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White hands down

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Photo: Marco Simonsen-Sereda. More photos can be viewed at http://bit.ly/1miPIDZ

I attended Sunday night's Montréal vigil in solidarity with the Ferguson uprising and victims of police brutality. I attended because, like many, my eyes have been glued to my news feed this past week as the forces of white supremacy, capitalism and militarized police brutality have veered their ugly faces in broad daylight. A white supremacy that I benefit from directly on a daily basis as a result of the whiteness of my skin. 

The collective rage, sadness and solidarity of the people of Ferguson have captivated and inspired. They have fought back with tremendous will and refused to let their communities continue to be under siege by unwelcome destructive forces.

They have also given the world one of the most poignant visual symbols of resistance.

Hands up, don’t shoot

The symbol was born from Michael Brown’s dying moments as he was reached his arms to the sky in surrender and was subsequently hit by at least 6 bullets from Darren Wilson's gun, and  a crime later replicated on his brothers and sisters in Ferguson as they protested his murder and the ludicrous militarization and brutality of the police force ready to destroy a city to protect their fellow officer. It embodies the angst and desperation of Black Americans in how their country disregards their lives and bodies, and will hold incredible historical significance in the abysmal history of race relations in America.

Naturally, it has also become a rallying call to action at solidarity vigils held across North America. And I must admit that I have grown increasingly uncomfortable in seeing a swelling number of well-meaning white hands shoot up in the air at all these rallies.

While I preach the merits of solidarity on a daily basis, white folks who strive towards allyship (which is constant engaging action, not a personal identity) must remain conscious of the weight and significance our gestures and words carry.

The fact is that white people don’t have to worry about being systemically targeted and murdered by the police. Our skin colour shields us from harm. An unarmed white person with their hands in the air won’t get shot. Hell, an armed white person with their hands in the air also won’t get shot.

Just look at all the white folks in Texas wielding (big-ass) guns through fast-food chains and convenience stores. They may be confronted by some scoffs and eye-rolls from the more reasonable humans amongst us, but they carry on their actions with an ingrained awareness that the police won’t bat an eyelash at them. That they are untouchable. That society knows lives carry meaning. That they are safe.

In allowing our white hands to go up at these rallies, we are diluting and glossing over the message entirely. We gotta stop. Plenty has been penned on what folks in Ferguson and Michael Brown’s family need as acts of solidarity. If we're white, before going into a protest inspired by the struggle and resistance of racialized people, reflect on what our presence means, ask organisers whether we should attend and if so where we should situate yourself, and don’t be hurt if the answer doesn’t happen to be “right up here with us in the front with your hands up”.

The purpose of the rallies is to speak out against systemic racism and police brutality, not for white people to show the world that we’re the good-kinda-totally-not-racist breed of white people.

I’m reminded of a 13emcha’s video, I am not Trayvon Martin.

“I am not Trayvon Martin. I am not Troy Davis. And to the middle class, white, socially concerned activist who wears a shirt emblazoned with those slogans, you are wrong. I know you wear that shirt to stand in solidarity with Trayvon, Troy, and other victims of injustice. The purpose of those shirts is to humanize these victims of our society, by likening them to the middle class white activist wearing it. And once we’ve humanized the victims, this proves to us the arbitrariness of their deaths and thereby the injustice at play. But the fact of the matter is that these men’s deaths are anything but arbitrary.”

We must remember that in identifying our white bodies and lives to to those who endure or are murdered at the hands of police brutality, systemic racism, colonialism or apartheid, we diminish the meaning of fighting a system that was consciously and carefully built to profit off their suffering so that we white folks are granted infinitely easier access to wealth, leisure and security.

We are not Michael Brown. We are not John Crawford. We are not amongst the black men and women who are gunned down indiscriminately on a weekly basis.

So let’s put our damn hands down already. Let’s listen to our racialized brothers and sisters and offer the help they say they want or need, not the help we care to show the world we can give.

This article was originally published at matness.ca, and is reprinted with permission.

Photo: Marco Simonsen-Sereda. More photos can be viewed at http://bit.ly/1miPIDZ


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