Home Opinion Rep. Sargent: It’s time for white progressives to listen

Rep. Sargent: It’s time for white progressives to listen


Last week, we honored the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri. And as I sat down to write this, I was admittedly overwhelmed by all of the things I felt like I needed and even wanted to say about racism.

I could have written about how Wisconsin is, as we all know, the worst state in the country for black male incarceration rates. Or that our state is also home to the highest rate of suspension for black high school students, and that those juveniles are five times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts in Dane County.

I might’ve also talked about the 12 transgender women who have been murdered since the beginning of the year, almost all of whom were persons of color. Or making sure we honor the lives of black women when we #SayHerName, and that we give credit to the queer women who started the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the first place.

I thought about discussing how insisting that #AllLivesMatter rather than #BlackLivesMatter amounts to erasure, ignores systemic racism, and is exemplary of the problem.

I thought about expressing my disappointment, not at members of #BlackLivesMatter confronting presidential candidates, but the reactions to those actions by my fellow white progressives.

Yes, when I sat down to write this, I felt like I had so much to say, and that I could have talked about any or all of the things I mentioned above. But I’m going to resist the urge to do so.

Because, quite frankly, persons of color don’t need another white person to chime in on issues of systemic racism in our community, our state, or our country. Or to tell persons of color what their best interests are. Or to tell them how they should go about dismantling the system that oppresses them. Indeed, if the last three weeks of public discourse have taught white progressives anything, it’s that one year after Ferguson, we still fail to listen more than we talk.

So while I could have devoted the 600 words I’m allowed here to talk about systemic, structural and institutional racism, I’m going to stop here as a symbolic reminder and plea to myself and my fellow white progressives: There’s a difference between complacent silence and actively listening, and we can and must listen better.