What I Want White People to Understand About Baltimore


Story by Cynthia Schroeder


On May 1, Maryland state prosecutors announced that they had probable cause to file homicide, manslaughter and misconduct charges against the six police officers who were involved in the death of Freddie Gray. Now that a huge step has been made to seek justice for Freddie Gray and his family, will the rioting and unrest in Baltimore and the rest of the country end? Not likely.

Full disclosure: I am half Mexican and half white. Because of my ethnicity and my upbringing with two families that are polar opposites in both culture and political ideologies, I have firsthand knowledge of both sides — people who have the privilege in society, yet are oblivious to it, and those that are discriminated against daily. Also, while I identify more with my Mexican side and see myself as a Mexican, the rest of the world sees me as a young Caucasian woman because of my appearance and I am treated as such daily.

With that said, I recognize that I will never be treated with the same disrespect and discrimination that Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, or 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones experienced before their untimely deaths. That’s an overwhelming amount of names, isn’t it? As white people, we have never been and will never be victims of oppression. Acknowledging this is the first step in dismantling the ever present white supremacy within our society.

I’m frustrated with how so many white Americans are choosing to blame people of color for their own oppression, ignoring the numerous decades of demeaning that have led to this chaos. According to them, the “animals” and “thugs” in Baltimore are “destroying their own city.” White people are condemning people of color for their expressions of grief and frustration. Anybody capable of empathy will realize that nobody is born with the urge to smash things and riot. What is being done to black people to get them to this state of mind? This is a conversation that white people are too afraid to have because that would mean that we are not as advanced as a society as we think we are. But we have a black president! We’ve changed!

Instead of the necessary conversation about social injustice that needs to occur, other absurd, insensitive and socially withdrawn conversations have taken its place. For some, the Freddie Gray incident served as an opportunity to remind everyone else that if Freddie, like Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin, had been a good law-abiding church boy, he would have never found himself facing the unfortunate circumstances with the brutes at the Baltimore Police Department that ultimately took his life. For others, especially on my Facebook timeline, it was an opportunity to remind the world that not all cops are bad and that #BlueLivesMatter. While this may be true, the ill timing is indicative of the deep-rooted prejudice that still exists between black and white Americans.

And then there are some who are sitting complacent in the comfort of their air-conditioned upper middle class homes, not once mentioning the chaos reminiscent of a battleground occurring in Baltimore that they are watching unfold via smart TV.

White Americans are isolated from the realities of police brutality and oppression. To them, reading about the horrendous way in which the police neglected a man’s pleas for medical attention is abstract. It’s something that happens in a faraway land known as “the ghetto” where a mythical thing called “poverty” exists. They prove that the less you think about oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows.

Rioting is not the real problem here. Rioting is a result of a community feeling so hopeless and disillusioned by the system that is supposed to protect them; the same system that falsely preaches “every man is created equal” and the same system that declares daily that certain lives are more important than theirs. It’s those certain lives, not the black lives, that will be protected at any cost. This is not just a pattern of black person after black person losing their lives unjustifiably at the hands of irresponsible police officers, as many white Americans dismiss it to be, it is anger and frustration at their socio-economic reality.

So, from a person that benefits from white privilege to another person who shares the same benefits, this is what I want you to know:

A nonviolent movement has been occurring, but we are just too busy to notice because we are making it about ourselves.

The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag was created in 2012 after the Trayvon Martin case gained traction around the country. According to the creators of the hashtag, the hashtag was created as a response to the anti-Black racism that permeates American society. “When we say Black Lives Matter, we are talking about the ways in which Black people are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity,” said Alicia Garza, co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter.

Since the inception of #BlackLivesMatter, I’ve seen numerous hashtags on social media that put their own spin on it and in turn, attempt to change the meaning. This does nothing but contribute to the erasure of the lost lives #BlackLivesMatter intended to bring to center of the conversation. Examples of such are #AllLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter, the pro-law enforcement perspective.

When we say #AllLivesMatter we are injecting our own need to be centered into a movement for racial justice rather than stand in solidarity with the black community. The purpose of #BlackLivesMatter is not “only black lives matter,” or that other minority groups do not experience oppression, it is to highlight the anti-blackness that occurs within our society.

As one person on Twitter put it, “Do people who change #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter run thru a cancer fundraiser going “THERE ARE OTHER DISEASES TOO.”

It’s time for us to talk openly about the injustice and hopelessness felt by the black community that is driving them to riot.

Rioting and looting are not behaviors that I will ever partake in. I feel badly for the store and property owners in Baltimore that will be forced to repair and rebuild. However, I’m forced to recognize the destruction and chaos occurring in Baltimore is the final option for a group of people who have already tried to be heard in a series of non-violent protests nationwide. As difficult as it may be, I am forced to ask myself this question and I hope you will too — who is worse in a moral standpoint: the young black man whose utter hopelessness leads him to break a window of a police car or me, the white person who has conformed to a system that creates this much justified hopelessness?

It’s time to stand in solidarity with the black community and no longer pass on prejudice attitudes to future generations.

Growing up, I remember my family making racist comments ranging from a scale of “is that really racist?” to “wow, that’s a really awful thing to say.”
It was really anything from reinforcing negative stereotypes about other minorities to comments asking why “minorities always had to play the race card.” Children are the product of their environment. When the environment is constantly planting white supremacy brand seeds into a young mind, they tend to grow into fully bloomed prejudiced attitudes during adulthood. Prejudiced attitudes are passed down from generation to generation. It is our duty to not pass them down to younger generations.

Substance is a publication of the Mt. San Antonio College Journalism Program. The program recently moved its newsroom over to Medium as part of a one-year experiment. Read about it here.