Last Wednesday, a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict 29-year-old Daniel Pantaleo, the White New York City cop who applied an illegal “chokehold maneuver” to Eric Garner’s chest and neck causing his death on July 17th. Immediately following the grand jury’s decision, well-meaning Whites took to Twitter to show an “act of solidarity” using the hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite. A simple Google search of the term yields stories from New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and USA Today. But, doing the same for #BlackLivesMatter – a hashtag started by Black activists – yields strikingly different results. So, what does it say about solidarity when the rallying cry of this generation’s Selma gets less traction on social media and in the mainstream than White privilege confessions?
The #CrimingWhileWhite hashtag can best be understood as Whites noting and “confessing” their privilege, drawing on differences between themselves and murdered Black men like Eric Garner and Michael Brown, but not actually doing anything about it. It isn’t an understanding of the issues facing the Black community and police violence so much as it is a platform for concerned Whites to air their own grievances with White Privilege – the very privilege which many willingly benefit from rather than seek to dismantle. Sadly, the hysteria and self-aggrandizement of White people’s understanding of racism in the United States resulted in the hashtag being the highest trending topic in the United States outpacing those used and promoted by Black Americans seeking justice for the unanswered brutality against their communities. Media outlets equated the hashtag’s importance with those created within Black communities, once again undermining Black folks’ efforts to empower and amplify one another. It seems even within this “act of solidarity” White Privilege squelches the advancement of Black voices.
This, among other things, is why I am not here for pseudo-movements like #CrimingWhileWhite. It isn’t that I struggle to see this effort as solidaritous. I know what White solidarity looks like. This is the exact embodiment of disjunctive, White-centered, undermining solidarity. The real reason I am not here for this is simply that it reinforces a status quo I seek to dismantle.
Yes, we all know that White people have privilege. “Confessing” that a cop let you spit in his face, curse at him, and kick his car before he gave you a warning and a ride home is neither surprising nor destructive of systemic racism. What hashtags like #CrimingWhileWhite do is present a microcosm of today’s system of racial oppression. The cycle is perpetual: Something bad happens to people of color at the hands of Whites. Whites then excuse the Whites who committed the crime. People of color say, “Hey, we matter too.” Then, in response, Whites say, “Oh yes. We know. See, here are all the ways we can tell that we benefit from you not mattering. See, we understand.” Media buys in and gives Whites a pat on the back for effort. Meanwhile, folks of color are made to look unappreciative if they don’t bow graciously to Whites who never truly stood with them in the first place.
This is not solidarity. This is watered down, lukewarm activism which gets us nowhere fast. It doesn’t dismantle the system of White Privilege. It bolsters it. It trots it out in public where it can flourish in the light of day. There are actual ways to stand in solidarity in times like these. A simple act of solidarity would have been mass support for the multiple and wide-ranging “Black Lives Matter” campaigns emerging around the globe. Or, perhaps, rebuking the benefits of White Privilege on a daily basis. That too would do more than this hashtag.
Instead, #CrimingWhileWhite reinforces the notion that social justice and self-betterment efforts will only get buy-in from White people when they are led by other White people. This mentality is why “rappers” like Macklemore get Grammy’s that should go to Black rappers then say things like, “You got robbed” to those who earned the accolades. It is the pathology that actor Mark Wahlberg seeks to exploit by asking Massachusett’s Advisory Board of Pardons to excuse him for the violent beating of two Vietnamese men when he was 17 so that he can expand his burger business. It is exactly what protected Daniel Panteleo from indictment in the killing of Eric Garner. It’s what protected George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin. This mentality is responsible for the injustices against Aiyana Jones, John Crawford, Darrien Hunt, Michael Brown, and far too many others. It is the deep-seated, malevolence of “in-ness versus out-ness” that continues to divide Americans along racial lines even in social justice movements.
For me, I can’t involve myself in any efforts to rob Black people or other marginalized groups of their dignity, justice, or rights. I won’t be complicit in the crimes against us. Nor, will I praise White people when they acknowledge they committed – and will never have to live with – the crimes in the first place.
It was Malcolm X who said, “You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you’re making progress … No matter how much respect, no matter how much recognition, whites show towards me, as far as I am concerned, as long as it is not shown to everyone of our people in this country, it doesn’t exist for me.” I couldn’t agree more.