CNN's Brooke Baldwin broke down in tears on Thursday while interviewing Andrea Jenkins, a Minneapolis councilwoman, about George Floyd. This might seem on the surface a normal, human reaction to the tragic snuffing out of a life under such cruel circumstances. Baldwin apologized immediately, pulled. herself together, and Councilwoman Jenkins, who's Black, responded with kindness and understanding. One might think this was all a perfectly respectable interaction. It wasn't — at least on the part of Brooke Baldwin.
Crying in front of the Black woman who is charged with tending to and seeking justice for her traumatized community has the impact of centering oneself and her emotions. In fact, the segment was mostly about white emotions. There was no doubt Baldwin's tears and feelings were real. But by crying in front of Councilwoman Jenkins, by expressing her sorrow and outrage, she was putting her in the position of comforting Baldwin, adding to her burden. I do not have the right or knowledge to speak for Black people. From what I have read and heard many say, though, the LAST thing Black people want right now is to be in the position of comforting white people. We don't deserve their comfort, and we sure as hell don't deserve their absolution.
Then, Baldwin told Councilwoman Jenkins that she hears from many white people who don't know what to do with their emotion, and asked Ms. Jenkins what she wanted to tell them. Here was her answer:
Are we white people that helpless? Are we that incapable of doing our homework? A friend once said, "I am not invested in the myth that white people can not figure out how to undo racism." We've figured out all kinds of complicated ways to oppress Black people — is it that difficult for us to figure out how to undo that oppression?
Instead, we have the esteemed Councilwoman in the position of telling a white journalist, "Well for starters, stop killing us. Secondly, let us live productive lives." Are we so behind the starting line that we need to hear that? It's appalling that this is so.
Would it not have been better for Baldwin to offer something like, "I have done some work. I have listened to Black women and men around this issue. Here are tangible actions I am hearing that we as white people can take to be actively anti-racist (then read off list of ACTIONS.) Are those actions you would like for us as white people to pursue? If not, how would you amend that list?"
Brooke Baldwin deserves props for one thing, though. There was a point in the interview when Councilwoman Jenkins was struggling to find the word for what has been happening in Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd's killing. Baldwin gently offered the word, "gatherings." She didn't call them "riots," let alone denounce them, as others have done. Baldwin's is the correct approach, because frankly, (as yet another wise friend told me) every day Black America does not burn this nation to the ground is a gift — a belief supported by Elie Mystal in a post he published in The Nation:
The fact that most black people do not pick up the rock in that situation is a miracle. The fact that the overwhelming majority of black people respond to the violence and terrorism practiced against us with words and songs instead of rocks and bricks is altogether supernatural. America should be thankful black and brown people respond to state-sponsored violence with nonviolence. In other parts of the world, the injustice regularly practiced by the white American paramilitary forces known as the “local police” would be met with IEDs and guerilla war tactics. Here, black people take to the streets and almost all of us do so nonviolently. America is the luckiest place on Earth.
Reporters can and should contextualize these things. They can challenge their viewers. A friend on Facebook wrote, "If you're upset about destruction of property, but hail the Boston Tea Party and other acts of resistance during the Revolution as necessary, you're a hypocrite."
Now this is Looting https://t.co/6WgHRGquiG
— DanielNewmaη 404-737-1636 (@DanielNewman) May 28, 2020
If you would like to get started, or continue on your anti-racist road, here are some resources for you.
1. Here is a Google Doc of actions you can take to directly impact speeding along justice for George Floyd's family.
2. This is a GREAT article from Teen Vogue that explains all the ins and outs of filming encounters with the police. If you are white, you have privilege Black and brown citizens don't. Consider stopping what you're doing to be a conscientious bystander, and be ready to film if you see a minority being detained by the police.
3. This is an older curriculum (2015) but still has many great articles that might help explain to us why we seem not to realize racism is still a thing.
4. A great introduction to anti-racism work. It's not enough not to be racist. White people must always, always be anti-racist. Actively. By the amazing activist and writer, Ijeoma Oluo.
5. Why centering white feelings is never okay in a discussion about racism. This is not about the feelings of white people. Also by Ijeoma Oluo.
Last, but not least by a long shot, an article posted by a terrific blogger called KatyKatiKate. (This specifically focuses on the incident in Central Park, with Christian Cooper having the police called on him, but its lessons apply elsewhere.) This is a breakdown of how our desire to do good actually ends up harming already traumatized people, and how to avoid those pitfalls.