To My Non-Racist White Friends...
What you're about to read, I posted in my social circles back in May. It is just as relevant now as it was then, and deserves a permanent space here.
To My Non-Racist White Friends:
I started writing this when Ahmaud Arbery was hunted down and murdered, but honestly, I’ve been writing it in my head for years. In 2018, I read an article in The Root that forever changed me. It was titled "White People are Cowards." You can read it here. It’s hard. Incredibly hard, and if you’re a well meaning, non-racist, it’s that much harder because you realize you’ve been doing it all wrong. I am not eloquent enough to explain it the way Michael Harriott, the author, does, but I’m going to try and sum it up the way I've come to understand it.
One day, you walk into your white boss’s office to find him and a white colleague making a racist joke about someone you know, or perhaps, someone famous... a football player, an actor/actress, etc..... you pick, because it really doesn’t matter as long as in your imaginary situation, the person they’re joking around about is Black.
Now, you have two choices....
A) You can confront them. You can tell them how they’re perpetuating racism, even if they don’t think they are, and you can drag it into the light. It may seem like a small act with little power for change, but you in fact makes it less OK to further societal norms that have continued to attack and tear down Black people. You make it less likely they will do so in a public setting again. And, you suddenly make their racism very uncomfortable for them. Imagine if every white person made your boss and colleague feel uncomfortable any time they made a racist joke, statement or act? More often than not, their behavior would change.
B ) You laugh it off or just walk away. It’s your boss - he can make your life very difficult if you get on his bad side, and unlike the black person they were insulting, you’re white, and you have the choice to walk away unscathed if you say nothing. You go home, meet up for your weekly dinner with like-minded white friends, and go to sleep feeling great about yourself because you and your friends trashed your boss and colleague... all agreeing they're ignorant racists.
Most people will choose option B because why rock the boat if you don’t have to?
Does this sound familiar?
Do you see why we can be described as cowards?
We have spent decades preaching to the choir, decades only wholeheartedly discussing racism with like-minded individuals, and decades simply believing we are heroes because we are not the vile racists we see on the news.
However, in this equation, we will never be heroes. Believing you aren’t better than someone because your skin is lighter than them is not heroic, standing up against people who disagree with that fact, with no exceptions, is not heroic, it is very simply the right thing to do.
We will never be heroes, but we can certainly NOT be cowards.
If you’re willing to share a post or story, if you’re willing to call a Senator, DA, or whatever, great, but if you stop there, if your fight against racism ends when you walk out into the real world and witness, see, or hear blatant or disguised racism, it is 1,000,000% not enough, and you are part of the problem.
Racism doesn’t die by punishing the few acts that are caught with trials and convictions. Racism dies, just like anything else, on the ground floor. Your DA, your Senator, your discussions with like-minded friends, your shared Instagram posts do nothing against the ingrained racism that breeds the murders we see. If it did, racism would have been a thing of the past by now.
Standing up to the guy mouthing off in the store to the Black cashier, letting your boss know that the way he talks is not OK, voicing your opinion in the boardroom when the directors are trying to low ball offer the Black CEO candidate, not allowing your mouthy uncle to make one more racist joke, that is how we, as the non-racist white people, help to end racism.
Doing these things, no matter how scary, no matter how uncomfortable, is this only way we can prevent George Floyd from being murdered in the first place.
I’ve seen a lot of talk of non-racist vs. anti-racist, and this is it. If you truly want equality, if you truly want the end of racism, you have to fight the little battles to win the war. You MUST be actively anti-racist, it is no longer good enough to be non-racist. This is our part. Fight all you want on social media, but back it up in reality. Don’t let one more racist moment slip without acting on it. Recognize the ingrained racism that lives in every single one of us, and educate the white people in your life. Read, research, talk about racism with your Black friends and colleagues, educate yourself, and fight every moment of racism you witness with the courage you should have had your entire life.
I promise you, the more you become aware of what racism looks like, the more you will realize you've spent years avoiding the confrontations you should have been having.
We aren't the heroes in this story, we will never be, but it's time we are no longer the unknowing and cowardly villain.