In June of 2015 I tweeted the same words that make up the title of this article. This was after the tragic Charleston church shooting that took place that month. I am incredibly saddened by the fact that these words still need to be said to this day, as we have seen the tragedies continue. Over the past week we have seen the tragic shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. We have also seen the horrific violence that led to the deaths of five police officers in Dallas.
Our people are hurting, and our country is divided. Through all of the shocking events that have taken place over these past few days and weeks, it breaks my heart to scroll through my newsfeed on social media and see some of the responses that I have. Somewhere in the violence against the black community, a lot of white people have felt attacked. Black voices are crying out as they watch their own being brutally taken from this earth. White voices are shouting back in defense, feeling as though they are being blamed for something they were not personally involved in.
The truth is, we are all personally involved. Each and every one of us has some role in what is going on here. When we step back and look at the situation as a whole, we see that many wrongs have been committed. When we step back, we see that there are bad people out there who are fueling the tragedies that our country is facing. That is what these people are before they are white or black, they are people.
What I see when I read status updates on social media is a lot of confusion over this whole situation. I see some white Americans who believe that the black community is blaming every white cop for the despicable actions that have taken place. While there are some who do, with such thinking unfortunately leading to the deaths of five police officers in Dallas, this is not what the the majority of the voices are trying to say.
As a white American I cannot sit here and watch the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and think that there is nothing wrong. We have been shown over and over again that there is something wrong; there is something very wrong. We are part of a flawed system which is allowing this to happen, and as a white American I am privileged in this system. I have never been stopped for a traffic violation and felt that my life was at risk. That is a kind of fear which I cannot even begin to understand, and that is my privilege.
What I am hearing from the black community is not that all cops are bad cops. In fact, I have seen numerous posts applauding those who wear the badge and do their jobs as they are supposed to. When the voices speak out against a flawed system, it is not something to take offense at. It is something that we all need to listen to because the system is flawed.
The criminal justice system has been prejudiced against the black community for a very long time. Federal data tells us that black Americans are arrested for drug crimes twice as often as whites are, despite the fact that drug use within the two races is quite comparable. Michelle Alexander’s book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" expertly illustrates the way in which the current justice system is targeting black Americans and essentially acting as a modern form of segregation.
A majority of white people do not want to hear this. We have been taught since we were in elementary school that slavery and segregation were shameful parts of our history, and so the thought of aligning ourselves with a system which perpetuates such actions seems absurd. Many simply do not want to believe it, and so they take offense in any movement that calls them out for it. This is precisely where we need to step up and do something. We need to see that there is a problem. We need to be able to see that our generation is not as perfect or innocent as we may believe it to be. There is a lot of work that can still be done, and we need to start with the criminal justice system.
Change doesn’t happen instantly, but there are things we can do now to catalyze the systematic transformation that needs to take place. We can support politicians and political actions that call for prison reform. We can support movements that call for all cops to be required to wear body cameras, while also working to make sure those cameras are doing what they are meant to in the field. But, before we can do all of this, we need to recognize that a problem exists.
I am tired of white Americans hiding behind the privilege that we were all given at birth. It is encouraging to see the growing number of white supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. In fact, I’ve been happy to see the support grow on my own feed in the recent weeks. While this is encouraging, only a modest amount of time should be dedicated to applauding it, as, in reality, it is our responsibility to support this movement. As privileged Americans, we are the ones who should be pushing for change, not the ones pushing against it. In Martin Luther King Jr.’s "Letter from Birmingham Jail," he says “History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.” If we ever want to break away from this ever-relevant notion, we must first recognize and admit that there is a problem, even, especially, if we are white.