Why fight? We do this for Mike Brown.
I’m not the same person I was a year ago, since Mike Brown was killed in cold blood. I’ve been introduced to my own white privilege and rightly had my ass handed to me when I exerted it. I know what white fragility is for the first time in my life. I’ve discovered that good white intentions, a desire for change, and empathy for the untenable plight of people of color isn’t enough. Not anymore. I have always preferred to live on the edge, but I put my money where my mouth is this past year. It has been exhilarating, liberating and terrifying. There are those with whom I’ve forged meaningful bonds in the midst of dire circumstances. I’ve come to understand my community better, the black one I didn’t know very well, and the white one I didn’t see, but lived in.
I have witnessed police overreach and abuse first hand. I have seen the raw pain of black and brown people and I recognize I will never understand the depths of living in a nation that doesn’t give a damn about you. I’ve mourned for Mike Brown, and for all of us. I’ve questioned my motives and tried to recognize white savior complex. I’ve witnessed hundreds of arrests, been arrested myself twice, breathed in tear gas and pepper spray, visited comrades in jail. I’ve discovered an anger about the unforgivable state of U.S. racial injustice I never knew I had. I SEE individuals who I never saw before. I’ve had to let go of the hand of a 15 year old African American teenager screaming in fear as a St. Louis police officer placed them (their preferred pronoun) in cuffs. Swirling police lights make my heart skip a beat. I pull my car over now and watch out for black motorists stopped by police. I can never experience the fear and dehumanization they undergo but at least I can bear witness and amplify the truth. It has been a sometimes overwhelmingly depressing year, but also one of great hope. Bree Newsome, the black woman who scaled the Charleston state capital flag pole and removed the confederate flag, gives me hope. Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner of New York, who I had the unbelievable fortune of sitting next to for five hours, gives me hope. I feel the tide changing. We can’t afford to lose one more generation.
And let me be clear: this has never been about me. As I told the BBC reporters interviewing Erica as I hovered nearby, “I’m nobody!” I’ve just typed a litany of sentences that begin with “I”. I share my experience in hope that white people will recognize themselves in this moment and start to question the status quo. I share to encourage white people to stand up for their black neighbors when they encounter something they know isn’t right. I also share my experience in hope that black people will start to feel supported by white people who are slowly starting to get it. Too slowly, but it’s a start. There is no such thing as meritocracy in our society. We are each conferred certain privileges and disadvantages at birth and from our surroundings. There are self-starter wealthy people just as there are poor people gaming the welfare system, but alongside these extremes are all the folks in between who were born white and valued by their government or born black or brown and are viewed as dispensable. A year later, we still protest. There is much work to do. We do this for Mike Brown.