Real Talk about Ferguson in Portland: Ideas for Allies

Like so many people, I have been glued to my computer following the events of Michael Brown’s death and the actions unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri through social media and other news sources. Horrified and outraged by the blatant injustices that were occurring, I felt helpless sitting at my desk thousands of miles away in Portland, Oregon.

Contributing to these feelings, though, was the heaviness of knowing that this was not only about Mike Brown and the police force in Ferguson—it was yet another of the many instances of blatant racism that have risen to the surface, growing in the foundation of oppressive institutions and unchecked discrimination. While what happened to Mike Brown rightfully gained national attention and response, this was not an isolated instance—this is happening often, and around the country (see this piece from Mother Jones that specifically analyzes racial bias in police shootings).

Moreover, I know that this is a problem that myself and the LGBTQ movement need to work to address. As a white person, I have a responsibility to speak up and act against the racist institutions, behaviors, and tendencies that grant me privilege and access through oppressing people of color. But also as a queer person and a woman, I have an even deeper responsibility to recognize and fight systemic injustice wherever it emerges.

For queer people of color—the oppression they face is twofold, stemming from both their sexuality and their race. It is on all of us to recognize those interconnections and find ways to ensure that everyone has access to the resources and support they need to thrive. By grounding and centering our work on those that face the greatest barriers to success, we can create positive change that impacts everyone in our communities.

Living in Portland, I was lucky enough to be able to get off my computer and attend a community gathering called Real Talk: Ferguson, The Shooting of Michael Brown & the National Response, put together by some queer organizations doing amazing racial justice work—Queer Intersections PortlandBasic Rights OregonPFLAG Portland Black ChapterQ Center, and Pride Northwest. The event was modeled as a ‘teach-in’ and created space for people of color as well as white allies to have genuine and authentic discussions about race.

Like many places, Oregon has a long and complicated history with race and racial justice (see this talk by Walidah Imarisha as just one example), so hosting this community discussion was in and of itself an important step. Given the rapid unfolding of events in Ferguson, there wasn’t much time to plan and promote the event—organizers told me that the idea for the event originated on a Monday and it was held on that Friday. Despite the short notice, the rows of chairs at the Q Center were filled with people, and some folks were standing in the back when I arrived.

Unlike most LGBTQ events I attend, there was a distinct somberness to this gathering. The tension and emotion present in the room was thick and palpable. After an initial check in, we were divided into two groups—one for white allies and one for people of color—and we went into separate closed rooms. I participated in the white allies group, so can only speak to my experience at that part of the event.

We met in the small library in the Q Center, forming a large, silent circle. The facilitators got the ball rolling, asking us to describe in one or two words how we were feeling in light of the events in Ferguson to develop a ‘word cloud’. The silence that ensued was heavy, but slowly voices began to quietly emerge: “anguished, upset, angry, sad, lost, hurtful, overwhelmed, exhausted, unbelievable, hopeful.” From these feelings, we went into a discussion about privilege, accountability, chosen ignorance, apathy, and repetitive history, among other things.

During this discussion, the group of allies developed a list of commitments of how we were going to show up for racial justice, both in Ferguson and in our everyday lives. Though not exhaustive, this list (outlined below) is an important place for many to start or continue the work we do to support communities and people of color.

A community discussion will not reverse the decades of racism that Oregon and the country more broadly have been entrenched in. Yet even in light of such grave injustices, it is critical for us to remember that there are always real and tangible actions allies can take, and that these actions do have an impact.

Real Talk emboldened me personally to think about how I can take more action as a white ally in the fight for racial justice. Beyond this though, it served as a stark reminder of just how many people in our community are impacted by racism on a daily basis, and how important it is to keep this at the forefront of our minds when we are building our movements.

The level of community engagement at this event left me feeling hopeful and energized, despite how helpless I felt upon arrival. But I also carried with me the weight and somberness from that room, and the understanding that this is not only critical—it’s urgent.

On an organizational level, Pride Foundation has made a commitment to use the resources at our disposal to invest in positive change in the world—whether that be investing in advocacy efforts, or being advocates ourselves. As members of the LGBTQ community, we know how it feels to face discrimination and to lack a sense of belonging. That is why it so important for us to acknowledge and elevate the impact that the events in Ferguson have on our community, our families, our friends, and our loved ones.

We are all in this fight together, and it is only by joining together that we can effectively change our systems and institutions to recognize the inherent humanity and dignity in every person.

Katie Carter is Pride Foundation’s regional development organizer in Oregon. Email Katie.

PS—I know becoming a better white ally in the fight for racial justice is a process, and it’s not always clear what the best steps to take are. Here are some articles that I found helpful in thinking through tangible ways to be a white ally in the wake of what happened in Ferguson: Janee Woods’ piece on Becoming A White Ally to Black People in the Aftermath of Ferguson and Kate Harding’s List of 10 Things White People Can Do About Ferguson Besides Tweet (which directly addresses what to do about that feeling of helplessness and frustration that I was experiencing).

Additionally, these are some of the commitments that were made during the allies’ discussion that are excellent next steps:

Educate yourself:

  • Don’t stop the dialogue and do not get too focused on one incident; this is everyday
  • ASK what is needed from communities of color
  • LISTEN to communities of color
  • Learn about Critical Resistance and prison abolition movements
  • Increase visibility of alternative forms of news/media

Educate Others:

  • Bring anti-racism organizing into other forms of organizing (ex. LGBTQ orgs, housing justice, etc.)
  • Call out racism and cultural appropriation in LGBTQ spaces
  • Talk to others and challenge our friends, family, & partners to think about racial justice
  • Increase visibility of alternative forms of news/media

Take Action:

  • Be present during police interactions with people of color (and know your rights in these situations)
  • Download and use Five-0, the app developed by youth in Georgia that allows citizens to record and store data from every encounter with law enforcement

Financial Support:

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