I don’t post nearly as much personal content on this site as I used to, but from time to time I feel the need to veer off the poetry path. Now is one of those times. I feel like I’ve been watching my country slowly disintegrate since 2016, but I know that the underlying conditions that have led to today’s crises far predate the Trump administration. Overpolicing of Black communities — and in particular Black men — dates back hundreds of years. The Black Lives Matter movement dates back to the Obama administration, and the George Floyd protests make it clear that we still have a lot of work to do as a country. Trump’s not-so-tacit endorsements of white supremacist groups hasn’t helped, and neither has the continually growing wealth gap. The COVID-19 crisis and its resulting effects on the economy have created even more stresses for communities of color, who have been hardest hit by them.
I’m glad that the protests over the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd are calling attention to these issues of racial inequality. I hope that people will look behind the headlines about riots and arrests and consider the peaceful protests that vastly outnumber them. Nonviolent resistance requires discipline, self-control, and bravery. Not everyone does it well, and there are people on both extremes of the political landscape more interested in creating mayhem than in enacting lasting social change.
I’ve attended protests and demonstrations both as a young woman and a middle-aged one. I don’t have the stamina or the crowd-tolerance I used to though, and I’ve learned that it’s important to care for myself if I want to be of use to anyone else. At the moment, even a trip to the grocery store feels overwhelming, let alone rubbing elbows with protesters at a large demonstration. Masks only work so well, and they really don’t work at all if people don’t wear them properly. There are other ways to support the BLM movement that don’t involve direct action. As a white woman, I’ve had to acknowledge the privilege I’ve enjoyed throughout my life, and I’ve had to learn how to listen to and amplify the voices of people of color. There are many articles online about how to support the BLM movement and become a better ally to people of color.
Martin Luther King did an excellent job of explaining how peaceful protests can turn into riots. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” he said:
I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
A friend of mine suggested that quoting MLK is not enough and that I should donate to organizations actively working to dismantle racism. I do donate regularly — I consider it my duty since direct action is often not an option for me.
If you are able to send monetary support, may I suggest the following:
- Southern Povery Law Center (SPLC) is one of my go-tos. They’ve been doing this work through the courts since before I was in diapers.
- SPLC recently posted an article recommending that we donate to the Movement for Black Lives.
- Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) can be a good place for white people who want to learn how to be allies and assist people of color as they organize direct action. SURJ Boston connected me with a sister organization that raises funds to prevent people from being evicted in the wake of the Boston housing boom. You can find a local SURJ affiliate here.
- Black Lives Matter Boston has a donation button on ther Contact page that directs you to their Paypal account (scroll past the contact form to see it).
- The Massachusetts Bail Fund can help people rounded up during mass arrests at protests.