Remembering Privilege When We March

This past Saturday, the March for Our Lives movement took the nation by storm when hundreds of protests were held across the nation. I, myself, attended the march held in Washington D.C., and it was truly a riveting experience.

This cause is particularly near and dear to my heart, and it filled me with joy to see the waves upon waves of marchers of all ages, races, religions, and political parties. I was able to witness powerful speeches and performances, coming from my Broadway idols, survivors of gun violence, and even Martin Luther King Jr.’s nine year old granddaughter, who blew everyone away with her eloquence and poise. 

While I am grateful for my experience, and for the conversations this movement is sparking, there is still one thing that clouds my mind. This movement cannot be credited as the true beginning of the fight to end gun violence. It truly began with the efforts of students of color who have been fighting to end street violence and police militarization. These movements have the same end goal, but have been received by the nation and the media in two completely different ways, and it all boils down to white privilege.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not looking to discredit the Parkland students’ trauma or the March in any way. As I said, I attended the March, I believe very strongly in the cause. However, in order to truly make progress and stand in solidarity with all of those affected by gun violence, we need to dig deeper and recognize everyday gun violence, and the stories of lives that don’t make the news due to the color of the victim’s skin. This issue was addressed at the march by student speakers such as Edna Chavez, Naomi Walder, and Zion Kelley. These young people reminded the crowd of the violence that happens in their everyday communities, violence that gets pushed to the side and ignored by mainstream media and the public in general.

This was a very important and sobering reminder, as many white activists often forget and are unable to fully understand the struggles of people of color. This isn’t to scold anyone. I am also guilty of this once in awhile; all white people benefit from this privilege of forgetting. But for many people of color, they don’t have the luxury to forget. The fight for their lives is an everyday reality for them.

We can observe white privilege in the differences between the way the March for Our Lives movement and the Black Lives Matter movement have been generally received. When black students marched to protest police militarization and the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, they were met with tear-gas and national backlash. On the other hand, the March for Our Lives, run and organized by mostly white students, has been widely praised and was protected by law enforcement. Both were peaceful demonstrations, with the same end goals, but with wildly different outcomes. This is privilege in action. It is a travesty when mainstream America either subconsciously or consciously chooses to ignore and belittle one movement, while giving the other a platform. Both movements are just as worthy of recognition and both movements are fighting endlessly to end the same epidemic.

We as white activists need to do better. We need to recognize the efforts of students of color, to recognize our privilege, to keep fighting for the lives of everyone, and to keep fighting against white supremacy. We all need to work together to truly put an end to this.