Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, say their names. Three of a long list of names of black men and women who have been unjustly killed. And then there’s Christian Cooper, who fortunately we don’t have to add to that list, but easily could have. What was their crime?
This is going to be hard for many who read this post, but white people are responsible. Yes, we WHITE PEOPLE, and those who benefit directly from their proximity to whiteness, are all responsible. There is no them. It’s me, it’s you.
White people created these systems and we have to dismantle then. It’s well beyond the scope of this article to discuss how and why, but there is more than ample historical evidence. It started 400 years ago and has continued on to this day. It is DEEP into the fabric of our society and we are all affected. Because racism is institutionalized, going through the motions keeps it alive and well. If you question this, I’d advise you to learn. “Readings for Diversity and Social Justice” is one great book that delves deeper into the institutions.
I am committing to own my racism and privilege.
First, I recognize that I have learned racist ideas in this institutionalized racist society, and those ideas affect how I treat others.
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Second, I recognize that I am privileged. All white people have these benefits, it does not matter if they are male, female or LGBTQIA. This runs very deep, from not feeling unsafe or stared at when I walk through a neighborhood, all the way to never having to consider that I might get shot by police if I get pulled over, or having to have “The talk” with my child. Privileges have also accrued to my professional life; I am sure I have been given opportunities that I would not have had if I had been born black. Another benefit is I have power that I can wield to change the status quo. Here are some additional privileges (thanks to Zipporah Waldman for sharing these)
Third, I have an obligation to change. I am and will continue to have hard conversations with myself and the people around me. I will become aware of my own biases and work against them.
Fourth, I will work to dismantle institutionalized racism and white supremacy. I will work to be an antiracist.
What am I doing?
Here are some steps I have taken as part of my journey.
- Educating myself around systemic racism and about privilege and then educating the people around me including family, friends, co-workers etc. Two powerful books I’d recommend reading, which have been really helpful to me are “So you want to talk about race” by Ijeoma Olou and “How to be an anitracist” by Ibram Kendi. “The Memo” by Minda Harts is another read which clearly exposes the challenges black women and women of color face navigating White racism in corporate America. There’s a much large list of resources here.
- Getting to know more black people and people from marginalized backgrounds and hearing their stories. I grew up mostly around white people in a segregated neighborhood. In recent years, I have been consciously breaking outside of that echo chamber and trying to meet more people from diverse backgrounds both at work and in my personal life. As part of this, one of the most important things has been learning to listen AND learning to not take up space in conversations. This is not about me.
- Changing myself. Change is not easy, but it is possible. I am working every day to become more conscious of my biases. It means stepping back, not rushing to judgment. It means reflecting on how I’ve handled situations. Seeking and being open to feedback. Really, it’s just trying to do better.
- Supporting local organizations that are working to change our laws and system. NAACP and National Urban League would be two that come to mind. I am also supporting organizations that are working to advance black people. I am getting involved, donating my money, giving my time.
- Talking to leaders and demanding change.
- Speaking out and taking a stand for justice. Using my privilege to help others.
We all need to take action
If we sit on the sidelines, we are part of the problem. There is no neutral stance. People’s lives depend on it.
We need to learn, we need to listen. Again, this is NOT about us.
We need to take action. We need to be out in the streets, leading the charge for change. We need to be giving our time, our money, our lives.
We created these systems and we need to dismantle them.
Will you join me?
Special thanks to Dr. Kimya Nuru Dennis, Carla Bell, Jane Mareth, Nayonna Purnell, and Dr. Janice Gassam for their time in reviewing this article.