I’ve been thinking a lot about the roles and contributions of white people during this time. As numerous posters have pointed out, white women voted for Trump. Also white men, obviously, but that makes more sense because they have so little to lose. So when large groups of white women show up to rally, everyone else may just be reminded of those votes. True, I don’t think the women attending these events actually voted for Trump, but then again, we clearly didn’t get the job done when it came to convincing the women in our lives who did vote for him. When we show up as though we’re at some kind of party for instagram pics, we don’t do ourselves any favors in the eyes of other non-white women.
And white people have been largely absent from other protest movements in the very recent past, such as Black Lives Matter and #NoDAPL. It makes sense that people of color would be pretty skeptical of our sudden interest in social and political activism. We blew it. We should’ve been there. But that’s not a reason to stay home or unengaged now. Yes, we need to prove our trustworthiness (if that’s even possible) and yes we may not be welcomed by all (understandably), but we should definitely take this opportunity to stand up for human and civil rights. As we do so, though, we MUST remember our complicity in the oppressive systems that have perpetuated white supremacy and we must defer to the people who have been impacted by them in the past and will be most vulnerable now and in the future (specifically during this Trump presidency).
So here are a few tips I’ve collected from various corners of the internet to keep in mind while marching or even just posting on social media:
- When it comes to larger protests (like the Women’s March), humble yourself. Stay at the back. Put yourself between people of color and the police. And be quiet. I mean, yes, do the chants. But don’t be the dummy who is talking loudly to a friend about all the injustice in the world. You probably haven’t experienced much of it and it may be insulting to the oppressed people near you who have to hear.
- When it comes to more specific protests like Black Lives Matter, take your cues from the black people involved. I’ve seen mixed messages about this (because duh, not all black people have the same opinion). Some obviously think white people have been slacking and find it annoying (at best) that we’re only showing up now because Trump is threatening our civil rights too. But others have expressed that seeing white people at BLM protests is traumatizing and insulting. If you do go, stay toward the back, away from cameras, and DO NOT MAKE IT ABOUT YOU.
- Remember that your fellow (non-white) protesters may have had negative experiences with police in the past, whether at a prior protest or in daily life. Be respectful of those experiences. If you’re buddying up with the police, that may feel threatening to others.
- Signs: Don’t write “All Lives Matter” or “We are all immigrants” or things like that. Unless you’ve experienced discrimination or oppression as a person of color or an immigrant, you don’t know what it is like and by implying that you do, you’re just minimizing the experiences of those who have. Plus, Native Americans obviously weren’t immigrants. White people stole the country from them, not as immigrants, but as genocidal colonizers. And neither were the slaves who were shipped here against their will. Also,“Immigrants make America great” implies the need to justify their presence. Some immigrants may not be great, but their lives still matter. And, oh my gosh, unless you are Muslim, don’t wear an American flag as a hijab.
- Don’t feel righteous if you’re involved in a protest that does not involve property damage or violence. There’s a reason other protests escalate (cough cough, racism).
- Think before you post images. I understand the appeal of a meme like “If you don’t care about this life, you aren’t really pro-life” showing a photo of an unborn fetus and a dead refugee child. It’s compelling, sure, but it’s traumatizing for people to see these photos day after day, especially if they’ve lived through something like this. And you don’t need to post photos or videos of black men or women who have been killed by police. Again, this is forcing black people to re-experience this grief, trauma, and fear they live with every day.
- Check your sources. If an article or image depicts the experience of a marginalized group, see if the author/artist is sharing their personal experience or not. For example, an image of a refugee or immigrant that’s been designed by a white dude is not likely the representation refugees or immigrants are looking for. (It may resonate with some, but if that is the case, they can promote the article or image. You don’t need to do that for them.)
- Be cool with your instagramming. You don’t need to make a scene taking selfies to prove how cool you are because you’re protesting. And definitely don’t go up to someone just for a photo op. That’s gross.
- LISTEN AND PAY ATTENTION. Unless you’re at a march that’s specifically about the rights of white people (and why on earth would you do that???) then I guarantee it’s not about you.* You may be affected in some small way (or even large) but it pales in comparison to oppression of minorities and marginalized groups. Did you get that? IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. Basically everything else in the US already revolves around white people. Don’t get all bent out of shape when other voices are centered above or instead of your own. Be supportive in whatever ways you are asked to participate, but don’t assume you know what is needed. Be okay with the possibility of doing something behind the scenes or out of your comfort zone. Ask questions. Be quiet. And be prepared to be uncomfortable. People of color may be skeptical of your participation or even openly opposed. Hear what they are saying and respond with humility and respect.
- Last but not least, don’t stop with protesting. Call your representatives. Call them again. Donate to appropriate organizations doing work you support. Find other ways to be involved with groups in your community.
*Even if you’re protesting something seemingly universal like the environment or health care, marginalized communities are still going to be impacted in a greater way. For example, Native Americans, immigrants, or people in the LGBTQ+ community already have more barriers to accessing healthcare.
Sources include: For White People Who Want to Attend #BLACKLIVESMATTER Protests, White People Need to Be Better, A Few Pointers for Protesting While White, your defense of immigrants is fucking colonialist, Please Keep Your American Flags Off My Hijab, Resistance in the Time of Protest Selfies