Black Lives Matter
I don't know where to begin. I've been trying to come up with the right words to say in a time like this, but I realize there aren't words that can begin to adequately address the situation. I don't often speak publicly about this topic because it doesn't feel like anything I say helps... especially as a privileged white person. I've had measured discussions with my friends and co-workers when necessary. I do my best to share in meaningful dialogue and direct them to resources where they can learn more. I encourage them to follow more people of color on their social media platform of choice to help broaden and inform their perspectives. It's something, but it never feels like enough. I doubt anything ever will.
I quietly ran 2.23 emotional miles for Ahmaud Arbery earlier this month without posting because it made me feel conflicted about it coming off as performative allyship. You can read more about this here or watch a quick video here. Considering I don't post on my social media often about how I personally address equal rights for BIPOC, the LGBTQIA+ community, or any other oppressed community makes me feel strange and guilty for speaking up now. I never really knew what to say or felt my words wouldn't mean much when there were so many more qualified people to speak on the matters at hand. But I realize now it's time for me to stop sitting back and say something.
My white privilege is something I became aware of in high school, and have since learned more about as I've gotten older.... especially going to college on the conservative campus that is Texas A&M. If you don't believe this is real, I encourage you to read the link above. I will never understand what it's like to be treated differently because of the color of my skin. To be inherently worried every day about my family or friends being unjustly arrested or murdered while going about their daily lives. Writing a check like George Floyd, going for a jog like Ahmaud Arbery, lawfully carrying a weapon at a traffic stop like Philando Castile, playing in the park like Tamir Rice, playing video games like Atatiana Jefferson, buying some snacks like Trayvon Martin, or just watching TV in your apartment like Botham Jean shouldn't be a death sentence. Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, and Freddie Gray should be alive today. I don't know what it's like to see yourself or your loved ones in these people every time another life is lost this way... wondering if you could be next. My white privilege allows me to not have to worry about that. However, I do know that I live in a predominately minority neighborhood; I am the only white person on my block. I also know that these wonderful people have been nothing but welcoming and gracious to me every time I interact with them. I feel lucky to call this neighborhood home and I hurt for their hurt. It's devastating to think the next time it could be any of them.
Growing up, two of my best friends were black. We were sometimes referred to as the Oreo, but it never crossed my mind that there would be anything to notice about us. I was absolutely an "I don't see color" person back then. I was also a kid, so that was probably true to an extent. But not seeing color isn't the goal. In my color blindness, I didn't recognize that they were one of just a handful of black kids in our class throughout grade school and how that impacted their lives. I wish I would've known. They should be seen differently. We should recognize the value and uniqueness they bring to the table. Diversity in all forms is beautiful. I'm proud to call them my friends. I'm thankful for the experiences I had growing up with them and their families and all they've taught have me along the way. Their friendship paved the way for the diverse relationships I continue to build into my adult life.
Systemic racism was built into the fabric of this country. Slavery is a stain on America's history that will never be washed out. This country was founded on ravaging and claiming land that didn't belong to us. It was founded by deeming black people as property while they built the very foundations as slaves. The systemic racism that continues on is so pervasive in this country that it's become "normal" to those who aren't affected. You can see it every day in the lack of representation in the media, to the way stores are laid out, to the colors of band-aids. Minorities are disproportionately affected through every stage of the criminal justice system, despite the evidence that different racial and ethnic groups commit crimes at roughly the same rates. They are less likely to be approved for mortgages to own homes. Even the current global pandemic of COVID-19 disproportionately affects people of color.
You have titans who made huge strides in this country like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Malcolm X just to name a few. For as important as the Civil Rights Movement was, it gave this country a false sense of achievement. Sure, it absolutely ended some legal forms of racism that were egregiously overdue such as slavery, Jim Crow laws, “separate but equal” schools, and prohibitions on voting or owning land, but we're still in the thick of that movement. It's not even close to over. That was only the beginning.
It seems apparent as time goes on that white people don't like any way black people call attention to the systemic racism they still face every day. The racism which results in inequity of wealth, healthcare, incarceration, and yes, being killed by law enforcement. They peacefully protest, they march, they speak out in a multitude of ways. You see Colin Kaepernick take a knee on the football field to bring more awareness to these very issues and white, flag-toting Americans are outraged. Because a black man took a respectful knee?
Now the knee of a white man took a black man's life and the white outrage is that these protests became riots? When their peaceful protests are met with no action except to be shot at with rubber bullets and pepper sprayed, what do you think comes next? As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? ...It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met." This country was BUILT on riots. May I direct you to the Boston Tea Party, or how about the Stonewall Riots? If you find yourself being more angry about how their fear and outrage is being expressed than what caused these people to feel like they needed to riot, then I ask you to think deeply about your choices and study up on the history that brought us here today. Businesses are not more valuable than a life. And just a note: the police and white people have been actively inciting many of the riots ongoing in Minnesota and around the country to discredit the movement, so I'll leave you with that on this topic.
That brings me to what can be done to stop this. Number one: VOTE! A friend of mine said it best: "[We need to vote] not necessarily or only for people, but also for and against policies designed to stem or continue the trends of societal redlining that are still happening daily. It sometimes means voting against the immediate self interest you have if it means advancing everyone more." Up and down the ballot matters. Electing people at every level of government who will right these wrongs, including a president who doesn't stoke hate and divisiveness at every turn. One that doesn't actively promote and perpetuate white supremacy. Voting for governors, attorneys general and local officials like judges and sheriffs who will hold people accountable when something like what Derek Chauvin and his fellow officers did to George Floyd happens. You may think because you live in a red state your vote doesn't make a difference. But NEVER forget about the down ballot races that make a difference. Every single vote matters.
I also encourage you to have the hard conversations with those people in your life who might express biases or outright racism. It's uncomfortable, but it's necessary. Think about what it means when people call the police on black people who are not breaking any laws. Make sure to read what people of color are saying about their experiences. Listen to what they tell you and believe them. Open up your hearts and minds to what it's like to live in their skin. Empathy and compassion go a long way.
Finally, you can donate if you're able to some of organizations making a difference in this fight:
Minnesota Freedom Fund, Minnesota ACLU, or George Floyd’s family GoFundMe.
Nationally, you can support: Black Lives Matter, Campaign Zero, or the ACLU.
I say all of this to let my black friends know, I am here. I see your struggle. I will continue to learn from you. I'll read and listen to everything you share to better understand ways I can be a true ally to you. I will continue to use what you teach me to educate my family, friends and co-workers when I have the opportunity so we can make real change happen. It is our duty to stand up for you and along side of you as we break down the years of systemic racism in this country. I'm sorry I haven't said this all sooner, but I won't stop fighting. Black lives matter.