Five Steps White People (Myself Included) Can Take
Some places to start in response to systemic racism.
Posted Jun 15, 2020
1. Understand that Black Lives Matter. Some people are inclined to say that “all lives matter,” and of course all lives do matter. But as John and Ocean Robbins shared in a recent post (and I paraphrase): If a house is burning down, you don’t call the fire department and say “all houses matter”; instead you focus on and send help to the specific house that is burning. Black people have endured unspeakable individual and collective traumas of a nature that I/we (the privileged white) can never truly understand. This trauma has occurred in their past, AND it is a part of every day of their lives, in the injustices, disadvantages, discrimination and microaggressions they experience. When we say black lives matter we are acknowledging this and our need to take action.
2. Sit with discomfort. The recent events that have occurred are not just about police brutality against people in the black community. If so, it might be easy to distance oneself and think that the problem lies with a small number of very bad cops “out there”, and justice simply needs to be served. Instead these recent events are only a very small part of a very ugly reality. While sadly it has taken the recent and brutal deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others to begin to mobilize white people to action, people who are black have suffered systemic racism for centuries, and in many ways I/we — people of white privilege — have consciously and/or unconsciously played a role in this through our actions or inactions, our silence or complacency —and have benefitted from the color of our skin in ways we often don’t recognize. There is a lot of discomfort in this, and it is easy to want to look the other way. If we are truly awake to this discomfort, I believe this an important place where change can begin.
3. Don’t be color blind. Many people with good intention think or say “I don’t see color. I see that we are all the same.” As author and Tedx speaker LeRon Barton poignantly shared in a recent conversation: “I want you to recognize my skin color, I want you to recognize my race….I want you to see all of that because when you are able to see that, you are truly able to see me.”
4. Listen deeply. Listen to the stories and voices of black people from all walks of life so that you may begin to really hear their experiences. A recent story in the Boston Globe is just one such account of a former Northeastern University athletic director pulled over by the police for simply walking out of his house at 5:45 pm to go to Whole Foods down the street. He was immediately surrounded by four police cruisers and one cop who drew his gun because he was presumed to be another tall black man they were pursuing. There is also the voice of a mother who is panicked about her young son not doing his homework and falling behind because she knows all too well the tremendous disadvantages he will face simply on account of him being black. And she is fearful every night of her older teen coming home safe and alive each night, praying every time he takes the car that he does not get pulled over by the cops and shot.
5. Take actions that matter and that make a difference to the black community. It can be easy to feel a sense of overwhelm and helplessness, in the face of such horrible atrocities that keep occurring, but sometimes this can lead to inaction. Instead, we can mobilize our energy toward small steps that matter. We can educate ourselves, and have conscious conversations that lead to generating action steps. (Below I share a list of resources that I have come across from various sources that may be one place to begin). We can vote for politicians at the local and national level who support strong positive, systemic changes in all aspects of life to address discrimination and racism. We can donate financially to organizations that support the black community, and we can support local black businesses. We can continue to work on our own behaviors so that we don’t unwittingly contribute to the climate of racism through our inherent biases, microaggressions or the use of seemingly “innocent” stereotypes.
Some resources that I have come across:
Stamped From the Beginning, by Ibram X. Kendi
Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho
An Uncomfortable (But Meaningful) Conversation About Race - with Lama Rod Owens