Originally posted on http://www.livingindialogue.com/a-firsthand-report-on-blacklivesmatter-and-bernie-sanders/
What happened was interesting in a crowd of mostly whites, many elderly, many Baby Boomers… Because the event was about social security. People of color seemed to be at least half of the speakers and musical parts of the program. I don’t know if BLM was invited in advance. Security was very light. Almost absent.
When the BLM group began to disrupt it was interesting to observe the crowd. I was there with a group of teachers. We stood next to a group of nurses. Some in our group have participated in seeking cultural competency training from Denisha Jones and have participated as white allies in BLM events. I was wearing my arm band from a Black Students Lives Matter event as my hat band — which I got at a Feb. 6 protest in Seattle, where I, with other teachers, used civil disobedience to block rush hour traffic by laying in the crosswalk at Westlake for 4 1/2 minutes to signify the importance of the life and the death of Michael Brown.
Still, some were rude and some of us continued to call those not being silent out on their rudeness.
Then, Marissa & BLM did not yield the stage to Bernie. People of color who were organizers of the event tried to reason with the BLM group. A group next to me began chanting “Shame! Shame!”
I think some of us, including me at times forget: This isn’t about us white people. This movement is about #BlackLivesMatter. This group wasn’t asking for space. They were taking it. That made some of us feel uncomfortable because we were in a position of giving up some of that white privilege for 15 minutes and the white privilege of hearing a white politician speak… White allies, let’s remember to check our own white privilege.
I realize no matter what, I am always looking through the filter of my white experiences. Yes, racism is institutionalized. It is a social structure built for maintaining power over a select group of fellow humans based on skin color and a sense of entitlement. The only tool I have is to look through a human lens, to emotion and tie what I am seeing to a personal experience.
I grew up in an abusive household with parents who had alcoholism. They used their size and strength to take physical power over me. My father used this power to strip me of any sense of personal self or dignity. I was only allowed to have opinions that were in accord with his opinions. As a result, I didn’t have any power in my own home. I felt a sense of utter hopelessness for me and my siblings (I was the oldest and could not protect them from harm. I felt like a failure. I felt it was my responsibility.) Yet in all of that abuse, I still lived a life of white privilege. I drew on those experiences yesterday as I observed what was unfolding.
What I drew upon to analyze the anger, the despair, and the outrage I witnessed and the personal pain shared by Marissa is from my own personal experience of times when I have felt so much anger, so much despair. I have been in a similar emotional space before. I have never, however lived an entire lifetime without my white privilege. But in this case, as a white ally, I also felt my own white privilege: I felt something I have as a white ally that Marissa and the Blacks in America might not have. I felt HOPE. And I realized HOPE is a privilege. What disrupting Bernie and the BLM movement may accomplish is HOPE. I may be wrong.
She and Bernie both inspired the 12,000 mostly white allies to their feet in standing ovations FOR the Black Lives Matter movement. This was electrifying. I wish Marissa and her group were there to see it.
I realize a standing ovation isn’t enough. But inspiration from being in a crowd who take that first step gives this white ally hope. Now, how do we translate that hope into action and law? Into reality and a shattering of institutional racism? How do we make amends for the years of abuse through racism? How do we heal as a nation from a history of slavery when right wing and even Democratic neoliberal policies are recreating slavery? What actions are white allies willing to take to destroy the oligarchy and along with it, institutional racism? What white privileges are we willing to part with? What are you willing to do to give the BLM movement space and to really listen to their needs, wants, and hopes as fellow humans?
While the initial response from Bernie Sanders to the disruption of his Seattle event was disappointing, today his web site published a much lengthier statement on racial justice (link here) that begins to acknowledge the depth of this issue. This statement speaks to the actions we must take as a nation. Much work remains to be done by the Sanders campaign, but it appears to have begun.