By Ben Cartwright | Back Out With Benny
As I began to write this column on Tuesday, I saw the news on social media of yet another person shot by a police officer. Every time this happens (and it happens more than we even know), my heart sinks. And this time, the shooting was very close to home in El Cajon, California, just a 10-minute drive east of San Diego.
Ironically, my original plan for this column was to write about racial justice and delve into why I, as a white person, should start working together with other white folks to make changes within the racist system we live in and benefit from.
I recently read a blog post on awesomelyluvvie.com, titled, “9 Things White People Can Do To Fight Racism Now,” that really hit home.
“White people, I’m talking to you. THIS. IS. YOUR. PROBLEM. TO. FIX. Y’all got some work to do, because this system that y’all keep on privileging from, you’ve got to help us dismantle it. Because those of us who are Black and Brown. We have tried. You created this robot and it is yours to deactivate. My skinfolk don’t have the passcode. This is your monster to slay.”
That statement really woke me up.
(Interesting side note: My personal laptop was out of service this week so I wrote this column on a public computer terminal and when I tried to open the blog post again to reference it, the browser had blocked it for “questionable content.”)
I’ve done my best to be an ally to the racial justice movement for a long time, but reading that statement really made me think about how exhausted my friends of color are. They are exhausted from living in this system everyday, having to explain themselves, having to pretend like they are amused by “innocent” racist jokes and having to be the ones bearing the weight of the fight against the system we live in.
Enough is enough. As the blog post said, we white people created this problem and we are the only ones who can fix it.
When the news of the El Cajon shooting came through and it was reported that yet another black man had been shot, of course I began to see a slew of white folks on social media post the usual.
“Well let’s not jump to conclusions until we see more information. There’s more that we must not know,” or “Just follow the police’s orders and you won’t get shot.”
To the people who make those kinds of statements, enough is enough.
How much more information do they need? We know that black and brown people are being killed every single day on the streets of the United States of America and there is something wrong with that. Sure, there might be more to the police report than we know at the time, but to me, that doesn’t matter.
What matters to me is the excessive use of force against people of color that happens every day at much greater rates than it does to us white people. And it’s so easy for a white person to say those words above because it’s very unlikely a white person will be shot at anyway. It’s just not that easy for people of color in America.
And this isn’t just about police.
I have great respect for our police and am proud to have worked closely with police for years to ensure that they are sensitive to our LGBTQ communities. But police are human, too, and are a part of the racist system we all live in.
I often hear from white friends, “What do you mean the racist system we live in? There are legal protections for people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds! Stop making this about color, Benny, I don’t see color!”
The problem is that many white people don’t know what racism looks like.
It doesn’t have to show its ugly head only in the form of people using derogatory words, or very open displays, like burning a cross, or the white sheets of the KKK. Racism is built into the systems we live in, whether there are laws that say it’s OK or not. It is built into our psyches and ignoring it and saying things like “I don’t see color” is a huge part of the problem.
Recently I walked into a local store that had one of those signs at the entrance that read, “Leave all bags and backpacks at front counter.” I carry a “man purse” with me just about everywhere and do not like having it out of my sight and am not a fan of stores that have those rules. I felt like being a “rebel” that day and walked into the store carrying my bag. At least three employees approached me to ask if I needed assistance and after I finished shopping and was waiting in line to check-out, a very friendly, smiling manager approached me to say, “You know, we normally don’t allow customers to carry their bags in the store, but you don’t look like someone we have to worry about. Next time, if you get the chance, check it in. Thanks for shopping!”
While this is a very simplistic example, it shows how I as a white person benefitted from a system — an unspoken system — that teaches us to fear people of color. I am almost certain that if my skin had not been white, I would have been (rudely) approached and told to take my bag to the counter at once or leave.
I’ve learned to acknowledge the privilege my skin color gives me, but simply recognizing our privilege and going on with our lives is not enough.
Fellow white people, we must work together to support our black and brown friends and loved ones. We must speak up every chance we get and continue to call out other white folks when they make racist jokes, comments, decisions, or actions.
A white friend recently told me that I was being aggressive when we were conversing about racial justice issues. Now, my tone was exactly the same as it was when we speak about LGBTQ issues, or the presidential election, or a hundred other issues, but because it was a topic that made them uncomfortable, I was called aggressive. This friend then told me that I shouldn’t speak so openly about racial justice because it might embarrass someone who just needs to learn.
As I said in a recent Facebook post: “I’m much more worried about helping our black and brown friends who are dying every day and than I am about making a white person feel a little uncomfortable.”
Why am I writing about this topic in an LGBT publication, in a column that usually focuses on LGBT issues?
Because this is an LGBT issue.
People of color are a part of our community and we can’t say we believe in equality unless we believe in full equality for everyone. We don’t do social justice work in silos. We all need to work together to make this world a better place.
Thanks for listening — now let’s take action.
Getting Out With Benny
San Diego’s favorite gay nightclub, Rich’s San Diego in Hillcrest, turns 25 this weekend! The club will celebrate its 25th anniversary all weekend long with three amazing parties. The main event is on Saturday, Oct. 1, with a live performance by Christina Milian. More information and tickets at richssandiego.com.
—Benny Cartwright is the director of community outreach at the San Diego LGBT Community Center. He can be reached at 619-692-2077 ext. 106 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: Byline photo by Rob Lucas Modern Aperture Photography.