Two and a half years ago, the Ferguson street protests birthed two of the most amazing pure-American speech acts I have had the privilege to see develop. The hands up, don’t shoot gesture defies police violence by offering one’s own body up in what I can only call Christ-like aggression, and the Black Lives Matter movement — whose name is its message — has since become an ongoing, organized light shone on the violence of American systemic racism.

Given the hard rightward shift of highest-level American government since, with a White House publishing intentionally misleading statistics about crime on its website in order to stoke fear and potentially justify future police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement will play an increasingly prominent role. As its message becomes more immediately relevant, it and its participants will also face dangerous attention as a police-critiquing organization within an increasingly authoritarian environment. As such, it needs allies, and allies outside of the community of black Americans who lead it. It needs support from people with a degree of immunity from the racism that it stands against, and who can make themselves a buffer — physically, or informationally — between the movement’s central actors and outside forces that would do them harm. It needs white Americans to take its message up.

I considered adding more words to the title of this post, “advice to my fellow white people” or whatnot, but that would have gone against my reason for writing it. Unlike so many other gestures specific to a political movement tied to an oppressed group, the motto of the Black Lives Matter movement is one that anyone can take up, regardless of racial identity, without fear of accidentally skewing the message — so long as they practice a modicum of humility about it.

I can tell you about my own initial approach. While certainly no replacement for action, I do believe in the power of symbolic accoutrements: a low-wattage but constant broadcast of here I stand, and an ongoing talismanic reminder to oneself of one’s own convictions. I began after the election, reattaching the peace-sign lapel buttons I wore through the Bush years. This month, taking after a friend who stuck an array of new, post-election buttons on his shoulder bag, I added a Black Lives Matter sticker to my laptop, just as Jeff Sessions sailed through his senate confirmation hearings.

I found it on Amazon, after browsing through different variants, since the movement doesn’t seem to have a standard logo. Some, I noticed, added extra qualifiers to the three words, such as an “I’m white but I believe that…” preamble. And it struck me how some white folks who wish to represent the slogan might feel more comfortable hedging it that way. They may fear the possibility of appropriating a message that doesn’t belong to them, or inviting the spotlight upon themselves when they only (and rightfully) desire a supporting role with that particular fight. In this case, though, this level of caution doesn’t seem warranted.

When I present the three words without further adornment, they are clearly not about me, and I make no effort to suggest otherwise. The message on my laptop declares my acknowledgment of the ongoing struggle of black Americans to overcome the stubborn and destructive evil of systemic racism, while making no claims that it applies to my own predicaments (except, perhaps, as a long-unwitting beneficiary of unjust history and racist policy). Through the slogan’s simple specificity, it serves as a pointer to others’ struggle, one that I fear may face even more difficulties over the next few years. One way to support a struggle — especially one whose aggressor denies even to exist — is to bear public witness. I repeat the pointer.

And I can title this blog post that too, and it works just as well, for the same reasons.


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