I have heard the pleas of my black friends, and the black community at large, asking me and the white community to listen to them. While I have been trying to listen for the past two decades, I have been listening in earnest the past two weeks. This is a list of the things I have learned while listening.
I originally shared this in a post with a community I belong to. Many of the members of this community are people of color. When I shared this post with that community, I used “I” statements, because I wanted to take ownership for my own choices. I also used “you” statements, since I was talking directly to my black brothers.
In this repost, I have changed the pronouns. I am sharing this for my white friends, so I have used “we” statements. I believe these statements to be accurate for us as white people. If you read any of these statements and feel anger or defensiveness, I invite you to consider why people of color might be saying these things to us. How could their perspectives be different than ours? Let’s assume they’re not lying, and try to understand. Please note, I am not saying you are bad. I am not calling anyone evil. I am inviting us to wrestle with reality.
When these overt instances of blatant racism are caught on video, and get the attention of the media, we can choose to ignore them. If we do engage with those stories, and pay attention to what is going on, we can choose to tune it out when we get tired, or bored, or even if it’s too much for us to bear. People of color don’t have that same luxury, as similar events are a regular part of their reality. This is an example of our white privilege.
For us to get along, we expect black people to follow our social rules, and interact with us in a way that won’t make us feel uncomfortable.
When we say ALL lives matter, we are minimizing their pain, and discounting hundreds of years of history which prove we don’t believe all lives matter. Unless black lives matter, all lives can’t matter.
We are racist; not because we actively participate in violence, but because we participate in and benefit from a system which actively oppresses black people. We simultaneously can’t see this system, and we also hold all the power in establishing and maintaining this system. By refusing to see it, we are unable to change it.
When we say we don’t see color, or that we treat all people equally, we lack integrity. We can plainly see their skin is dark, and ours is light. We have grown up in a system that ascribes values, and even codifies racist language (good neighborhoods/bad neighborhoods). We carry this secret language in our lexicon, and we are not immune to these values. If we believe we are, then we have a blindspot. By stating that we don’t see color, we are making it impossible for black people to enter into a dialog with us to help us see our blindspot. We do this to protect ourselves at their expense.
Black people have to be cautious and intentional any time they are around us. They have to think like us, and anticipate what will make us scared, so they can put us at ease before we put their lives in danger.