Eunice Maruhi, Class of 2021, Communication Major

On ongoing protests:

When did peaceful protests ever change the course of deep-rooted oppression?

The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was passed after MLK’s assassination. After the Holy Week Uprising –  a week of massive civil disturbance in more than 100 cities in the US, the greatest wave of social unrest the US experienced since the Civil War. Colonialism in Africa ended after years of armed uprisings against white european colonialists. Slavery in the US ended because of the Civil War. The holocaust ended because of WWII. You know who abhors violence the most? Oppressed groups. Violent acts are often the last resort. “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” – MLK Jr.

White people explaining MLK’s activism to black people is very condescending. Quoting MLK to deter justice today is a systemic racial tool. When you compare MLK’s work to what is happening now, what exactly are you asking black people to do? Be subjected to police brutality and racial inequalities while they turn the other cheek? Stop glamorizing the Civil Rights Movement. It was incredibly hard on black people in a way that you will never understand. The Civil Rights Movement was not as peaceful as popular narratives will have you believe as white people were incredibly violent against African Americans – bombing, lynching, pressured water hoses, attacks by dogs, etc. In fact, MLK changed his view on non-violence towards the end of his life. His family has spoken about it. It’s 2020. Black people have held peaceful protests, marched, utilized the media, influential people have spoken up, used legislation, advocated for affirmative action, yet we still keep getting murdered. The kind of outrage you are feeling because of the protests is the kind of outrage black people need every time you see racism playing out.

It is not your choice to determine how an oppressed group protests. Riots feel uncomfortable because they are uncomfortable. Racism is UNCOMFORTABLE. When as a white person you say “violence is not the answer” you are saying “peaceful protests and negotiation are the answer”. You are DENYING the fact that oppressed and marginalized groups often aren’t heard. When you say “black people are using this as an excuse to loot”, it takes the spotlight off the real issue and further reinforces the stereotypes around minorities. It also denies the reality evidenced by videos of white people and police looting and destroying property during protests that have been circulating across all media platforms. Implying there are other ways to protest minimizes the frustration and provides no answers, or solutions. It points with privilege, to do things a different way that doesn’t disturb your comfort. George Floyd died because people were trying to follow the law and negotiate peacefully. Riots are not the problem. They are a symptom of the problem. If it’s difficult for you to understand why people resort to violence, it probably means your privilege has protected you from being put in a situation where you feel you have no other choice. Violent protests have consequences. People will die, people will go to jail, people will lose everything they have. Before giving your unsolicited advice on what’s the “right way” to protest, consider this: How far does someone have to be pushed to risk it all? Sit with that.

As someone wrote:

White privilege says: It’s horrible that an innocent black man was killed, but destroying property has to stop.

Try this instead:  It’s horrible that property is being destroyed, but killing innocent black men has to stop.

Placing more value on property over black lives and black dignity (just like slave owners and colonialists) is inherently racist. Property can be replaced, life cannot. Riots can be prevented by stopping the murders and racial injustices.

On “not all police…”

Being pro-black doesn’t mean being anti-police. Saying Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that all other lives don’t matter. including blue lives. It means that those other lives ALREADY matter, but black lives aren’t valued the same. Consider the following questions:

  1. Why is this country so clear that looting is wrong, but is unclear about what should happen to a police officer who takes a person’s life?
  2. Who do the police protect? Who do they serve? Not theoretically but actually. Why did Amy Cooper (and all other Karens) believe that she should call the cops in hysterics on Christian Cooper?
  3. What happens when the police take a life? What should happen?
  4. Why is it possible for the police to stay calm when white people are armed, screaming, threatening but treat diverse protestors as dangerous?

Please stop shifting the narrative from racial injustice to how not all police are bad. We have seen feel-good pictures of police officers march with us, kneel with us, and give moving speeches all over the internet. All that is cute but this fight requires more than that. It requires courage from those good cops – courage to actively challenge and fight a system that hurts black people. This fight is not about shaming law enforcement. It’s about systemic racism. It’s about injustice. It’s about the lack of accountability.

On performative activism/allyship + surface level safe response:

Trending Culture – How much overt white supremacy & anti-black violence did non-black people need to be presented with to start caring and speaking up? What finally humanised black people for you? Staring at a black man in the eyes for 9 minutes as life left his body? Was your decision to become an ally sudden even though white supremacy has been present since the founding of this country? It doesn’t go unnoticed that the scale of response to Floyd’s death has been amplified by trending culture. Will you go back to  your “normal life” of complicity and silence after the hype is gone? Performative allyship doesn’t help the movement.

Racism as just ignorance – When racist people are caught in the act, they often excuse their behavior with ignorance. THIS.IS.A.LIE. Amy Cooper hysterically called the cops on Christian Cooper specifying that “an African American” man was threatening her and her dog understanding very well the relationship between cops and African American men (assumed white innocence and black guilt), and the power and privilege she has as a white woman.

Racism as a “heart problem” –  This rhetoric is common among some groups of christians who believe the only way to address racial injustice is by converting people to christianity and that racism will end with Jesus’ second coming.

Respectability politics – The idea that  conformity to socially acceptable/mainstream standards of appearance and behavior will protect members of an oppressed group from prejudices and systemic oppression e.g. when black elites/ leaders “uplift the race” by correcting “bad” traits of the black poor. This does nothing but shift the blame from oppressors to the oppressed.

Paternalism – This is where white people feel like they have the right to define what is good and right for black people.

Virtue signalling – Is your call for justice motivated by the need to not be seen as racist/complicit to racism? To be seen as “woke”? To make an impression that grants you approval?

Religious posturing – Calls for justice motivated solely by religious acting.

White supremacy is powerful and ugly. Fighting it demands a lot of emotional labour and ACTIONABLE STEPS. You can’t choose justice and the status quo. You can’t support racial justice without risk. Being actively anti racist means challenging and resisting the status quo. It means troubling the waters. It means challenging leadership, management, boards, executives, donors and all other movers and shakers who uphold and/or are complicit of white supremacy.

This fight asks us to be truly informed about the injustices we chose to stand against. We need to truly understand the history of white supremacy and how it continues to play out today – within ourselves, our families and friends, our workplaces, our religious communities etc. – and take one more step of facing our contribution to it.

This fight asks white folks to acknowledge white privilege. To realize that the oppressive system at play is designed to benefit them. The system that makes it okay for a police officer to murder a man that he vowed to protect. The system that gives him the audacity to murder a black man begging for his life, for his mama. The shameless system that allows him to lynch in broad daylight. The system that delays and/or denies justice to George Floyd, Breonne Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery + countless other black people. As you acknowledge your white privilege, ask yourself how you can use it to contribute to #BlackLivesMatter

We need to understand how we continue to perpetuate racist systems and power structures by denying and silencing uncomfortable, honest narratives; and picking and choosing facts that make us the most comfortable.

The fight demands consistency. Are you living out in real life what you are posting on social media? If you are in a position to give financially, are you putting your resources where your mouth is? If you are in a position of power, does your leadership – demographics, policies, language, culture etc. – reflect the message you are preaching?

Silence sends a message. Silence is loud. Silence says you prioritize your comfort, your social safety, your white privilege, your white sanctity – your connections to whiteness. When it comes to injustice, there is nothing like neutrality, non-interference, non-partisanship… Inaction is injustice.

Let’s stay honest. Have you been racist or complicit to racism? What have you done about it? How can you be better? When you are called out, do you actually listen and take appropriate steps?

It is again my deep conviction that ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus, but a molder of consensus. On some positions, cowardice asks the question “is it safe?” Expediency asks the question “is it politic?” Vanity asks the question, “Is it popular?” But conscience must ask the question, “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a stand that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular. But one must take it because it is right.” – MLK Jr.

Credits:  Austin Channing Brown, Yolanda Renteria

Written by: Eunice Maruhi

Published by Margo Walters

Margo works in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion as the Program Coordinator/Office Manager. She has lived in Holland since 2003 in the same house full of children. When she is not too busy, you can find her performing or in the back yard in the garden.

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