I don’t really know where to start, so I’ll just jump right in. It’s been a few months since hordes of us white women put up memes with verbiage like, “I will never understand, but yet I STAND.” or “I will never understand, but I will not let you go through this alone.” I just want to check in. How are we doing on these promises we made? I, for one, have had to fight harder than I’d like to admit to stay engaged in the battle for racial equality. Unlike Black women, I have the option to check out when I want to. The temptation can be strong when the mountain seems too tall and I seem too insignificant, but there are a few things I’ve found helpful. I’d like to share them with you.
Don’t count on emotion to keep you engaged in the fight.
When the whole country is buzzing about a murder caught on video, emotions run high. When there are hashtags and protests and black squares, we can jump in and feel right at home with all those around us who are speaking out, who are saying all the right things, and who are desperate to show they care.
But then something changes. There aren’t as many social media posts. A blog sharing recipe ideas no longer comes across as tone deaf. Seeing a lack of diversity in feeds you follow feels normal again.
Emotion will fail you every time. The novelty wears off, and you’ll quit whatever endeavor you began. This is a marathon, not a sprint; don’t count on emotion to run the race.
Don’t let your fear of having a place to speak keep you silent.
Silence over racial injustices in the United States is not an option. As one friend put it, “Silence makes me assume racism.” Another said, “Silence makes us have to guess.”
That said, there have been plenty of things written about white women needing to be careful what we say. It’s complicated, right? The truth is that a lot of what makes sense to us can be pretty offensive. Playing any kind of “I can relate” card is a no-go with very good reason. A story about when I was the only white person at that thing one time doesn’t carry much weight when I consider that my brother doesn’t get pulled over by the cops randomly or that my parents and grandparents were never told they couldn’t sit at a lunch counter or attend a certain school. I can’t relate to the experience of being Black in America, and I need to remember that.
My sister wrote a post I felt was perfect, so I’ll link it here:
Fighting Racism as a White Mom :: First Steps
We should be careful and considerate of our Black sisters, but we do need to speak.
Don’t let politics keep you away from amazing resources.
I have so much respect for Michelle Obama. I don’t agree with her on everything politically, but I am so thankful to be alive at the same time as her. I plan to read her book Becoming, but for now I’ve only seen the documentary. If you haven’t watched it, please do. There was so much to unpack, but hearing Former First Lady Obama talk about men in her family who were so brilliant but unable to reach their full potential because of race has stuck with me.
There are so many books, documentaries, and other resources we need to utilize in this fight. Don’t wait for the ones written or produced by people just like you.
On that note, make a real plan for reading books and watching documentaries.
In June and July, I was reading books on race issues one right after the other. Then I hit an emotional wall. My new method is to ensure every third book I read is by a Black author or deals with racial injustice. I realized my constant documentary watching and book reading wasn’t sustainable, but I came up with a plan that works for me.
Book suggestions to get started:
Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho
I just finished this over the weekend, and I think it did the best job of laying out issues and telling me what to do. There was also a very helpful section at the end about Black culture.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
I wrote about these two titles in this collaborative post:
Diversify Your Reading List :: Books You Should Read by Black Authors
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
I don’t know how I feel about this one yet. I wouldn’t start with it.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriett Beecher Stowe
I was so impacted that I wrote a blog post dedicated just to this book.
A Call to Read Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Alabama has very important places to visit. Visit them.
If you go to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, you will see license plates from all over the country. If you go to Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and Kelly Ingram Park, you might see a 50-passenger bus full of people who want to be in your city, who want to honor those who sacrificed during the Civil Rights Movement. If you fly on a plane out of Birmingham, you might sit next to someone who traveled to Selma where Bloody Sunday took place. (I had that honor on a flight from Birmingham to Detroit.)
The Civil Rights Movement was recent. Segregation was recent. It may not seem that way, but here are a few things that help me keep it in perspective: My parents were born in the 50s. They were born into a very segregated Alabama. It wasn’t until 1963 that Sonnie Hereford IV desegregated Alabama’s schools by attending Fifth Avenue School at six years old. I’d encourage you to read more at this link. Further perspective: I was born thirty minutes away in Decatur less than twenty years later.
There are so many giants from the Civil Rights era among us, and one challenge I’ve made for myself is to send kind notes while I still can. My list includes Angela Davis, Ruby Bridges, and Sonnie Hereford IV to start.
Be encouraged that things are getting better, and you have a major role to play.
Think about your childhood. Did your parents have conversations with you about race? Mine didn’t. I remember my dad’s favorite co-workers being Black. There was Ernie whose daughter I played with every time there was a social gathering outside the office. There was Val whose baby shower my mom and I attended. There was Ms. Delois who let us play with rubber stamps when we visited the office. But conversations about us being white or anyone else being Black? Ours is the first generation to recognize the need and to act on it.
When I think about the past and where we are today, I can get very discouraged. It seems like there is still so far to go. But then I think about white people’s attitudes about racism:
Our grandparents’ generation:
The separation of Black and white is normal, and white is superior. We will fight to retain control.
Our parents’ generation:
Things could be better, but what can we really do?
Not on our watch. We will take responsibility and do the work to right this inexcusable injustice, and we will charge our children to continue that work.
I’ll close with two things. One, a line my sister wrote that I’ve carried in my heart:
“I expect as we uncover truth and it takes root in our hearts, a flame for justice will begin to flicker. We will be brought low with humility along the way, but it is beautiful to think that we will rise even stronger with our brothers and sisters of every color.”
I’ll leave you with this song that has become an encouragement when I’ve wanted to check out. I have the video on my phone, and I watch it regularly. I don’t want to forget the ancestors of my Black brothers and sisters, those who fought but never saw the reward.
From the motion picture HARRIET, the Original Song “STAND UP” is written by Joshuah Brian Campbell & Cynthia Erivo.