Dear White Friends: This Is How It Feels When You Stay Silent On 'Black Issues'

Dear White Friends: This Is How It Feels When You Stay Silent On 'Black Issues'
PHOTO: UNSPLASH

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With school shootings at the forefront of our minds recently and calls for gun control seemingly picking up a bit of stride, I can’t help but notice what kinds of people have been taking part in the post-Parkland massacre March for Our Lives movement: Citizens and celebrities alike of all nationalities, races, creed, and gender.

At work the other day, I overheard many of my white coworkers speaking openly about how noble and inspiring it was to watch survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting — young people — lead the movement. How proud they were to be Americans and see this next generation standing up for what they believed in, fighting for what’s right. And while I completely agree with their sentiments, it saddens me to know that my coworkers don't react the same way — at all, even — when similar issues that solely affect black communities arise. "Black issues."

You may have just rolled your eyes at that last part. Why do they have to turn everything into a black issueyou might be wondering. Just hear me out here, white friends. I need you to know what it feels like when you decide to stay quiet on "our" issues.

Your silence on these issues screams louder than any words that may disagree with my own. 

When you invite me over for wine and cheese, I know that you'll talk politics and other very touchy subjects. We'll do this beautiful tango around each other's words, trying not to offend each other. After a third glass of wine, I'll bring up mass incarceration and the fact that 1 in 3 black men will go to jail in their lifetime, and you will agree that it's a problem — but not an immediate one. 

We talk about the achievement gap amongst black and white children, an issue for which you blame parents. I wonder why you're not outraged that there are children across the tracks who aren't receiving the same education, resources, and opportunities as your child. 

And then there's police brutality.  

In November 2015, we all stood with Paris after gunmen and suicide bombers laid siege to the city. We changed our profile pictures as a show of solidarity with the victims and their families, acknowledging the pain of their community. 

In June 2016, there was a tragic shooting at an Orlando club that was frequented by LGBT patrons. The country rallied together; we again changed our profile pictures.

But Trayvon Martin? You were silent.

Dontre Hamilton? You complained about protesters blocking the freeway. 

Eric Garner? You were silent. 

Michael Brown? You were silent. 

Tamir Rice? You were silent. 

Freddie Gray? You were silent. 

Sandra Bland? You were silent.

Philando Castile? You thought the shooting might have been staged.

You see where I’m going here? I understand that these are touchy subjects and that different communities perceive police differently; you may feel afraid that you're going to say the wrong thing. But your silence on these issues screams louder than any words that may disagree with my own. 

Acknowledge my pain. Acknowledge my fear. Acknowledge that we live in two different worlds and our kids have different experiences. Speak up when someone accuses us of dreaming up issues that predominantly affect the black community and defend us against those who try to silence our pain with cries of "All Lives Matter." Recognize the fact that your white voice carries weight, and use it to enact change. Teach your children to be aware of what’s going on in the world and to stand up for what’s right, too. As long as we continue to categorize issues as black or white, we won't move forward as a nation. Black issues are human issues. 

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