It is with the utmost interest in our common humanity that I direct this post to any of the white people here in the UK who don’t understand what’s happening in the US, and why it matters here.
The Lay of the Land (or, why people are so angry)
The protests are not an “American problem”. Media coverage has been a bit lopsided in explaining what is at the core of all this, and it’s not just about George Floyd’s murder or the issue of police brutality. It all comes down to systemic racism.
The most concise explanation of systemic racism that I’ve seen online goes like this:
Reinforcing manifestations of systemic racism in the world of the arts, for example, are things like movies where the non-white characters are in support of the white lead’s development, or, non-white writers only getting published if their writing is about their background, their different-ness, or the related social struggles and pain. From children’s picture books, to the way advertising depicts and arranges non-white bodies, to the consistent presence of “the one black person” — also known as the token — in movies, TV shows and ads, systemic racism manifests and is reinforced again and again.
Of course, this is NOT limited to the US. A friend of mine recently used the word “tetchy” to describe how some white people feel when talking about issues of race in the UK. There’s a profound discomfort that comes with accepting a history as direct (hateful) or indirect (unwitting) oppressor. It’s frightening to think what your role may have been in this situation, daunting to think about what can be done, and worrisome to think about whether those efforts will be taken seriously.
But you HAVE to do something. Here’s one of the many reasons why.
Many people are afraid of “black anger”, but imagine if the consistent cycle of injustices found in that triangle above, and the ones so passionately put forward by Kimberly in that video, were repeated on you. And then imagine if you were constantly told, both directly and indirectly, to deal with it, get over it, etc. You would be outraged, too. It’s a human reaction for rage like this to be present, and build, build, build…
This is What You Can Do
In a recent Instagram post, Michelle Obama wrote:
Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of color to deal with it. It’s up to all of us—Black, white, everyone—no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets. I pray we all have the strength for that journey, just as I pray for the souls and the families of those who were taken from us.
Feel. the. discomfort. Feel it. Ask yourself the tough questions. How many times did you see something awful and not say something? Roll your eyes at a family member’s or colleague’s racist comment and not say something? How many times did you participate in a behavior “subconsciously” (anything from hugging your purse tighter to you near a non-white person to not getting into a taxi driven by a non-white person)?
Meikel Reece has a fantastic Instagram where she shares tips for how to work through discomfort, difficult discusions, and much more.
There are a thousand questions I could come up with, but the point is, I won’t. This is not my work to do, this is yours. Educate yourself, and examine every piece of your life. Yes, really.
Change at your own level. Start where you are. Your home. Your town or city. Every level is needed because racism and bigotry exists at every level. That’s the system of racism. This work is painful and hard because racism is painful and cruel. It does not have to stay that way. It changes when you do something.
Talk to people you trust who would engage you in a tough conversation. Yes, this means tough discussions with spouses and close friends, siblings and parents. Yes, this means tough discussions with friends and colleagues who are black and other non-white ethnicities. Yes, this means potentially re-teaching certain things to your children.
Ask out of the genuine desire to do better, and say that, too. Listen to people’s stories, honor their feelings.
Some of my white friends are dealing with their own families’ racism through consistent posts on social media to show where they stand. A good friend of mine in the US posts things like this for her racist family to see:
This is not easy work. I understand. But this isn’t the time for anxieties and hyper-politeness. The time for that is over. Discomfort, awareness, and information must beget change.
Once you know, you can’t unknow. White silence allows the evil of racism to go on.
You HAVE to do something, especially if your main deterrent is fear of facing your country’s/countries’ history in colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade. Being part of a solution, today, is how you undo the actions of your ancestors. This work is how you undo guilt. This work is how you start to address pain.
You HAVE to do something.
This post is as much a letter as it is a conversation. Please, give me your thoughts in the comments below or contact me.
I look forward to the pleasure of your company.
P.S. – June 12 – Anyone expecting this blog to be a go-to site for race-related posts will be disappointed. This is a blog where I write about a variety of things, and my being a Hispanic woman of color is only a piece of what makes me, me.