My White Fragility Reared Its Head During a 9 Minute Moment of Silence

Lauren Ross
6 min readJun 7, 2020

By Lauren Ross, LCSW

“Rather than retreat in the face of that discomfort, we can practice building our stamina for the critical examination of white identity — a necessary antidote to white fragility.” -Robin D’Angelo, White Fragility

I took my 9 year old son to a family-friendly protest this weekend, to protest the death of George Floyd when a White police officer kneeled on the back of his neck for nearly 9 minutes. Protests and marches have been taking place all over our country this past week. Social media has been blowing up with calls to action — amazing book recommendations with anti-racist teachings, and events inviting people (especially White allies) to show up and raise their voices in support of Black Lives Matter. I truly believe we are living through a second Civil Rights Movement. Life feels emotional, unsettling, and also exhilarating.

As my son and I walk to the starting point of the march, he holds my hand and asks, “Where are we going again?”. We’ve discussed the current situation several times this week, and he’s seen us watching the news, with stories of riots, marches, and anger lighting up the screen. I explain again that a Black man was killed by a White police officer, and that this kind of horrible incident happens often in our country. And that we are showing up today as White allies to raise our voices, to tell the world that this is not okay. And to listen to the voices of our Black neighbors who will be speaking, so we can better understand their lived experiences. I can see the wheels turning in his brain, trying to understand. He just squeezes my hand and we keep walking.

The crowd is large and incredibly diverse. For a bit of context: Our neighborhood is in the north end of Denver, and has a reputation for being a wealthy, White, privileged community. Our neighborhood is on the old airport site of Denver, named for a former mayor who also happened to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan (Stapleton). There have been prior attempts in our neighborhood to address the underlying foundation of White supremacy, such as a movement to change the name of our Stapleton neighborhood, which was unsuccessful. So to walk into a park and see a huge, beautiful gathering of multi-racial families truly takes my breath away. There are babies propped up in wagons, wearing onesies that say Black Lives Matter. There are kids of all ages — from infants in baby slings, to teenagers in Doc Marten boots and defiant, excited facial expressions. There are a variety of homemade signs on posterboard and cut-up Amazon boxes, listing the names of Black Americans whose lives have been lost at the hands of law enforcement, and statements of solidarity:

“White Silence = Violence”

“”Know Better — Do Better!”

“LISTEN. LEARN. VOTE.”

“We hear you. We see you. We stand with you.”

I can see my son’s eyes taking this all in, listening to the chants, and keeping a tight grip on my hand. Neighbors have their masks on, so we look closely to see who we know, and wave and say hello to friends. The march starts, and we walk slowly down Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue. Cars going the other direction are honking to show support. Neighbors across the street come out onto their porches to wave and clap, I-phones held high to capture the moment on film. We chant along with the marchers around us: “NO JUSTICE…NO PEACE! KNOW JUSTICE…KNOW PEACE!”. My son holds our homemade sign high and when I ask if his arms are getting tired, he pushes me away and says, “I’ve got it, Mom.”

When we arrive at the other end of the park, we move our way closer to where the speakers will be so we can hear. We listen to the stories of our Black neighbors, sharing examples of their lived experiences. Being pulled over by police officers late at night, asking “What are you doing in this neighborhood?”. Experiences of being feared by White neighbors when out on a walk. Overt, horrible racist experiences, such as being told, “Go back to Africa, n#*ger”. My son’s eyes are wide, taking this in. I am horrified and saddened, though not shocked, to hear these stories. And also feeling White Guilt, as I have stayed in my privileged bubble and not shared these stories enough with my white son. I need to do more, and I make a silent commitment to myself to do so.

The organizer of the event steps up to take the microphone, and announces that we will collectively take a moment of silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, to honor and acknowledge the length of time the White police officer kneeled on the neck of George Floyd. I knew this was coming, and I admit that I had trepidation about this. I worried about how my son would manage that length of time. I also worried how I would manage that length of time, as I am not used to being still, and particularly being challenged to stay in discomfort around a racially-charged situation.

As the crowd goes silent, a drizzle of rain starts, and then bigger, faster raindrops. The crowd stays quiet and still. I have my arms around my son, who continues to hold up our sign. I close my eyes, go within and try to quiet my thoughts and go into a place of empathy. What was George experiencing in this first minute? Fear? Anger? I take a deep breath and imagine his lack of ability to breathe. I feel the terror and helplessness that I imagine he was feeling. I try to imagine what it would feel like to have the weight of a man’s knee on the back of my neck; I hurt, I scream inside.

As the minutes tick by, I continue to reflect on my privilege as a White woman. How rarely I have to stay in discomfort, and how frequently I choose to go back to my safe space, away from hard conversations and actions about race. I open my eyes and look around at others who are deep in quiet reflection. I marvel at the diversity of the crowd, and how strange it feels to see people of color gathered with White people in this park where I’ve played so often with my kids. And how that fact makes me incredibly sad, while also hopeful that perhaps change is coming.

As the minutes continue to painfully pass, I go back to George. I feel more and more terrified, as I imagine he started to realize that this was not ending, that nobody was stepping in to help him. I feel crushed with heartbreak, as Mama did not come to keep him safe and alive. And that George just became one more hashtag in a long history of dead, Black Americans.

The event organizer steps back up, and says a quiet AMEN into the microphone. Faces look up, ready to reengage. I’M ready to reengage. In the march, in this conversation, and in the important work I have ahead.

There is no AMEN. This work does not have an end, but this is an important beginning for so many individuals, and for our country as a collective. Let’s get to work.

About Lauren: Lauren Ross is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker living in Denver, Colorado. She serves as a Mental Health Coordinator for Cherry Creek School District. She is the founder and administrator for the Project Quarantine 2020 Facebook community, which grew to over 42,000 members from March through the present, in support of families around the world staying safe through the COVID pandemic.

--

--