As this country continues its racial awakening and reckoning, certain things have become almost predictable. It’s time to break that cycle of predictability, because that is part of what keeps us from mass movement and change.
The acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse may have been gut-wrenching and shocking to some, but for me—and many Black people and other people of color—it was expected. I fear that many white allies assumed that because Rittenhouse killed white people, the justice system might be a little less blatant in its findings. But the reality is that historically, white people who have dared to live the values of the idea that Black lives matter have always found themselves meeting a special fate. It’s a fate reserved for those white-bodied individuals who dare to turn their backs on whiteness and who threaten the order of white supremacy.
All you have to do is look at the story of John Brown, a white abolitionist who was friends with Frederick Douglass. Yes, that Frederick Douglass. John Brown had the audacity to not only believe that slavery was wrong, but to see Black people as actual humans. Brown wasn’t a simple pacifist, as many white abolitionists of that time were—Nope! Brown believed in using violence as necessary against his fellow white men in pursuit of freedom for Black people. Brown led a raid on the federal arsenal of Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in 1859. Brown survived the raid, was captured, and subsequently convicted of treason. Before his sentencing he addressed the court:
“…I believe that to have interfered as I have done — as I have always freely admitted I have done — on behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments. — I submit; so let it be done!…”
Brown was hanged for his “crimes” on Dec. 2, 1859. Suffice to say, John Brown was a lot more than a white ally, and in today’s world, we need a few more John Browns and a few less passive allies who fear losing their social capital if they push too hard.
John Brown understood what many of today’s white allies and accomplices fail to understand: You don’t need any Black person or other person of color to do that right thing when it comes to race. Sure, support us, lift up our voices, and make sure we are centered. But ultimately, your work as a white person will happen in white spaces and you need the strength of your convictions to be with you—no matter where you are.
If you truly believe that white supremacy must be defeated and that Black lives matter, I leave you with the words I posted on Facebook—minutes after the Rittenhouse verdict was announced—and I ask you to sit with them and make a plan. Especially as we enter the holiday season and many of you will be gathering with friends and loved ones. Dare to rock the boat, disrupt the system, pass the turkey, and have hard conversations.
As white folks, perhaps you should be reaching out to your fellow white folks to get your plans together to stem the tide of white nationalism growing in your communities. Are you sure your sons are not the next Kyle? What about the other young white boys, teens and men in your circles?
Will you discuss this verdict with loved ones over the holidays?
Please think critically about the work needed in your community to ensure we don’t have more Kyles rising up.
We are long past the point of awareness, we need action and we need it now. What’s your plan?
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