New stories of injustice emerge amid the protesting and anger on an almost daily basis. I hear each with sadness, shame, and a desire to do something. I am a “doer” who likes to solve problems, and it is frustrating to know that I do not have the answers to systemic racism.
There is a protest here on Sunday and I will be there. I tell my friends that are POC that I love and support them. These actions do not seem like nearly enough. There had to be more tangible things I could do, other than voting for lawmakers who are woke.
I am a white woman who grew up in the South. Racism was alive and well when I was a kid, but I believed that when I grew up, my generation would be the one to bring about equality. Sadly, we have missed the mark, and it seems like the task will fall on the shoulders of our children.
My teenager went to a protest the other day without me. I have never been so scared in my whole life for her, not even when she drove by herself for the first time.
And at that moment I realized that I was afraid that my child would get into an altercation with police, or get hurt in the crossfire, for merely being somewhere. Somewhere that she had a legal right to be, doing something that this country has defined as an inalienable right: protesting.
It made me realize that black mothers live with a much worse fear. You see, my child was at a protest, and there is always the possibility that those can go sideways. So, the fear I felt was justifiable.
I don’t worry that she will die while jogging or shopping. I don’t fear that someone will try and weaponize the police against her while she is in the park. I do not fear for her safety because she exists in the world.
I realized the things we need to do are not as easy as a step by step process. The response from white people needs to be much more profound than the actions we take. We need to be loyal, honorable, and patriotic. We need to understand how to create change within each of us because we can not force others to be good or better versions of themselves.
As white people, we need to know that our continued silence on the injustices we see is a betrayal to our friends of color, no matter how small these wrongs might seem.
Have enough loyalty, honor, and patriotism
“There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution.” – Frederick Douglass
Are you loyal enough to support your black friends when they need you? Not just when they need you to show up at a protest, but when you overhear a racist comment. Will you be loyal enough to your friendship to acknowledge your friend’s feelings? Will you have enough honor to do the right thing and use your privilege to help others? Can you be patriotic enough to learn about the constitution and understand the bias of our current laws?
These are not always easy questions to answer. For instance, if you and your black friend are at the mall and a person deliberately bumps into them and calls them the N-word, you might know that you would say something and defend them.
However, if you are over at a white friend’s house and are talking about how she doesn’t allow her teenager to date, black boys, you stay silent. Maybe you don’t think it is your place to correct her parenting. Where does your loyalty lie? Is this the actions of an honorable person?
Days ago, lawmakers voted to block a law that would make lynching a Federal crime. LYNCHING. Lynching is not a Federal offense in 2020. Are you patriotic enough to use your right to vote to remove lawmakers like this from the equation? Are you willing to exercise your right to protest? Is your patriotism only skin deep?
Create change within ourselves
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama
I remember sitting in history class learning about Jim Crow laws (which were enforced officially until 1965). Slavery seemed far away to me as a white teenage girl, but my mom was born in 1960. My teachers were children during this era, and while they were “old,” I knew they weren’t that old…
I would cry reading about cases like that of Emmitt Till, and thought, “How could anyone do this? How could anyone let this happen?” As an adult, I spend far too much time asking myself the same questions. Why do two men think it is ok to gun down a jogger, even if they felt he robbed something from a construction site (which I do not believe was their actual thought)?
I don’t care if they caught him with all the tools, trailing behind him like bread crumbs, that doesn’t give them the right to shoot someone. I don’t care if he had was standing there selling his stolen goods with the house burning to the ground behind him while holding a can of gasoline. American citizens are innocent until proven guilty, and neither of those crimes is punishable by death.
All Ahmed Aubrey was guilty of was being black while jogging in the broad light of day. If I had been jogging, and two huge men tried to cut me off and met me with guns, I would have “violently attacked” them as well. But some people hear these stories and begin to blame the victim. He should have stopped. He should have explained himself to them. He shouldn’t have walked on that property.
If you are a woman, you are no stranger to this line of victim-blaming: She shouldn’t have drunk that much. She shouldn’t have worn that outfit. She shouldn’t have encouraged him. At what point does each of us own the responsibility to change our thinking patterns. At what point do we say white southern men do not get to gun down black men in the street. FULL STOP. Cops do not get to hold their knee on a black man’s neck while he dies and begs for his mother. FULL STOP.
There comes a time when silence is a betrayal
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
That time should have been long past now, but here is where we find ourselves. Here, at this moment, which will be a historical shift. This is our time to prove what we would have done when the Rosa Parks’ of the world stood up for themselves.
When someone on your feed shares “All Live’s matter,” and you remain silent on why that is not helping, who are you betraying? A black teacher you had in school? Your friend’s husband? The best friend you had in elementary school before your 8th birthday party revealed that racism was a problem for the parents?
Every time you say nothing, ask yourself who you are betraying. Say their names: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, Botham Jean, Trayvon Martin, and many others.
Actions that back up these fundamental shifts in behavior
- Vote: The black community needs you to be loyal, honorable, and patriotic. You need to vote for every elected official in your tiny county or big cities. Research the candidates, and vote for change.
- Protest: This is your right. Just a few months ago, I couldn’t believe that people were protesting with signs that read, “I Need a Haircut!” We need to have that level of anger over the problem at hand.
- Read: Education is always a worthwhile investment, and we need more of it. Start with some anti-racism books like How To Be An Antiracist, White Fragility, and So You Want to Talk About Race.
- Listen: Your friends who live with the effects of systemic racism want their voices to be heard. Sit with them and listen while they explain what it is like to be black in America. You might be surprised.
I still have faith that if we all pull together, we can overcome. We can get rid of practices like redlining and discrimination. We can support cops with better training, and if they are unfit to do their job, we can relieve them of duty. We can remind people how unacceptable behavior looks and sounds. We can stop killing one another.
Twenty years from now, when your grandchildren are sitting in history class, what will they be reading? Where were you when all these terrible things were happening, and will you tell them you did something?