The death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, father of six, Eric Garner in Staten Island and Tanesha Anderson in Cleveland, Ohio demonstrates the continued devaluing of black lives in the United States. Brown, Garner and Anderson, like so many others, died at the hands of a system that historically has proven it does not protect the marginalized, including people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, veterans and the poor. The grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson, Daniel Pantaleo and Justin Damico also shows us how the system allows for injustice to prevail.
As an activist, I have witnessed people who want to support a movement that does not directly affect them, struggle to "find their place" because they don't know where to begin. Some may think putting their hands in the air and chanting "Hands up, don't shoot!" does due diligence, while others may think putting their "hoodies up" and holding up a poster sign suffices, but participating in a movement of this magnitude where a group of people's livelihood is at stake, needs to go beyond the aesthetics of protesting. It is appreciated because it is quintessential, but there needs to be a conscientious effort on behalf of all people, especially white people, to create systemic change, and this is where the collegiate community can begin to play a role.
These critical moments offer us an opportunity to consider how silence within privileged communities, such as the ones at PWIs (Predominately White Institutions), perpetuates the systemic violence we see in our world. These institutions of intelligence and prestige, are uniquely positioned to speak up about the dangerous problems of extrajudicial killings and mistreatment of marginalized individuals. I offer below a few first steps that can be taken to create a more just society:
1. Understand and recognize your privilege and the history of why it exists. Peggy Mcintosh's essay "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" is a great start, as it speaks to the privileges that are "arbitrarily-awarded" and what to do with them. Privilege is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you use it for leverage in a society that needs a positive change.
2. Listen to those who are marginalized and be open to criticism, while being an ally. Allyship exemplifies how people who are arbitrarily privileged, work adamantly to align themselves with an issue, or people impacted by an issue to create meaningful, and deliberate change. In order to be an ally, one must listen to the voices of those who are marginalized with an open mind, in addition to understanding their own privileges and sharing what they have learned with others. In the case of Ferguson, an example of an ally would serve as someone who understands and continuously advocates to dismantle the power struggle seen between the systems that are currently in place and how those systems work to oppress marginalized individuals.
3. Speak about these injustices in class, in discussions and forums, and to your family and friends. The holiday season provides ample time to provide analysis of our justice system and how it impacts the most marginalized within our society. This also gives you the opportunity to be an ally in your own space.
4. Stand Your Ground, structural violence, education disparities, economic inequalities, and homelessness all exist here in your community, and there is something you can do. Contact your elected officials, volunteer at local schools, help with job skills trainings, host voter registration drives outside of your university's community; there's plenty to do. Learn from the injustices we have seen in Missouri, New York, Florida, Ohio, Michigan and California, and find out how to make your city a more just place. If you need places to start, look at organizations like BYP100, Dream Defenders, Ohio Student Association, and Million Hoodies for more on how you can become involved.
The Irish political philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke's timeless words still stand true: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." The collegiate community historically and naturally leads and serves, but we must first work towards being morally supportive to those who are at the brink of survival and continue to educate others on what we have learned in order to create change. Change will come, but it is critical to understand that every person has a role to play. Showing up and showing interest is important, but staying engaged and committed is what matters most. So I ask you, will you do something and be proactive, or will you stand idly by? America is counting on you. Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tanesha Anderson are counting on you.