I recently saw an interview on NBC with a young, white man. This was in Minneapolis on the day the Derek Chauvin verdict was announced, April 20, 2021. The young man said something like ‘I Googled: how can a white man help Black Lives Matter?’
I’ve had a number of thoughts about that. I appreciated that he wanted to help. And at the same time saw this as a continued disconnect between white people, and black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC).
During the struggles of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s there was a lot of attention to “integration”. To make it possible for black children to attend what had been white schools. For BIPOC people to be able to shop and eat in what had been white businesses. To drink from water fountains, use restrooms! To use public transportation. And participate in electoral politics.
Martin Luther King, Jr, said, “Injustice anywhere Is injustice everywhere.”
That is highlighted today as the assault on voting rights has spread from the disfranchisement of BIPOC people, to white people, as well.
Although BIPOC children have been attending what had been white schools, and the other examples above have seen some integration, in many ways communities have self-segregated. So it’s not surprising the young, white man above didn’t know how to help with racial injustice today.
There isn’t a simple answer for white people to the question “how can I help”? I’ve written a great deal about my experiences, as a white male, becoming involved with the Kheprw Institute in Indianapolis. A BIPOC youth mentoring and empowerment community. Kheprw | Search Results | Quakers, social justice and revolution (jeffkisling.com)
Here are a few general guidelines from my experiences. Perhaps the biggest initial concept is this is not about “you”, as a white person. It is not easy for white people to begin to engage with BIPOC people. It takes persistence in showing up to allow the gradual development of a little trust to begin.
Hurtful things will happen. As you learn, you will make mistakes. Say or do things offensive to those you want to help. See and hear negative things about white people in general. And perhaps you in particular. Some of these things will surprise you. But if you persist, you will learn. It is important to listen deeply. And not say much until you are invited to do so. When that happens, speak from your own experiences. It is by sharing our stories with each other that we begin to know each other. Don’t talk about things you have read, or workshops you’ve participated in.
“Nothing about us without us” is very important to keep in mind.
“Nothing About Us Without Us!” is a slogan used to communicate the idea that no policy should be decided by any representative without the full and direct participation of members of the group(s) affected by that policy. This involves national, ethnic, disability-based, or other groups that are often thought to be marginalized from political, social, and economic opportunities.Nothing About Us Without Us
Four years ago I moved to Iowa from Indianapolis, where I spent my whole adult life. It was sad to leave the many friends I had made over the years there. The friendships remain despite the distance.
Most recently a number of us were working to protect the water from the Dakota Access pipeline. Although that pipeline was not built in Indiana, there were offices of banks that funded it in Indianapolis. We worked to educate people about the dangers of the pipeline. And had several actions related to the banks, asking them to defund their contributions to fossil fuel projects. Dakota Access pipeline Search Results | Quakers, social justice and revolution (jeffkisling.com)
When I moved to Iowa, I sought opportunities to build similar relationships. And have been truly blessed to be finding them. As I had begun to learn in Indianapolis, and continued to learn in Iowa, it is essential for Indigenous peoples to lead this work.
The reason I’m writing about “how can I help?” today relates to several groups, mainly Quakers, who are asking that question in relation to BIPOC concerns and work. While I’ve been learning a lot about, and participating in some of the work of BIPOC friends, I hadn’t asked them that question.
I’ve found ways to participate in their work, which are answers to “how can I help?” I was invited to the Meskwaki powwow, and did attend with my Dad. Being aware of cultural appropriation, I asked ahead of time if I could take photos. And was told I could, and asked to share them with the powwow organizers, which I did.
I attended the National Network Assembly that some of my Indigenous friends helped organize. I attended all the public Zoom events of theirs that I could. And public events like Indigenous People’s Day, calling for the removal of racist monuments, and events to bring awareness to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives.
But I hadn’t really asked my BIPOC friends what others, like white Quakers, could do to help. So I did.
One thing is to continue to work in Mutual Aid communities, like I do with Des Moines Mutual Aid. But to also develop Mutual Aid communities where we are. At Bear Creek Friends meeting we have been talking about these ideas. Des Moines Valley Friends are letting Mutua Aid groups use their kitchen to make meals for the houseless.
The second thing was to help with efforts to return the lands stolen from Native Americans. A story I heard related to a native person commenting on land acknowledgements. Who said, now that you recognize you are on Indigenous land, what next?
So #LANDBACK is what I will be learning (and writing) more about now.