In a time of nation wide protests against racist police violence, RVA Magazine Managing Partner Landon Shroder urges white people to do the work, support Black protesters, and follow their lead in standing against a system of white supremacy.
When I worked in Iraq, I became familiar with the phenomenon known as the “fog of war.” The “fog” was an inability to properly understand events while they were happening around us. In the chaos of the moment, we became emotional, passionate, and zealous creatures — it was only after the fog lifted that we could assess the situation with clarity and purpose.
America is currently in the fog of war; one part of this is white people who are struggling to make sense of what is happening around them.
The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have reminded us (again) of the very worst forms of structural racism in America. And as white people, we must repeatedly acknowledge this to one another. Their deaths were overt, cold-blooded, and malign. Yet as white people who are bestowed with privilege and access by virtue of birth, we can never truly comprehend what this might be like. Each of our assumptions in this regard is well-intentioned at best, villainous at worst. All white people are beneficiaries of systems and structures that have allowed these deaths to continue — then, and now.
Our never-ending national neurosis originates from this unreconciled, morally bankrupt position, and a four-hundred-year history that is built on subjugation, oppression, and exploitation of Black communities. This is the hard truth that all white Americans must accept before we can move forward as a unified country with a common purpose.
There has never been a more opportune time for us as white people to do the work. The uprisings in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, Atlanta, and in 70 other towns and cities throughout America prove that there are people out there willing to take risks to advance the cause of human dignity and respect — even if the result looks imperfect on the street and on the news.
For white people who have been caught unawares by the anger, rage, and spontaneity, I will say this: There is no way for us to truly comprehend the emotional and generational trauma that comes from hundreds of years of state directed violence, political and economic exclusion, and social marginalization against Black communities in America.
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are only the most recent names, joining a centuries-long list of Black people who have been murdered with impunity in America.
Because of this, silence can no longer be an option. White silence and our deranged ability to explain away the deaths of Black people at the hands of police and vigilantes, our impotence in having awkward but necessary conversation about race, and our inability to even show a modicum of empathy towards communities that have been forever divorced from the core values we claim to cherish as Americans has put us on the collision course we are now experiencing.
The intensity of the past week and the feeling of desperation on streets throughout America should not feel misplaced when viewed through this lens. And because our lived experience does not give us the tools to fully grasp this reality as white people, we have to remain self-critical and intellectually vigilant so we can be better: better friends, better colleagues, better Americans, and better human beings.
Naturally, there will be those who read this and dismiss it straight away. That is emblematic of an America that will never change, lost to a culture war of their own making. But for those of us who want to put in the work, the uprisings this past week have presented an opportunity to grow beyond the limitations of our immediate understanding.
In this fog of war, understand that there is no strategy that will immediately alter the outcome — not today, not tomorrow. This is a long game, built on the longest game in American history. Yet within this complexity there is one strategy that we must all recognize: In this moment, it is our Black friends and colleagues who will take the lead and shape this movement in a way that is best suited to their own community’s needs.
We do not have to be passive observers in what is happening though. We can be active participants in anti-racism by making space, supplying resources, and amplifying Black voices.
As white people of a certain age, some of us will inevitably struggle (more than others) to make sense of what is happening on the street, negotiating the meaning behind certain actions: why curfews are being disobeyed, why people are “rioting,” what is acceptable collateral damage, and what relationship you should have with the police. This is ok — you can support this movement and still be uncomfortable with civil disobedience. You can recognize the police, but still understand they have abused their power and lack accountability. You can understand each of these things, while acknowledging that in 2020 things are still not equal in America — the ghastly murder of George Floyd by the police proved this.
This is putting in the work. And where each of these things connect, the fog of war will be most dense. So hold the course, take direction, and make space, emotionally and intellectually for our Black friends and colleagues. The time has come for us to step up and be effective allies in the fight for the soul of America.
To all of our Black friends and colleagues — wherever you lead, we will follow. We are right there behind you.
Managing Partner, RVA Magazine
Top Photo by Christopher Brown III