From Minnesota to Rochester
This was originally posted on the Blog by Frank Staropoli: “A White Guy in Rochester”
I’m writing with a heaviness of heart, and at best a trickle of hope.
I have seen the video of the murder of George Floyd far too many times already. I try closing my eyes when I know it’s coming, even entertaining the ridiculous hope that when I open them again, this would not have happened. I don’t believe I have ever witnessed anything more cruelly intentional and brutal in my life, made even more horrifying by the three other officers, sworn to protect and defend, who did not step in.
The trickle of hope comes from a couple of sources:
Today I attended the rally organized by Black Lives Matter in Rochester. I heard strong, impassioned Black voices, loud and clear, speaking to the pain and the exhaustion of witnessing yet another death, with the searing recognition that they could just as easily have been under that knee. No one who is not white is safe. And yet those voices, those survivors, were strong and clear, sure of their own utter worthiness, despite living in a society that has allowed these atrocities to continue for generations. As one Black leader said in a Facebook post yesterday, “We’re gonna be ok! We’re gonna be ok!” echoing the kind of mantra that has helped sustain them through centuries of these atrocities. (I drafted this before I learned of the disturbances after the rally ended, fueled apparently by a small contingent of imported semi-pro anarchists, and joined by some local people who could not contain their anger or their impulses. Do not let that distract from the main narrative of the day: Black Lives Matter)
I also tasted a bit of hope seeing all the white people who were part of this protest. And I did not see any of these white faces cringe when we were challenged to ACT, to spend our privilege in the cause of obliterating racism. And that white contingent included our Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. I’m quite sure this was the first time someone in that position has attended a protest in the City!
I also had a taste of hope the day before, when I was in a meeting with Rochester Chief of Police LaRon Singletary. I won’t quote him without his ok, but I can say that he was appalled at that video as well, and had no hesitance in condemning that as an utterly indefensible police action.
Finally, the press conference held this afternoon by City and County officials produced as unified a message as I’ve ever heard from those often-combative parties.
Can the will of Black people survive this round? I have firm confidence in that.
Will white leaders and white allies and white people like you and I finally act, beyond thoughts and prayers and rallies? I have less confidence in this.
Will our police department and others across the country finally begin dishing out substantial consequences for excessive use of force, until the message registers in many decibels “You will be prosecuted for criminal behavior”? To be seen.
Ultimately, I have control only over my own engagement. What am I going to put on the line? What more will I risk? What is uniquely mine to do in the midst of this communal health crisis called racism? Do I even understand the degree of privilege that’s inherent in having a choice about how far to go?
And what will you do, my white friends?
For those who would cry, “What can I possibly do?” start by NOT doing these:
In a conversation with a Person of Color, don’t dwell on how terrible all this made you feel. You wind up centering (putting the focus on) yourself when you do this. And our trauma is miniscule compared to theirs.
Don’t ever again ask a Person of Color “What was that like for you?” after yet another murder like George Floyd’s. Witnessing that is traumatizing enough without having to revisit it for the sake of a white person who is attempting to be empathetic. If they want to talk about it, they will.
Don’t ever again ask a Person of Color “What can I do?” I hear from so many Black friends and acquaintances that they’ve had it with lazy white people who want them to teach, to mentor, to lead by the hand!
Instead, consult this list – or a hundred others like it:
“75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice”
Do your own research, go to workshops, observe, begin, somewhere to take action in your own life and spheres of influence. Identify what it is you most fear will be asked of you – then do that. Stretch! Get uncomfortable! Take risks! Take public stands – in your neighborhood, at work, at your worshiping community. Put yourself on the line!
Identify how your knee is pressing on the necks of Black people.