Recently there was a Twitter hashtag intended to spotlight the racial inequities of living in America. #CrimingWhileWhite is a well intended—but problematic—social statement used by white people to describe the crimes they get away with because they are white. This hashtag was supposed to show solidarity with #AliveWhileBlack, a statement used by black people to describe police harassment and racism while going about their everyday, crime-free lives.
Why is #CrimingWhileWhite problematic? Instead of finding common ground or working to change the system, white people are using the hashtag to brag about breaking the law and flaunt the ways in which they are indulged by police. We don’t need to know what privileges white people are given that are denied to folks of other races. We already know. It’s everything. It’s the whole damn world.
It’s fine to reflect on your privilege, but let’s skip the bragging. Have you ever seen Rich Kids of Instagram, a Tumblr that is a stomach-turning collection of young kids squandering their parents’ fortunes? #CrimingWhileWhite is the racial equivalent of that. If you’ve blown cigarette smoke in a police officer’s face and walked away with only a McGruff the Crime Dog pencil sharpener, we just don’t need to hear about it.
Instead, use your 140 characters to ask someone of color to share their story. Or even better, skip the tweet and just listen. #AliveWhileBlack is a great place to start, but it’s definitely the tip of the iceberg. Seek out diverse voices in your social group, and in your media consumption. The scales are tipped against writers of color, and we need to do all we can to ensure diversity in our news sources and in our social media habits.
More than 15% of North Carolina women are women of color. Despite that, only 5% of North Carolina legislators are women of color. Town councils, board of directors, and executive leadership teams at companies are all mostly white. How can we make sure our society is fair if the only people judging equality are white people? Even for people with the best of intentions, a socially aware disposition is not enough to create real, sustainable change and a country where children of all races get a fair shake.
It’s time to listen. It’s even time for the voices of experience to step back a bit to hear what’s being said. It’s going to be hard, but it’s long overdue. North Carolina is full of amazing people who have fought long and hard for social justice, and while the fight continues, it’s time for these experienced warriors to take a backseat to those who have been overlooked, those who have a story to tell. Find empathy, fight for justice, but beyond all else, listen.