I had been laying on the cold ground for thirty minutes. My body was shivering. What heat was left within me was taken by the concrete. Even though there was a mass of people on the ground, all I could see was the clear sky above me. There were no clouds, no birds and no sounds to distract me. I was in a sea of bodies, yet I was isolated with my own coldness and thoughts. All I could think of is that my body will never lay like this unwillingly.
I was laying on the ground by choice. My body was cold, because I made it cold. I willingly gave up my heat, so that the imprint of my body could show solidarity. I could get up and walk away to warmth at any moment. My life is not threatened by police brutality, yet there I was laying as if I had died in the middle of my walk to class.
I recognize that I hold privilege in this movement. I have the privilege of experiencing only the loss of heat on concrete floors. My voice is not silenced because of my race. My livelihood is not at stake if change does not occur. My parents do not to have worry if my body will return with bullet wounds. My community does not have to march and stop traffic to be heard, because whiteness shields their children from their own crimes. All of this means that I cannot join the movement as yet another protester. There is a line I cannot cross.
I went from protest to protest in an attempt to stay on the correct side of the line. I held my hands up, carried signs and laid on the ground. I let my body take up space to make the picture a little wider and to block a few more people from comfortably passing by. But, I did it all silently. The most important thing I did was listen. I listened to the directions that were given to me by the people whose lives depend on this movement. I listened to what they wanted me to do in order to show solidarity. I joined spaces where I was meant to and left circles that were designated for the healing of others. During those moments of protest, I learned important lessons about where white folks should be in the midst of it all.
Do not think that I learned what are the appropriate actions of solidarity for all white folks. It is not up to me to decide. The very people you wish to support are the ones who hold the answer. But, I can tell you that white folks should not be at the forefront of this movement. There are certain things each white person should confront and challenge. These are the transferable lessons I learned.
I learned that you should focus on the ways you are affected by police brutality. Understand that racism is a double edged sword. As it cuts deep into the lives of Black people, it cuts more white supremacy into the fabric of our society. Even though you may be joining protests, you are still granted more privilege and safety by the outcome of police brutality. Understand what you are tragically given from the lives taken of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and many others. Know that. Then, really challenge it.
I learned that you do not lead. You do not speak unless asked to. You do not take the microphone to yell that #AllLivesMatter. You do not cry. Not because your emotions do not matter, but because your tears have been too frequently wiped and caressed while others were ignored. Now (as it always should be) is the time for Black people to fully express their humanity.
But before you do anything, stop. Confront yourself. Question why you are joining these movements. The movement for change is not just about defending the notion that Black Lives Matter. It is also about supporting the idea that White Lives should not matter as much as they do. That white lives should not trump others. That white lives should not be given privilege. That white lives should not be exempt, advanced, comforted, believed, and prized more than others. It is much easier to believe that Black lives should matter, but it is more difficult to believe in giving back the privilege and protection you did not earn. A new system cannot achieve one without the other. Once you understand that you must fight for both, then you should march and lay and protest. If you do not understand that, then what are you protesting for?