You may have heard about the protests Friday (March 4) up and down California and in various places around the nation, including here at UMass Boston. It was a mass movement against budget cuts and the privatization of public education. I had the privilege of seeing the march here and hearing about it from California. The protests, and the debriefing afterwards have got me thinking.
Among organizers of color at least, there’s a certain stereotype of white protesters as loud but ineffective and irresponsible anarchists/socialists without critical understanding of race and privilege. These people are the “radicals” who put their life on the line and get arrested on purpose, until they decide they want a real job, and retreat into their privilege without even noticing. Because their lives are, for all intensive purposes, untouched by racism, they cannot ever understand its importance or its effect. This means that they try to solve racism for people of color (as opposed to with them), or leave it out of their agenda completely.
Of course these people do exist, as is the case with most stereotypes. And working with them sucks. But, whether they’re there or not, the stereotype of the privileged white anarchist gives a bad name to any and all majority-white protests. The UMass Boston protest was mostly white folks, and that’s exactly how people described it. I overheard a conversation that went something like this:
A: Hey, what are those people doing?
B: Oh, its a bunch of white folks protesting something.
Not its a national day of protest. Not its about budget cuts, or the need to preserve public education. Just a bunch of white folks, yelling about something. The tone of voice said “You know how they are. They’re just yelling. They’re not gonna DO anything.”
Of course there are people who live up to the stereotype and they’re incredibly unpleasant to work with. But in the debrief of Friday’s protest, someone suggested that these kind of protestors were government plants, meant to bring down the movement. I find it hard to believe, and with these kinds of attitudes, I don’t know how we’re going to build coalition. People get so damn suspicious.