In Solidarity With Ferguson, I Am Racist

This Sunday evening an event was held in my city, Waco, TX, to give voice to poets and others who want to reflect on and stand in solidarity with protestors in Ferguson. I couldn’t attend the event because my family was sick, but here’s what I wanted to share.

For those wondering what racism has to do with what I normally write about (the environment, agriculture, sustainability, etc.) please read this article or pretty much anything Brentin Mock writes over at Grist. He sums it up well, with this conclusion to his article, “To reconcile all of this [issues with racism], it’s gonna require some discomfort. If that’s not something we can live with, then I don’t expect people will change much to deal with climate change adequately, either.”

I just want to say one thing. It’s very simple and I’m not supposed to say it. I am racist. Most of the time I don’t know I’m racist and I don’t mean to be racist, but I am. I wouldn’t know much about my own racism if it wasn’t for friends of color leading me and teaching me. Friends like Pastor Delvin Atchison of Antioch Baptist Church in Waco. Like my friend Luis Matias-Ryan and like my friend Deshaunah Hollie who invited me here tonight.

You see, white people, like myself, need our brothers and sisters of color to teach us about racism. We are blinded to so many things by our power and our privilege. We don’t think about race every day because we don’t have to, but our brothers and sisters don’t have a choice. They understand race and racism in a way that I never can, because for them it is a lived experience, a daily struggle.

If we hope to overcome our racism and find peace and justice in cities like Ferguson, then white people must begin by confessing. We are racist. I am racist. Racism is real.

In the civil rights movement, people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Septima Clark and many more brave, unnamed souls stood up against the racist laws and treatment they received in the South. They stood together, but they were in one sense alone. They stood up without the support of their white brothers and sisters, without those who held the seats of power. They stood on their own to demand their rights and demand justice. However, it wasn’t until white people stood in solidarity with African-Americans that the nation took notice. The images of firehoses and dogs being turned on peaceful protestors galvanized white Americans to go to the South and stand with their brothers and sisters for their rights and for justice. Then when a white minister from the north was killed there was a national outcry that helped pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It’s not right that the death of one white man mattered more than all the deaths of black people that came before it, but the solidarity of white people with the civil rights movement made a difference in making changes to the system.

The hashtag and slogan #blacklivesmatter that has emerged from the experience and protests in Ferguson reflects the fact that the reality of life during the civil rights era continues today. We have come so far and yet still have so far to go. I do think passing laws and regulations for police officers related to racial profiling, excessive force and other issues can have a huge impact on the treatment of people of color. It is an important step, like the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. Yet no law or regulation will remove racism and prejudice from the hearts of human beings.

This is why the movement needs the confession of white people willing to stand with African-Americans and acknowledge our own complicity in the racism and systems that continue the legacies of slavery, colonization and white oppression. Without that solidarity those in power will continue to enforce the status quo and ignore the destructiveness of the systems that perpetuate racism. We must confess that white lives still matter more than black lives. Otherwise we wouldn’t need the hashtag to remind us. We can’t wait until a white protestor is killed this time. Not because white lives matter more, but to prove that black lives do matter.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the black community needs a white Savior to ride in and solve its problems. That complex has caused more harm than good since the Voting Rights Act was passed. As people of privilege and power from the dominant culture we must be careful that our solidarity and activism begins with confession and a lot of listening. When we speak truth to power it must come from an intimate understanding and relationship with those who face the struggle against racism and oppression every day. So please stand with our brothers and sisters of color by admitting and confessing that we are racist, that we don’t know or understand our own racism and that we need our brothers and sisters of color to teach us and lead us forward if we hope to find any peace and justice.

Here is one sign of hope:

Hug between a police officer and young protestor offering free hugs. Read more about the story behind the picture here:

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Originally published at on December 1, 2014.

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