Are The #CrimingWhileWhite and #AliveWhileBlack Hashtags Dismantling Racism?

December 9th 2014

Danielle Belton

An interesting, but very old online conversation grew Wednesday night out of the shock and pain of no one being held accountable in the death of Staten Island father Eric Garner. Are there still two Americas – separated by black and white, privilege and pain?

The answer? Duh, yes. And two hashtags lead the way.

The hashtags #CrimingWhileWhite and #AliveWhileBlack caught fire on Twitter after a Grand Jury ruled not charge officer Daniel Pantaleo with the murder of Eric Garner. Garner, an African American man, was killed in August when Pantaleo used an illegal chokehold on him.

In response, users took to Twitter telling their own stories of criminal inequities – in black and white – revealing true stories that go beyond what statistics already back up..

The #CrimingWhileWhite hashtag came first. It was created by “Tonight Show” writer Jason Ross, who after tweeting about escaping punishment for a serious crime encouraged other white people to share their similar tales. Black Twitter users followed up on Thursday with a hashtag of their own #AliveWhileBlack, created by Ebony.com editor Jamilah Lemieux, illustrating the discrimination they’d faced in everyday experiences.

Some posited that the #AliveWhileBlack hashtag was created to counter the feeling that Eric Garner’s death was being hijacked by some Twitter users making jokes about the privilege they’ve experienced.

Like with no officer being indicted in either Eric Garner’s death or that of Ferguson teen Michael Brown, there is a feeling of inevitability, as if the outcome of these cases – the deaths of young black men and police officers going unpunished – were preordained.

That feeling of preordination comes from a history that we, as Americans, can’t afford to ignore. #CrimingWhileWhite and #AliveWhileBlack could have been a discussion before Twitter existed back in 2005 when stories of white people “finding” food and black people “looting” grocery stores were commonplace in the wake of Hurricane Katrina coverage.

You can go back even further and remember the controversy surrounding the separate and unequal subject matter of a book from 22 years ago, Andrew Hacker’s “Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal.” The book highlighted the many inequities in American society, including the criminal justice system. Hacker posits the dehumanization of African Americans via slavery created a persistent racial division in our society, that America is seen as “belonging” to white people and African Americans are “aliens in the only land they know.”

Hacker states: “America may be seen as two separate nations. Of course, there are places where the races mingle. Yet in most significant aspects, the separation is pervasive and penetrating. As a social and human division, it surpasses all others – even gender – in intensity and subordination.”

The problem is an ancient one. The incidents and what happens afterwards feel inevitable because past is prologue, but it doesn’t have to be. The fact that black and white Twitter users are having this open dialogue is part of the solution. The power of white privilege and racism can only be dismantled and unpacked if people acknowledge that these things exist. We must continue to call out racism and privilege as we see it and we need to continue to do it in public forums. Only by bringing light to this pain can we begin the work to expel it.

It may seem small, but this is where the work starts. By talking, then organizing and action. Let’s dismantle our racist systems, one tweet at a time.