We’re Not Helpless

It’s been one of those 48-hour spans when you know, should you have the good fortune to live to old age, you will be telling young people, “No, it really was that bad.”

In these moments, I think we all inevitably spend a lot of time on social media–even if you make a deliberate choice to step away from the screen, there’s a good chance you’ll be back sooner than you thought. That happened to me yesterday; I signed off twice before I actually signed off.

Weirdly, I spent more time on Facebook than I usually do. I’ve always kind of hated Facebook, but it occurred to me that I need to make shows of solidarity across the board, because my community on Facebook is not my community on Twitter.

There were a lot of the usual sorts of posts, as I’m sure there were on your feeds, readers. But there’s one genre of post in particular that’s been needling me. It’s not the pro-cops, anti-BLM false dichotomy posts; it’s not the the “this is what you do when you get stopped by the police, idiot” posts; it’s not the MLK quotes. Those always anger me.

This time, it was the “I feel so helpless” posts.

By white friends and former classmates and coworkers, mind you. If you’re black, yeah, I do not doubt helplessness is one in the tumult of emotions you feel every time something like this happens. But, if you’re black, I’ve never told you anything you don’t already know, nor would I pretend to.

But white friends, we are not helpless. And acting like you are is a fucking copout. It’s its own brand of convenience. Because if you’re helpless, you still don’t have to do a goddamn thing.

We’re not helpless, because even when we have nothing, we have privilege. We have power. Even if you never consciously use it, it still exists.

We’re not helpless, because every day we have the opportunity to decide how we’re going to engage with injustice. We have the chance to reaffirm to ourselves, “Today, I am going to do something, no matter how small it seems. Today, I am going to pay attention. Today, if I see something [racist], I’m going to say something. Today, I’m going to question and I am going to hold myself and others accountable. Today, I am going to act.”

When white people say they feel helpless, it might mean that we feel overwhelmed. Sure, this shit is overwhelming. I’m overwhelmed. I’m angry. I’m devastated. I’m horrified. But too often, when we say we feel helpless, we mean there’s no quick, easy thing we can do to fix the situation. We feel helpless because we can’t make it better in an instant and then go on with our days.

There’s been a lot about self-care. And you all know I think that self-care is important. But self-care for the white majority and self-care for the black minority are different. I’m not saying don’t turn off the screen or feed your kids or get a good night’s sleep. If things are going to get better, the people who want them to be better need to be functioning and present. But I cringe when people talk about getting everything back to normal.

Normality is systemic racism. Normality is the execution of black men and women by our law enforcement at our behest. Normality is our silence.

I think there’s a question during these times of, “when will what I have done be enough?” I know I feel tormented by that sometimes, because there’s always something I want to do that I can’t do, like go to a protest or make a bigger donation or actually get my goddamned representative on the phone. But that’s the thing: it isn’t enough. It won’t ever be enough. And making peace with that and choosing to engage in the struggle in spite of that, because of that–we have to do that. Otherwise, it’s too easy to say, “I’m helpless. I can’t do everything so I won’t do anything.”

I own the fact that I personally can’t fix it. But I am not helpless and I am not free of responsibility. I can work against white supremacy every day. Make it part of my normal. Because it’s part of the normal for a lot of people, people I care about and perfect strangers thousands of miles away. And they never got a choice in the matter.

29 Stupid Things White People Do and What We Can Do Instead

11 Things White People Can Do to Be Real Anti-Racist Allies

10 Simple Ways White People Can Step Up to Fight Everyday Racism

9 easy things white people can do online to challenge racism

Six ways white people can help end the War on Black People

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