This post was written by Gabriel Baillargeon, a photographer based in the western Massachusetts area.
“White is an attitude, not a color.” – James Baldwin
Recently, in mid-July of this year, I had been one of the few white faces that had attended the Trayvon Martin Candlelight Vigil held at the courthouse in Springfield, Massachusetts. The rest of those who attended represented the many generations of African-Americans that have suffered at the white hands of this nation’s ongoing history of institutionalized racism. Trayvon’s case was not an exception to such a history as many whites would prefer, which is a common trend regarding many instances of blatant racism such as this.
It was at this candlelight vigil where many had spoken about their outrage over Zimmerman’s acquittal. Faces had expressed sentiments of anger or were sunken with sadness, but such expressions of grief were not either blind or hopeless. That night, State Rep. Benjamin Swan had said– and I’m paraphrasing– “I know you are all angry, and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s what you do with that anger that matters. We have to channel our anger in a positive way.”
I had sensed a strong connection among the people of this African-American community. These people knew what this nation’s problems were, all while being ironically scapegoated by this nation as a problem.
In the gathering, I sought to somehow connect myself to the black struggle. Of course this sounds paradoxical, since I, being white, am apart of that oppressive force that creates such a struggle. How can a white person or, more importantly, a white collective, attach themselves to be the arm or subordinate appendage, rather than being the mind or paternalistic supervisor, of the oppressed African-American collective (or even any oppressed collective for that matter)? Though I am still lacking the insight for such a solution, the answers that construct it doubtlessly must come from the voices that have been long neglected for much too long because of white indifference. Attending the vigil was only the start of understanding how to mobilize a consciousness that runs parallel to specifically black sentiments.
That day I saw black men, women and youth cry. Through them, I too, was able to cry and gain a grasp onto a struggle that I could never fully understand. It was an incredible human moment. Trayvon had been a single representative of the black community. The conservative media had made him out to be an animal, as this nation has done for countless blacks for many generations.
This tendency to dehumanize other human beings does a terrible thing to us. When we deny the humanity of human beings who are in most instances forced to be separated from those who have the luxury to create the golden standards, we likewise deny the humanity of ourselves.
The inability to feel the suffering of human beings puts us in the presence of desperate ultimatums which we will not be able to feel if we do not find the means to act. The inability to feel or talk about what others are feeling makes us indifferent, and we therefore reduce ourselves to becoming another complication in the issue at hand. Even worse, when we are indifferent to indifference, so that we are unaware of it, we are standing still and going most certainly nowhere.
Though I will never endure the struggle of black men, women and youth, I can certainly seek to understand why it exists and, above all else, LISTEN and LEARN from the voices that the struggle hushes, while providing for the privileged majority the same mentality to be at the service of true justice. To be indifferent is to be complicit, and to be complicit is to be apart of the problems that have infected our institutions, communities, homes and even the infinite depths of ourselves.