Note: I’m beginning the journey through Layla F. Saad’s book, Me And White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World And Become a Good Ancestor. I’ve just begun part 1and I’ve read several times that this actively anti-racist work is going to be uncomfortable. I was already feeling this as I process the current protests and riots, and was mid-way through writing to other White people about it in this article. I want to be sure to credit Layla F. Saad (and Robin DiAngelo who wrote the foreword) so it’s not misconstrued as my idea that this anti-racist work must make White people feel discomfort.
White people, it is actually past time that we got uncomfortable — but now is better than tomorrow. (I address myself with this statement too.)
Like everyone in our nation, I witnessed the murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers one week ago and the subsequent protest events since.
I also felt many of the same feelings other White people have expressed. But, to be honest, I didn’t know how to respond in this context. Also, to be honest, I tried to write about other things in the past few days. But nothing felt authentic.
How can I write about anything else at these pivotal moments in time? As a White woman who is learning and wanting to be an ally, one thing I have repeatedly heard from listening to and reading Black women and men’s words is: if you are White, don’t remain silent about racism. Silence is why this system continues: we continue to remain silent and we continue to remain comfortable.
So I am doing neither.
I also hear and understand Black women and men saying that it is not appropriate to bring our questions, confusion, guilt, and sympathy surrounding race to them: they are already exhausted and dealing with the oppressive system that we perpetuate daily. It is White people’s job to educate other White people on White Privilege and White Supremacy. I hear and understand that it is also helpful for us to direct one another to resources that already exist.
I know great articles that have already been written, so rather than re-write that content, I have included them below. These are starting points in our journey towards educating and understanding how our Whiteness is tied to a system. That system benefits us every single day, while simultaneously hurting Black people every day. I encourage you to read these, with openness and guard walls down, especially if you are like me — just beginning the journey of understanding the depth of this oppressive system.
Racism 101: White Privilege
I post a lot about race, and not just because I’m a glutton for punishment, although I’m sure that plays a significant…
Ways That White America Has Denied Black Humanity In Order To Rationalize White Supremacy
A history lesson for those shocked by Charlottesville
The Only Justice for George Floyd Is To Finally Abolish Slavery in the U.S.
“I can’t breathe,” he pleaded. For several minutes, George Floyd lie handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white…
I also hear and understand that it is important to use my position of societal power, my White privilege, to guide White people toward the voices and stories of Black women and men. To this end, I have included the names of some Black leaders below (there are many more!). Let’s follow them, listen to them, learn from them, join their organizations & movements, and donate— but do this with respect for them, their boundaries, and their spaces.
It’s uncomfortable for me to write this content. I am not a formal social justice activist who knows what she’s doing. I’m just a White lady who wants to do better. Good. I still need to write this. I think that’s the point.
It will be uncomfortable for me to publish this. I won’t know how people will react. I’m probably blind to my White privilege that may speak through this article even when I’m trying hard to be aware. Good. Still do it. I think that’s the point.
It will be uncomfortable for me to hear feedback. I am scared of the criticism and I’m scared that I will inadvertently hurt the very people I am trying to support. (Not good, I don’t want to hurt people.) But also, by staying silent or acting like nothing is happening, I am contributing to a system that hurts Black people every day. So, I still need to do it. That’s the point.
What I want to say to my fellow White friends is that it’s ok to not feel comfortable, especially if you are just beginning (like me). Why? Because my understanding is that it is exactly our comfort that is perpetuating the White Supremacist system. Therefore, to dismantle it, it will require us — White people, who benefit from the system — to get uncomfortable.
I think, but I could be wrong, that what this means is:
If we are not having uncomfortable conversations with other White people about racism and are not watching uncomfortable videos — then we can do better.
If we are not reading uncomfortable books about race or taking uncomfortable classes about race and White Supremacy — then we can do better.
If we are not speaking up or challenging friends/family/bosses/governments/authorities in uncomfortable ways — then we can do better.
We are not doing as much as we think we are to dismantle the system if we stay in our comfort zone. Perhaps we can use the feeling of discomfort to know whether we are actually effecting change.
And by uncomfortable, I do not mean shameful, guilty, or angry. I think this discomfort is different. You may feel shame or guilt or anger (I have), but it should not be the primary intent. Meaning, let’s not simply learn or watch uncomfortable videos about the oppressive system this country was built on to further our feelings of guilt for benefiting off the system. Also, let’s stray from shaming or guilting other White people when they are also learning and sharing about race to the degree of their awareness.
Rather, the discomfort I’m referring to may be tension within yourself regarding the way you are accustomed to typically living your life and the way you’re choosing to live your life moving forwards.
I want to normalize discomfort in this situation so that it does not immobilize us or prevent us from taking action. Because doing nothing is not going to change the system of oppression that is alive and well today.
A great example would be if we are comfortable posting #BlackLivesMatter on Instagram, then maybe it’s time we do something different: we get out of our comfort zone. We experience discomfort. Here’s a great starter list of 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice. I’m sure there is something on there that’s probably out of everyone’s comfort zone. Let’s do it anyway!
Or think about it this way, let’s say you want to talk to your mom about how she disagrees with the aggressive nature of the protests. You want to let your mom know that we should not judge the way the Black community expresses their anger at living in a society that benefits White people.
I am pretty sure the amount of discomfort encountered in this confrontational situation with your mom is nothing compared to what a Black person experiences in daily interactions within this country’s racist system; whether at work, at the gym, or even just sitting at their home! Black people are literally dying in everyday places that White people (you and I) take for granted. That is White Privilege. That is White Supremacy at work. And that is what we must change.
So, that’s my message to share with White people.
Let’s get uncomfortable.
Read, listen, learn about racism — even when it makes us uncomfortable.
Talk to other White people about racism — even when it makes us uncomfortable.
Write, sign petitions, call offices, donate money, speak up at work, speak up in your community, join Black movements as an ally — even when it makes us uncomfortable.
After all, being uncomfortable (by definition) is just a feeling. It will pass. It is not permanent. You will not die from the discomfort. But the Black community is clearly dying from just going about their normal days in this country.
Being uncomfortable is the least we can do on our way to being allies: the least we can do to dismantle the oppressive, unjust foundation on which this country was settled.
*In the spirit of accountability, I commit to donating any money that I earn from this Medium article directly to the Black Lives Matter organization every month. I will also donate an additional $50 per month. If you don’t think $50 is enough, then I kindly ask you to donate the amount you think I should be donating per month to the organization yourself. It is very easy to berate people — especially in a physically removed format like this where you don’t know their background or situation — it is much harder, and uncomfortable, to take action. Choose the uncomfortable route here too. Thank you.