Five Things For White People To Keep In Mind

There have been several great posts on this blog about the current events surrounding Ferguson and the Eric Garner case in New York. As a white person, I’m not qualified to talk about how these issues affect people, but there is no question that these issues are important, and discussing these events respectfully and informatively is important.

A few weeks ago, after the Grand Jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the murder of Mike Brown, I wrote the following on the Wetlands blog, in response to some recent conversations I’ve had with other white people about racism in this country.


In light of the recent events in Ferguson (learn more about that here and here) and the growing awareness of police violence against people of color, there have been a lot of racially-charged discussions cropping up lately. These issues are extremely important to talk about, and I think it’s important for white people, like myself, to keep a few things in mind.

Understand that you have white privilege.

If you don’t know what white privilege is, please read up on it here. If you’re white, you have white privilege. You may be unprivileged in other ways, such as being poor, or queer, or disabled, but you still have white privilege. You are less likely to be killed by a cop for your appearance or for holding a toy gun. You are privileged. This issue does not affect you the way it affects people of color.

Do not silence people of color.

Their voices are more important than yours in this discussion. When talking about these current events, especially in a public forum like the Internet, promote what people of color say and use the white privilege you have to spread the word. Do not try to make it about you, or your feelings, or your perspective. Trust that they understand the issue more than you do.

Know the facts.

Read up about the situation as much as you can, and do not simply trust the media. Most postmodern news networks’ methods of reporting are more focused on opinions than facts, which lead to some pretty unreliable news reporting. Thankfully, with the Internet at our disposal, we can hear straight from the protestors themselves, not just from the police and the media. Watch videos and read tweets from the protests to stay informed about what’s going on. YouTube and Vine have been taking down videos of the protests, so watch the available videos and spread them while you can.

Understand how indictment works.

I’ve heard a lot of people argue that the decision on Monday was a result of a trial, where the jury was presented with all the facts, but it was not a trial. It was a decision to see if there should be a trial. The decision was extremely corrupt to say the least.

Read up on the decision process here.

Read the Grand Jury transcripts here.

Don’t get angry that people are angry.

This is not about you. People may seem very accusatory if you don’t know much about the situation, or if you haven’t had the time or emotional energy to stay involved. But you need to keep in mind you are not being attacked; people just want you to care because it is important to them.

Don’t get mad at people for being invested in this. Don’t say people are accusing you of being a racist if you don’t know everything about the situation. And please don’t use their extremely justified anger as an excuse to hate everyone involved in the protests. These people’s passion is not the problem. Your feelings are not the priority. This is not about you.

Don’t use your voice to drown out the experiences of people of color. Use your voice to help.