This isn’t About You Bro; a How to Guide to Being White at Protests for Black Lives

By Mari Vangen
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So you’re white. Not only are you white, you are white and woke, or on your way to being woke-ish or as wokeish as you can be while white. You are fed up and angry and sad about the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Before you do anything rash like posting something on facebook, read this article from  Ashleigh Shackelford at Wear Your Voice. If you are still interested in taking action and attending a protest or march, read on.

Simply showing up for an action doesn’t mean that you are supporting the movement. Showing up if you take up space and center your own experience or feelings can easily negatively impact the people and cause you claim to be there for. As a fellow, often clueless white person, I have compiled a list of things that white people should take into consideration when attending events centered on racial injustice. These guidelines are certainly not all inclusive – I encourage you to engage in continuous learning and educate yourself further. This is just a good place to start.

  1. Most importantly: don’t forget your whiteness. This is not about us, so do not make this about you.
  2. Take cues from event organizers. They will set the tone of the action – listen and follow their lead.
  3. Do not talk to the media. Journalists and news outlets will seek out white people rather than Black folks to interview. It is neither your voice nor your perspective that needs to be elevated. Practice a one-liner ahead of time that you can use if approached by the media such as “I’m here in solidarity. I can direct you to the event organizers if you would like.”
  4. Use your privilege. Our whiteness often keeps us safe in our interactions with law enforcement and the Justice System as a whole. You know this, that’s why you are marching in the first place. If you are going to show up, show up and be the one that gets arrested, show up and be a shield. Do not however, be a white savior – follow the lead of the event organizers.
  5. Do not start or lead chants. While everyone loves a good chant, this is not about you. Take lead from Black folks around you.
  6. Be intentional with your engagement in chants. Some of the language allows for the solidarity of white allies; other language highlights the lived-experience of the Black community. For example, it’s probably okay for white people to chant: “Off the sidewalks, into the streets” and “Black Lives Matter.” Do not chant “I can’t breathe!” and “Whose streets? Our streets.” It is inappropriate for white people to participate in chants that center the experience of being Black in America. You should defer to the leadership for cues as this will vary from space to space.
  7. Be present and participate. Be respectful and pay attention when folks are speaking. Celebrate their speeches, but never talk over the speakers.
  8. Don’t take selfies. Do not center yourself or your thoughtful, handmade signs on the front lines for photo opportunities. This is not your opportunity to gain #activist credibility on social media.
  9. Invite friends. Bring people! Call on your community of roommates, friends, and family to participate.
  10. Do not escalate violent interactions. Again, take cues from the event organizers. If there is a violent incident at the protest–even if it’s instigated by white participants–the media will still lump all of the peaceful protesters in with the violence ones, thus furthering racist stereotypes and the rhetoric of dual violence. Call other white people in if you see them not engaging in these practices.
  11. Do not stop here. This march/protest/event cannot be the only action you take. Showing up is meaningless if you don’t follow up with donations, conversations, phone calls to politicians, voting and more actions. Get involved with your local SURJ chapter. We need to be more than reactionary organizers – we need to work towards sustainable community change – even when it’s not in the news.

This list was inspired by training with Showing Up for Racial Justice – DC. More about this organization can be found here: http://www.surjdc.com/

By Mari Vangen

Mari Vangen is a National Campus Organizer with the Feminist Majority Foundation. A proud Minnesotan, Mari loves her bike, watches Broad City religiously and is passionate about all things related to whales. [email protected]

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