Be an ally, not an obstacle

Mark Hammontree

In the wake of the killing of Michael Brown, protests and vigils have spread from the embroiled town of Ferguson, Missouri, throughout the country. Black people and white people are standing up together around the country to speak out against the injustice perpetuated by a fundamentally racist system of law and order. A system made all the more dangerous by the increasingly militarized nature of local law enforcement. Blacks and whites alike are taking a stand together against the entrenched system and demanding change. The fact that people of all colors are involved is a clear indication that the country needs to progress.

This country continues to exist on systems that inherently favor white people, and as long as we allow these structures to benefit us at the expense of our neighbors, we are as guilty as those who created these systems decades ago.

If you are white, and you are angry about Ferguson and you want to speak up about it, please by all means do so. Be an ally to people of color, decry the racist systems of entitlement and inequity that are so pervasive in this country, in this state, and on this campus. Be a participant in the movement for progress and change. Just be careful to do it in the right way.

It’s fine, and correct, to assert that racism hurts society as a whole, that white people are adversely affected by racism too, but let’s not for a second forget that racism first and foremost hurts people of color, and the distribution of the effects of institutionalized hate is hardly equal among whites and blacks.

White people cannot begin to know the righteous anger that comes from a life of having every path to equality and success obstructed, nor can we fully understand the fear that skin color might be the difference between the police putting you in handcuffs rather than telling you to “get home safely.”

Race is at the heart of almost every issue of social inequity facing this country, and we all have to begin addressing this reality head on instead of blaming it on education, or economics, or drugs. If you’re thinking that way, you have things bass-ackwards.

So start giving a damn about things and throw yourself into the discussion. Just don’t make yourself or your beliefs the focus.

The last thing society needs right now is an army of white leaders organizing anti-racist protests, Facebook groups and student organizations. We don’t need a white man addressing a large group of black people. We don’t need a white man leading a march on city hall. That image would only reinforce ingrained social norms of white elitism and black subservience. We need to drop the “white man’s burden” and our savior mentality.

Black people do not need white people to lead them out of poverty. They do not need white people to lead them out of crime-ridden neighborhoods. They do not need white people to lead them at all. They need us to either get behind them or get out of the way.

So, if you’re white, your voice does matter, but don’t let it obstruct the voices of the black leaders who are already making a difference in their cities and communities. Use your voice and your platforms to amplify the voices of those who are tired of being oppressed. Write to your community leaders, have these discussions, stand among a crowd of faces white and black. Fall in behind, or get out of the way.

Mark Hammontree is a junior majoring in secondary education – language arts. His column runs weekly ?on Monday.