I remember hearing the revolutionary Weather Underground talk about "white skin privilege" during the 60s, but it wasn't until Sunday night when I attended the Committee for Racial Justice (CRJ) potluck gathering in Santa Monica that I seriously returned to the notion of white privilege and the responsibility it carries.
Before two young women, Occidental College coeds from White People for Racial Justice, spoke at Virginia Park, Black Lives Matter LA activist Audrena Redmond, a wonderfully warm and charismatic figure wearing the words "Black Lives Matter Is a Movement, Not a Moment" on her t-shirt, addressed the racially diverse crowd. Among those in the audience were Faye Wells, an African American woman in Santa Monica who found herself swarmed by gun-drawing police after she locked herself out of her apartment, as well as African American Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks who came without her uniform but with her top officers, also in plainclothes, who have met with us, Committee for Racial Justice members, to vow to implement early the state’s new racial profiling and use of force laws that require detailed reporting on all incidents in which police use force.
Redmond told us all to "do whatever you can do" to support BLM, such as clicking "like" on their Facebook page, donating money to the organization, and calling LA City Attorney Mike Feuer to demand he not prosecute BLM activists who laid their bodies on the line to shut down the 405 freeway during the Christmas season because for African Americans—for the unarmed men and women and children gunned down for no reason except walking while Black—it can't be business as usual.
I took notes, jotting down phrases like "no time for eggshelling" (as in walking on eggshells)—"when our sons are dying in the street"—and thought how frightened I would feel if I were the mother of a Black son—or daughter stopped by police in the stillness of the night or in bright daylight on the road Sandra Bland, now deceased, having died in jail in what we don't believe was a suicide, was traveling before a police officer dragged her off to jail for the crime of not signaling for a lane change or for not putting out a cigarette or for not saying ‘yes sir’. What would I tell my son or daughter to do? I would tell them as one audience member in attendance suggested Black mothers now tell their sons, "Don't reach for the glove compartment if an officer stops you and asks for your registration. They'll kill you and later claim you were reaching for a gun."
Somehow I had never heard of these white anti-racist groups until Sunday night when this teacher got an education long after the bell rang.
After Redmond sat down, Mikayla Branz and Rebecca Drago, representatives of White People for Racial Justice in LA (an offshoot of AWARE—Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere), told us they had gone where they, like me—products of insulated white suburban America—never expected to go—to race, racism, to talking to other white people about white privilege, about their own prejudice, and, most importantly, about white people's responsibility to serve as allies to Black Lives Matter, to surround BLM activists conducting a die-in in the streets so as to become their buffers because "police are less likely to hurt white people" and to banner the bike rider’s CicLAvia and to go to The Grove during holiday season to stand together—in all their whiteness—so as to engage white shoppers in dialogue about police brutality, to "call them in, not call them out" so that white people feel welcome to become part of this national conversation and act to stem the killings of unarmed Black men and women and address white people's legacy of violence against people of color.
I'm an activist and have been since before my Berkeley college days in the early 70s—marching against the war in Vietnam, then Iraq, running for Congress, running for Congress, but somehow I had never heard of these white anti-racist groups until Sunday night when this teacher got an education long after the bell rang.
Hey, I was late to class—white anti-racist class.
I first became involved with the Committee for Racial Justice (CRJ) when an African American friend emailed me last year, urging me to use my political savvy and whiteness to advance equity and racial justice in Santa Monica, where police had recently thrown an African American man, Justin Palmer, to the ground, pepper sprayed him, and posted his mugshot on their website—all because he had allegedly charged his Prius after hours in a city park and hesitated to produce his ID when police officers asked to see it. (The City later dropped charges against Palmer, who sought hospital care for a wounded shoulder and filed a lawsuit against the City.)
Previously, I had heard about local racism and hate crimes—a noose in a wrestling team's locker room, to name one—at Santa Monica High School and, of course, a reportedly purposeful decision to construct the 10 freeway on/off ramp straight through the middle of Santa Monica's African American community, thus displacing its Black residents, destroying their neighborhood, and I had attended committee events—forums and a vigil following Ferguson, but I had lately focused on organizing beach maintenance workers, most of them people of color, stopping outsourcing contracts, and ending the tethered pony ride at the farmers market (a popular white people place), so I hadn't officially joined the Committee for Racial Justice, perhaps subconsciously also because discussions about race make a lot of white people—me, included—uncomfortable.
What if I said the wrong thing?
What if I didn't know what to say?
No more time for second-guessing one's white self. Like the woman from Black Lives Matter said, this is an emergency.