I read a quote by Saul Alinsky in December of 2019. It was so brilliant. It captured my philosophy on the path towards a more just society. Saul Alinsky was a man who was considered a mastermind in organized resistance. His principles for organizing resistance are sometimes considered the foundation of effective activism. He drew some controversy because his tactics were considered by many to be too confrontational. And, because he referred to lucifer as one who “rebelled against the establishment…so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom.” As you can imagine, this doesn’t sit well with society’s religious fabric. Nonetheless, as my dad always told me, “no matter how bad a person is, there is always some good in them; and no matter how good a person is, there is always some bad in them.” This quote by Saul Alinsky is at least one good thing I can extract from Saul Alinsky’s life.
“Christ, even if we could manage to organize all the exploited low-income groups – all the blacks, chicagnos, Puerto Ricans, poor whites – and then, through some organizational miracle, weld them all together into a viable coalition, what would you have? At the most optimistic estimate, 55,000,000 people by the end of this decade – but by then the total population will be over 250,000,000, of whom the overwhelming majority will be middle class…Pragmatically, the only hope for genuine minority progress is to seek out allies within the majority and to organize that majority itself as part of a national movement for change.”
– Saul Alinsky, 1972 in Playboy Magazine
Let that quote sink in. And let’s put that quote in the top right corner of your mind. We’re going to do a little bit of mental acrobatics and then I will tie it all together. Stick with me. Let’s tackle another quote – this one is by me.
“Beaten into submission by the exhaustion of actually caring. This is a strange phenomenon that I’ve experienced about being black in America. I find myself turning a blind eye to avoid being overwhelmed by the emotions that are born out of a passion to create necessary change. The necessary change we so much need to achieve a more just society. Perhaps good white people also experience this phenomenon. And also turn a blind eye, out of exhaustion. Maybe. Just maybe. I pray for peace for everyone wrapping their head around the latest killing of an unarmed black man.”
– Myself, Somewhere on Social Media in 2020
This has been my go-to reaction to any potentially upsetting race-related news since my spout with “emotional vandalism.” For details on this internal rift of a lifetime that I suffered a few years back, navigate to my article titled: “The Shiftback: A Story of Emotional Vandalism.” In that article, I discussed the emotional toll of “actually caring” and being passionate about pursuing justice. And so, maybe my quote above sinks in a little better now.
When I penned the above quote, that was supposed to be the end of my involvement in this new shooting case of Ahmad Arbery, the unarmed black jogger in Georgia. But somehow, after seeing several pictures of the victim’s face on various social media, there was a quiet voice on the inside of me that said “Look at his face. Do you think he would like you to be silent? Do you think he would want you to be exhausted about “actually caring?” I thought about these hard questions for a while. And then I decided not writing this article, and being silent, were not the best thing for me to do.
As I closed out "The Shiftback" article, I believe the key to building a better future is to do just that - build it. We need to start imagining what it will take to achieve a future society that is just. That is extremely difficult to do when you’re fuming with anger. Strangely (and quite pleasantly), I don’t feel the same rage as I felt when I wrote “The Shiftback” a couple years ago. Perhaps discussing these feelings in writing or with several people helped me to process my feelings and temper my emotions a little better. Maybe this is something you should consider if you are currently in a state of complete anger and frustration.
I think the most revolutionary question we can ask in building this future is this one: “How do we get the majority to see the minority’s problem as their problem too?” Because quite realistically, there are so many worthwhile causes in the world. And while we can have a long heated debated on which one is most important, that argument is pointless. Because importance doesn’t drive people’s involvement in causes. What drives people’s involvement in a movement is the personal impact that the movement has on them. Somehow, we must find a way to get the majority to have a personal stake in the movement for a more racially just society. Sometimes this stake is as little as things like: my best friend is black, my really good friend is black, one of the most influential people in my career was a black mentor. And this makes it hit home for some people. But it cannot hit home for the majority if the minority continues to remain estranged from the majority – the minority being driven to estrangement by the forces of distrust, anger and resentment.
This is where Saul Alinsky’s quote comes in – re-read it. We must band together. We must be able to say at the end of this fight, we did this together – black and white, and everything else in-between. This is the only way to achieve a sustainable and vibrant movement that will stand the test of time. I think it will be a disservice to this struggle if black people refuse to recognize the necessary and important role of non-black allies in this movement. It would be like a person who is drowning who refuses to reach out their hand to a lifeguard because the person who pushed them into the water resembled the lifeguard. This movement is similar – it is life or death. There is absolutely no shot at achieving the much-needed racial justice in America if white people don’t stand hand in hand with us in this fight.
White people, you are so powerful in this movement. So crucial. You make up 60% of the population. I know it’s exhausting to care. I feel that. I’m black and even I sometimes don’t want to give a f***. Because doing so stresses me out. It’s a lot of work. But, you are in social circles that some black folks can’t reach. Many of your friends are not very aware of some of these unjust killings. And I’ve been very impressed with the number of times my white friends are surprised to hear of some stories that I thought everyone knew about. Their response is usually, “Holy f***, that happened?” And I’m usually thinking “How do you not know this?” Well it’s quite simple – it’s the power of your network. If you’re not seriously affected by the problem, it’s hard to know all these things.
So, my challenge to all the “good white people” is for you to accept my cry for help. Raise your voice with the black community. Consider sharing something about the latest killing on your social media. I am convinced that there are many good white people who will be enraged by this recent killing. And they will spring to action once they are aware of it. But they can’t be enraged – or spring to action – if they don’t know about it. Everybody has a part to play. Spreading the word might be yours. #alliesforjustice