I’m about to get really real with y’all right now, and it’s going to be raw and honest, so it probably won’t be pretty.
First, some context.
I am a white woman born in the northeast, from a city that homed the likes of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. Of course I do not claim we don’t know racism – Rochester was also the home of the 1964 Race Riots, after all. The conclusion of which brought a much needed awakening to the racial injustices of the city, and led to many great civil rights breakthroughs. So it is safe to say that as far as deeply rooted racism goes, I am somewhat removed.
In the suburbs where I grew up, I never personally heard or witnessed racism.
My family has always believed that all men and women are created equal, and should all be treated with love and respect, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or skin color.
As a result of this nice little bubble – and it was nice – I believed that racism by and large was an issue contained to a barbaric past.
I also have family members who have served and are currently serving in law enforcement, and I have witnessed the same respect from them that I have come to know from anyone else in my family. So because of what I know of them, I have believed that police officers were trustworthy and well intentioned – and I still believe that most of them are.
When the more recently publicized black killings began – beginning with Trayvon Martin – I admit that I have believed that, while I didn’t understand the details, something must have happened that warranted the actions taken. Race had nothing to do with it – it was about a criminal engaging in illegal activity, who subsequently lost their lives for it. I believed that those who cried racism and oppression were simply looking for justification for their actions.
I have friends, precious friends, who are colored, and I love them deeply. But, when I spent weeks and months reading about white privilege and white oppression and white injustice, it began to frustrate and harden me. What did I do to be scorned? Why is this my problem? I’ve never engaged in racism a day in my life! Not one single encounter with someone of color has been disrespectful or unkind or racist in any way. When I saw my white friends talking about how we whites should be mourning with those who are mourning, and trying to listen to the pain and suffering of those from the black community about these issues, I scoffed. I refused to believe this was a race issue. I believed it was a crime issue that was making race a scapegoat. I told you this wouldn’t be pretty, but bear with me just a little longer.
One of my most cherished friends is Latina, but she is married to a black man, and they have children together. I respect this person highly, and I find her to be one of the wisest women I know, so when she started sharing her frustration and heartache, it frustrated me that she was “jumping on the bandwagon” and I wanted to just yell “WHY!?” Because I knew she wouldn’t say things for a reaction or out of irrational emotion.
It weighed on me for days. So finally, I just asked.
I asked her to explain it to me. What am I missing? What am I not seeing? I asked her to help me understand.
And she did. So patiently, so gently, she shared with me her heart, her stories, her family’s stories. And I listened.
When we were done I spent so much time thinking and reflecting. That conversation began to change my perspective. Now when I read these stories and statuses and declarations of injustice, I fought that urge to cast aside under my false assumptions, and I tried to listen, and I tried to understand.
And I hear now.
Maybe it’s because I’m looking with different eyes, or maybe it’s because the actions are getting more blatantly unjust, but these past few days I have seen and heard and felt what has been said all this time. Racism is alive and well, and it’s time for us to wake up and do something about it again.
I have long said that I think I would have been an Abolitionist in the Civil War era – but the Civil War had it’s abolitionist. We need to be them again now.
We need to mourn with our brothers and sisters. We need to listen. We need to validate, and we need to stand. We need to stand on their side. This doesn’t mean we must stand against law enforcement – the majority of those men and women are good and brave and respectful of all human life. But we cannot keep our heads buried in the sand and pretend that what we’re seeing isn’t actually happening.
I have asked a few of these beloved sisters what we can do. What can I, a white woman, do to help? And I have been told that they believe we need to call out oppression when we see it. We need to hold injustice accountable. We need to call a spade a spade.
If we are born white or wealthy or free, it has been for a reason. It is for a time such as this. To end slavery, to end trafficking, to end racial oppression. We have a voice, and many of us have an outlet with which to use it.
And all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
We have to stop doing nothing.
We have to cast off complacency.
We are one flesh, one body, one people.
I’m not asking people to turn their backs on the police, I am asking you to set aside your preconceived notions and to truly watch and listen. Remove your biases and your assumptions, and hear the hearts of our fellow men and women.
So, to my colored brothers and sisters. I am so sorry it took me so long to hear you. But I’m listening now, and I will stand with you in whatever capacity you need, to help you find the justice and respect that you deserve. You are loved, you are worthy, and your life matters to me.