….since my last post, I have felt like a sponge that has been doused in lighter fluid — I am soaking up as much as I possibly can, and yet simultaneously feeling like everything could go up in flames at any moment. Some new thing popping up, another exponential spike in COVID, yet *ANOTHER* completely evil, unjustified piece of police brutality caught on tape that leads to zero arrests or people being held accountable for their actions…
But this time is important. So important. Yes, I feel like there were moments of complete paralysis I’ve tried to keep written record elsewhere– to note, to process, and to understand everything that is going on. And it’s taken far to long to finally get into this space– because there is a *lot* swirling around. And a lot to process.
But. It’s meaningful processing work.
This is going to be a long post, so grab a beverage.
So I’ve been thinking about it. And when I say “it”, I mean the whole movement. The movement among people (rather, the mobilization of people all over) and the gusto into the movement itself– what started as the Black Lives Matter movement 8 years ago and what it’s bubbled into now. How, the way we’re witnessing it right now, the way it’s unfolding here and now, is *long* overdue. And I’ve been unpacking a couple things.
My white privilege, for example. How I’ve long benefitted off of a racist system. One of my clergy friends articulated it in a rather simple, yet powerful way:
“I benefit from a system of White Supremacy. And I am working to dismantle that system on an individual, community and systemic level. More times than not, I accept Whiteness as “normal ness” which is not right.
Whiteness is a racial construct as is any other racial construct. According to my Christian identity I strive to be part of a community which does not distinguish male from female, slave from free, Roman from Jew.
But according to my 20th and 21st century American Whiteness I have been granted certain privileges that are not given to my Black siblings in particular. These differences include but are not limited to:
1. Feeling that it is safe to call the police for help
2. Being able to wear my clothes, hair, jewelry or accessories in any way I see fit.
3. Being able to get adequate health care for myself and my children
4. Having the choice to send my kids to “better” schools which have more `money and less people of color
5. Having access to 5 grocery stores with in a 2 mile radius of my home – Having a job which allows me the flexibility to work from home during global pandemic
….And so many more benefits to my whiteness.”~KR, Facebook
I can’t just put blinders on and “not see color” and pretend it doesn’t matter. First, “not seeing color” is such a privileged thing to say to begin with, and it’s harmful because it’s a blatant disregard for the fact that, YES, people are STILL discriminated against because of their skin color. This is something we need to “check in” with, within ourselves, every day, in order to consciously take steps to be anti-racist. Because in this case, being neutral is taking the side of the oppressor. In this case, it is the systems that are inherently racist.
Some of this realization for people, especially if they’re just now coming face to face with it, triggers feelings of guilt and being “under attack”.
It’s important that we sit with this discomfort.
Which brings me to the topic of white guilt. I’ll start by saying that it’s a thing. And a lot of people feel like the #BLM movement is a ploy to “make white people feel bad”. Which is….not correct. What the #BLM movement is calling for is accountability. Acknowledgements that our systems and words and actions have caused harm and that we need to do better at owning up to that harm, and then doing the best we can to repair it, with the preferences, the feelings, & the emotions of the hurt party as the primary focus.
For some, the guilt response swings another way— with these feelings of immediate need to take all of our “guilt” and unload it onto someone (I think now of the massive amounts of DMS and comments that Black educators on social media are receiving– full of the “I’m so sorry’s” and “I didn’t know racism existed this bad” and perhaps the more subtle “I never talk about politics on social media but……” along with whatever other examples I’ve seen. There’s bound to be discomfort here. But it’s our job to sit with it. In private. Deep down. Where it counts. We CERTAINLY should not be burdening the Black community with it.
There is an excellent piece of social media that was very eye-opening to me that I recommend to anyone:
How to Commit to Doing Anti-Racist Work Without Causing More Harm
And because PAYING BLACK ARTISTS, EDUCATORS, & CREATORS is PARAMOUNT, you can go to her site to figure out how you would like to financially compensate her for this work that is *not hers to do.*
And though right now it’s crucial that we work to center & amplify melanated voices, I did want to share also Alexis Rockley’s resource video on Discomfort. (Because sadly, we learn best & are more accepting of information when it’s shared with us by people who “look like us”):
Now that you’ve seen that, I want to clarify that as I’ve moved through this journey, there is some nuance to that. That being how to get involved in racial justice work & who to amplify and when and how.
I’ve heard from many Black educators that they are tired. Tired of doing this work and educating people. That they shouldn’t have to be out here calling people out. That we should be taking initiative to teach our fellow white people how to be anti-racist. I’ve also heard from many that we should be staying in our lane. That we should be shutting up and listening for a hot second about what the community has to say. That we shouldn’t be trying to jump into work we’ve had no experience in, or to lead a movement we don’t know anything about.
All of these assessments are equally valid. There’s a lot of This is not our work to lead (as in, start from the ground up with little to zero education), but rather, our work to engage with this work with an open mind and an intentionality centered in love & compassion that does not do more harm.
I found the below to be a helpful graphic as we unpack these dichotomies & dualities:
So as I’m learning about all of this, it’s made me aware of patterns. Patterns of people, patterns of words, patterns of brands, patterns of organizations in response to all of this massive shift in opinion.
I’ve looked to my IRL role models. How they’re acting. What they’re saying. Who they are standing behind, what they’re standing for, the actions they’re taking to be & do better.
But I’m also looking at their silence.
Very telling for me were a couple influencers I’ve followed on Instagram for a while. A crazy eye-opener (and an example of how so much racism is baked-in and goes on behind the scenes in the corporate world) for me was the Jenna Kutcher Case Study, made public by Toi Marie which you can read the whole exchange here. Context can be found here.
And that…. is not what we want to aspire to. We can and MUST do better in supporting our Black brothers and sisters and their communities. And because I’m not an expert on racial justice (I really am new to this work, and it’s going to be a lifelong journey of committing to it) it is not my job to lead, but to listen, to amplify, and to follow.
And with this realization, I thought (and you may be thinking now)–
Well, first off, let’s not fall victim to performative activism and virtue signaling. A lot of this work is rooted in changed behavior which is action. So it’s important that we find opportunities that allow us to show up this way.
What was a nice example of performative activism was when millions of people flooded their instagram timelines with a black square accompanied by the caption “#blacklivesmatter”. What was suppposed to be a very visual “movement” was actually harmful– protest organizers and movement leaders relying on the availability of the hashtag #blacklivesmatter to direct them to meaningful, useful sources were bombarded by streams of blacks squares.
It was hard to watch– something that was supposed to bring awareness to the movement ended up *hurting* the movement. And this is why we have to be careful.
Another nice example of performative activism would be D.C. Mayor Bowser’s “support” of the BLM movement by painting “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on the road in Washington D.C.. But, since it was not backed with reduced police funding, it was performative. Even the painting was altered by Black street artists to include the words “DEFUND THE POLICE” right after the “MATTER”. The crazy thing?? A Conservative group is now *suing* the mayor for having painted it on the street….
And the virtue signaling can’t just be us, going on Instagram and Facebook and sharing things to prove how “woke” we are. Unless we’re backing that activity with petitions, phone calls, deep-seated change, and commitment to do better…. it’s performative. We can do better. We also don’t get “cookies” for this stuff. Just now waking up and coming to the “antiracism party” doesn’t get us gold stars. We need to do this work because well, we need to do this work. And it’s the “bare-minimum” to be just “not racist”. We need to work to be anti-racist, to fight against those systems that are steeped in white supremacy. And because it’s these systems built by white supremacy, it’s going to take white privilege to help dismantle them.
Part of the proposed ways to do this is by de-funding the police. Some even advocate for abolishing the police. Many people can’t seem to grasp this idea because “the police” as we know them just seem to have just…existed. But I encourage you to read Are Prisons Obsolete by life-long activist Angela Davis to get some perspective. One of the main arguments (besides police showing their abuse of power over and over) is that we ask our police force to handle too much. Too many things that they’re not specialized in. If we were to re-direct funds (even just a fraction!) toward more community minded funds, think of the impact that could be taking place. Minneapolis is one of the front-runners here, experimenting with defunding the police and more community-minded systems. I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that, if this works, it can be implemented across the country. Exploring how we can better revise/abolish prison systems, make more room for meaningful funding of community based procedures for safety and public health as a result of the redirection of funds could be monumental. The conversation has started– and it’s up to us to contact our *LOCAL* legislatures and bug them about these concerns if we’re going to see ANY change come of this whatsoever.
Speaking of monuments & starting the conversation… this carries over to our monuments. The things we make shrines of to “remember” the past and “honor” those who were “important”. The thing is, what if who you’re “remembering” and “honoring” was part of a crafted history by a dominant race? There’s a thing I read somewhere that I thought was very true:
“All history should be remembered, but not all history should be honored.”
The deep dark, black stain on Germany’s past that is White Supremacy and Nazi ideology is in history books. This is something that Germany has made clear must never happen again. Their monuments are not those of Nazi “heroes”. Rather, they are monuments to the persecuted Jews, the masses of those slaughtered by Nazis.
A lot of people disagree with the toppling of monuments of “Confederate heroes”. And as we engage with those conversations, it’s important to remember that echo chambers are no good. Simply surrounding ourselves with the same ideas and opinions, while comfortable, is not where the growth happens. We have to remind ourselves that listening to the opposing sides & conflicting opinions is part of the work, too– no matter how frustrating it may be.
One of my professors always would say to us: “We force you to sit in classrooms and listen to the folx and people you don’t agree with, so you can reinforce or improve your beliefs.”
This is important. So very important.
So when Aunt Karen starts spouting off racist comments and logical fallacies at the Thanksgiving table, you can sit there and *listen* to her actively, ask her questions to gain understanding, all while corroborating what she’s saying with what you believe and weighing it all against each other to finally arrive at your conclusion.
True democracy has to have space for this discourse. That doesn’t mean, however, that that space needs to be hostile. I agree with the fact that some morals, are, at their base, fact and necessary. Caring for Black lives, for example, is non-negotiable for me. Basic human rights are non-negotiable for me.
To all the people screaming “All lives matter!” at the top of their lungs– yes. All lives *do* matter. No one said they didn’t. But that’s not the point.
One of my fave analogies I’ve seen circulating around the internet is that from Luke 15, the Parable of the Lost Sheep:
15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
It was illustrated as:
“Jesus in Luke 15:
100 Sheep, but one goes missing.
Jesus leaves the 99, and goes after the one.
The 99: “But…what about us? Don’t we matter?”
Of course the 99 still matter, but they are not the ones in danger.
The one is.”
Which brings me to the point about religion & how it very much informs our beliefs & votes.
I can’t call myself a follower of Jesus if I don’t follow his most urgent, basic, commandment– and that is “to love one another as I have loved you”, and do “for the least of you that which you’ve done for me”.
I witnessed a sermon a few weeks ago that talked about how this world is on its own trajectory. Of though, of ideals, of priorities… Jesus’ priorities don’t often “fit” into our pre-packaged, neat, divided, fast-lane ideals. Jesus’ priorities are “radically compassionate: and seemingly non-conventional– but we’re called to UPHOLD those high standards for ourselves & other HUMAN BEINGS with DIGNITY.
And this means showing up, best we can, for our brothers and sisters, of all creeds and colors, and diligently denouncing, with grace, fervor, & compassion, the systems that are faulty, broken & racist in this country.
And once we’ve stood up, learned, and educated ourselves and attempted to educate otheres, we have to act.
Because this moment demands accountability.
This movement demands passion.
This movement demands attention & dedication beyond a shingle news cycle. (Your timelines & feeds may have gone back to “normal”, but we CANNOT STOP HERE.)
This movement demands intentionality, sincerity, honesty, introspection, deliberation, discernment, and joyful, earnest, relentless momentum.
Take note of who is quiet right now. Actions speak louder than words.
And while it’s not our place to judge or condemn or shame, it is our job to lead by example, to amplify what is right, to educate others, and pull others in with compassion & understanding. “Collect our Cousins” , if you will. And engage in bold conversations with our family, friends, & co-workers.
And then we have to rest.
Because we won’t be any good to anyone if we don’t look out for each other & cherish each other in our periods of rest– we have to take care of ourselves, in order to keep the joy, keep the passion, keep the momentum, to do this work correctly & meaningfully, to carry our weight in every part of our lives, every day.
I’ll end on this note of hope, leaving with you a series of resources, links & accounts to follow so that you can start on this journey as well.
ANTI-RACISM READING LIST:
- Ijeoma Oluo – So You Want to Talk About Race
Beverly Daniel Tatum. Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
- Ibram X. Kendi. How to Be Anti-Racist
- Jason Reynolds. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You: A Remix (audiobook)
- Michelle Alexander. The New Jim Crow
- Robin DiAngelo. White Fragility: Why It Is So Hard for White People To Talk About Racism
- Khalil Gibran Muhammad. The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America
- Rosalind Rosenberg. Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray
- Clayborne Carson (Editor), Peter Holloran, Keith David (Reading), Jay Gregory (Reading). A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
ACCOUNTS TO FOLLOW:
Color of Change @colorofchange
Black Lives Matter @blklivesmatter
Equal Justice Initiative @eji_org
Move to End Violence @movetoendviolence
Center for Black Equity @ctr4blackequity
The Okra Project @theokraproject
Embrace Race @embracerace
Rachel Cargle @rachel.cargle
Ijeoma Oluo @ijeomaoluo
Monique Melton @moemotivate
Michaela Angela Davis @michaelaangelad
– White Allyship [Co-Conspirating!] 101: Resources to Get to Work https://www.dismantlecollective.org/resources/
- SURJ’S “Collect Your Cousins (To Vote!) Calling Campaign https://actionnetwork.org/forms/lets-collect-our-cousins-to-vote
- Guide to Allyship
– Color of Change + SURJ = Bold Conversations https://boldconversations.org/