If your Facebook friends and Twitter buddies are anything like ours, then your feed’s been filled with lots of heartfelt posts and righteous anger around the Trayvon Martin verdict. This case and its verdict have had a powerful impact on people, and if there’s anything positive that has come out of the death of a young black boy, it’s that a dialogue has opened up around what justice, race and power mean in this country.
Talk is good. And necessary. But we should push ourselves to move beyond just talking — there are things we can do to create positive change in our communities and our world. And here are a few of ‘em.
1. Listen. Particularly to black authors and commentators who have first-hand experience on what it’s like to be black in America. Several incredible pieces have already been written on Colorlines, Ebony, The Root, and the Atlantic.
2. But speak up when someone is saying ignorant shit. And this goes double when it comes to media. Various media sources — and we’re not naming names — are biased in their coverage of race and justice issues. The glut of news options in this country means that people can get the news they want to hear, whether it’s at all truthful or fair — and this applies to both conservative and liberal news channels and publications. You owe it to yourself, and the people you converse with, to pursue a variety of media in any case. It may not give you the unadulterated truth, but it will give you a more comprehensive understanding of how the media can impact and influence public opinion on a story.
3. Check your white privilege. If you’re white, consider how your life is privileged every single day because of your whiteness. And consider that while the sentiment that “We are all Trayvon” may be well-intended, it’s actually not really true if you’re a white American. We don’t actually know at all what it’s like to live as a black person in this country, and to presume that we do is to exercise your white privilege. To say that you “don’t see color” is to exercise your white privilege. And to pretend that we live in some kind of post-racial paradise is to both deny this country’s very real current racist policies and practices and our historical complicity in perpetuating racism.
4. Support organizations that support civil rights and equality. I’m talking places like Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP, and ColorOfChange. Look for organizations in your community that address race and gender inequality and social justice issues.
5. Mentor a local child. All children. Any child. Counteract the negative messages that so many teenagers get about their worth by joining an elementary or high school mentoring program. Figure out what you do best and volunteer to teach kids — maybe it’s acting, writing, building things –– show kids they’re worthwhile by getting involved in their lives.
6. Volunteer to be a victim’s advocate. SaysWinona: “Help people through the stressful legal proceedings following a tragedy. I’ve had friends who were assigned victim’s advocates in incredibly stressful situations and they helped IMMENSELY. Contact your local police department for more info.” Here’s the page, for instance, for New York state’s program.
7. Call and write to your local officials to let them know how you feel about things like the Stand Your Ground law. Learn the laws in your state and examine how they may be socially, racially or sexually biased. You can find out who they are here.
8. And what’s even more important: Vote, vote, vote. People often blow off local elections (myself included, sorry to say), but local politicians were the same ones who made Stand Your Ground a law (same goes for the anti-women legislation in Texas). These elections are critical.