The Five Things I need from White People Right Now

Another day, another unarmed black man dead. Terence Crutcher’s SUV stalled as he was coming back from community college classes. He was studying music appreciation and was very active in his church choir. Seeing his picture reminds me of any number of big dudes I know who can sing their lungs out. From his view in a helicopter, a Tulsa police officer thought he looked like a bad dude. Instead of trying to help the man with the stalled car, two officers made him put his hands up as he approached them for help. As he reached into his SUV, probably to grab some form of identification, which again, should not have been necessary because he was the one in distress, he was tased and then shot. He was unarmed. He was the father of four.

I feel like ranting and raving about how angry and scared this makes me feel is redundant. We have a major policing issue in this country. That the fraternal order of police and several major police unions have endorsed Donald Trump highlights that issue. I could certainly go on and on about that here. Instead, what I want to do is highlight what I need, and what I think many black people need from our white friends and colleagues in light of yet another tragedy. This isn’t an exhaustive list and it is coming from my limited perspective, so I’ll make it personal: this is what I need:

  1. Don’t Silence Us: During the opening week of the NFL, former mediocre quarterback who has handed a super bowl ring by an elite defense Trent Dilfer said that San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick should stick to playing football instead of making political statements. Essentially he was saying, sit down and shut up. There are so many ways to silence people. You can tell them that their experience isn’t relevant. You can make light of someone else’s experience of oppression by telling them “that’s not so bad”. You can ask to see their credentials. You can insist that people stay in their lane. White friends, don’t be former mediocre quarterback Trent Dilfer. Silencing black voices is the height of privilege.
  2. Confession: The fact that I have used the general term “white people” will turn off some from the door. “I’m not like them!” “Why do you lump us all in the group?!” “I’m trying to help!” It’s true that no one likes generalizations. My generalizations may hurt your feelings. The generalization of white cops leave dead black bodies on the ground. You need to decide if your hurt feelings are more important than black lives. The confession I need to see is the understanding that you are a part of a system of whiteness that devalues black bodies. Confess that you are privileged in this way without qualification. I don’t want to hear “yeah, but I didn’t come from money”. Poor white people get stunned with bean bags and talked down. Poor black people get killed. Middle class black people get killed. You have to confess this shit. You have to or I can’t take you seriously.
  3. Use your privilege for good: most of my white friends have a pulpit. Like… a literal pulpit. I have too many pastor friends. The ones that don’t have pulpits have blogs. They have social media. They have platforms in which they can speak out about what is happening in the world. Yesterday, I listened to two friends’ sermons. Both give me credit, more than I deserve methinks, for helping them to think through issues of race. My friend Peter’s sermon is here. My friend Todd’s sermon is here. Both literally used their pulpits to own their privilege, confess their sins, and wrestle with what it means for them to move forward in a way that honors the value of all. I am humbled and honored to know such men and I know that I have more friends like this. As a white person, you have access to places that I don’t have and your voice will likely be heard in a way that mine will not. Please, use that for good.
  4. Amplify black voices: Okay, this might seem contradictory to what I just said, but it’s not. When you have the space afforded to you by a pulpit or even your own social media, use that space to lift up the voices of the oppressed community. Yes, it is self serving for me as a black blogger to ask you to amplify the voices of black people. I own that. Still, I’m not wrong. Again, the issue here is access. There are some places that my words will not penetrate because I don’t have access to them. White people have the ability to carry black voices into spaces where they may not usually be heard. Please do that!
  5. Transfer resources: Look, words matter. I wouldn’t write if I thought that words were impotent. But ultimately what black communities need are your time, talent, and treasure. (yes, I just dropped a stewardship cliche in here. Sorry!) Jason Chesnut and Ben Jancewicz are two white friends that I love and respect. You can (and should) follow them on twitter (@crazypastor and @benjancewicz) respectively. They don’t just give voice to their support of black lives. They use their considerable talent and limited time to invest in the communities that they care about. They show up for rallies and protests. They make art about the lives of people they know. They are invested. Last week I was a discussion where the topic of reparations came up. I don’t think reparations would solve everything nor do I think that black people are served by seeking the same soul corrupting materialism that is on display by the dominant culture. But I do believe that material investment in communities of color is an important part of seeing justice done. Your heart is where your treasure is. Someone famous said that.

This is not an exhaustive list, but I am exhausted. I’m tired of having to write things like this. I have so many other things on my heart and mind these days, but every time something like this happens, I feel the need to say something, anything that might make a difference in a world where black people are being slaughtered. These are the things I need from you, white friends. I don’t think I’m alone and maybe your other black friends don’t have the energy to say these things to you. I hope that you can hear me…


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50 thoughts on “The Five Things I need from White People Right Now

  1. You know how you have like five children and you love them all equally from Strong Mary to Tiny Joe and all the ones in between that just kinda appeared during your marriage and now you’re all done and some stranger comes up to you and says “Your children are all so beautiful; which one is your favorite?” and you stand there, stumped and appalled and even a little embarrassed because OF COURSE you love all your children equally and do not favor any of them–but then you secretly realize that Truthful Luke is the whipped cream to your double-mocha-with-sprinkles, so you have always wanted him to really get the most and best of everything?

    Well, that’s like this essay and #3, “Use your privilege for good”

    Because that is what I see as the push-point for me. The other stuff is all good–all children are loved–and all the things in this list are, I think, doable by me without too much accommodation—I can change some behaviors without seriously inconveniencing myself—but that point is the one that says to me “This is what you can do, right now. And it is the riskiest and the costliest for you, right now.”

    Thanks for speaking out “using your words.” I am sorry to admit that I don’t listen all that well, but I’m listening a bit better.

    As someone who has attempted to follow the discipleship path of Jesus, I am always encouraged by the words of my brothers and sisters as they share their own faith journey and as they help me understand, a little more each time, what it means to embrace the exemplary life of Jesus. Thank you for your voice and your light and your journey.

  2. I own my white privilege and don’t have a blog. Is reposting your post on my FB page and following the people you suggested on Twitter enough? It doesn’t feel like enough.

    1. If you know of any black-owned businesses(such as restaurants, mom-and-pop convenience stores, etc.) near enough to you, supporting them could be a way of fulfilling #5.

  3. Reblogged this on 'Nathan Burgoine and commented:

    I talk a lot about what it’s like to live a queer life. Everything I talk about, I try very hard to point out that as a white guy, I walk with a crap-tonne of privilege. I’ve had to interact with police twice in my life. Once, it went very, very poorly. Once, it was fantastic. And while I have felt belittled, ignored, the butt of jokes–in short, treated like a ‘fag’–by the police, I have never felt like my life was in danger for simply being present.

    That is privilege. It shouldn’t be.

  4. Thanks Derrick for this post. I understand all too well feeling the need to respond each time an AA is gunned down in the streets of America like branded cattle for the slaughter. The constant killings have severly wounded a people and shamed a nation! It is OVERWHELMING!!! For the time being, I am finding rest in the Lord, knowing that the healing of all our wounds is coming soon; not only healing, but judgment on the oppressors and RESTITUTION!!! Understanding that oppressors throughout the bible never willingly of themselves ever turned from their wickedness and oppression except by the judgment hand of the LORD, of whom all of our HELP cometh from.

    ~Steadfast & Unmovable
    In His Name

  5. I need help understanding number two. I can get behind everything else, however I am turned off by the generalizations and truthfully whether or not it hurts my feelings is irrelevant. I can see that white privilege exists. What exactly do you want me to confess? The questions you brought up in the beginning of your statement are exactly how I feel. I am appalled by what is happening and the lack of justice. Outraged may be a better word, however the broad generalizations you are making seem counterproductive. I don’t think I am a racist. I do my best to treat all people the same. What should I confess too? Help me to understand your perspective.

    1. Paul “I am a racist” is not the same as “I benefit from racist structures”. Acknowledging that white privilege exists is a start. The next step is acknowledging that you benefit from white privilege as I have to confess that I benefit from systems of male privilege. That’s really all I’m looking for. When women make generalizations about men, it doesn’t help the situation for me to say I am a “good man”. I have to identify the ways that I benefit from systems that oppress women. Make sense?

      1. I acknowledge that white privilege exists, and as its name implies (since I am indeed white) I have benefited from it. I have not been beaten by police, or (other than a few traffic stops) have I had much interaction with them. I have never seen any real difference in a black man’s ability to get a job similar to mine, but accept that the statistics show a different story. I think for most people like me it is hard to believe my own eyes when I see what has been happening. I don’t know a single person of any label (white, black, gay, straight, republican, democrat, etc.) who thinks police killing people is ok. Yet here we are again. I do think meaningful dialogue is a start, though and I thank you for it.

        Where is the problem with our police? Is it training? Why is our justice system so bias? Why would a cop (or anyone for that matter) just kill someone like that? It makes no sense to me but clearly we have a problem.

        I think that admitting that we have a problem scares some people because it implies complacency. Complacency implies we own a share of the guilt in these crimes. Its the same with slavery and ignorant racism, as a white guy I feel like I own a share of the guilt in the actions of others of my race. What happened generations ago is completely out of my control. So are the actions of the police and the racist ignorant things I hear from the mouths of some of people still today. I feel guilty for them and would like to right the wrongs, but I don’t know how. That is the average white guy that I know.

      2. I genuinely appreciate the dialogue, Paul!
        I think we have to acknowledge that in certain communities, like many that I see in Baltimore, policing isn’t about protecting and serving all people. It is about protecting those with resources and controlling those without. I think training is a huge part of the conversation. I think taking equipment that was designed for war zones out of the hands of the police is another factor.

        It’s easy to feel powerless, but I think speaking up against the traditional narratives of white supremacy is a huge thing and it has to happen between white people of good will. There’s a lot of conversations that need to happen within the dominant culture and that’s where I feel helpless. All I can do is try to influence my friends to have these conversations in circles where I don’t have access.

      3. I am in Ohio, and one of the problems I see is the de-humanization of the people the police are supposed to “serve and protect” that seems inherent in the job. I have a few police friends, and when they start “talking shop”, I have felt the need to speak up to them and remind them that these are people that they are referring to, with families and lives just like us. I think, because they see so much bad, that they forget that the vast majority of people are good and just want to take care of their families and be happy. I don’t have a real solution to this, just an observation. However, I agree that we need to disarm the police to an extent. I think the crazy weaponry and the willingness to use it is a symptom of the above problem. They are willing to use these weapons and tactics because they no longer see the people as “people”, from the officer on the street all the way to the head of the department, criminals large and small as well as anyone who challenges their authority are the enemy, period.

    2. Paul,

      i read 2 to mean a couple things. 1 being dont go around saying all lives matter bc white people dont need help with civil rights. the focus is on getting equal civil rights for black and other minority or disenfranchised groups. 2 being the selfishness of feeling and acting defensive about being white or feeling targeted because of a phrase, means that person is putting their perceived need over that of the movement. its hard to focus on the needs of others is someone is preoccupied with their own made up perceived need. this may take actual experience in black communities and intentional training of one’s mind.

      to be clear im not directing these words at you but explaining what message Derrick was portraying in the blog to all of us, as I understood it.

    3. paul, i would say the problem is a variety.

      the black community has been disenfranchised a great deal and many are not afforded the basic opportunities whites have especially education and jobs. somehow this often leaves black communities with white teachers, police and other public service jobs. Especially the older generation of anyone who is not a millenial, grew up without this level of intellectual discussion on race and havent been taught ways to train your mind to change your thinking and probably havent spent any valuable time in black communities to develop different feelings and perspectives. if someones only significant experiences with the black community are negative or they just accept the national tone that most black people are insignificant or just didnt grow up with exposure to black communities and become scared bc they are different then every interaction you have will continue to develop that point of view. they will see successful black people as the exception. this mindset tends to pour out in a way that they think they need to protect themselves from black people. that mindset doesnt just stop one day. you have to intentionally train yourself to think differently and most prople dont have that capacity or awareness.

      while training of police is a bandaid but what we have today solution, my answer is to provide more experiences for white people to interact with black communities and teach them to train their mind to do whats right not whats natural.

      very similar to education where most peole and teachers look at a student causing trouble as a nuisance or stupid, but i see a student who we havent provided the right environment to, paid enough attention to his needs and that we have a responsibility to work harder with a counseling perspective rather than a punitive one. now that i write that it seems like the same problem we have with our justice system in terms of punishment instead of getting to the root of a persons issues and helling them, and obvious bias where white young men are getting off for rape.

  6. Amen.

    A 77 y.o. Caucasian woman, raised in the South whose relatives, while they treasured the black people they knew, are ultimately responsible for the attitude prevalent in the South.

  7. I found this post on twitter from a white friend, I’ve since seen four other white friends share it on FB. I linked to your words in a post on my site. A white friend asked on FB how to help when she meets up with bull headed white people and she has just a tiny voice. I said we’d learn together and that no voice is too small. I’ll keep trying.

    Thank you for daring to write this. I imagine it draws a lot of negativity too. I’ll be doing my part.

  8. I am a white woman and I see a HUGE difference in the way I am approached by police. I get “can I help you with something” vs “What is your business here, hands in the air.” I am poor I am white I have experienced racist cops not understanding why my Black step Grandpa was with me. That doesn’t mean I don’t have unwanted white privilege. I say unwanted because I want fairness to all. I ask every white person to stop , think, and stand against the MURDER of our Black brothers and Sisters. When we stand with you maybe the system will listen. Use your white privilege to stand against the system. Use your voice, use your physical body and stand on lines of Black Lives Matter. But do NOT think just because you don’t like white privilege that you are in fact not privileged. My heart and voice is with you.

  9. HI. My name is Delores Paulk. I am an elder at Summit Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. I am working on #4. I have a blog on wordpress also, a facebook page and I have written a book called “The Paulk Perspective: A whole new world of hope and understanding.” It is based on my experiences as a white woman who has been married to a black man for 36 years.

    It really is trying to get things he and I have been discussing for years into spaces where they might not usually be heard. It is being published by Helping Hands Press and due for release on Thursday, Sept. 29th. I am hoping that it truly will provide some understanding and help us move to a whole new level of truth and trust. Thank you.

  10. You have touched a very sad place in my heart. I grew up in NY with no black kids in my school. We were all very white, mostly Jewish Polish people and Catholic Italians. I was neither. I spent the first 2 years of college in Texas in the early 1960s before the college was integrated, that is the black kids could not stay in the school dorms. I didn’t “get” it. I didn’t understand why many white people were racist. I was one of the few white girls who had black friends. I still don’t get it.

    I cannot begin to understand how you must feel, but I am listening. You have opened a conversation in my head. Thanks for sharing yourself with us. I feel privileged to know you if only through your writing.

  11. Pretty good commentary. I agree with everything you wrote, with the notable exception that “you are a part of a system of whiteness that devalues black bodies”. In the context of your topic of law enforcement violence with blacks, it’s not whiteness that has devalued blacks, it’s the policies and actions by cops from every color of the rainbow that has. We deserve better from our law enforcement agencies and need more accountability. I wish Campaign Zero would get more traction.

    1. Just because of an officer is black doesn’t mean that they aren’t defending an oppressive system of whiteness. We have historically been a party to our own oppression for centuries. Law enforcement exists to protect the dominant culture and to control minority communities and sometimes the easiest way to do that is with cops who are willing to oppress their own kind.

  12. Derrick,
    I am an ally! I recognize my white privilege and use it every day in every way possible in order to stand up, speak out, act up on behalf of my 2 black sons and POC everywhere.
    These “united” States are a very dangerous place to be black, particularly if you are male. Racism, police brutality and just plain ignorance are rampant and are being propagated even more with Trump in the mainstream now. I fear for our reality if he becomes President. I see videos of black people who have been brainwashed by white, privileged society into believing that Trump has their best interests at heart and I want to shake them and show them how freaking WRONG they are!
    But they have been so isolated from others who understand the predicament of Black America that they are blind themselves and that is truly sad to see.
    Derrick…..and any folks whose skin is darker than mine (that covers quite a large segment of the population, just saying) ……
    I have been and will continue to be as vocal and visible as possible in order to create a better world for my children and my children’s children to come. It’s the least I can do.
    Peace will come. I am not going to rest until I either see it happen or pass from this world.

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