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Some friendly advice to all those white people protesting mistreatment of black people | READER COMMENTARY

Livia Rose Johnson, center, a member of Warriors in the Garden, leads a protest against police violence in Manhattan, June 4, 2020. She is among the mix of newly minted activists and more seasoned hands leading protests across New York City.
Livia Rose Johnson, center, a member of Warriors in the Garden, leads a protest against police violence in Manhattan, June 4, 2020. She is among the mix of newly minted activists and more seasoned hands leading protests across New York City. (Demetrius Freeman/The New York Times)

As an African American living in Baltimore, I want to acknowledge all my white sisters and brothers, and provide some degree of gratitude for protesting police brutality perpetrated by racism. What I witnessed both surprised me, provided hope and made me sad. For blocks and blocks, there was a sea of people as far as the eye could see. It appeared to me that more than 90% were white and most were under 30. I was so moved that I wanted to cry for two reasons: This display of white outrage at yet another killing of an African-American male makes me think that there is finally some recognition of the pain that black people have suffered and the realization that we live in a society so infused with racism that it takes white voices to validate black pain (“‘Stop the pain,’ George Floyd’s brother pleads with Congress: ‘I’m here today to ask you to make it stop,'” June 10).

I am well aware that there are white people who are dedicated to ensuring justice and equality for their black sisters and brothers. But for many, it’s as if our pain did not exist until the white people who usually sit silent (thereby unwittingly enabling the racist infrastructure), agree that it is real. These are conflicting realizations that I will reckon with for some time.

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When black people cry out over injustices the legitimacy of the complaint is immediately questioned. The victim is interrogated, and any indiscretion, no matter how small or remote in time, is used to invalidate the complaint, undercut the pain and nullify the victim. Indeed, many times victims end up having to defend themselves against a campaign of character assassination. It is critical that white people use their vast collective power to support African Americans as we struggle against the race-based injustices that are constantly perpetuated against us in this country.

A few thoughts to consider: Check in with your African American friends. If you don’t have any, that should be a signal to you. Really listen to the answer. A sincere “How are you?” goes a long way. Do not jump in to explain, defend or reinterpret. Look at the racial bias in yourself. This stuff takes guts — it is very subtle and you may need help to do this. It will not be pretty and will likely take some time to remedy. Resist the inclination to focus on property damage resulting from the protests. Think deeper! Black bodies have been damaged and destroyed for centuries. Instead, learn why black people are so frustrated, angry and disenfranchised in America. Remember what Dr. King told us: “Riots are the language of the unheard.”

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Pay attention to why people all over the world are also protesting in support of black people in America. Speak up to other white people. Remind them that we only know about the recent deaths of black people at the hands of police because cell phone videos cannot be refuted (although some will try). Stay the course and continue to march with us, but also figure out other ways to dismantle systemic racism. Be strategic and sincere about getting to genuinely know people who don’t look like you. Your life will be richer for it.

We are all interconnected. When one of us suffers injustice, it diminishes all of us.

Charlene Couch, Baltimore

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