I’ll start out first with an apology, not for the views or opinions stated, but for this: I was always taught that we all had our own struggles. (Thank you, super-Protestant roots in the Midwest). So while I don’t want to compare myself or my story to anyone else’s, specifically not the Black or Brown voices out there that need to be heard, it’s my default. It’s what I was taught. I was always told that we all had to pull ourselves up and work hard and that if you worked hard, you could make a life for yourself: it’s the American Dream, right? But I was never taught that this specific dream depends on the color of your skin. I was never explicitly taught the systemic pieces of racism that this country lives on, but I know it exists; the same way I know dirty cops exist even though as a white woman, I’ve been privileged enough to never see that side of a badge.
It wasn’t until I was 17 that I first really experienced racism: whether it was the stares at me, half of a mixed-race couple; my parents choosing to not accept or talk to me about my relationship nor attend Senior Prom photo sessions with the other parents; or my boyfriend’s cousin, telling me I was part of the problem. “You have plenty of good white boys,” she said, “why are you taking our good Black boys?”
I can’t answer that. I can’t answer the calls for creating a system of justice. We’ve never been equal, you or I, because our founding fathers didn’t allow it. I can give you my sorrow, but that’s not worth much. I can give you my voice, but I’d rather hear yours. I can give you my guilt, but it won’t serve anyone.
The biggest questions that have been going through my head this month are twofold: Why now, and What now? White people have needlessly killed others for centuries. Dirty cops have existed for centuries. Man is fallible and will continue to be, and when we put someone in charge, we give them a power and trust. Too many years of power and trust have brought us here, and if you don’t think so, look at the demographics of our United States Congress. We trust them to do what is good and moral on behalf of us, yet we’re shocked that they do not, time and time again. We give them a power game of politics, then act baffled when those politics take precedence over our own lives. We hand people power, in some way, shape, or form, and we have no way to check on them: on their mental health, on their perspective, and on their actions. Police officers get fed a narrative every day that cautions danger, disruption, and anarchy; yet we’re shocked when they use blunt force and fill us full of lead and dread. And that’s not the moral of the story. The moral of the story is that being white means being inherently powerful. And that’s what I have an issue with. It’s what I’ve always had an issue with, but have just never known how to say it.
I’m not an activist or a protester; I never have been. I’m too cynical to think that my actions would count, and in this current state, I don’t think that my words are worthy of any airtime. For too long, white perspective has driven the narrative about race in the mainstream media, and it’s shocking to me that just now, in 2020, we’re finally shutting up long enough to listen.
As a white woman, I’ve been complicit. I’ve been complicit in my silence, in my ignorance, and in my choices. I love music, yet most of the wonderful rap beats I blast don’t belong to me. I speak and teach Spanish, and none of that culture belongs to me. I’m a piece of camouflage in a bright yellow field: I obviously don’t belong, yet I try so hard to fit in – and I don’t know where I fit, to be honest.
I don’t know whose idea it was to amass so much wealth and material goods that you felt the need to own people just to care for it all, and I’m so ashamed that they could be my ancestors. I feel ashamed for not correcting my father, who’s just starting to come to grips as a straight cisgender white man about his privilege, and I’m more ashamed that I don’t talk to him about it. Over the years, it’s been easier to ignore his memes, his ignorance, his lack of care, and his general red-blooded farmer persona. Easier, yes… the right thing, no. I feel ashamed on behalf of my bank account, where my heart wants to support as many Black-owned businesses right now, yet I know I can’t afford to spend extra dollars. And I feel ashamed for my past, for my own ignorance that’s implicit when growing up in a rural/suburban town with the diversity level of my pinky; not doing enough, not speaking out enough, and worst of all: not questioning enough.
I think (I hope) that all white people are questioning a lot right now. The systems put in place for us, by us, are not serving the collective. They haven’t been for a while, and I’m not sure why this senseless murder was a catalyst over any of the others, but I guess I should be grateful for the opportunity. I’ve learned how to question myself, my values, and search for how to do more because I owe it to all the Black and Brown people to do more. This is about more than just making sure my social media posts are racially and ably diverse. It’s about how I can do better as a business owner, as a woman, as a wife, as a sister, as a friend, and even as a casual acquaintance. It’s about doing more than wanting to support women-owned businesses. It’s about speaking up, even when (especially when) I’m uncomfortable: because that’s my privilege. My discomfort for 5 minutes is nothing compared to someone else’s life or experience.
All I know is this: a smile is worthwhile. A conversation is even better. But action takes real guts, and as a country and as a society, we’re bad at action. I can hope for a better day, and I can dream of a way to make us equitable, and I’ll continue learning, listening, adjusting, and finding a better way to be a good human being. It’s ironic that I started [Malcolm Gladwell’s] “Talking to Strangers” around this time because the book starts with Sandra Bland. Do you remember her story, or are you too consumed by the Black death in this country that it’s numbed with all the others? She was pulled over on a routine traffic stop, detained, and committed suicide in jail three days later. I remember feeling immense sadness at reading that, similar to George Floyd, similar to Tamir Rice, similar to Freddy Gray, and similar to so many others: sadness and numbness, with the knowledge that I couldn’t do anything to help. Sure, I can get angry and march and rage, but that won’t bring them back or create new policies. I can be numb and sad, but those are all internal emotions that won’t bring these lives back or fix the system that is broken. I can be indifferent, which is the absolute worst of all.
That indifference comes in so many ways, but the biggest one I notice is the white peoples’ inability to see Blacks as victims of a system we have coerced them into. “Work hard”, we say. “Just a little harder”. The mom of two or three can’t work harder. The father with multiple jobs has no more hours left in the day to give, like what I saw my father go through as a child: yet my father had the color of his skin to work for him. Your story might be different. That’s the system we’ve created; this broken, ugly, antique of a system. When something doesn’t “feel right” in the hiring process when there’s no one willing to come to the table because they’ve been shut out for years when the security guard of a store straightens up when a black man comes in when streets are not safe at night if you’re carrying anything at all: a hairbrush, a toy gun, a counterfeit $20. These are just a few examples of how we’ve failed you, Black people, among so many others.
I can give you my sorrow, but that’s not worth much. I can give you my voice, but I’d rather hear yours. I can give you my guilt, but it won’t serve anyone. So instead, dear Black and Brown people, let me give you my full attention, and I implore you, dear white people, that you do the same.