In the 1900s, parachutes were mostly used by experts to get into hard-to-reach areas with their equipment and supplies in tow. They were targeting their landing with specific intent, methodology and an outcome in mind. It took particular skill and determination to land on a target with precision.
These days, parachuting has become a recreational sport accessible to everyone with the desire to join their local parachuting club. There are even parachuting competitions where interested parties can compete to show off their parachuting skills.
Parachuting is a useful way to view the actions of white “progressives” who claim they are in solidarity to improve the condition of Black people while at the same time wielding their white privilege to instigate discord within the Black community. Recently, I was involved in ideological disagreements with some Black women. Some issues we have resolved. Others, we may never see eye-to-eye on. The Black community remains divided on a number of issues.
During these moments of intensity and disagreement, we, Black people, forget the historical trauma and the programming we have endured, globally, for centuries. We forget that slave masters bred us to hate ourselves, and by extension, one another. We forget Africa was drawn on a map, sliced up and colonized to extort natural resources that would birth the world’s industrial revolutions many times over. The colonizers have never left. Bickering over our personal and political differences is like music to the ears of white people looking desperately to land their parachutes into the movement, solidify their martyrdom and call themselves allies or progressives.
The San Diego region in particular is rife with white progressives parachuting into our small community and communities of color at every opportunity. White people have done this masterfully because they have the power to do it, and they are given a pass to do it. Many high-ranking parachuters who have no consistent track record of directly supporting communities of color are emboldened during campaign season and selected to take political office and other positions of leadership. Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are guilty of parachuting into our communities when convenient, using Black people as fodder for their own political and personal gain. Similar to recreational parachuting competitions, white people compete with one other to secure an honorary space in the Black community – and they will devalue the work of any Black person who challenges them publicly. Not only will they devalue the work themselves, but they will subtly and discreetly convince us to do it to each other.
My first priority is to acknowledge and converse with those Black women who are ready, able and sincere about doing so. What is unacceptable under every circumstance are white people jumping into our discussions to tell the Black community who is and who is not worthy of Black support. In recent national history, Amy Cooper of New York Central Park asserted her white privilege over a Black man doing nothing but birdwatching, existing. Our local Karens – progressives who have helped organize, shown up for our marches and claim to support Black people – have overstepped their boundaries on this issue.
I recently named several white women in the Democratic Party as examples of this gross misuse of privilege. These women have undoubtedly shown up to address institutional racism that continues to oppress people of color. But they have abdicated their responsibility to rein in their white privilege when discussing issues pertaining to the Black community, especially our disagreements. By jumping into ideological disagreements between Black people and attempting to devalue or “cancel” me, they have caused further harm to our community.
Our Black trauma is not for your entertainment. Put down your parachute and work on humbly supporting us as we work to conquer all barriers that divide and oppress us.
Shane Harris is CEO of the People’s Alliance for Justice and a national civil rights activist.