Last night, I performed in a story slam about identity. I wasn’t sure what to talk about at first, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about allyship, solidarity, and what my role is in conversations about issues that don’t directly affect me. I used to think that, as a white person, I wasn’t allowed to talk about race. But if the past year has taught me anything, it’s that being white gives me a vital responsibility to talk about race. 

The first time I had a real conversation with my friends about racism at Wellesley, I was so nervous I thought I might pass out. I remember thinking, I shouldn’t be here. What if I say something stupid? I feel so white.

But I knew my absence would speak louder than words. I could hear the voices of Malcolm X, Assata Shakur,Yuri Kochiyama, Gloria Anzaldua —

We will consider your silence to be consent.

The night after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson was announced, I attended a rally that turned into an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. We marched through the streets of Boston chanting, and stopped beside the South Bay Correctional Facility, where we could see inmates, mostly black, flashing their lights and cheering us on. One man spelled out “MIKE BROWN” in scraps of paper on his window. We raised our eyes and hands to them, shouting “We see you!”

Never before had I made such a visceral connection between problems which to me are so abstract — like the prison industrial complex — and the lived realities of people of color, particularly black people, in this country. I felt my fellow protestors’ words so deeply: the whole damn system is guilty as hell.

We will consider your silence to be consent.

Carried by this current of connection, of seeing and being seen, we pressed on. Before I knew it, we were marching toward the connector to the Mass Pike. And we weren’t alone: a band of blue-clad Boston cops stood awash in the glow of headlights, riot shields raised. The police blocked our way with their motorcycles, helmets, and calculated silence, punctuated only by the command to “Hold line!” And the sea of protesters behind me was not about to turn back.

As the mass of people behind us shifted and pulsed, I found myself face to face with the angriest old white cop I’ve ever seen. I was marching next to a guy who couldn’t have been much older than me, and I was glad I didn’t have to stare down this seething, masked face alone. We held our ground for a while, chanting “No justice, no peace!” But out of nowhere, this cop started pushing back, throwing the man next to me to the ground and yanking him up by the shirt. I swear my heart was audible above our shouts. My lungs felt like two universes collapsing in on themselves. I was sure that any moment could be the one where fist turned to baton turned to gun.

I was choosing to put my body on the line that night. But not everyone is so lucky to have that choice.

We will take your silence to be consent.

White folks, we like to think that if we’re “nice” enough, we get off the hook for thinking seriously about America’s violent racial history and the legacies that are so painfully visible today. We like to think it’s more polite to “not see race,” and act like everyone’s on equal footing in this country. Whatever else we do, we’re not supposed to talk about this. After all, we don’t own slaves, right? So this mess isn’t our fault.

But I can no longer avail myself of that responsibility. When a white professor teaches a history that excludes people of color, or a white student says something ignorant, I can no longer leave it to a student of color to correct them. When toxic social dynamics begin developing in a space, I can no longer wait for one of my friends gets hurt before I speak up.

My inaction is as much a part of this violence as that white cop.

And I want the system to know — it no longer has my consent.


One thought on “

  1. Gives me chills. This is so true. Thanks for bringing it home about the importance of not making brown people educate all of the uneducated white people. Thanks for reminding me that integrity is made of actions, not so-called beliefs.

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