Stand Back: Guidelines for White People at a Black Lives Matter Protest
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Politics and Activism

Stand Back: Guidelines for White People at a Black Lives Matter Protest

Sometimes, standing back is the best way to offer support.

Stand Back: Guidelines for White People at a Black Lives Matter Protest
Eloise Sherrid

If you, like me, are a white person who supports Black Lives Matter, it is important to do so in a way that does not detract from the black community or the movement. Here are some things to keep in mind as a white person at a Black Lives Matter protest.

1. This is not about us

Do you feel angry? Sad? Good. But you are feeling that for members of the black community, not for yourself. Facebook, Twitter, your blog is a great place to vocalize those feelings and support the black community that way; please consider adding links to essays and articles on the topic that were written by black writers.

As white people, a Black Lives Matter protest is not the place for us to share those feelings; our role at a protest is to support the black community through our presence, through witnessing their feelings and emotions.

2. If a newspaper reporter seeks you out for a comment, direct them to a protest leader

If a TV station correspondent shoves a microphone in your face while the camera operator hovers behind them, direct them to a protest leader. This is not difficult to do:

“I am here to support the Black Lives Matter movement. [Name] or [name] would be able to provide you with more information regarding this protest and the movement.”

Direct them to leaders even if they phrase their question in a way that does not mention race (e.g., “How do you feel about gun control?” instead of “Are you advocating for gun control to protect the black community?”). If their questions had nothing to do with race, they wouldn’t direct them towards protesters supporting Black Lives Matter.

3. On a similar note, do not lead chants

Instead, support chants led by black people when appropriate. “Black lives matter” is an appropriate chant for us white people to join in on; “my life matters” is not. When we chant “my life matters,” that is similar to using #AllLivesMatter: the system already acknowledges the value of our (white) lives, so we are only directing attention away from the protest’s message. Pay attention to the chants and, if there’s one you can’t join in on, be assured that your presence, and your conscientiousness towards giving black voices prominence, is what is expected of you.

4. When at a protest, do not antagonize police

By verbally or physically antagonizing police, you are risking the safety of the black people and other people of color at that protest.

Non-whites will be subject to harsher treatment if the police respond with violence; this is the exact thing you are there to protest, and you are helping no one by egging law enforcement on. Follow the tone set by the organizers.

5. Because you are following the tone set by the organizers, do not police black protesters who express anger

Their anger, and hatred (if present), is justified. If you feel uncomfortable with it, it is better to quietly duck out of the protest, march, or rally. By "quietly," I mean do not tell people why you're leaving. If the organizers take issue with the tone of a group of protesters, the organizers can consult them; it is not your job to do so.

You are also welcome to leave if you sense oncoming violence or retaliation from law enforcement. However, you should try to alert those around you (and the organizers, if you can) before you leave: "That group of police are donning riot gear," "The cops one block up have pepper spray out."

6. Take photos of the protest, not of yourself

Use your camera to document police presence, especially police interactions with protesters. Try to get the badge numbers and faces of officers in your camera’s view. Do not post a stream self-congratulatory selfies to Facebook; there are enough white saviors in the world, and we do not need to add to that movement. We need to support this movement.

This is an excellent way to support the movement: for the same reason we are safer when violence occurs, we are less likely to have our phones confiscated than protestors of color. Though you are within your rights to record police, they may ignore that and physically force your phone from you, so it is safer to upload these photos and videos as you go.

7. Lastly, follow basic protest guidelines

Wear weather-appropriate clothing; carry food, water, and money yourself; note important phone numbers by writing them on your body (in case your phone is confiscated). Be aware of your rights, as well as any state laws that may differ from federal ones.

If you have any questions regarding the guidelines of a specific protest or march, please contact the organizers of that protest.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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