Once in a while, being black becomes a gruesome spectacle, meaning that what is normally an arduous private identity suddenly becomes a public one. A black man is brutally killed by a white police officer in the US, and on the spur of a moment the whole world is sympathetic to the race.
All of a sudden, everyone is trying to help. Everyone is trying to magnify black people’s voices. Everyone is posting quotes and videos by Martin Luther King. Everyone is making donations. Everyone is circulating videos of black protesters.
The events after the death of George Floyd seem to have struck a new social media wave. However, it feels like there is no promise, because the rising support to black lives only means that there is a new racial divide commencing. While black people are on the ground putting their lives and livelihoods at stake, white people are mostly “fighting” online, where there is no real risk.
And that is the simple bit: it doesn’t matter the amount of money you have donated or the amount of supportive feeds you have shared into your profile. White people in the US tend to receive solidarity with skepticism. The regularity with which black people die at hands of white police officers tarnishes the reputation of a whole nation, not only the one concerning the police force – one that is empowered by the normalization of black murder. A black person wouldn’t end up under the knee of a white officer for about 9 minutes if a black life actually meant something to them.
To white people living outside America, solidarity supposes an easier task, because we don’t have to deal with the reality of the situation. We don’t have to struggle with culpability when black people are handcuffed. Therefore, as long as the action is taking place in the US, we don’t find ourselves uncomfortable thinking that a black man is being murdered near us and tainted with a sense of complicity. We don’t need to find excuses, such as he probably carried a weapon, or he was probably inebriated. We don’t suddenly find ourselves feeling more empathic towards police, who are doing a hard job and have to make decisions in the blink of an eye.
This is surely why the “white” support feels uncomfortable to black people. It just kicks in as black people conform to an image and live up to a single moment. It lifts them up at this stage; otherwise black voices are not considered important enough, black deaths are not considered dramatic enough. Real solidarity, the one that makes a change in the long term rather than barely shares a hashtag for the short term, is found in those moments. It is found in the daily stress and discomfort of taking risks, of confronting a society that quietly excludes black people, when there is nothing in exchange.
Donating money and posting on social media is the simple part. And that’s something, at least. But the moments that really play the most important part are the ones in between; and that’s something we should all be aware of.