Let me start by saying that America is long overdue for some radical change in race relations, and radical repenting from our original sin of racism. I’ve been out in the marches; in the last month alone I’ve spent dozens of hours reading, listening, and discussing; and am committed to adding my voice to the many demanding real, measurable, immediate, positive change.
One thing I’ve heard repeatedly is that white people should echo what black people are saying. I’ve been told that white people shouldn’t be coming up with ideas, we shouldn’t be leading, but should instead follow the black people and amplify their voices. This sounds great in theory; however, just like there are many white voices, there are many black voices and many of them are not in agreement.
Four Black Messages
When I listen to black people speaking, I hear four basic groups that I want to address right now. this is obviously a simplification, but comes from probably 50+ hours of listening and reading in the last month plus the time I’d been learning before that:
- There’s no problem: Candace Owens and other black Trumpers who say that black people are fine and there’s no systemic racism.
- Eliminate police and empty the jails: I’m aware that there are people who use DefundPolice and FreeEmAll and don’t mean it literally. However, there are others such as Freedom Inc. (a local Madison affiliate of M4BL) who want to eliminate all forms of policing. For example, see: https://bit.ly/DefundPoliceMeaning
- Burn it down: Groups that are trashing businesses and property. M. Adams, the Co-Executive Director of Freedom Inc. just went on record at Madison365 as saying “I do not spend time telling black people how to deal with their rage. I do not spend my time redirecting black people to resist in ways that the power structure thinks is more palatable.” See https://bit.ly/MAdamsRage starting at 14:20. I’ve heard multiple other times where she’s said that it’s fine to trash buildings so long as you don’t hurt people.
- Change Within the System: Michael Johnson (the CEO of Dane County Boys’ and Girls’ Club) and others who are extremely well connected in the political system, are pushing hard for systemic change, but are also encouraging young black people to make wise choices that keep them safe (physically and legally) while things are changing. Here is a list of ideas he recently suggested: https://bit.ly/LetterToMadison
As a white person, as soon as you start saying any of these four is better than the others, someone (often another white person) will say not to interfere because surely black people know more about the problem and the best solution. Furthermore, they’ll say, it’s really none of our business because black people are the ones that need the solution.
I want to differ with these statements in two ways:
- Clearly black people have the best understanding of the current problem. However, the best solutions to problems, the ones that are synergistic, not win/loose or compromise, often come from using the broadest set of ideas, inputs, and life experience. Also, it’s often easiest to brain storm ideas when you aren’t feeling the pressure personally and immediately.
- The changes black people are asking for will universally impact everyone’s communities. Here are a few examples:
- DefundPolice: the police budget that black people want to re-purpose serves all community members
- Removing cops from schools: most public school are, at least somewhat, integrated
- FreeEmAll: the people who actually are violent criminals will end up on all our streets
- Free or reduced cost housing: the money for this will come out of all our tax dollars, to the extent it isn’t offset by budget reductions elsewhere
We Need Hearts AND Brains
So, where do we go from here? It’s clear that black people don’t want white folks to “come to the rescue.” However, there are only 5 cities where black people are a majority, 19 where they are over 35%, and 28 where they are over 25% of the population (https://bit.ly/BlackPopPercentage). Nationally, black people make up 13.4% of the population (https://bit.ly/BlackNationalPercentage). Additionally, the median net worth of a white family is around $170,000, but the median net worth of a black family is around $20,000 (https://bit.ly/BrookingsWealthGap). In most cities, change will require white votes, white voices, and white dollars.
So, who’s voices do we amplify? Should we amplify the ones who say there is no problem? Surely not, just the wealth gap alone is an obvious problem. Should we amplify those who are saying they want to completely eliminate policing and jails, something that has never been successful in large cities anywhere in the world? Again, I think not. We will ALL (even black people) suffer from anarchy. Do we want to amplify the voices that are saying it’s fine if black people commit felonies in their anger? Again, I think not. People of all colors and creeds have been financially and physically injured by the past month of borderline anarchy in various areas. We’re also beginning to see charges being brought for the crimes committed. If found guilty, these people will now have to live with a criminal record. Therefore, I think it’s incumbent upon us as white voices to loudly amplify the 4th group of voices. The ones that are pushing HARD for achievable, realistic, lasting, positive change.
Go Forth: Engage, Amplify, and Dialogue
So, first, please engage! Please don’t just wait for this moment to blow over. We need change! Black people need change. Brown people need change. We all benefit when everyone can stand tall and proud in our country and bring their best and most genuine self to society. People can’t do that when they are being denied the basic equality of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
However, please don’t fall into the lie that white people can’t select who to amplify, can’t ask pointed probing questions, or can’t offer solutions. We must do all these things. It’s dangerous for everyone when we amplify the wrong voices. We must ask probing questions and offer solutions, because we need to arrive at a plan that is attractive to over 50% of the population and does as little harm to as few groups as possible, especially other groups that are already downtrodden for other reasons.
In conclusion: engage, ask tough questions, make suggestions, do research, and let’s all bring our most true authentic self to the table to solve the original American sin: racism.