Whose moment is it?

This is a Movement moment.  Whose moment is it?  Like any of the risings of the past, there are people trying to claim the moment.  But you can’t own a moment, hold it within your hands like a fluttering bird that can’t escape, grasp it so tightly that no one else can claim it. 

If the moment belongs to anyone, it belongs to the young people of color (POC) activists who lead the crowds around, who lead the chants, “No justice, No peace.”  “Tell me what democracy looks like, This is what democracy looks like.”   It can be hard for us as white people to recognize that, really recognize - because all our lives we have been told to hold on to what we have, tightly, to not let any possession go.   Yet this moment calls on us to do just that, to let go our privilege and help to build new kinds of relationships between POC and white.

Yesterday, a mixed group of college students blocked an intersection in my little town.  Fearing for their safety, I ran between the blocked cars, pleading with the drivers to wait the 4 ½ minutes that the action would take.  Behind me, the loud chants ran out, led by a young Black woman, her sign reaching to the sky. One car did in fact break through the line, the driver screaming at the youth and at me.  Afterwards, I was troubled.  Was I protecting the young people or was I getting in the way of their newfound freedom?  I think now that I should have let them go, or perhaps picked up a sign, echoing the chants that they were calling out. 

White people do not own this moment.  Our best intentions can get in the way of what we can do, which is to organize ourselves to fight alongside of our POC brothers and sisters.  Not to lead the charge or try to protect them, but to recognize that our mutual interest calls white people and POC to struggle together.  Racism tears apart white working class people and POC, when we need to unite to win social and economic justice.

This is a delicate balance. POC leaders call us to join their actions, but not to take them over by stepping to the front.  It’s so easy for us, with our skin color privilege, to do this without even being aware of it. Isn’t it a service to the Movement for white people to beat on cars and taunt police? What may look to us like brave cop baiting looks very different to POC who stand to lose the most in any confrontation.  

Meanwhile, our main task is to organize white people.  Organizing is not shaming others who are not at “our” level, nor is it condescending to them because they haven’t read the latest online article.  We need to unite ourselves on the basis of mutual self-interest, to call each other in, rather than call each other out. We are privileged to be a part of one of the largest Movement moments of the 21st century.  Let us not lose it by trying to grasp it too tightly.

 

Note: This reflection was written by KFTC member Meta Mendel-Reyes on December 9, 2014. Meta is the Steering Committee Representative for the Madison County KFTC chapter. She is also active with the national organization Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ).