This week saw two black men killed by police officers in two days, under questionable circumstances. During a #BlackLivesMatter protest in Dallas - a city that has embraced and implemented police reforms more than most - five police officers were killed by a sniper who said he wanted to kill white people and, in particular, white cops.
These incidents are only the latest in a long string of violent, often deadly, interactions between black people and law enforcement officers. The fact that these incidents are broadcast widely on social media, then disseminated on national news channels, means white people are getting a glimpse into a world we were largely oblivious to a few short years ago. Every time we log onto Facebook or sign in to twitter, we are faced with overwhelming evidence that we have created and maintained a system that doles out drastically different treatment to our black and brown brothers and sisters. Many white people are taking a long, hard look in the mirror and finding a lot of embarrassing blemishes.
But white guilt won't make black lives better, unless that guilt is channeled into productive action. Hashtags are great for calling out hate, but not terribly effective at stopping it.
What can white people in Bend do to make a difference?
1) Educate yourself: 37days.com/racism Take the online class, "Hard Conversations: An Intro to Racism." This four-week, intensive online seminar includes online readings, live conversations and interviews about racism. The next session runs from Sept. 12 through Oct. 10, and the cost is $99 per person, with special rates for returning students.
2) Listen more. Resist the urge to show empathy by sharing your own stories of feeling discriminated against. Keep the focus on the folks whose friends and loved ones are dying in alarming numbers, instead of turning the conversation around to yourself.
3) Show Up for Racial Justice: showingupforracialjustice.org The Portland chapter of this national organization recently rallied in front of the downtown Justice Center to demand police accountability and racial justice. Dozens of white people held signs proclaiming Black Lives Matter and White Silence Equals Violence. According to Stand Up for Racial Justice PDX volunteer Kari Koch, "Ultimately, what we want to do is talk to white people and organize white people for racial justice broadly." Charlene Carruthers, national director of Black Youth Project 100, told the Washington Post, "There is no need to hide behind black or people of color organizations. Commit yourself to organizing poor and working class white folks. We are capable of organizing our communities. Our children need everyday white folks to work harder to ensure that black women don't have to worry about dying after failing to signal properly, walking while transgender, or trying to protect their children."
Here in Bend - where almost everyone is white - it can be tempting to assume we don't need to worry about racial injustice. But for those bothered by the fact that blacks and whites seem to be living in two separate Americas, there are options for taking action.