To my black friends: Do not silence the people who are trying to show support. Saying that it’s “not their place to comment” because of their skin color, economic status, or whatever, is only going to make the problem worse. Yes, this is “us vs them”. But the “US” is the educated and informed, those who strive towards true equality, regardless of race, age, economic position or gender, and the “THEM” comprises those who seek to oppose that very same spirit. To make blanket generalizations about white people, or to shame an individual for trying to express solidarity, is to regress. If the wealthy white kid feels so moved as to make a comment, despite them having truly no reason to, let them! If they make an off mark comment, inform them. But do so constructively, and inclusively. There is too much to change and too many issues at stake to alienate those who are trying to help.
To my white and non black friends: Show support in the ways you believe are righteous, but be open to criticism if they are not well received, and adapt. You do not understand certain struggles the way that blacks inherently do because you have not lived them. This does not make you a villain and you should never be made to feel that way when you are genuinely trying to help bridge the bias and divide that centuries of American life produced. So, just be mindful that sometimes your words — no matter how well intentioned — come off as ignorant. If you are a true supporter, you will not be disgruntled by constructive criticism but rather happy that you are able to participate in a way that is constructive to all. This is a learning process. I live a very privileged life that resembles your life in many ways. I do not try to deny that. And yet I am familiar with the discomfort of being on the street alone at night and having a police officer pull me aside to question what I’m doing, when I am really just walking home. Or being stopped in Soho pushing my little sister’s empty stroller and being interrogated about where you got it (no, I’m not into stealing strollers or stealing anything for that matter). It sucks. It’s awkward. It’s unnecessary, and it’s racist.
To Everybody: I still must admit I have it far better than most Americans. For context: I attended the Dalton School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York and then Colby College in Waterville, Maine. I am an African-American male. For all intents and purposes, I was a black student in the middle of the whitest world possible. I’ve been to more bar mitzvahs than I can count, and been in the outskirts of Maine in places that have no street signs where I am stared at as though I am a pterodactyl. I am moving to Los Angeles to work in probably the whitest industry there is: film. All of my life I have struggled with how to maintain a black identity, one that I am immensely proud of, without having the “fuck white people” mentality that so many have. Do I fit seamlessly into both worlds? Of course not. There are black individuals who despise the company I keep and the “white” things I do, and there are white individuals who feel as though I am encroaching on their whiteness. But I do feel as though I am in a position where I can speak to both sides; I understand the frustrations and confusions. The position of seemingly being in between a rock and a hard place for BOTH parties. How does the white guy share his support without feeling as though he is stepping out of line? How does the black girl accept that for him, it might be just a status to assuage guilt, but for her, it’s everyday life? These questions are hard, and uncomfortable. Yet they are at the heart of the contemporary racial reality that we are living.
Despite Baton Rouge, despite Ferguson, despite Trayvon Martin, and the countless other black lives that have been senselessly lost, the pride that has been instilled within many young African-Americans is nothing short of incredible. It represents the growth of an entire culture, a newfound ability to believe in one’s own self-worth wholeheartedly, and doggedly defend one another in the spirit of Black America. This spirit is admirable, it is crucial, it is the very embodiment of change. It also undermines the movement, as it can isolate the persistence of our struggles. This can be as damaging as acceptance of that offensive phrase “post-racial;” we obviously still live in a world that is plagued by prejudice, and racism is a pervasive force that hinders, or ends, the lives of millions. Countless family members of the slain African-Americans in recent years can attest to that. And yet, it seems that we, as a black society, sometimes act as though there has not been any progress. It as though we are so dismayed by the negatives that we refuse to see the positives. There is a line between the ignorance that we are living post-racially, and the ignorance that we are living in the past, and many black individuals, specifically millennials, do not know how to balance the differences. The most damaging effect this has is the alienation of supporters who do not share our skin color. Pride is telling us that “our lives are worth as much as anyone’s, the system is at fault,” but that very same pride is reinforcing an idea that “we don’t need anyone else’s help.” The determination to not only fix it ourselves, but also bristle at the idea of support from others is nothing short of puzzling, crippling and not conducive to a winning movement toward true equality.