The protests that followed the non-indictments of the racist, murderous police officers in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases have given me a keen awareness and understanding of what solidarity really needs to be in a movement. Solidarity is more than compassion, or empathy. It involves more than realizing or checking your privilege. It definitely involves more action than just “feeling sorry” about said privilege. Solidarity, especially when you occupy a privileged space, means using your voice to amplify others. The hashtag #crimingwhilewhite was a poor attempt at this. White folks used Twitter to air their personal histories of run-ins with authorities and recognize how their actions would quickly lead to arrest or assault at the hands of police if they weren't white. #AliveWhileBlack, the flipside to this, is a much better example of what Black folks cannot “get away with.” Namely, existing without the constant threat of violent state repression.
Solidarity is complicated. How do you express your outrage and fear in this system, or how do you march alongside the very people who are more likely to suffer as a result of these “miscarriages of justice?” And how can you call them miscarriages if, as so many proclaim, the legal system is inherently flawed and working as it was designed? One thing that stays with me is the problematic idea that the Brown and Garner cases are a “wake-up call.” Black and Brown people been woke. Black and Brown people know #BlackLivesMatter. That hashtag is a reminder for the rest of us. There are some amazing voices coming to the forefront of these protests. Deray Mckesson (@deray) and his partner in This is the Movement (http://thisisthemovement.launchrock.com/), @Nettaaaaaaaa to name just a few. They are two activists who’ve spent time working on the direct actions in Ferguson and elsewhere, using social media to document and bring greater awareness to systemic racism in hopes of dismantling it.
If this is a wake-up call for anyone, it’s for White folks. I’m seeing some of my less-political White friends finally gain an understanding that something is wrong, has always been wrong, and it’s no longer an abstract. The video of Eric Garner’s murder at the hands of the NYPD may have done little to sway a grand jury—a body which is famously capable of “indicting a ham sandwich” but notoriously unable to indict murderous cops. Despite this, the footage has sent a ripple of awareness through a great many people who reap the benefits of a White supremacist system without being fully aware of the violent injustices that are necessary to uphold it.
For me, this historical moment is marked by a humbling awareness of my own lived experience of Whiteness. I’m Boricua hasta el hueso (to the bone), I’ll proudly tell you. But I’m mixed, and White-presenting. A quick look at my white skin and my blue eyes and you know my Puerto Rican identity is filtered through that. But Puerto Ricans are showing up in this protest. We don’t need a hashtag telling you #BrownLivesMatter, because it’s something we implicitly read into #BlackLivesMatter. All People of Color are in danger in this system, but some of us are more endangered than others. Dr. Hector Cordero Guzman proudly tweeted a screencap of protesters rocking a Puerto Rican flag at some of the actions in NYC this past Thursday, December 5th, telling us there’s not a protest or boycott in which we Boricuas are not presente! I quickly replied, “We show up for our extended community.” And that’s what Black folks are to Puerto Ricans. I’m hearing from many Puerto Rican friends who are involved in this struggle. Puerto Rican filmmaker from El Barrio, Andrew J. Padilla, working alongside members of CopWatch (a group of citizen journalists turning their lenses on the cops to document state violence in their communities) was arrested last week. Other friends, writers, and documentarians like Andre Lee Muniz of La Respuesta are participating in these struggles. Blacks and Puerto Ricans in this city share an overlapping history, especially when it comes to interactions with police. In 1993, Anthony Baez, a young Puerto Rican man in the Bronx, was also murdered by police using an illicit chokehold.
What concerns me now is making sure this movement continues to center the voices and experiences of Black people. People I know have expressed disappointment when protests would change, when White anarchists would come in and disrupt them, make these actions platforms about something else entirely. These protests are about Black lives, how they MATTER, how they are disregarded and disrespected by a justice system that doesn’t recognize them as whole people. A justice system that is, as Michelle Alexander writes in her book, a new form of Jim Crow. As allies, as people in solidarity, as people from communities that are marginalized in different ways than Black folks, it’s our duty to make sure that doesn’t happen. We must speak out against those who would try to highjack the momentum of these demonstrations, who would try to distract us, who would dare to raise their own privileged voices above these communities in mourning.
I’ve never been one to believe the revolution is “coming.” I've long thought that the idea of the revolution "coming" was a convenient thief of time and energy. Waiting indefinitely for a revolution to show up keeps people from doing the day to day work of liberation, the kind that involves kindness and self-sacrifice, a marathon of involvement, rather than the more exciting sprint of protests and marches. If anything heartens me about this movement, it’s seeing the grand action that is being buoyed by that day to day work, a kind of praxis that Freire would recognize and encourage, that involves both action and thought. I am seeing people not only speak of where they protested and post photos of actions and demonstrations, but offer other means through which people can participate. One can donate to a community library, or engage in jail support, a part of protest culture I’d been unaware of until recently, which involves showing up where protesters have been taken after arrest with food, warm clothes, and medicine, and making a visible showing of being there for those held in state custody. Jaime, a veteran of the Occupy movement and blogger at Librarian Shipwreck, has a series of important tweets calling people out for diminishing jail support, likening the work to that of other emotional, caregiver work that’s been feminized and devalued as “women’s work.”
#BlackLivesMatter every day. It’s our job, as White folks or as Non-Black People of Color, to recognize that, to relay it, to use our privilege as a megaphone through which to transmit that message. It’s our responsibility to deploy our privileges for others. And not in a pandering, or condescending way. This movement must be lead by the communities which face the most oppression from the state. And it must be supported by the rest of us.
Shakti Castro is an oral history interviewer at The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at CUNY. In addition to her work at the Centro, she is also a contributing writer at La Respuesta. She holds a BA in English literature and media studies from Hunter College. As an independent researcher and writer, her interests lie in cultural preservation, documentary filmmaking, and utilizing new media in the art of storytelling. Twitter @medeaculpa and wiselatinamedia.com