It’s been a tiring week. From news stories of a stabbing in Minnesota, to the death of #alfredolango, a black man who suffered with mental illness killed at the hands of police, the presidential debate and the news that the police officer who shot #TerenceCrutcher is being tried for 1st degree manslaughter has me emotionally spent. On top of the news stories, I’ve been reading on Sudan’s refugee crisis from the 80’s and listening to “What Will it Take to Make a Woman President”. My heart was about to explode from the aching it was doing. It’s times like these that as I try to grow my consciousness that I have to take a step back and make sure I’m taking care of me. So I’ve been quiet, silently reading, trying to make sense of what’s going on around me and how I can be a part of the solution towards progress. Many times I read the headlines and feel that I’m too small and too insignificant to press this issue forward. One of the things I’ve been chewing over is an article that helped me see things differently. In the article Claudia Rankine addressed Colin Kapernick and his decision to not stand during the National Anthem. There have been many articles chastising or praising him for his actions but this one in particular spoke to me. When Kapernick decided not to stand it was a way to show his support for black lives matter. He may have felt like I did, not knowing how he could make a difference and move the issue forward but through his platform he found a way to be a part of the conversation. The article highlighted that his action is not extraordinary. It made me realize that change does not have to come as a storm, and often it does not, it comes in small and often silent resistances to the status quo.
One of the main arguments critics of Kapernick have said is that he shouldn’t support this movement because he makes a lot of money from entertaining the American public and was raised by white parents and should thus be grateful. It’s odd to me that his critics are upset that he feels connected to the black lives matter movement. It’s like saying to the white freedom riders of the civil rights era, you shouldn’t be protesting, look how much better you have it. It’s a part of the conversation that peaks my interest because like Kapernick I live with a certain amount of privilege, that on the surface doesn’t align with matters like black lives matter. But because I am not likely to experience the threat a black man faces does not mean the issue doesn’t touch a nerve.
I remember back to 2014 when Michael Brown was killed. I was as much removed from the issue as could possibly be. I was living in Chicago in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood had a good middle class job and was expecting the birth of my first child. Brown died August 9th, a week before my son was due. All I could think about as the details of the shooting emerged was of that poor mother’s pain. I cried. I got angry at those painting Brown as a thug, going as far as posting pictures of men that looked like him (but weren’t) smoking illegal substances and justifying his death. I resonated with the mother’s pain because as a single mother of a young boy of color I worry every day about my ability to protect him and keep him away from violence. I saw my son in Michael Brown. Although my son is not black you can look back to the movement against police violence and see that Latinos have also been victims and left their families fighting for justice. The zoot suit ruits, the Puerto Rican mothers who founded parents against police brutality are examples of how Latinos are also affected. So I knew, deeply understood how Brown’s death was like losing one of my own. It was my biggest fear played out in front of me on national news. That’s where my empathy and understanding of the movement is rooted.
But the fact of the matter is that I am not black. I am not a black man. This issue is not about me and how I’m going to create change. My job is to be an ally.
Sometimes as allies we unintentionally take the conversation away from where it’s supposed to be. It starts as a hashtag or a picture or some other form of support showing that we are in solidarity. And then it turns into other people viewing you as a hero, as progressive, applauding you for being a great humanitarian. It’s not always your intent but it happens. Other times allies think they know what’s best for the oppressed party and with their power and place of privilege try to make change in what they think is the best thing to do without consulting those who are oppressed. Our job as allies is to not be the hero. Our job is to make sure that the movement has the support it needs to make the change needed. Our job is to listen, to show up, to provide resources if possible, and to help these issues get the attention they deserve.
As I was thinking about all this I came across a new book “No More Heros” by Jordan Flaherty. Flaherty talks about this savior complex that has ailed our world. From issues of the sex trade, colonialism, Occupy Wall Street among others. He takes a look at how allies can better support causes. It’s on my wish list and I suggest it to anyone who supports any movement but is not part of the population that is affected by it.
Change needs to be made. I believe unbalanced power corrupts, and militarizing the police without checking it’s members for their racial biases puts our communities in danger. I also believe we can’t paint all police as inherently evil. I have friends and famy in the force and know in my heart they are good people. I pray that nothing happens to them in the line of duty. But even though I see good cops does not mean I can’t feel empathy and see the systamatic problem we have in place.
The truth is I will not be the one to create a solution to help end the murder of unarmed black men at the hands of police. But by plugging in more, I can figure out my own way to support the movement and help support those that have the first-hand experience and knowledge of the community to know what needs to be done.