Privilege and Power: Ferguson and Being an Ally – Generation Justice

As violence against people of color becomes more apparent, many Americans are angry, and rightfully so. I remember being furious the night of the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, and I wanted to get involved in any way I could.

Washington University students march on the streets of St. Louis. (Photo credit: Patrick Goff)

A few weeks ago, I joined many other students at Washington University in St. Louis as we took to the streets, demanding justice for Michael Brown. We marched to the intersection of Forsyth and Skinker Blvd., stopping traffic as we took four and a half minutes of silence – symbolic of the four and a half hours Michael Brown lay dead on the street before any help arrived. Fists rose in the air as students of all races stood in solidarity with Michael Brown, Ferguson, and all unarmed people of color that have lost their lives at the hands of the police.

But it’s important for me and other white people wanting to get involved to take our own privilege into account in our support of Ferguson. While it’s still important for us to march for justice, there are many ways in which our presence can be more of a burden than an asset. It’s easy for us to be briefly angry about injustice, and then quickly retreat back into our privilege when it gets hard or uncomfortable for us to think about it. This is not a luxury that the people in Ferguson have, and therefore we have no right to dominate the conversation about police violence against people of color.

That being said, it is still important for everyone to get involved in thoughtful, respectful, and meaningful ways. Here are a few ways to stand in solidarity, whoever and wherever you are:

Civil Disobedience.
Protests, marches, die-ins, and other acts of civil disobedience are part of a long history of demanding justice through social disruption. However, it is important to remember that these protests aren’t about you. Deliberately provoking the police, trying to take control of the chanting, or being loud and inconsiderate during moments of silence defeat the purpose of your presence. The voices of people of color are the ones that need to be heard first and foremost.

It’s important to know your rights if you decide to protest. This link is a great resource.

Donate.
Supporters of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, raised over $500,000 on the popular crowdfunding website GoFundMe. In contrast, crowdfunding efforts for Esaw Garner, the wife of Eric Garner, have barely raised over $3000. Victims’ families need financial support more than their non-indicted killers, as Esaw Garner explains very well at this press conference. If you are able to help out in this way, here are a few verified links to donation pages for the families of victims of police violence:

Michael Brown – Although the GoFundMe page has been taken down, many jailed protestors in Ferguson need money for bail, and you can donate to this fund at https://secure.piryx.com/donate/mS25KFCe/MORE/mikebrown

Eric Garner: http://www.gofundme.com/i8ytdk

Tamir Rice: http://www.youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/help-the-family-of-tamir-rice/273407 (or to the Tamir Rice Memorial Fund at any U.S. Bank location)

Don’t Stop Talking About It.
Depending on your circumstances, protesting and/or donating may not be possible for you. If you can’t do anything else, keeping the discussion going about police violence against people of color will keep it in the public consciousness. This can be as simple as sharing links on Facebook or Twitter, or even getting in a debate with a family member. However you decide to express your support, it is important to stay as informed as you can about the issues and argue respectfully and firmly. Your voice is important, and whether people agree with you or not, you’ve at least started a conversation.

That said, you should also take your own privileges into account as you enter the conversation. YouTuber Franchesca Ramsey (chescaleigh) says in her “5 Tips For Being An Ally” video: “Speak up, not over.” In other words, a well-intentioned white ally dominating a conversation about the experiences of people of color entirely misses the point. These conversations, these protests, these acts of civil disobedience are about black lives and black stories. Keep talking, but know when to listen.

My university is only a 20 minute drive away from Ferguson, yet many students hardly realize (or care) that the heart of such a powerful movement is so nearby. Some friends of mine have even argued that racism’s almost over anyway, so protesting and getting angry about this isn’t going to solve anything. As a white man, I’ll admit, it’s quite easy to feel like we live in a world where racism doesn’t exist, simply because we are never the victims of it. But if there’s one thing the events in Ferguson and around the country have shown, it’s that racism is far from over. White men like myself must understand that we have benefited from centuries of an unjust distribution of societal, political, and economic power. We can’t use the typical white-guy excuse (“But I’m not racist!”) and expect a pat on the back and an exemption from a duty to follow black leadership in the fight for racial justice. A just America is an America worth fighting for, and it’s time we opened our eyes.