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The Radical Children of ‘White Moderates’ (Op-Ed)

Our collective humanity was violated by the murder of George Floyd.

My fingers anxiously adjusted the straps of my face mask as I stepped outside of the car. Hundreds of people showed up to Ballantyne Commons dressed in all-black and wearing masks. I quickly joined them on the grassy knoll. Around me I saw cardboard signs and poster boards emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” written in thick black sharpie. Volunteers weaved in and out of the crowd to pass out water bottles and snacks.

A woman lifted up a megaphone and began to speak. I struggled to hear her over the sounds of the rushing highway and chatter of other protestors. And then: silence. We knelt together for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, not necessarily all from lived experience, but from a shared human experience. Our collective humanity was violated by the murder of George Floyd. The indignity and cruelty of his death sparks something that transcends race, class, religion, or any other marker of identity.

The recent 2020 protests against police brutality have been some of the largest in American history, with an estimated 15 million to 26 million Americans who have taken to the streets to advocate for Black lives and stand against police violence. On top of the global pandemic, the cross-cutting impacts of COVID-19 have highlighted how deeply inequities are baked into the fabric of our society, maybe even in our own backyards.

I’m a child of the WASPy (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) “Ballantyne bubble,” where the comfortable cadence of privilege was a steady feature in my upbringing. Growing up, my parents paid for piano lessons and swim club memberships. Our house was zoned for some of the best public schools in the district. We went on vacation to the beach and Disney World. It’s families like mine that unknowingly perpetuate systems of structural inequality through passivity. And it’s people like me that must disrupt the cycle of abuse.

My sense of urgency to tackle these important questions of political participation and social justice stems from both lived and learned experience. Although largely fenced in by white suburbia, I’ve seen the consequences of police brutality, school de- and re-segregation, and social activism on screen and in action. And I’ve come to understand that in order to unlearn a national history that’s been repeatedly scrubbed and sanitized, we need to be active in the making of it.

But who is this global “we” that I refer to?

Throughout the protests, white people stood up and spoke out against police brutality. They took to social media, posting black squares and infographics and videos of their participation. They took to the streets, in some instances aggravating unrest during expressly peaceful protests. The performance of white activism has saturated the media as a temporary and symbolic gesture.

That’s not to say that all white protestors are virtue signalers, in fact many have outlined effective tips for allyship, but that it is important to probe the heart behind our actions. As Ibram X. Kendi wrote in his 2019 book How to be an Antiracist, being a racist or an anti-racist is not a fixed identity: “What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment determines what--not who--we are.”

The aftermath of George Flyod’s tragic death has resulted in an unprecedented amount of white empathy and protest attendance, initially prompting the question: “Where did all these white people come from?” But perhaps the more important question to ask is: Where do they go once the media attention dies down?

We, as people who move through this world in white skin, must educate our own people. We must do so compassionately and free of judgment. We must compel empathy, mutual understanding, and an impetus for solidarity. We must drive sustainable action, not just resign to ride the waves of popularity and social expediency. We must demonstrate allyship in our everyday lives because the humanizing force of our lives comes with recognizing the intrinsic dignity within each other.

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