On Sunday August 23rd, Jacob Blake was shot in the back 7 times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Thankfully, amazingly, he survived, though recent reports say he is paralyzed from the waist down. But when you shoot someone in the back 7 times, you don’t intend for them to live, do you? The police intended to kill Mr. Blake that Sunday evening, by shooting him in the back as he walked away. The most cowardly and pathetic of murder attempts.
How many more times is this going to happen before meaningful change is made? Black people are not safe in America. They never have been. Just because my white ass is just now realizing the horrific insidiousness of racism doesn’t mean this is anything new. Before it was police shootings, it was lynchings. Before lynchings, it was slavery.
Black folks have never been safe in America, but we are going to change that.
What Can I Do?
Before Mr. Blake was shot, I was feeling frustrated with how the Black Lives Matter movement was fizzling out on my feeds and in my real life. My small city only had one protest, and I couldn’t muster the courage to go, and I wasn’t sure what else I could do.
Now, BLM is everywhere again, but the movement for racial justice cannot be fueled by the deaths and brutalization of Black people. It needs to be fueled by the understanding that Black people are always in danger, even if there hasn’t been a high-profile shooting in a few weeks.
I know all of this, but after years of being racist by virtue of not being actively anti-racist (basically, I was neutral, which means I was supporting the oppressor), it’s difficult to know exactly what I can do to help. But I’ve done my research on how to create real change and protect Black lives in America, and I’m sharing that information here because I have a feeling a lot of people are in a similar situation. Feeling helpless, angry, and guilty, needing direction for how to promote real change.
1. Stop Saying Rioting Isn’t The Answer
Just stop. Even if you don’t necessarily mean it this way, when you say this you are effectively saying that you care more about property than you do about Black lives, which is a very traditional argument rooted in the post-slavery era. Once Black people were no longer considered property, they were seen as less valuable than property, because they weren’t seen as fully human.
Yes, other people are getting hurt in the riots, but the vast majority of those injuries (or even deaths, as has been the case in the recent protests in Kenosha) are at the hands of the police. Once again, the police are the problem, not the protesters.
Plus, riots are effective. The whole reason people are protesting and rioting is because when Black folks are shot by police, there are little to no consequences for the officers. However, protests and riots make it much more likely that the offending officers will at least be fired, if not criminally charged.
All of this means that when you say “rioting isn’t the answer,” you are promoting a rhetoric rooted in racism and distracting from the actual issue.
So please, just stop.
For more information on riots and protests and why you need to stop worrying about them and start worrying about the Black lives they exist to protect and defend, check out my previous post Why Do People Riot? Because Rioting Works.
2. Speak Up
One of the most important ways you can help foster racial justice in America is by saying something about the reality of racial injustice. If you have a platform like a blog or social media account, let your followers know that you stand with BLM, and share resources to help your followers learn more about racism in America.
We also need to take our anti-racism work offline. Have hard conversations with people about police brutality, systemic racism, and defunding the police. Do not stay silent when people make racist comments. Even if you know it won’t lead to meaningful conversation, let your whole-hearted dissent be heard. Simply say “That was racist, and here’s why.”
If you’re white and don’t feel equipped to talk about racism, or if you have anxiety that keeps you from speaking your mind (or both), check out my previous post 7 Tips for Having Hard Conversations About Race When You’re White and Have Anxiety.
3. Support Black Creators and Black-Owned Businesses
Demanding justice for Black people who have been attacked or killed by police is important, but it’s also important to support Black people before they are attacked by police. Make sure you’re following Black creators on social media so you hear a wide variety of voices, and make sure you share their content (with credit!) to help support their account, blog, or business.
Not sure who to follow? I already have a post highlighting some amazing Black creators on TikTok, but if you come back next week, I’ll be publishing a post about my favorite Black creators on Instagram as well.
You can also support Black business owners by checking out Black-owned businesses in your area or shopping from Black businesses online. There’s an app called Black Nation that helps you locate Black-owned brick-and-mortar businesses near you in all kinds of different categories. If you’re shopping online, Etsy has a specific page for Black-owned shops and the website WeBuyBlack sells beauty, books, clothes, and home goods from a variety of Black-owned businesses, all on one site. Next time you go to log onto Amazon, try WeBuyBlack first (this is something I’m working on changing right now too; I rely way to much on Amazon).
4. Get Involved At The Local Level
As much as I wish we could have some sort of federal mandate protecting Black lives in some meaningful way, I think we all know that isn’t going to happen during this administration. Plus, even if it did, police policies and budgets are an incredibly local issue that can’t be controlled by the federal government. If we want things to change, things have to change at the local level.
This means change is going to be slow and hard-won, but it also means there’s actually something you can do. Which is great, but we have to actually do it.
I will be writing another post soon with more specific instructions on how to get involved at the local level, but here are a few things you can do:
- Google your city + “police reform” or “defunding the police.” Find out what your city is already doing, if anything. I was surprised and excited that my city has a citizen commission that is driving police reform and diversity inclusion policies. If your city already has something going, find out how you can join or support the movement. My city is looking for diverse members to add to the citizen commission, so obviously I can’t (and shouldn’t) join, but I’m reaching out now to see what else I can do.
- Find the email for your local city council and send an email expressing your concerns about making changes to the local police budget and/or police policy. Then, encourage other people in your area to do the same thing. City council is not like state or federal government. Even a few emailed concerns can create a proper discussion of an issue. Then find out when your city council meets and if it’s possible for you to attend the meeting (while wearing a mask, of course).
- Look up your local city budget. City budgets are public information and you should be able to find yours simply by Googling your city + “budget.” Find out how much is being spent on police compared to things like education, parks, community development, firefighting, and other areas that do public good. Share that information and demand that your police department be defunded (for more information about defunding the police, check out this incredibly informative piece from the American Civil Liberties Union).
5. Make Donations Part of Your Monthly Budget
There are so many amazing charities, bail funds, campaigns, and creators that you can support financially right now to help make a difference. But it’s also important to remember that these organizations and people need money all the time, not just when there’s been a high-profile instance of police brutality.
Take some time to look at your monthly expenses. If you don’t have anything to spare, that’s okay. Everyone is in a tight spot right now, and as you can see from the rest of this list, there are plenty of non-financial ways you can help support the movement.
But if you do have a little extra money you can spare, consider setting up a monthly donation to your favorite organization or creator. One-time donations are still better than no donations, but ongoing donations are how moments become movements. Your ongoing donation can help ensure that the Black Lives Matter movement creates real change.
If you follow a Black creator and enjoy their content, see if they have a Cash.app, Kofi, or Patreon you can donate to. If you can’t convince yourself to go to the protests, like me, then donate to bail funds to make sure low-income protesters don’t get trapped in jail for standing up for what’s right by our classist bond system. If all of this news is making you anxious or triggering your past trauma, consider donating to charities that support mental healthcare for people of color, whose very existence in this society is often traumatic.
Keep an eye out, I’ll be posting a list of trustworthy places to donate soon.
6. Keep Learning and Unlearning
I know it doesn’t feel flashy and important, but take the time to learn about racism in America. The better informed you are, the better you can do all of the things on this list. Doing your own learning helps you unlearn your internalized racism, which all of us have, regardless of race, because we are raised in an inherently racist society. It helps you acknowledge and then dismantle your white fragility (if you’re white) and re-center your focus on the importance of protecting and celebrating Black lives.
Remember, anti-racism isn’t performative. It’s not about growing as a person. It’s not about you at all. It’s about keeping Black folks alive, as a bare minimum, and you can only do that if you understand the problems that have led to our current situation.
I am still learning so much. I had never heard the name Fred Hampton until two months ago. I had no idea the first police forces were actually slave patrols until a few weeks ago. I am learning and unlearning, and even though it doesn’t make for a flashy Instagram post, it’s a vital step toward racial justice.