Dear White Friends: We Need to Hear Your Voices
These are the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his 1967 “Steeler Lecture,” which is one of five sermons published in a book called “Conscience for Change,” then republished as “The Trumpet of Conscience.”
If there was anyone who could speak to the challenges of being a young Black man in America who understood what it was like to have people shun his efforts towards improved civil rights for Black people in this country, while they sat on the sidelines and did nothing to help move the needle, it was Dr. King. Dr. King consistently implored White people and others to avoid remaining silent when injustice was made evident, but encouraged them to step up to the plate and speak up when they witness any blatant injustices that negatively impacted Black people in this country.
Recently, NFL player and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has come under fire for his ongoing decision not to stand during the singing of the national anthem, which Kaepernick said he could no longer do as a show of pride towards a flag that represents a country that “continues to oppress Black people and people of color.”
While many have questioned the patriotism of Kaepernick, it appears he has a point, as well as some legitimate concerns that can no longer be overlooked by people in America, especially as it relates to racism and police brutality, and their disparate impact on Black people. Kaepernick did not have to look any further than his own backyard of San Francisco, where he plays football for the city, to see racism play out firsthand by members of law enforcement.
Earlier this year, San Francisco Police Chief Gregory P. Suhr released nine pages of racist text messages between three San Francisco police officers that show evidence of a deep culture of racial hatred against Black people. The text messages that were released used crude and strongly disparaging language against Blacks and other minorities and were discovered as part of an investigation into a rape charge against one of the officers. These racist text messages were uncovered a year after another scandal involving 14 officers who also exchanged racist text messages. An attempt to fire some of the 14 was rejected by a Superior Court judge, who said the statute of limitation had expired. Most of those same officers remain on the force today.
Here in Texas, two law enforcement officers in Williamson County, Texas, were fired in June after officials found out the two men, Deputy David Gay, 45, and Sgt. Greg Palm, 29, were members of the Ku Klux Klan and had approached another officer to ask him to join the infamous White supremacist hate group, known for its domestic terroristic tactics and rhetoric.
In October 2006, the FBI released a report and issued a warning that “White supremacist infiltration of law enforcement” represented a significant national threat to the United States. Interestingly, after the FBI’s warning, White supremacy extremism in the U.S. increased, exponentially. From 2008 to 2014, the number of White supremacist groups, reportedly, grew from roughly 150 to nearly 1,000 groups, with no real knowledge of whether the FBI’s report findings helped to lessen the infiltration of White supremacists into law enforcement.
Another stinging, yet relative statement of Dr. King’s, is when he said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
One of the most often repeated phrases that I hear from many White people, especially when I choose to call out disrespectful and racist behavior is, “I’m not a racist. Many of my friends are Black!” Listen, when it comes to being a Black man in this country, I need to be more than just a “Black” friend to my White associates and colleagues. If you really consider Black people to be your friends, then we need you to open up your mouth and say something about what we are dealing with in this country. Notice that I said White associates and colleagues, because I can say, without question, that I have some genuine White friends as a part of my inner-circle, who truly care about me, care about my family and will fight for me and what they know is right. They are truly my real friends, who happen to be White.
So any White person, who considers themselves to be true friends of Black people, needs to be honest with themselves, and openly admit that blatant racism is alive and kicking in this country, and it is being put on public display, especially as we witness the number of police brutality complaints; police killings; police assaults caught on camera; White supremacist groups becoming more outspoken and active; and the dog whistle rhetoric giving hope to racists coming from Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump; and the blatant disrespect of the nation’s first Black President Barack Obama and his family.
These are some troubling times for Black people in this country, and things are eerily reminiscent to what Blacks endured during the Jim Crow South.
I mean think about it. Blacks have not had to deal with this level of attack on their lives and on their culture, since the times of lynching and being subjected to Jim Crow laws that legally discriminated against and disenfranchised them. And what was the reason for these attacks? It’s simply been because we are Black. For years, Black people have been trying to avoid these deliberate and heinous attacks, while trying to better our lives in an America that has never fully respected us since inception, and it has been extremely difficult to avoid these attacks.
The best way to show your Black friends that you are truly our friend, is by opening up your mouth and speaking out against others who attack Black people; display racist tendencies; distribute racist material; and who make racially insensitive comments and spew racist rhetoric.
Former Staff Sgt. and NFL football player Nate Boyer, who made multiple war-zone deployments as a Green Beret, wrote an open letter to Kaepernick expressing his thoughts and sharing a perspective that I believe more non-Black people should embrace in this country.
“I’m not judging you for standing up for what you believe in. It’s your inalienable right. What you are doing takes a lot of courage, and I’d be lying if I said I knew what it was like to walk around in your shoes. I’ve never had to deal with prejudice because of the color of my skin, and for me to say I can relate to what you’ve gone through is as ignorant as someone who’s never been in a combat zone telling me they understand what it’s like to go to war…Even though my initial reaction to your protest was one of anger, I’m trying to listen to what you’re saying and why you’re doing it.”
We need more White friends like Nate Boyer.
If Black people tell you they are being attacked and that they are having a problem, then maybe you might want to listen to them. Maybe you might learn something by listening to Black people, and hopefully, learn something about yourself in the process. Trust me when I tell you, we really do need our White friends to step up to the plate on behalf of their Black friends immediately.
Jeffrey L. Boney serves as Associate Editor and is an award-winning journalist for the Houston Forward Times newspaper. Jeffrey is a frequent contributor on the Nancy Grace Show and has a daily radio talk show called Real Talk with Jeffrey L. Boney. He is a Next Generation Project Fellow, dynamic, international speaker, experienced entrepreneur, business development strategist and Founder/CEO of the Texas Business Alliance. If you would like to request Jeffrey as a speaker, you can reach him at email@example.com