Over the past few days, I have been trying to put into words how this past week has made me feel, and I am still at a loss. There has been so much heartbreak, so much violence, and so much hate. But there has also been opportunity. Opportunity to make your voice heard, opportunity to create and hold onto hope, and opportunity to love louder. While so many remain silent, I continue to believe that if you are not speaking up, you are a part of the problem. I have become increasingly angry as I watch people (friends, family, etc.) blatantly ignore what is going on in our society—acting as if nothing is wrong, or acting in a way that screams “this doesn’t affect me so I am not going to say anything.” Your silence is violence. Your ignorance is deadly. Your blatant disregard for what is happening across the nation is adding fire to fire.
During the protests of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in Chicago on July 7th, 2016, a bystander asked my friend and fellow photographer “Why are people protesting?” and when he responded “Look at the signs and listen to the chants” she returned a puzzled look. It took a lot of strength from us both not to scream “HOW THE FUCK DO YOU NOT KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING?!” How, how, how. HOW. I don’t care if you’re white, black, brown, or purple. Turn on your television. Use the internet. Read a newspaper. Do something to stay informed. I repeat, DO SOMETHING TO STAY INFORMED.
This (systemic racism, innocent black men being murdered at the hands of police, black men being targeted by white men) is not something new. This has been happening since before I was born, before my parents were born, and before my grandparents were born. Our technology today— social media; the ability to Facebook live your own murder; police body cams (even though they can conveniently fall off and “malfunction” at any time))—is what brings to light the problems we have been facing as a society for decades. And it is because of our technology today that now, more than ever, we should not be allowed to turn a blind eye to what is happening in our country.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” – Desmond Tutu
About two years ago, when the Black Lives Matter movement really began to pick up momentum and shift from being a hashtag to a socially conscious movement, I was unsure of my place, as white woman, to speak out. I was afraid to say the words “Black Lives Matter” not because I didn’t believe them, but because I didn’t know how I would be perceived by my black friends for saying them. In retrospect, and in seeing the obstacles we currently face, I should have known then how important it is to speak out against the grave injustices happening in our world. I should have known then that not speaking out allows the oppression to continue. I should have known then that my voice matters. And so does yours.
So, I am telling you this now. If you are white (or any race, for that matter), and you believe in this movement— in creating a cultural revolution— and in creating a society where we don’t oppress another human life because of their race, religion or sexual orientation; you MUST speak out. Do not falter in your beliefs for fear of what others may think of you. You must be willing to stand up. You must be the change.
I do not care how many times you see the same article, video, or photo shared on Facebook or Twitter. I do not care if your crazy conservative aunt won’t speak to you at Thanksgiving dinner. If you believe in creating change, let your voice be heard. Start a dialogue at the dinner table; attend a protest; do anything in your power to make a difference. I cannot stress enough that silence is deadly. If change is going to happen, we have to come together and be collectively louder than those who refuse to let our society move forward.
I’ve spent the past few days talking with friends and activists about what they’ve experienced growing up as men and women of color, and listening to their stories hurts my heart in ways I never thought were possible. To hear someone you love tell you that at nine years old—let me say that again, NINE YEARS OLD— a patrolman picked him and a friend up and left them in a gang-ridden neighborhood of Chicago to die for no reason other than the color of their skin destroys you. We cannot continue to let this broken system win. We have to break this deadly cycle.
I do not want to live in a world where my friends have to worry about losing their lives during what should be a procedural traffic stop. I do not want to live in a world where LaQuan McDonald gets shot 16 times in 3 seconds at the hands of police. I do not want to live in a world where my friends have to teach their children how to not become a hashtag when engaging with the people that made a vow to serve and protect them.
People who don’t understand wonder why there is so much anger, and why we feel the need to protest. They wonder why the token black man in their office is so upset the day after Alton Sterling had four bullets put in his chest for selling CDs outside a convenience store. They wonder why their white friends are so passionate about something that “doesn’t affect them.”
Stop wondering. Start listening.
We are fighting for change. We are fighting for a better future for generations to come. We are fighting for what is right. We are fighting to demand justice. And so should you.