Many people, Black and white, are slapping high-fives and shouting hallelujah over the sizable number of whites marching to protest the brutal lynching of George Floyd by a white police officer. Many other people, including myself, remembering similar White participation in civil rights protests in the 1960s and early 1970s, have a more skeptical position about that involvement which is best reflected in the statement, “Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.”
We remember that many of those white participants later cut their hair, changed their dress code and eventually moved into major positions in the academic, corporate and entertainment arenas. It’s not wise to put much trust in an ally who has the option of dropping out of the battle whenever he or she desires to do so. Black folks don’t have that option.
As usual in situations around race in this country, Brother Malcolm provides sound advice on what he called “sincere Whites” can contribute to the battle against white supremacy/racism. In his autobiography, Brother Malcolm wrote that often a white person in audiences attending his speeches would ask “What can a sincere white person do?” [All emphasis in the following are his.]
“The first thing I tell them,” he noted, “is that at least where my own particular Black Nationalist organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), is concerned they can’t join us. I have these very deep feelings that White people who want to join Black organizations are really just taking the escapist way to salve their consciences. By visibly hovering near us, they are ‘proving’ that they are ‘with us’ but the hard truth is this isn’t helping to solve America’s racist problem.”
Sincere Whites, he continued, “should be out on the battle line where America’s racism really is — and that’s in their own communities. … That’s where the sincere Whites who really mean to accomplish something have got to work. … I tell sincere white people ‘work in conjunction with us — each of us work among our own kind.’ Let sincere White individuals find all other White people they can who feel as they do — and let them form their own all-white groups to try to convert other white people who are acting so racist. Let sincere White people teach non-violence to White people.”
On another occasion when speaking to young people on the same subject, Brother Malcolm said sincere Whites can “function more intelligently and more effectively in the White community itself and this has never been done.” As always, Brother Malcolm was right on target.