On White Apology during Black Protest

On May 25th, George Floyd was killed by a police officer. He kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. 3 other officers were arrested weeks after the cop who took his life was taken in; as I write this, one officer made bail and was released. While this was the catalyst that began the current protesting that has occurred since then, I’d be remiss to not say Breonna Taylor, a young Black woman murdered in her sleep by cops who have yet to be arrested for their crime. Still, as I write this, Breonna’s Law was passed by the Louisville Metro Council banning no-knock warrants.

These protests have knocked over a domino. And the rest keep falling, collapsing into one other down a snaking, winding path. Black Americans are no stranger to the evils the police are capable of; from a history of slave catchers turned “protectors of the law,” our death in the hands of the police came as no surprise. This time, those dominoes are falling faster than I’ve ever seen, with a kinetic energy charged by Black rage. The tiredness, the disrespect, has only been building. It was a matter of time before we collectively felt that it was enough, and these protests are a manifestation of that. Charged by the younger generation, a generation unwilling to sit with and accept the status quo, change is upon us whether we’re ready or not. I’m ready. It’s been too long. Change is more than overdue. This country owes us backpay.

The rage is not just in the streets. Over the last couple of weeks, editors of major magazines and online journals, food sites, and so forth, have been stepping down. The sentiment is general amongst all of them–white people who were in that role shared a formulated, and sometimes insincere, letter or Instagram post about their behavior, and then followed up with an announcement of stepping down to “pave the way for a better future.” I think we’re supposed to find these actions valiant, or at least they want us to think that about them.

It’s selfish. And performative. And easy.

Here’s the thing: whether you want to hear it or not, Black Lives Matter has become the next big social challenge for non-Black people. I’m certain there are genuine allies–white and POC–who want to use their privileges and resources to help make a difference for their Black counterparts. But a black square? For one day? I’ve seen these posts come from people who had never expressed even an inkling of frustration about systematic racism and oppression. And yet, it took off, because for some reason now white people and non-Black POC were feeling the rage. In a moment of panic, it became “I had better post this so people don’t think I’m racist.”

It’s the same trend with these editors. In a moment of panic, either before their history is released by tired and rightfully angry employees or after it happens, editors create a statement to express their apology and their regret over the culture they created and enforced at their respective journal. The genuinity of this doesn’t mean anything in the context of the time because it’s a performance. The only reason they stepped down is because of the context. Had this been another day, had these protests not gained their current energy, I do not believe any of them would’ve left their positions. I can call this a trend because I’m certain they have income to hold them over in the midst of looking for another job.

A letter, an insincere and immature Instagram post on one’s feed, doesn’t demonstrate hard work to me. It doesn’t take much to write a couple of sentences with buzzwords and call oneself “woke” and an “ally.” On the one hand, I’m excited to see these positions of power and influence open up for Black writers and creatives to rightfully fill. At the same time, these editors have left the hard work to those future Black writers and editors in chief to complete, which speaks to the larger issue of racism. Time and time again the onus is put upon us to undo the work that white people and white supremacy created. Time and time again, everyone who is non-Black believes racism to be a problem for Black people to solve.

Here am I to tell all non-Black readers engaging with this piece that racism is not a Black problem. It is simply a white one. It was not created by us; it was not enforced by us.

The performance is hurtful and easy. These people have made a choice, perhaps that they believed to be the right one. And perhaps it is. But what does it mean when they step down and walk away from the work culture and environment that they created and enforced? What does it mean when they can walk away without resolving these issues? They are learning nothing. They aren’t addressing their racial biases by leaving. Fix your mistakes. It’s lazy and quite the exercise of one’s white privilege to think that “sorry, my bad” is enough to excuse the fear instilled in their Black employees, for the discrepancies in pay between Black and non-Black employees.

Walking away simply isn’t enough. They’ll be able to head to another platform, another job, without having to do any work to address those racial biases. In fact, it’s very likely that the next place they’ll go to will suffer from the exact same structural issues. It’s disgusting that the only reason an absurd number of talented and qualified Black writers and creatives are being reached out to fill these positions is because of their predecessors’ performance.

At this point stepping down isn’t protecting or helping the employees. Behind the antics, especially for digital spaces with a wider audience or a larger company, stepping down becomes a strategic business decision. To salvage whatever is left of said company’s reputation has to be protected at all costs. It’s the capitalist rendition of “kill one to save a thousand”: investors would drop like flies had these changes not been made.

These apologies lack meaning without action that demonstrates the unlearning, the quelling of racist tendencies. There wasn’t even any thought about making the necessary changes and then stepping down. That is more than enough proof to me that these editors are lazy and selfish. I can’t call a calculated letter allyship. And none of those editors in chief will receive cookies from me. There’s no reason that it had taken this amount of rage for you to admit to your mediocrity and your blatant role in upholding workplace discrimination. Don’t tell Black people to be grateful.

I’m tired of your sorrys. Do better.

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