Action = Change: Spotlight on Black Trauma and Policing (Part 3)

White people often turn their gaze on people of color to gain knowledge, instead of back on their own communities
Resmaa Menakem, Brittany Lewis, and Justin Terrell speak with Angela Davis on MPR News.

On June 3, Call to Mind, Minnesota Public Radio’s mental health initiative, presented a live virtual community conversation to address the need for healing and action in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Hosted by MPR News’ Angela Davis, the conversation covered the history of racial injustice that led to Floyd’s murder and how trauma affects Black Americans. Watch the full conversation here.

Part one of our coverage of the conversation centered on police abolition, and what comes after.

Now we are focusing on this listener-submitted question: 

For white people who acknowledge that the systems have been built on white supremacy, what are some ways that we can learn about how to change, dismantle, and rebuild those systems in tangible ways? Too often white people depend on people of color to be the teachers, so what is the work fo do that doesn’t put the burden on the people who have been oppressed by the system? When it comes to true change, what does that require of our partnership and community involvement? 

The conversation included Resmaa Menakem, LICSW, cultural trauma expert and founder of Justice Leadership Solutions in Minneapolis; Justin Terrell, Executive Director of Minnesota Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage; and Dr. Brittany Lewis, the Founder and CEO of Research in Action, an urban research, strategy, and engagement firm and Senior Research Associate at the University of Minnesota.

Terrell began the discussion by saying: “The first thing that popped into my head is that we don’t need help. We need justice.”

Help, Terrell said, is what you do for someone out of the kindness of your heart. It does not dismantle anything. White people who seek justice need to understand how all people are negatively impacted by white supremacy. True justice is based not on punishment, but in relationships, he said.

“If you want to help, figure out how you’re going to open your mouth and work with other white folks,” added Menakem.

White people often turn their gaze on people of color to gain knowledge, instead of working to address their own people. This is fueled by the liberal need to check the performative boxes of social justice, rather than do the work to create a “structural container” in order to dismantle white supremacy within white communities, Menakem explained.

“Most white people have a remedial understanding of race,” Menakem said. “Black people have a PhD in this stuff because our survival has depended on it.”

After seeing pictures of white people putting their bodies in between officers and Black protestors that were circling in the news media, Menakem emphasized that he hopes those white protestors are doing anti-racism work within their own networks as well.

For those who want to learn more about how to sustainably do this, Google was recommended as a useful tool. Anti-racism literature is freely available that does not involve requesting the labor of Black people. And, ultimately, education is the “remedial piece.”

The “curative piece” is organizing with other white bodies. 

“We need to move beyond asking for education, because education is there if you want it,” Dr. Lewis concurred. “What we really need is intentional relationships grounded in action.” 

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