Dear white family and friends, fellow white people I don’t know, white-identified people, and non-Black people in general, receive this in the spirit with which it is offered. I want to help you navigate the moment we are in. Let’s accept and acknowledge that the fires we see burning now should be emblems of our internal and collective battles to not be our ancestors. To not continue legacies of hatred, enslavement, dehumanization, and racism.
I offer you some ideas as a white Latina who works imperfectly everyday to unpack my unearned privileges, who has much to learn and reflect on, and who considers everyday an opportunity to disrupt and dismantle the systems that privilege and advantage me.
We white folx are posting on social media about how devastated we are, how our hearts are breaking, how we cannot see another Black man murdered by police officers, and how we cannot imagine how the world is still unjust and racist.
What I am going to say is harsh but necessary, so take a deep breath in and then read.
This is not the time for our pain. This is not the time for our tears or the centering of our emotions. This is the time for our call to action, for us to explicitly and intentionally demonstrate to Black people that we understand the weight of our racism, the weight of our privilege, the weight of our ignorance…that our silence and our inaction suffocated George Floyd. We are responsible.
Too often over the past few days we are hearing language descriptive of warzones and I can’t help but suggest that the battle is actually within ourselves. Combat between the comfort of our silence and privilege (enveloped by our “wokeness” and progressivism) versus what it will actually take to disrupt and dismantle systems of injustice. You see, everyday I try to fight the legacy of our ancestors by proving I am not them. In the past 24 hours, I’ve watched police murder a Black man, beat BIPOC protestors with batons, drive police cars through crowds of BIPOC protestors, shove BIPOC protestors to the ground, remove BIPOC protestors’ COVID-19 masks to pepper spray their faces, shoot them with rubber bullets and fire tear gas to take their breath. It might as well be me doing any of these things if I am unwilling to do my part to stop it. Say that out loud to yourself. Hear it. Feel it.
These actions are some I have worked hard to engage in, and continue to hold myself accountable to, as I strive daily to be antiracist, by “supporting antiracist policy through [my] actions and expressing antiracist ideas (Kendi, 2019).”
Here are my offerings:
Bear the cognitive load of your own learning without relying on Black people, indigenous people, and people of color to be your educators. Read Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the beginning: The definitive history of racist ideas in America and explore Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s white fragility immediately. (For Dr. DiAngelo’s work, I suggest accessing free content available online). I highly recommend you read these texts before reading Dr. Kendi’s more recent text, How to be an antiracist. These will push and pull you in different ways. Stamped from the beginning will give you the history you did not get in school about the roots of systemic racism, interpersonal racism, and internalized racism. It will open your eyes to the way anti-Blackness has been embedded in our hearts, minds and the fabric of our society. White fragility will then support you in understanding your role in liberating your heart and mind of anti-Blackness by combatting your own defensiveness, anger, and emotion related to racism. Each text will set you up for the critical personal reflection and critical community work you need to do to disrupt and dismantle the system that affords you unearned privileges everyday.
Shoulder the emotional labor of your learning without relying on Black people, indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC) to be your educators. Do not make false equivalencies between the discomfort you feel unpacking your own privilege, with the pain, generational trauma, fear, exhaustion, and anger of BIPOC who face/have faced genocide, lynching, colonization, colonialism, and imperialism. Dr. Cheryl Matias calls this the white imagination. Process what you have read in spaces that do not rely on BIPOC to support your emotions. Journaling is great. You can work through Layla F. Saad’s Me and white supremacy: Combat racism, change the world and become a good ancestor. Talk to other white folx who have also read these texts. Say out loud the thoughts you have about yourself while reading. Jot down questions you have and problem-solve with your accountability partners how you will seek the answers together. Gather with white people who are also learning to unlearn. Affinity spaces and critical friend groups will be important. By the way, not affinity spaces of the type where we swim together in our white savior swimsuits and congratulate ourselves for saying the word white out loud while framing our certificates of wokeness. I mean the kind where we face hard truths and push each other to do better without burdening BIPOC with our education. Call me, email me, text me, message me on Twitter. This is our community’s work and my journey to be anti racist is tied up with your’s. I will not accept another white or non-Black person publicly sharing their sadness and frustration in tandem with confusion as to what to do next. We do not get to hide behind the weight of this work and how it overwhelms us.
Dr. DiAngelo joined Layla Saad on her Good Ancestor podcast and said it is not enough that white people have READ about white fragility; BIPOC must be able to TELL that we have read about it. BIPOC should be able to tell by speaking, engaging, and relating to us that we get it. In the past few days as I have checked-in on Black colleagues and friends, and they have graciously asked me how I am doing, I have replied with the ways I am responding to the call to action. Here is what I am doing. Examine my receipts. Critique my approach. Tell me how I can do better. I welcome it. Black folx in my life and Black folx who I meet in the future will be the judges of whether I am actively undoing the anti-Blackness I was born into, perpetuate myself, and exist within and around.
Embody your commitments in your personal relationships. If you are posting on social media about your belief that #BlackLivesMatter then you have to be actively countering anti-Black language, sentiments, bias, and racism in your own family at the dinner table or on the Family Zoom call. Call out coded language. Call out the jokes that rest on anti-Black foundations. Support your family to wrestle with our ancestral history as colonizers and enlavers and how that history has instilled generationally ingrained notions of privilege and power. Examine the depth of your relationships with Black folx and other folx of color. If you have never spoken with them about the racial dynamics between you, and in society, given the current sociopolitical climate, you might not be as close as you think. With your own children, intentionally work to unpack racism’s hold on them from as early an age as possible. Your parenting decisions will need to reflect that you are passing understandings of systemic racism, power, and privilege with the young people in your life. You should be engaging with them on issues of race and racism directly, not avoiding them because of discomfort. Concretely, in the past few days, I have been unpacking with my own white (some Latinx, some Irish) family members and some white friends and colleagues that we are participants not witnesses, even if our participation is our silence. The conversations are not easy but they are necessary. It involves understanding the ways we embody the oppressor (here the police suffocating Black people) and how we, as the oppressors, cannot critique or judge the way Black protestors respond, process, and act as a result. The fires we see now are a result of the violence we have caused for generations. If you find yourself starting a sentence with some variation of, “it is horrible what happened to George Floyd, but looting your own community…” STOP. Just stop right there. The murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and countless others were set in motion long before we saw videos and the hashtags. We set them in motion. So the idea that we will now critique community reaction to systematic, state-sanctioned murder is inexcusable.
Embody your commitments in your professional relationships. While your workplace might have an equity team or commitment to diversity, inclusion, and belonging, your participation in the monthly meetings and the book club is not enough. Have you demonstrated awareness of the space you occupy? Are you citing and learning from Black scholars intentionally? Are you seeking to intentionally hire BIPOC vendors? Have you (in the past week) called out a microaggression, named systemic inequity at play in a policy discussion, or questioned a white or non-Black colleague co-opting the idea of a Black colleague as their own? Have you considered the way your own racial lens influences the way you think about communication, emotion, language, behavior, protest, healing, and harm? Welcome critical feedback from Black people, indigenous people, and people of color. Regulate your receipt of feedback when you microagress, demonstrate consciousness about how you have been or are actively gaslighting Black people and IPOC in your work. If you have not considered how your racial identity impacts candidates you attract to work at your job, your hiring practices, your evaluation of potential candidates, the reasons you may fire people from your office, the dynamics of feedback you receive from your supervisor or the feedback you give as a supervisor, then you have room to grow.
Demonstrate fiscal consciousness and civic engagement that embodies your commitment to racial equity. Support Black owned businesses intentionally. Contribute to organizations that center racial equity like The Loveland Foundation, established by Rachel Cargle to fund therapy for Black women and girls. Advocate for, support, and vote for Black leaders. In upcoming elections, interrogate every candidate’s commitment to racial equity. Question the presence of Black voices in their campaigns and on their staff. Vote for candidates in local politics (City Council, School boards, state representatives) who support defunding police, equitable funding for school districts, ethnic studies and culturally responsive-sustaining practices in schools, racial justice training for all future educators, prosecutors, judges, police officers, and policymakers. Question candidates who don’t or who are silent on these issues. We live in a country where 1.6 million students attend a high school with a police officer but no counselor. Change is possible. Police do not have to be in schools when we reopen our buildings in the fall. As we consider unprecedented budget cuts to school districts as a result of COVID-19, this is an area we can make change. Today, you could donate to the bail funds for protestors to demonstrate your commitment to supporting them and challenging police brutality.
Accept that your learning is ongoing and your syllabus continues to grow. After you have started with Stamped from the beginning and White fragility, there is much to read and process. There are so many great reading lists designed for you like this one designed by Dr. Kendi. If you work in education and you have not engaged with the work of Dr. Bettina Love, Dr. Cheryl Matias, then you have work to do. Engage with Rachel Cargle and The Great Unlearn, Tim Wise. Unpacking the 1619 Project and watching 13th is essential. But, amidst all of this reading and watching and processing, what meaning have you made? Jason Reynolds, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, who recently released the young adult version of Stamped with Dr. Kendi said during a book club for the text, “If you read my books and all you get out of them is entertainment, you’re reading them wrong.” When you are reading, you are reading for meaning and reading to prompt your own critical reflection. These are your follow-up questions:
How did [what you read or watched] impact how you engage, relate, react, speak, love?
How did it impact how you work, supervise, manage, receive feedback, participate?
What did it prompt you to do, read, watch, and learn next?
What did it show you that you need to spend more time learning? How are you doing that now?
Consider that every new piece of knowledge you gain is now something you owe to our community. Your knowledge development is wrapped up with the rest of our’s.
Your first next step is starting. Then committing, then persisting, and accepting that this is your life’s work.
We don’t get to have self-serving amnesia that ignores our ancestors initiated generations of ongoing pain. Pain that now lights the fires across the streets of this country. Pain that we are now responsible for. We don’t get to be tired. In fact, we have to find energy reserves we didn’t even know were in supply in order to invest our individual and collective time, energy, thought, and heart into the above steps for racial transformation.
This is not the time for our tears or the centering of our emotions. This is the time for our call to action, for us to explicitly and intentionally demonstrate to Black people that we understand the weight of our racism, the weight of our privilege…and that we will no longer be participants in the dehumanization, oppression, and state-sanctioned murder of Black people.