As I wrote this piece, a loud voice in my head tried to get me to stop.
“Who do you think you are?”
“You know nothing about this topic.”
“You’re going to offend someone.”
For too long, I have sat on the sidelines even though I’ve wanted to engage in conversations about systemic racism, white privilege, and diversity and inclusion. Adam Grant posted a piece on LinkedIn today that describes what prevents many of us from having these conversations, and I can relate. If you’re white, you probably can, too.
These conversations need to happen. I’m probably going to screw them up. And that’s part of the process.
My intent with this post is to share reflections from the past week regarding systemic racism and the murder of George Floyd.
If you are a well-intended white person, your last week may have looked somewhat like mine. My computer browser has sixteen tabs with anti-racism articles opened. My inbox is filled with resources I’ve emailed to myself and received from others. My Kindle now has several books on racism and white privilege in the queue.
I say this not to boast, but to offer a question in response to these actions.
And that is this:
What is driving this behavior?
Is it a genuine desire to help and make lasting change? Or is it to make our discomfort go away?
This is not a trick question or one with a simple response. For me, both answers are true. I am horrified by what I have seen in the news over the last few weeks. And, it’s nothing new. George Floyd’s death was an overt display of systemic racism that’s been occurring for centuries. Recognizing this truth evokes a range of uncomfortable emotions, including sadness, shame, and guilt.
These feelings are natural, and they should be acknowledged. However, we must become acutely aware of how these emotions are driving us to respond.
The well-intended actions, as mentioned earlier, to become educated are a first step. Donating to worthy causes matters. Protesting is meaningful.
And, they cannot simply be boxes to check.
They cannot be driven purely to make our discomfort go away.
I doubt that most people or companies participating in performative allyship are doing so intentionally. These actions come from a good place.
But once the books are back on the shelf, the donations are made, and the press statements are released, we can’t go back to living our lives the way they were two weeks ago.
Many are concerned that the upswing in awareness we’re seeing will be just another news cycle. Their concerns are valid. There are no quick fixes to systemic racism. Creating a truly just society is going to take time — and it’s going to take much more time than the average news cycle lasts.
It’s going to take normalizing discomfort.
Here’s where I will start. If any of these resonate, I invite you to join me.
I will continue educating myself. I will also begin to have regular, recurring conversations to understand more about culture, privilege, and how to become a better citizen, starting with my white male friends. I will support and vote for politicians, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, whose main platform is to fix systemic inequality and racism, even if they are not mainstream candidates.
I will continue to write on Medium. Here are a few topics that come to mind:
- The role of emotions in conversations about race and inequality.
- Embracing paradox as a way to understand privilege.
- Defining and understanding white male culture.
- Connecting racial inequality to mindfulness.
- Techniques to normalize discomfort.
I was listening to a comedy news podcast yesterday that tried to joke about how “bad” 2020 has been thus far. The truth is, as a species, nothing that has happened this year is unique. Systemic racism is not new. We’ve seen insecure, ego-driven world leaders before. We’ve experienced pandemics.
The jokes about 2020 imply that 2019, or anytime before this moment, has been better. They suggest that a return to normalcy will be a “good” thing.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We have a choice, right now.
We can build a new world together, keeping in mind that are no quick fixes. We can begin the slow, painful process of looking inward at white culture, and shifting outward to dismantle systems that no longer serve humanity.
It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be uncomfortable.
But what other choice do we have?