By Danielle Kulp
In many American households people are wringing their hands and wondering, “what’s going on?” They see the fires, the damage, the looting, and wonder how the death of one man, George Floyd, could cause all of this. Maybe some of them are a little more up on the news cycle, and they know the tragedy of Breonna Taylor’s death. Or how Amy Cooper, when requested to leash her dog in the Ramble in NYC’s Central Park, told former Marvel editor and avid bird watcher Christian Cooper (no relation) that she was going to call the cops and “tell them that an African American man is threatening me and my dog,” as she strangled said dog. They might agree that these videos are tragic, they might have voted for Democrats, but they think that “rioting and protesting like this isn’t the way” or “this isn’t something Martin Luther King would have agreed with” and “the looting drowns out any positive message that was to be had.” Maybe this picture of the average American is your liberal uncle, your coworker, your well-meaning friend who shuts down at the first sign of confrontation.
As working class radicals, we know that it is not just this handful of incidents, but decades of violence against Black bodies in the form of laws, policies, unspoken rules, loudly spoken prejudices, quietly maiming microaggressions, and outright murder. We are being asked by our Black comrades to amplify Black voices in this time: to donate to support Black lives and bail funds, to watch YouTube videos whose revenue goes directly to the Black Lives Matter organization, to support Black economics, Black artists and Black creators.
But the first step, the most uncomfortable step, is having that talk with your liberal or conservative uncle, who’s putting the loss of property over Black life, and who is, somehow, despite international protests of hundreds of thousands of people, still not able to hear the message of Black voices demanding the right to live unafraid. We need to have these conversations even at the risk of damaging the relationship, the friendship, because being uncomfortable is part of the process. Being uncomfortable will save lives. So what is there to talk about? As stated before, the topics are legion. For starters we can bring up the history of redlining, the prison industrial complex, the school-to-prison pipeline, and Nixon’s fear-mongering campaign against the Black Panthers that turned Black skin into the nightmares of suburban white Americans, and how these tactics are still used today.
Talk to them about white privilege and about the way our immigrants’ forebears turned against the next wave of immigrants. Talk to them about the inequalities of health care for Black people. Talk to them about the real Martin Luther King. Talk to them about the double standard of the “model minority,” the sterilization of Black, Native, and Latina women, and the mandatory minimums that created legal slave labor again.
This list is not exhaustive but now is not the time to get exhausted. These conversations need to happen but they will take time. It is our job as allies to help protect our Black comrades from having to have this conversation with our liberal and conservative uncle. Just circulating memes online will not do, and gentle, persistent conversation is what must happen. Have these conversations because our Black friends can’t avoid them. And have these conversations with yourself as well.
The work of remaining radical is never done. We do not collect anti-racism badges until our solidarity scout sash is full! Be willing to turn on the light in your own soul and root out what still remains from racist cultural indoctrination. Be open to the possibility that to be radical is to accept that we might sometimes be wrong. It takes an attitude that we will be ever-evolving and pushing forward. We can do this. We can do better.