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White Silence is Violence: How to be a White Accomplice

When Malcolm X was asked how white people could be allies and accomplices with Black people in 1964, he responded:

“By visibly hovering near us, they are ‘proving’ that they are ‘with us.’ But the hard truth is this isn’t helping to solve America’s racist problem. The Negroes aren’t the racists. Where the really sincere white people have got to do their ‘proving’ of themselves is not among the black victims, but out on the battle lines of where America’s racism really is — and that’s in their home communities; America’s racism is among their own fellow whites. That’s where sincere whites who really mean to accomplish something have got to work.”

Racism exists, and it is a white problem. Therefore, a more honest and accurate way to talk about racism –which requires both prejudice and systemic or institutional power over others– is to call it what it is: white supremacy. White supremacy is a system of exploitation and oppression of people of color by white people for the purpose of maintaining a system of wealth, power, and privilege for white people.

We have to acknowledge openly that white supremacy exists in America. And white privilege exists. We all need to be able to recognize both to do anything about them, and unless we are actively using our white privilege to dismantle white supremacy, we are complicit in its preservation.

White people need to use their white privilege to talk to others about white privilege and white supremacy. If you’re uncomfortable, that’s good. Comfort sustains white supremacy because it makes people who benefit from white supremacy complacent in the status quo. Invisibility gives white supremacy power. Call it out. Use white privilege to interrupt white supremacy; to dismantle white supremacy; to take a back seat and support others who have been oppressed by white supremacy – to give those who have been oppressed by white supremacy opportunities they have been denied, and to learn from those who have been oppressed by white supremacy. And use your privilege to listen. America has a system that has been built around making space for, centering, and hearing white voices above others and it is time for us to be quiet and really listen.

It is also time for white people to understand that all lives can’t matter until Black lives matter too. By saying Black Lives Matter, you are not saying other lives don’t matter, you are calling out the historical and current oppressive and violent system of racist white supremacy that prioritizes, protects, benefits, and privileges white lives more than all others. Black Lives Matter is a movement working for all lives to matter. So, if you want all lives to matter, then you should be supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

We have to stop getting angry at Black people for being angry. Instead, we should be angry with them. Show up with your body as an accomplice and a shield because for hundreds of years Black bodies have been stolen, enslaved, murdered, searched, surveilled, imprisoned, disembodied, and disappeared in a system that still gives advantages to white people.

It is time to question and challenge the narrative that is given us by the corporate media that is built to uphold white supremacy. We have to seek out alternatives to the corporate media that still criminalizes, frames, and manufactures a false and dangerous story of Black people in order to justify white supremacy.

As a white person, I recognize that I need to do something instead of stepping away from this. I recognize that is wrong, and it is exactly what white supremacy depends on white people to continue to do. I am stepping up as an ally and accomplice right now because it is the right thing to do, and you should too.

More articles by:

Corrine Fletcher works for the ACLU of Oregon and is co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild.

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