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A bunch of white and Asian people at a blacklivesmatter protest.
A bunch of white and Asian people at 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? Photo by 5chw4r7z. Creative Commons license.

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*”

Related: My Dilemma: I Hate White Supremacy, but Do I Really Hate White People?

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.

2. Reparations.

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.

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Comments
  • Amanda

    White folks are not a monolith. Some of us opt to work in underserved communities of color, supporting people of color, and spend our lives trying to open our eyes to the violent and terrifying inequities deeply embedded within these haunted states of America. I am aware I live and breathe in racist air though it is not by choice but systemic and historical consequence. This isn’t about me, however. It’s about the over-homogenization of races that many are guilty of that I believe is internalized from historical aggressions on people of color . At some point, undifferentiated anger directed at some who are trying their best to love you in their limited capacities will only serve to create stagnation. You can’t have it both ways: hate bc we show up to try and help and hate bc we don’t show up. You want white people to give a shit or don’t you?? I refuse to occupy a constantly apologetic position for a society that fucked me up when I’m already trying to show up and accept responsibility. This is my help – take it or don’t.

    May 30, 2020
  • casper

    Hey! Ashleigh’s paypal link doesn’t work – want to make sure that this post has the right link or that paypal isn’t blocking an activist’s profile. Thank you for the work you do!

    May 30, 2020
  • Adam

    As a white guy who participated in yesterday’s protest with an uneasy or awkward feeling that I couldn’t articulate, I very much appreciate this.
    If one of the starting points for us is to write checks, can you help provide some guidance on where to start? I think many of us truly want to help the ‘right’ way, but clearly sometimes our words and efforts and poorly informed / executed.

    May 31, 2020
  • Kelly Anderson

    We are there to SUPPORT you and help bring knowledge to a cause. We AREN’T the enemy. 98% of white people are not racist and 98% or white cops are not racist. We are ALL human beings and we should support each other. You NEVER protest for us (yes we get killed by cops too) even though we are out there for you. That says ALOT. The fact that black people have the false delusions of us and why we do things is the problem. We protest, you think it’s for a different reason, we help out giving food or money and you think it’s because we want to look good, we show our support and you think it’s because we want attention. Black people NEVER think we do it because of YOU. You all think we are only there for us. THAT’S the problem.

    Jun 1, 2020
  • Brgotch

    Nothing you have is yours.

    That is very poorly worded. Racism is racism whether it comes from whites towards blacks, blacks towards whites, whites towards whites or blacks toward blacks.

    If the writer insists it cannot be a class issue, at least to a degree, then the point here seems to be advocating a race war.

    We all want change. Let us go about it better than that.

    Just my two cents.

    Jun 1, 2020
  • J

    If when reading this you are annoyed that the author is angry, you haven’t gotten far enough along in your learning. Come back and read this article again once you are ready to retain and listen to what is said here, instead of form a debate or opinion.

    She is very clear.

    “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.”

    Jun 2, 2020
  • sanne

    Amanda, Kelly, Brgotch: YOUR whiteness IS the problem!! The author is so clear (as J points out, thank u!) and you still can’t get beyond your personal affection and still manage to make it about yourself. The article says “if you wanna do something that matters, you have to go so much further than just appearing at a rally”. You answer “If I’m not good enough for you, if you can’t see white people aren’t all the same, well then goodbye”. What the fuck? 98% ARE racist, and you (and me, btw) are one of them. Read again, please.

    Jun 5, 2020
  • Jorge Bonilla

    I’m Latino and have suffered because of systemic racism as well. In my free time I don’t watch movies or shows, or even play videogames because I’m tired of seeing whiteness every where I go. I’m not black, but I appreciate black art. I read books on racism. I write stories with themes of racial discrimination. Even so, I respect and acknowledge I’ll never understand what it’s like to be black in America. I wish I did, so I knew I could stand with you and March. I know I’m willing to die for this. I’m poor, but I’m willing to give what I have. I’m angry all the time, so so angry. And my only hope is that you can trust me enough to stand with you and march someday. God bless you all

    Jun 6, 2020
  • Adam Chilson

    I’ve read this three times. I’ll probably read it several more. Every time I do, something new starts to sink in.
    This is the kind of honesty I needed to hear.
    Thank you.

    Jun 12, 2020
  • Martin

    There’s not wrong in white people taking a stand against racism and going to these protests.

    The author is the type to complain about white people not doing anything against racism one one hand, then complain about them attending BLM protests on another.

    “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.”

    Okay so do you want white people to help or not? Blacks are a minority, for a movement to succeed it needs everyone to be involved. Black people are hitting the streets demanding change, so they already are trying to save themselves. Nothing wrong with non-black people supporting them in the process

    Jun 12, 2020
  • Martin

    “You are living off of stolen resources, stolen land, exploited labor, appropriated culture and the murder of our people. Nothing you have is yours.”

    The same applies to African Americans who have jobs, houses, clothes etc since they have benefited in the same way as white people from slavery and anything that built America to be what it is today. You say whites are living off of stolen land, murders of blacks and stolen lands etc well so is anyone living in America today white or black.

    Jun 15, 2020
  • j webber

    Much of what is being said here is true.. if the reasons being listed here are someone’s reasons for being present than they are wrong … people need to be informed on what this movement is for so as not to stray from the point (such as protest signs that are off the mark) also grouping all white people into one category is wrong … we are not all that person you describe… and we are not our ancestors… white people unfairly profited from horrible wrongs and that should be made right …. systematic racism is a horrible disease of our systems and nation that needs to be stopped … if anyone feels they are doing a charity or good deed then they are there for the wrong reason ….
    I am not black but support the movement
    I am not and addict or in recovery but I support those stigmatized by that label
    I am in good mental health but I support just treatment of those who are not
    I do not identify with the LGBTQ community but I support the movement
    I am not autistic but I stand for individuals who are being understood and accepted
    I have not been in prison but have strong beliefs in prison reform
    You don’t need to be something to support it you just have to be willing to be honest while standing there … also for the individual commenting that works in social services it sounds like same on you for your response and grouping of people in a general sense is bias and in your case racist. This writing is honest to get people to analyze what the fight is about the conversation will be uncomfortable and in order to move forward we all need to realize we can’t change the past but we also can not rewrite it as we have for hundreds of years we need to be honest in what our history is inorder to stand together in the present and make changes.

    Jun 15, 2020
  • Anonymous

    Ashleigh is entitled to her view and opinions…and so are we. She absolutely does not speak in authority for members of BLM. If whites read this, hopefully they have sense enough and CONVICTION enough to be true to their hearts…not be deterred, and do even more for the Cause.

    Jun 16, 2020
  • Anonymous

    The Stonewall riots had a lot of straight allies, creating such an impact to make a change..

    Jul 4, 2020
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