What do I think about the overwhelming support that has recently been shown by white people who have willingly participated in marches and public protests that highlight the value of Black lives in the United States and the need for greater police accountability in how they interact with Black people?
Since the public demonstrations first began to occur in response to George Floyd’s very graphic and public killing under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, I have been asked this question multiple times.
My consistent answer has been that I hope this type of support consistently continues, but history has shown us that it likely will not.
Please understand I do not say this in a sarcastic or negative way. At this point in my life, I am trying to be a realist.
History has shown us a few general truths about white support of Black causes, especially those that involve police.
In general, for white people to stand with Black people against questionable police actions, the Black person who serves as the lightning rod that led to the event that calls white people to action must typically have an impeccable personal history.
One of the most obvious examples of this was Michael Brown, who was a flawed teenager whose youthful actions were used to justify his death and why white people could not support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Similarly, other Black people who were not perfect were raked over the coals for a host of past “sins” that had nothing to do with the police interactions that led to their lives ending or being forever changed.
For example, being delinquent on child support payments (Walter Scott and Eric Garner) or having DUI arrests in their past (Rodney King).
One of the ironies of the current situation is that Mr. Floyd was not the poster child for what a “good” Black person is, yet many white people have been kind to his memory instead of using his past as justification for his life being taken.
Before someone points to the fact that Mr. Floyd’s death was the action that sparked so much support from white people, we must acknowledge this support for a Black man with a checkered past is the exception, not the rule.
I do not understand why Mr. Floyd served as the spark for this new sense of outrage by white people when multiple other Black people were killed before him, but I am thankful that more people are now involved.
Also, in general, white support for Black causes may start out strong, but the longer the challenges last and the more inconvenient participation in those causes becomes, the less likely white citizens will stick with it.
Anger over the killing of a Black or Brown person typically lasts if there is nothing else vying for the collective attention.
When that other thing occurs, whether it be a natural disaster, pandemic or sporting event, something else becomes bigger and more important, until another Black or Brown life is lost, and the cycle starts over again.
Recent history has shown us that if white support does continue, their attention will eventually be drawn away from the original cause and turned to something wholly different.
Over the past few months, we have seen multiple examples of protests starting out peacefully only to turn destructive due to the actions of people who were clearly involved only to cause trouble.
Also, we have seen in multiple cities public movements that started out as acts of support for Black and Brown lives eventually turned into something else that coopted the original movement.
This has been evidenced in “autonomous zones” that sprung up in Seattle and Portland that have nothing to do with protecting life.
What does this say to Black and Brown people about the support they may receive in the future?
When you do receive support in the future, you had better work as quickly as possible to get your demands for equality met before people get tired or bored and turn their attention to the next cause or object vying for their attention.
If not, you may find yourself standing on the front lines with severely diminished support.
For those who disagree with me, I welcome you to prove me wrong.
A pastor, author and educator living in St. Louis, Missouri, he is the author of several books, including The Gospel According to Broadway and Taking Apart Bootstrap Theology: Gospel of Generosity and Justice.