Last year, in reaction to Sandra Bland’s death after an illegal arrest, I wrote a post to my white friends about four things we could do. The things I named were to listen to the stories of people of color, acknowledge their feelings, lament and mourn along with them, and acknowledge our own complicity as having benefitted from a system that gives us privilege and advantages, and not having fought hard enough to break down that system.
I named those four things as a place to start, and while I still think they are, the news of today calls for something more.
1) Listen. Yes, we need now more than ever to listen to the stories and testimonies of people of color, acknowledge their pain, and lament along with them.
2) But also intentionally and carefully create space. More than listening, acknowledging, and lamenting, today we need to create space for people of color to grieve without inserting ourselves into the conversation. Too often our attempts to empathize turn into co-opting the discussion and centering our own pain. A lot has been written about how much more attention and weight is given to a white woman crying than to women of color. Yes, we are hurting, and we must find ways to take care of ourselves, and places to talk and process. But the place for that is not in the comment section of a black woman’s Facebook post, or the public space of Twitter where our voices and pain overshadow those of minorities. Talk to other white folks, in private, and come back when you are ready to stand on the sidelines, in a support role, and center the voices of the marginalized. If you’re not ready to do that today, just listen quietly.
3) Acknowledge our complicity. While I still think this is vital, I have learned a bit since I wrote that about how such statements come across to people of color. I do think there is a place for them, but I also think we have to do a lot of this work in white spaces, rather than calling on people of color to bear with us during the process. And I also now realize that there is a huge element of guilt and the desire for affirmation even in this process. We act out of a desire to assuage our guilt and be seen as one of the “good” white people, rather than out of a desire to actually make a change. Most of us have mixed motivation. But we have to keep checking ourselves and each other, asking what our motivation is and what the effects of our words are — their fruit, as Christians would say. People of color are tired of hearing words come out of our mouths and never seeing any real change.
4) So, don’t talk about it, do it. Join your local Showing Up For Racial Justice chapter, support Black Lives Matter and other groups fighting for racial justice. (I’ll attach some links here this evening.) Organize and attend protests, sign petitions, make phone calls, hold your elected officials accountable, and start thinking about what it would look like in your own life to give up some of your privilege in order to raise up others. Think about what you would do if it was your own sons and daughters stepping out every day into a world that wasn’t safe for them — and then do that, and keep doing it. And don’t do it for “cookies”, to prove that you are one of the good guys, or to assuage your guilt. The goal should not be to be a pure and shiny white person. The goal should be safety and equality for all people. Until that is accomplished, we have failed, no matter how good we look wearing a #BlackLivesMatter t-shirt in our profile picture.
That’s what I’ve got for now, friends.
With all my love,