By Stephanie Younger •
On June 3rd, I spoke in front of a crowd comprised of thousands of protesters at the Lee Statue in Richmond, Virginia. I began by READING an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” (the part where he said that he is “gravely disappointed with the white moderate”), and proceeded to deliver a brief, EXTEMPORANEOUS call-to-action, to white liberals in the capital of the Confederacy.
This call-to-action was specifically directed at “well-intentioned” white liberals–many of which rarely speak up, or started speaking up against racism in the recent weeks. I am livid about the eerie, deadly silence of some “well-intentioned” white liberals during the recent events. However, I have two questions for “well-intentioned” white liberals; Are you finding yourself just now speaking up about racism? Or, do you find often yourself solely speaking up after a racist incident goes viral? If that is the case, then now is not the time to address yourself as someone who practices anti-racism. You must extend your solidarity beyond changing your profile picture, updating your cover photo, or attending protests for a photo op. In one of my previous articles, “6 Anti-Racist Steps White Liberals Need to Take,” I emphasized the significance of recognizing your privilege. In light of the recent murders of Breona Taylor, Nina Pop, Tony McDade, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee, and James Scurlock, I am explicitly urging you, “well-intentioned” white liberals, to do more than to recognize your privilege; I need you to challenge your privilege.
#TheShowMustBePaused was originally created by two Black women named Jamila Thomas and Briana Agyemeng. On their website, they stated,
“Tuesday, June 2nd is meant to intentionally disrupt the work week. Monday suggests a long weekend and we can’t wait until Friday for change. It is a day to take a beat for an honest, reflective and productive conversation about what actions we need to collectively take to support the Black community.”#TheShowMustBePaused
Over a week and a half ago, #TheShowMustBePaused and its mission was co-opted and named, “Blackout Tuesday.” Tens of millions of Instagram users, many of which are comprised of white people and non-Black people of color, posted a Black square on their profiles in “solidarity” with the Black community. A few of these users were “well-intentioned” white liberals that I previously knew. Quite a few of them unfollowed, unfriended and blocked me on social media for speaking out and taking action against anti-Black racism, years prior to these recent events. These were also white liberals who were being praised for something they silenced, ostracized me for, and told me to my face, that what I do “isn’t real activism.” Many of the white liberals I knew, who participated in Blackout Tuesday, have also labeled me with stereotypes ingrained in misogynoir. Like the white liberals who were, and likely still are, apathetic towards the long fight for Black lives, those who frequently, if not always, remained silent, seemingly waited to speak up on social media until recently, when being “down” for Black lives was co-opted by people who look like them, and until they saw it as “trendy.”
Listening to Black women and uplifting our voices is key to anti-racism, but some of these “well-intentioned” white liberals have been disingenuous to the resources that are available to them in plain sight. More often than ever, I’ve personally been asked to do intellectual and emotional labor for stuff that white liberals can search on Google. We are not the spokespeople for our race, so don’t depend on Black women to “educate” you, or rely on our intellectual labor for you to be anti-racist. In my article that was published four weeks ago, I wrote that white liberals shouldn’t tokenize Black women as “teachable moments,” nor should we be used as accessories to look “more diverse.” This is self-serving, in the sense that it makes white liberals feel better about themselves, and therefore more like an “exception.”
After tokenizing Black women, the same “well-intentioned” white liberals who preach about uplifting Black voices, often co-opt Black women’s work. For example, white liberals often exploit our organizing for their own self-promotion, in order to make their businesses, corporations, media platforms and even their organizations, look “diverse.” White liberals appropriate our intellectual property, by passing off our writings as their own, or by attempting to center their voices at protests, that are for and by Black people. I am especially infuriated with white liberals often co-opt racism in a way that is self-serving, and garners the support that is needed by Black women–who know and experience firsthand how those “well-intentioned” white liberals behave, or have behaved, behind closed doors. This manifests itself when white liberals often talk over and silence Black women’s voices, by accusing us of attacking them and other white people when we challenge their intentions, due to the fact that they see Black women as “angry,” or “predatory.” When Black women identify the little respect “well-intentioned” white liberals have for us, when the press, their Facebook friends and their Instagram followers aren’t watching them, we are silenced and outed as “shady.” When we call out white liberals for co-opting our work, we’re outed as “jealous.” White liberals, your anti-racism should not be at the expense of Black women and the support that we need, as people who are often outed as “aggressive,” and criminalized by the police, for speaking out and taking action against anti-Black racism. Anti-racist advocacy is not self-serving, and it’s not about how you’re benefiting from it, or getting something out of Black women’s work, but it’s about uplifting Black women’s voices and being open to our criticisms.
In “6 Anti-Racist Steps White Liberals Need to Take,” I stated that white liberals have insulted my intelligence by constantly assuring me that they don’t need to put in any effort to be anti-racist. However, those same “well-intentioned” white liberals haven’t held themselves accountable and put other white people in check for upholding systems of anti-Black racism. White liberals, if you claim to advocate for Black lives, you must set aside your priority of gaining the approval of the systems you say you fight against. Save your concerns about being ostracized from your racist co-workers, classmates, friends, and relatives, and focus on your mission to protect Black lives. Instead of policing the way Black women vote, by gaslighting our critiques of electoral politics, call out the white people in your life for voting for racist candidates, including your favorite moderate Democrats. Instead of policing the way Black people as a whole, especially how Black women protest, you must consistently remind yourself that the media portrays you as “peaceful,” for protesting for a photo op, but that Black women are stereotyped and criminalized and attacked by the police for doing the same thing because we care. It is up to you to use your power to change that perception and to combat those stereotypes. To put this in perspective, I’m tired of having to prove that I am not a “rioter,” or a “leader [who] need to be arrested/locked up,” to racists in comment sections under the local news channels’ social media pages.
Here is my call-to-action to “well-intentioned” white liberals.
Just because you believe that you’re an “exception,” doesn’t mean you can shut down the ways the Black women around you need you apply anti-racism to your daily lives. However, in addition to doing the bare minimum on social media, by posting a black square, saying “racism is wrong,” giving yourself a pat on the back, and saying “that’s enough activism for today”—the question you, “well-intentioned” white liberals, should be asking yourselves is, “What does your solidarity look like after posting a black square on Instagram?” The other question you should be asking yourselves is, “Are you willing to work for anti-racism regularly by amplifying Black voices and lives, and holding yourself and other white people accountable–let alone protect Black people on the front lines of protests?” “Well-intentioned” white liberals, anti-racism is not something to be co-opted when it’s convenient, and just because you have a Black friend or “vote blue” does not make you an “exception.” Instead of policing the way Black people exercise their rights, such as voting, protesting, or showing dissent of any other kind, you must put yourselves and other white people in check for regularly perpetuating anti-Black racism, and hold yourself accountable to not only unlearn racism, but also to apply anti-racism to your lives–and that starts with you.
Stephanie Younger is an 18-year-old student, organizer and writer who advocates for womanism, Black female representation in S.T.E.A.M, the abolition of youth prisons and gun violence prevention.