What can I do in the face of systemic racism and white supremacy?

Photo by Nicole Baster on Unsplash

The news from the Twin Cities and reactions across the country this week has brought back memories of April 1992, when I was living in Inglewood, just three miles from the flashpoint of the civil unrest in Los Angeles after the acquittal verdict in the Rodney King beating case. Over the next several days we heard constant sirens and smelled smoke in the air and watched as people looted stores across the street. My emotions were a mix of outrage and anger, fear and anxiety, and a strange hope to be part of building bridges across race and class lines.

I became familiar with the catch-phrases of the time (“Why can’t we all get along?” and “No justice, no peace”) and got involved in work and programs to build understanding among people from different backgrounds. It was a formative time for me.

It’s been easy to for me to shake my head at racism, but as I wrote about a year ago I still have lots of work to do in “Coming to terms with white male privilege.” I identified some ways I was trying to be better in my social analysis and how I share my resources and space. I also recognized that I needed to overcome my reluctance to speak and be vocal, due partly my personality but also how I have been socialized. As a white man, I have the privilege to be silent.

Yesterday, my dear friend and colleague Amanda Andere called me and other white people out for our silence.

I need to be better about checking in with people and speaking out. I have such a negative reaction to hypocrisy (people who talk a good game but don’t practice what they preach) that I live by the maxim that “actions speak louder than words.” But, as Amanda points out, quiet actions aren’t working. I need to act and speak.

I want justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, for so many who have gone before them, and for so many whose names we don’t know. I want the systems of racism and white supremacy that lead to those deaths and the everyday violence of disparities in health, education, housing, environment, income and wealth to be dismantled and replaced with anti-racist policies and systems. What can I do to help get us there?

Clearly, my personal actions, relationships and interactions are part of it. I can teach my kids. I can call out racism and anti-blackness. I can share space and resources. I can vote. I can write and post.

If those are all I do, it isn’t enough. We need to get involved in efforts to advocate for change.

A good place to start for white people is Showing Up for Racial Justice, a national network of groups working to break down white supremacy in coalition with multi-racial efforts. SURJ provides lots of resources and opportunities to get involved, including getting connected to a local chapter, and they recently provided a list of 5 things white people can do to take action. There are many other grassroots and advocacy groups working on racial justice and related issues. Local policy decisions around municipal budgets are an important area for advocacy. For example, the People’s Budget LA coalition is calling on the Los Angeles City Council to amend the mayor’s proposed budget so that it prioritizes needed services rather than increased funding for the police department.

I’ve heard so many black leaders and friends say this week that they are tired. It is really time for those of us who have been resting in our privilege and benefiting from the current system to do our part.

Social justice advocate and collaborative leader who has worked in the nonprofit sector in Los Angeles for more than 25 years. https://billpitkin.net

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