blackness and dismantle structural racism — the type of racism and disregard for Black people that is embedded within American institutions as diverse as education, housing, health care, medicine and policing.
Black suffering and racism are real and immediate. Sitting on the sofa reading books about racism allows white people to be comfortable. However, practicing anti-racism invokes discomfort for white people because it is predicated on removing unearned and taken-for-granted advantages that afford white comfort.
Black empowerment places Black life and Black freedom at the center. This type of empowerment goes far beyond empty statements about Black solidarity and compels white people — and organizations — to constantly ask an uncomfortable question: “What am I giving up — on a systemic level — so that racial justice for Black people is a reality in a deep, meaningful and structural way?”
When white people can truthfully answer this question, then they will have an answer to what they can start to do. This may include practicing individual and organizational reparations, permanently shifting budgets to prioritize Black people and freedom, abolishing every practice, policy and institution that harms Black people while building racially just alternatives, and so much more. We also need federal policymakers to pass reparations legislation for American descendants of enslaved Africans, and in the meantime, a federal policy that holds police accountable for killing unarmed Black people.
This movement feels different, and we need to seize this moment. Like Professor Kevin Henry Jr. notes, “This is our moment to deconstruct and reconstruct, conjure, and create, build and birth a movement … that holds all Black people’s humanity and healing.”
It is our time. It is our moment. So let’s continue to empower Black people.
Terrance L. Green is an associate professor of educational leadership and policy in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.