This series of posts from organizers and agitators in NYC and Philadelphia (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), outline some of the limitations and potentials of the Million Hoodies marches conducted in the aftermath of the murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, on February 26 2012. A central theme in these analyses is a critique of attempts by the white left and middle-class activists of color to subordinate the autonomous struggles of people of color to the purview of bourgeois and reformist politics.
A Tragedy, Not A Token: To Occupy and White Liberals/”Radicals”
“It is impossible for White Americans to grasp the depths and dimensions of the Negro’s dilemma without understanding what it means to be a Negro in America.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community
I’m going to try and say this as plain as possible.
The Trayvon Martin tragedy is not your experience. Our babies, fathers, mothers, siblings, and friends are stolen from Black and Brown communities every day at the hands of white supremacy, and police violence. This is not an opportunity for you to tokenize a tragedy that is a daily reality for us. Attending rallies, marches, and vigils is appreciated. However, it is not an opening for you to take advantage of all “the positive energy” and the “numbers,” no matter how much you think, “Police brutality! This relates to Occupy SO much!” Don’t do it. Do not.
We’re people, and we’re hurting. My pain, our pain, isn’t a numbers game. Nor is it an opportunity to push your racist color-blind agenda. This means NOT leading marches, this means NOT doing mic checks, this means NOT getting on a bullhorn. This means FALL BACK. Take this as an opportunity to shut up, check your privilege, and listen to what Black and Brown people have to say. This is our experience; we live it, not you.
At tonight’s vigil at Love Park, I got into a heated debate with a white man about why he (or any other white person) shouldn’t lead a march to the nearby police Roundhouse. As soon as I said “white people should not be leading a march from here. It’s not your experience, or struggle to lead,” he said I was being “racist.” Yes, I, a Black woman, was being racist. A person in no position of power was being racist to a white man. Since when are white folks getting shot in the street every day in every city, simply for being white? This man, Jessie Greenberg, went on to tell me that I didn’t know him. And according to Jessie, he experienced racism everyday where he grew up…for being Jewish.
Now, I’m going to need Jessie, and anyone else who doesn’t understand how race/racism operates to stop comparing being Jewish to being Black. White Jews can assimilate into whiteness, they can assimilate into powerful positions, and Black folks can’t. It’s that simple, really. I also pointed out to Jessie the fact that he was there to tell me his story, and Trayvon Martin wasn’t. Neither is Aiyana Jones, Rahmarley Graham, Rekia Boyd, or Ervin Jefferson. All lynched by vigilantes and police, systems maintained by white supremacy.
Eventually, Jessie pulled the white feefees card, and told me to lower my voice (all the truth I’m rapping to him, and he’s concerned about the volume and tone of my voice?). He told me he felt like I was “attacking” him (this here is the Angry-Black-Woman-attacking-an-innocent-white-person complex). I responded with, “White people need to understand that if someone is calling you out on racism, you need to listen to the message, and not be concerned about your feelings.” Derailing someone calling you out on your privilege is NOT okay. This is further oppressive and dismissive. It’s not about your feelings; it’s about your privilege and white supremacist thinking. Everything I say isn’t invalid because you got your feelings hurt. My anger and frustration are justified.
Despite attention that gathered around the heated debate, the march was going to happen. Not, because Black people at Love Park initiated a march, but because members of Occupy Philly wanted a march. I watched Larry, a white man, ask a random Black woman to lead the march, saying, “We’re all gathered at the corner. We just need someone to lead the march!” In other words, we need your Black face at the front of our Occupy agenda. Let us use your hurt, pain, and tragedy as a token. The march took place from Love Park to the Roundhouse (a jailhouse on 8th and Race). When I asked why they were marching a group of Black people off to a jailhouse nobody could answer, only highlighting the privileged, insensitive, and colorblind nature of Occupy Philly (and the Occupy movement). These white liberals and “radicals” would jump ship in heartbeat if it came down to those Black people being arrested for being Black in front of a jailhouse.
White people, we don’t need your “experience in leading marches.” We don’t need you to validate our struggle. We are here, and we are valid without you. You can show support by attending events, checking your privilege, and challenging white supremacy within yourselves and every white person you know. Nevertheless, when you attend our marches, rallies, and vigils do not talk about how “inspired” you feel. It’s not about how you feel. This is about us. And we are not here for your inspiration. Don’t talk about how “beautiful” it is that so many Black people have come together. We don’t need you to find beauty in our passive frustration, hopelessness, and fear. Anyone of us could be next. One of us will be next. This is not “beautiful.” This is tragic. Fall back.