I want to believe that the White people standing alongside their Black brothers and sisters in the Black Lives Matter protests are all there for the right reasons – to fight for justice, to change the system, to finally rid society of the scourge of racism.
I believe for the vast majority, that is the case.
I am also enough of a cynic, enough of a student of human nature, to know that there are some with other motives, whether they are willing to admit it or not (in most cases, not).
There are Whites who are there for the adventure of it, the sense of rebellion, the action, or perhaps their own misplaced anger at the police or life in general that has nothing to do with racial justice.
They’d secretly kind of enjoy it if the protests turned violent, to give them an excuse to get out some pent-up aggression; or because damn, wouldn’t that be a great story to tell?
They hurl bottles and curse words, but when things get really real, they disappear, leaving others to stand against police forces they’d incited.
Then there are those who are there for a kumbaya, warm and fuzzy summer camp experience. They may care about the Black community, but only if it’s fun and soothing.
They want to flash peace signs and put daisies in the barrels of rifles, and hopefully, if they are lucky, their photo will go viral.
Whatever their motives, these folks are more interested in being a part of the Zeitgeist, in having a cool story to share on Instagram or to tell their grandchildren someday – “I was there” – as though without them racial justice would never have been achieved. (Because I have to believe it will.)
It brings to mind the civilian spectators at the first major battle of the Civil War at Bull Run near Washington D.C.
Wealthy Washingtonians donned their finest picnicking attire, propped their parasols above their heads to guard their delicate skin against the hot sun, and prepared for some exciting afternoon entertainment.
When the battle began to rage with blood, gore, and death – as war is apt to bring – they were shocked and dismayed. And as the battle inched its way in their direction, they fled in fear. Turns out, war isn’t as romantic as they’d imagined.
Changing society is hard, dirty, dangerous work. It’s not a game.
This isn’t a rebellious toilet papering of the school principal’s house.
Nor is it an opportunity to show off your latest guitar composition about peace and love for all.
In revolutions, people get hurt, they are imprisoned, they die.
Think the French Revolution, or the Boston Tea Party.
Think Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, and even the ever-peaceful Mahatma Gandhi, who died at the age of 78 by an assassin’s gunshots during a hunger strike for peace.
And of course, there is Martin Luther King, Jr.
And Jesus Christ.
There is risk inherent in changing a society.
Every revolution involves danger, injury, and possibly death.
I recently heard of complaints by people at a protest in rural Idaho that they didn’t feel at peace or were uncomfortable with the presence of the state’s (mostly White male) armed militia.
This was a small rural protest made up predominantly of White people in the militia hotbed of America. I’m certain that most of the protestors where there for the right reasons. And yet…
Ever since I heard about these complaints by protestors, who were, based on my knowledge of the demographics of the area, probably White, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
It took me a while to put my finger on why it bothered me so much, especially since it probably would have made me uncomfortable as well, standing there in such close proximity to all those weapons, with emotions running high.
Then it came to me…
It’s about time White people felt uncomfortable.
The only thing a White man fears when he sees flashing lights in his rearview mirror is the cost of his car insurance going up.
White people didn’t grow up watching their grandparents’ generation being blown off their feet by firehoses and attacked by police dogs on the black and white newsreels.
I understand why a Black person anywhere in this country would be uncomfortable with firearms. They’ve had a very different experience.
And that’s the thing. That’s what gets me…
I can think of no greater example of White privilege than a White person showing up to a Black Lives Matter protest and complaining because they are uncomfortable.
Like the revelers at Bull Run, they came for the party, not the revolution. They wanted to be a part of the drama, not real change.
Through these protests many White people are stunned by their first real glimpse of what it might feel like to be Black on any ordinary day.
In order to grow, as individuals and as a society, we must step outside our comfort zone.
We must admit that the scary and unsettled feeling we have about the Black Lives Matter protests is how Black people feel every day of their lives.
Black people aren’t shocked by the presence of White men with guns. They’ve been dealing with this for generations.
Black people show up to protest with the assumption that they may get arrested, may get tear gassed, may be beaten with a baton, shot with rubber bullets, or worse.
The world has never changed without brave people taking risks.
Any act of violence, perpetrated by anyone on either side of any debate, is always wrong and counterproductive.
Absolutely, it would be ideal if all protests could be peaceful, an exhilarating expression of grievances that led to positive change.
I pray we can reach this place in our democracy. But the reality is, we are not there yet. Not all protests end with government officials taking a knee or both sides joining elbows and peacefully finding a resolution.
Before protesting, Whites need to check their motives.
If you can’t deal with a little personal discomfort for the sake of the cause, stay home.
If the sight of armed guards is too much for you, stay home.
If you’re not ready to take a rubber bullet to the face, stay home.
If you’re there for adventure, stay home.
If you’re there to process some of your own personal issues with authority or the cruel, cruel world, stay home.
If you’re there to sing kumbaya, stay home.
If you’re there because it’s cool and trendy and you want pictures to post on social media, stay home.
If you’re there for any reason other than to better humanity, stay home.
This is a revolution, not a garden party.
Copyright © 2020 Sara Beth Wald