White People Are Crowding the Conversation Around Race
There’s a fine line between being an ally and making a movement all about yourself
It was heartening, early on, to see the white people supporting the Black Lives Matter protests. As demonstrations rolled through the country this summer after the killing of George Floyd, we saw the movement garnering an unprecedented level of support from white Americans. It felt like a watershed moment — one that might see anti-racist allies help propel the movement closer to justice.
Now, after witnessing some of the ways that white people have hurt or diminished BLM, I’m not so sure my optimism about white participation in the movement was well-founded. Over the past few months, white people — some knowingly, some not, some well-meaning, many not — have recentered protests over police brutality and anti-racist efforts onto themselves.
The national conversation on police violence and systemic racism has been hijacked by the violence perpetrated by white people at protests. Multiple videos of white protesters damaging property went viral in the first weeks of the demonstrations — a stunning display of ignorance and privilege, considering it is not white people who are disproportionately arrested and beaten by police.
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And in recent weeks, violence — outside of police brutality — has turned deadly. Seventeen-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot and killed two protesters in Wisconsin, and 48-year-old Michael Forest Reinoehl, who killed a man during a Portland protest. Both men, both white, said they acted in self-defense. Rittenhouse, who was part of a right-wing militia, was arrested and has become a conservative media darling. Reinoehl was later killed by police, who said he was brandishing a gun. (A witness says he was unarmed.)