An Open Letter from a Black Man to His White Family in a Moment of Violence

The name of the movement is Black Lives Matter. If you are not involved, I assume you take issue with the statement.

The name of the movement is Black Lives Matter. If you are not involved, I assume you take issue with this statement.

To the white people I share home with,

I’ve gotten degrees. I’ve been published. I’ve spoken at academic gatherings. I’ve taught classes and workshops. I’ve built up a resume. I’ve gained employment in the acceptable fields of social justice. For years, you told me these were the things I needed to do in order to be listened to.

I’ve participated in direct action. I’ve been arrested. I’ve survived nearly three decades in a country that hates me. I’ve predicted the formation of movements, the swell of riots, months and even years before their occurrences. I don’t know what else I need to do to be legitimized, be validated, to be worthy of being heard and taken seriously.

I am exhausted from trying to get you on board with a movement–one that mirrors those from previous eras you claim to revere, and that has reignited calls for social transformation once heralded by the writers, speakers, musicians and artists you claim to hold dearest. I wonder if you understand what any of the struggles which have occurred during your lifetime were ever actually about.

I am not naive nor arrogant enough to believe my imploring can achieve in this moment what centuries of Black imploring has not been able to. I am not foolish enough to believe this letter will be the letter that changes your minds. I write because I need to speak, because I am in pain. I write because I cannot bear any more condescension, more indifference. I write to tell you I am not going to.

The cry of this moment is Black Lives Matter. If you are not involved, I assume this is a statement you take issue with.

When we say Black Lives Matter, we mean Black people are the experts in their own lives, their own history, their own struggles. We mean your opinions are not necessary, and that debating you is a waste of our valuable energy, mental health and time. We mean you do not get to speak on issues with which you have no experience, which you have not studied nor researched, but on which you feel entitled enough to award yourself authority. We mean you must be quiet and listen to Black people.

You can no longer hide behind your idealism. The very existence of this moment proves your ideals to be misled and hollow.

If legislation alone could save us, the 13th Amendment, Special Field Order No. 15, and Brown vs. Board would have saved us. If electoral politics alone could save us, then the innumerable Black justices and representatives elected in the last half century would have saved us. If white saviors could save us, we would have been saved a million times over. But we are here and we are dying, and you are watching from the sidelines.

You call me an anarchist. You say you fear chaos. If you knew what it means to be Black, what is happening in your towns and cities daily, you’d know that chaos and bloodshed are already here. They are visited on women, on people of color, on poor people, workers, on immigrants, on trans people, on queer people, and they are done so constantly. Chaos is our bed, our sheets, our water, our front steps, our sidewalks. The systems you insist we trust to address it, the leaders you elected, are its source. Your fear of movement, and your denial of this reality, is what allows it to continue.

This is the last time I will say this to you:

Black people are dying. Every day, Black trans women are dying. Black children are dying. Black mothers and sisters are dying. Maybe I have to die for you to understand what this means.

If the demands of our movement are unclear to you, that is your fault. We have stated them concretely and concisely, over and over again–not just at this moment, but at every time in history Black people have fought for their lives. Don’t pretend that because the sources you read don’t report it, the information is unavailable. Don’t act as though your selective hearing is the result of our lack of organizing. Don’t tell the leaders who have penned the most passionate pleas for justice in US history they need to be more articulate.

And when the police come for me, don’t cry. When I am murdered by a supremacist in the street, don’t mourn me. If I am put in a cage for speaking out, don’t call it a travesty. Because it is happening, has been happening unceasingly for the last five centuries, and you have done nothing to stop it.

Do not feign shock at the inevitable. It disrespects me, and the memory of every Black person your system has purposefully killed.

When I tell you my needs, talk of my pain, my anger, all my stories, it is a privilege and blessing you haven’t earned. It is a profound form of vulnerability I engage not because you deserve it, but because I as a Black person choose to share it with you. I do so for the sole reason that I do not wish to lose you from my life, do not want the most core parts of my existence to be hidden from you. But when you refuse to look, they remain invisible. When you resist seeing, you deprive yourself of authentic entrance into who I truly am, and what I truly need from you.

And your denial cannot protect you, just as my silence cannot protect me.

This movement is happening without you, despite you. But real transformation is not possible unless you listen deeply, sincerely, even when it is painful, and take brave action at your own risk to fight for the things the Black community is demanding of you.

When Black people speak, and you do not listen, you are creating the conditions of a riot. And when you tell us we are exaggerating, playing the martyr, making it all up, then you cannot be surprised when we elect militancy to make you comprehend what you refused to understand when we were peaceful.

A son, brother, nephew and grandson of Black, queer liberation


Republished on Medium

12 responses to “An Open Letter from a Black Man to His White Family in a Moment of Violence

  1. Sending you love. (Not as involved as I’d like to be, as I pour my whole self into parenting my Black son.)

    • You have no choice but to be “involved” as the parent of a black child. Your involvement depends on you not needing to be the one telling people how to create and carryout a movement to save their lives and demanding those lives be valued, cherished and respected.

      Your involvement depends on your speaking out when someone says “All lives matter” and “Why isn’t that racist?” and when people say “They” as in “They just destroy their own communities, how does that help” and “They just don’t want to follow the law” you have to speak out about how “black on black crime” is a made up concept, and how not being married to the mothers of their children does not mean that black men are absent from the lives of black children. You have to slow down people who say “we” or “they” are rescuing “their” babies. Cause defending adoption by people who aren’t in a hetero family isn’t an excuse to be racist.

      I have 3 grown children. I can never live in their skins, I can never tell them how to define themselves in a world that constantly wants to define them. I am a straight white cis woman. My kids are black, one of them is a lesbian. Standing in a crowd with a sign bearing the name of someone of color, someone trans, or someone gay/bi/lesbian who was a victim of violence and claiming “I am _____” is a lie, my white, straight, cis skin has protected me in so many ways, so while I can also be out in the midst of a protest, I also have an obligation to remind white progressives that we don’t get to be in charge of everything, to ask largely working class and poor whites who cry about reverse racism and special privileges that they are being used by the wealthiest to maintain a structure that requires all of us to live on what trickles down… and to fight each other.

      So…bluntly comments about putting all your time into raising your black son was just a really obnoxious way to let yourself off the hook for not doing anything when your efforts will be so much easier, safer and less expensive than the efforts your son will need to use in the future if we don’t support BLM.

      • While I don’t think Sue was trying to make excuses–since she admits she should be more involved–I think you make important points for real white allyship. Maintaining personal relationships–including family ones–with individual Black people is something each of us does out of love. It does not qualify as movement work or activism, and in many ways I wrote this letter because I am tired of white people using their personal relationships with me as a crutch. I need more from my family, and more from my allies, than loving me without fighting the structures that despise me.

      • Dear Wendy, I liked what you were saying until your last paragraph. I was going to say that I guess maybe I am more involved than I think I am (as I do speak up when I hear things that are racist). I hope I do not let myself off the hook. Whether I do or not, I don’t think it is yours to judge. (By the way, my comment was meant as a personal note to RF. You might want to read back on this blog to get more of a sense of who I am before saying more.)

  2. This made me tear up. Beautiful. I hope everyone who reads this keeps on sharing. Just share. And write. Write your heart out. Then share again.

    Thanks for writing this letter.
    I hope it helps others to open their eyes ears hearts and overall love.

  3. Reblogged this on perry street palace and commented:
    Reblogging for my non-black readers, because you should read this eloquent, urgent and impassioned plea right now. If it makes you uncomfortable, good. Because that is a necessary first step toward examining exactly why that is—and then doing something about it.

  4. As a white mother of a child that is half Afro-Latino, my husband and I are trying to teach our son everything about his culture and the struggles he is going to face daily. My husband has been beaten by police just for walking down the street while being black. So for me, as an ally, this is an issue that hits very close to home concerning members of my side of the family who seem to not want to open their eyes to the reality of what is happening everyday.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s