Ending White Silence

Recent events, including the response to the Covid-19 pandemic and anti-police brutality demonstrations that have in some cases inspired property and other damage, have demonstrated how virulent and urgent a threat to life and dignity still remains for people of color in our society. In harmony with SURJ National and many other chapters around the country and in Canada, SURJ ROC calls on our fellow white citizens to come together to shift the balance of power toward justice.

Why a white group? Leaders of a predominantly white community theatre in Portland, Maine, recently cited this American Theatre quote from Sarah Bellamy of Penumbra Theatre Company:

“Rather than white people feeling like, ‘How can I hold space for people of color?’ I want them to call other white people into their spaces and say, ‘We need to talk.’ Now more than ever, we need white folk to get their white folk.”

That call for white folk to call each other in has been sounded by Black leaders for over half a century, and it’s the reason SURJ National was formed more than a decade ago in response to prompting from Black leaders. We can’t let fear, perfectionism, or uncertainty about “doing it the right way” keep us silent at this moment of opportunity to move our city and our country. toward justice. We as white people need to support the overt expression of opposition to all oppressions if we want to fundamentally change society. SURJ ROC welcomes the increased interest in anti-racism, and we invite you to join us as we work on understanding and fighting the white supremacy culture we absorbed at no fault of our own. Let’s use our outrage in support of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color-led movements for justice.

Racism will not disappear by itself. There will continue to be ongoing attempts to distract us. Because many people have been badly hurt by systemic racism for centuries, some respond in desperate, destructive ways. That should be taken as evidence of the need for radical change. As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., said in the 60s, “America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air…. a riot is the language of the unheard.” Those of us who lived through those tumultuous years recall that six days after American cities erupted in flame following Dr. King’s murder – six days – Congress passed an expanded Civil Rights Act, outlawing discrimination in housing. In a capitalist society, property destruction may be the only language it understands.

Protests must be made, even though they may be used by some as a reason for other actions. Frederick Douglass, whom we Rochesterians proudly claim as one of our own, astutely analyzed the situation in the 19th Century, an analysis which still rings true today: “Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

We are in a moment of what can be monumental change. Rochester and other communities are rising up to defend Black life and demand a new world, even as our national powers and corporate elites are working overtime to ensure that white people’s solidarity stays in staunch support of the police and white supremacy. They are shaping how white people interpret what’s happening. We must fight to make sure they are not successful and that we bring more people into the fight for racial justice.

Join us to learn:

How racism has damaged us as well as People of Color,

How we can be part of a multi-racial movement to dismantle it, and

How we can support each other along the way.

We invite you to:

Explore the resources on our site, surjroc.org

Follow our Facebook page, SURJ ROC, for calls to action and events such as our monthly meetings and regularly offered Responding to Racist Remarks and Building Racial Justice through Allyship workshops, and

Support our campaigns for decarceration, police accountability, and justice for undocumented workers.

If you are able to donate, we cannot accept funds at this time, but suggest you support Black-owned businesses (bobrochester.com is one source of information on that) and POC-led activist and community groups such as:

540WMain, an education partner of ours

Flower City Noire Collective and Alianza Agricola, two of our advisors

The Police Accountability Board Alliance, to which we belong and whose campaign we supported,

The Baobab Cultural Center, a rich resource on African and African heritage history and culture, and

The Genesee Valley Chapter of the NYCLU.

All of the above can be found on Facebook.

We need to do everything we can to defend Black lives, move resources from policing to healthcare, housing and schools, and transform this broken world. Please challenge yourself as never before.

In love, rage, and solidarity,

SURJ ROC

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