In the last two years that I’ve organized around antiblack violence and within the #BlackLivesMatter movement, I’ve witnessed white people showing up more and more to protests and rallies. At first, when we were protesting for Mike Brown for months in 2014, personally I was a lot more open to welcoming white allies who wanted to come out and help us fight. My personal/political naiveté and the need for more bodies trumped questioning their motives in the heat of the moment of something so important.
But after a while, I started realizing that trying to work with white people in direct actions became extremely triggering and tasking. I would witness many white people show up and want to be in the front — not to protect us, but to be visible and be in a photo. There would be swarms of white anarchists showing up, chanting “Fuck the Police,” completely disrupting our original chants and heightening the potential for violence against the Black protestors. Easily though, the anarchists almost outdo the groups of #AllLivesMatter folks who come out to walk in the protest but miss the entire point — even when most of the Black people call them out.
Then there’s the white folks that show up ready to antagonize us and insert their opinion about how Black people are navigating their pain and oppression. From “We all just need to love each other!” and “This is a class issue!” and “No more violence! *Insert MLK quote*”
To many Black folks at these rallies though, we are openly and publicly grieving. Our protests and rebellions are out of channeling our trauma into action that is a form of healing, strategy and moving through pain. We are marching, yelling, singing, physically and mentally exhausted because WHITE PEOPLE ARE KILLING US. So when I see white people show up to rally excited and smiling, ready to march like it’s a hobby — I’m disgusted and absolutely fucking livid. When I witness white people taking up space, pushing myths of whiteness as political truth or using white saviorism to reframe their power and privilege, I’m ready to fight.
The fact that white people show up to these rallies as if it’s a fucking BBQ (cause you know y’all don’t have cookouts), chanting Assata’s words, saying “we have nothing to lose but our chains,” I’m actually retraumatized by how comfortable white people are in not doing anything to change their violence. These marches are funerals for us. Black people are being murdered, violated and oppressed every day. We are literally in mourning every minute of our lives.
These realities alone prove that intentionality is everything at this point. Right now, we’re in a political moment in which a lot of our intersecting Black movements are at a boiling point. This work has been a continuous effort of many generations, over many centuries of antiblack oppression; but right now, we are at an evolution and mutation of what antiblack racism looks like in this sociopolitical moment and how we have analyzed its depth level within our society institutionally and interpersonally.
White people are 400 years too fucking late for a round of applause for a damn tweet with a hashtag, or for showing up to a damn rally. So many white folks use politicization around #BlackLivesMatter to perform woke-ness because they are still praised in doing so. There is a special snowflake card issued to every white person who goes above existing in silence. But the reality is that even when white people “speak up,” those words are often plagiarized from us, they’re almost always given without citation or credit to whichever Black person they heard/read it from and they are almost always in a position to do more than just “talk.” Here are the things that matter the most at this point in time for white people who want to show up to a #BlackLivesMatter protest:
1. Ask yourself why you need to go to a #blacklivesmatter protest.
Unless Black organizers have specified that you need to come to a rally for buffers against the police, as a legal observer, or to collect other white people, why are you going to a protest when you’re the oppressor? If you really believe that #BlackLivesMatter, ask yourself if you’re willing to die for us and to die to dismantle this system. Are you willing to learn everything possible about antiblackness and its many forms so that you can dismantle it? Are you willing to give up everything you have to make sure Black people can survive, thrive and be safe? If you cannot answer yes to ALL of these questions, you don’t need to be at a protest. There are more ways to actually use your privilege and more ways to challenge the antiblack violence embedded within you without being at a protest that you serve no purpose for. Your presence only triggers the black people that are frightened by you, and you actually don’t change anything by being at a protest if there is no work to match your visibility.
Nothing you have is yours. Let me be clear: Nothing you have is yours. Also, Let me be see through: Reparations are not donations, because we are not your charity, tax write off, or good deed for the day. You are living off of stolen resources, stolen land, exploited labor, appropriated culture and the murder of our people. Nothing you have is yours.
Reparations for us are not only necessary because we are economically harmed, exploited and stolen from — while the violence against us is never acknowledged — but because in order for us to create and move work for Black liberation, it requires resources and MONEY. We live in a white supremacist capitalist world, so ain’t no spinning webs of lies around “money isn’t the answer.” It is because money and exploitation and power are interconnected concepts of violence. Y’all spent hundreds of years selling, mutilating, raping and beating our bodies and labor but you think money doesn’t matter to our freedom and liberation? Cute. Write me a check for this shade because it comes with 400 years of trauma.
We need housing, transportation, food, clothes, free space for meetings and work space; we need laptops, cell phones, encrypted systems for communication, solar power and LAND. Stop playing. Y’all really thought pulling up to the protest in your Hyundai was gonna be enough? Nah. You have to give us everything we need and more, because even if it means you go without — it doesn’t matter because that’s how we been living for 400+ years. Reparations will never be negotiable. So if you’re not willing to talk money, you are not here for #BlackLivesMatter as a movement or for us as individuals.
3. Intentional acts of disruption and shifting of structural power.
What would happen if white allies teamed up to shut down and boycott white businesses instead of Black folks having to do it? What would happen if white allies gave all their money to Black folks? What would happen if white allies held businesses that profited from slave labor and slave money accountable? What would happen if white allies shut down police stations and highways across the nation for #BlackLivesMatter until each state demilitarized and defunded the police? What if white allies used violence as a tactic against other white people perpetuating violence against Blacks?
Shifting structural power is key. Reparations falls in line with that as well. I don’t want to see white people holding up a damn sign, I want to see white people doing work that will get them killed because that’s how much they want to dismantle antiblackness. Are you willing to die for us? Because Black folks have a death count of 7 million and up. Are you willing to kill for us? Because we get called violent for protesting “peacefully.” At this point, ain’t no white allyship, b. You either an accomplice (and even then, I don’t trust you) or you ain’t shit.
4. See #1.
If you think you need to be at a rally because you “care so much,” then why haven’t you done the work away from social media and camera crews? Doing the work behind “scenes” and working with Black folks who live this and breathe this everyday would convince you how much you never need to be at a protest unless you have a specified, designated role. Ask yourself if you care more about what the world thinks of you or if you care about the safety and protection of Black lives. What is the truth, boo? If you do decide to go to a protest, be ready to write checks and give up your car keys. Be ready to connect with other white people to start planning a highway shut down so that you can involve yourself with the high risk that would harm us more when we do it. Like I said, if you not about this shit, DON’T GO.
Whiteness operates in a way that means that using your privilege “for good” often requires Black folks to still be a position to be “saved” or “in need.” We don’t need white saviorism. We don’t need white people to speak for us. We don’t even really need white people to show up to rallies. We need our reparations, we need intentional disruption that involves high risk and we need y’all to stop playing.
Ashleigh Shackelford is a queer, nonbinary Black fat femme writer, artist, and cultural producer. Ashleigh is a contributing writer at Wear Your Voice Magazine and For Harriet. Read more at Facebook.com/AshleighShackelford. Support my emotional and intellectual labor by donating to: PayPal.me/AshleightheLion.