A friend once said to me, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Her words still echo today, and it is in this spirit that I write today’s post. Writing about racism and social injustice is definitely out of my comfort zone. I worry, as a middle-aged, white-privileged woman, that I might offend someone – What do I know about racism? I know the killing of George Floyd and other unarmed, Black Americans is wrong, and I know that it is time for those of us who are scared to say anything to find our voices and join the conversation. How do we begin?
1. Educate yourself. When I don’t understand something, I turn to books. It’s up to us to be proactive about understanding the issues and not wait for someone to teach us. Fortunately, there are countless books, poems, and essays about racism, anti-racism, white privilege, and social injustice to help. Yes, it can be overwhelming, but there are some excellent reading lists to guide us:
The New York Times provides an “anti-racist reading list” from Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist and Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.
BookPeople, Austin, Texas, also has an “anti-racist reading list.”
Some recent reads that have helped me think about racism include:
Throughout history, poetry has been an effective vehicle for expressing injustice. You can find lists of poems about racial injustice, resiliency, and the desire for a more peaceful world at Poets.org. Some that resonated with me include:
- “The Pedestrian” by Tommye Blount
- “I, Too” by Langston Hughes
- “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou
- “American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin [But there never was a black male hysteria]” by Terrance Hayes
- “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” by Adam Zagajewski
What have you read about racism or anti-racism that made you think and stayed with you after you finished it?
2. Understand white privilege. White privilege can be a hard concept to grasp especially if you’re white and life is not easy. “What privilege?” we might ask, as we struggle to put food on the table and keep a roof over our head. Our white privilege in such cases is that the color of our skin doesn’t add to our hardships.
The spoken-word poem in this brief video gets to the heart of white privilege. Savanna Hartman wrote “My White Skin is my Privilege” in 2016 after Alton Sterling was killed. You can watch her recite some of her poem here:
To see Savanna Hartman recite “My White Skin is my Privilege” in its entirety, click here.
3. Consider making a donation. If you have a little money to spare right now, consider making a donation, however small it might seem to you. George Floyd’s family has started a GoFundMe to cover funeral costs, legal fees, and care for his children. Campaign Zero, an organization dedicated to identifying effective solutions to end police violence, is accepting donations. Community Justice Exchange says that your donation may have the most impact at local, grassroots organizations. Click here for a list of causes to contribute to.
4. Find your voice. How can you be part of the solution? You might have a conversation with friends and family about these topics, attend a peaceful protest, post on social media, educate young people, or make a donation. You don’t need to do all these things, but it is time for each of us to do something to help dismantle racism.
5. Be kind to others and yourself. If talking about race-related topics is an emerging skill, you may make mistakes at first. Like learning to speak a new language, you often don’t get it right the first time. Forgive yourself. If you offend someone, or someone offends you, try not to get defensive. Try to listen and understand the other person’s point of view. Easier said than done, I know, and something I will be practicing as I work to further educate myself and speak out against racism.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”Desmond Tutu
Photo Credit: Jane Mount, The Anti-racist shelf
I have been hesitant to comment on this particular blog as I find myself in a unique situation. I have a son who is a state trooper and a daughter who is married to the kindest black man you could ever meet. It is sad knowing that if my daughter and son in law have children (biracial) that they will some day have to have “the talk” with their children about being black and how to stay safe. My second issue is that my son, as a state trooper, is one of the most hated people in the country right now. He too is a good man. Not all “cops” are the same and it is sad that they have to be lumped in the same category as the bad ones. Not to sound like everyone else, but ALL lives matter. Every skin color! It was not right what happened to George Floyd nor is it right for anyone to be killing anyone in law enforcement. As far as being privileged, we are all privileged every day we wake up! I commend my sister for having the courage to speak out about something that is so fragile to everyone at this time. oxoxxo
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Thanks for speaking up, Patti. Racism in all its forms will only be solved when enough of us first see our inescapable (and often unconscious) role in it, and then, step by step, begin to speak up and take action against it. I love the final Desmond Tutu quote pointing out that silence and neutrality (often coming from a lack of awareness) only foster oppression. Thank you for raising our awareness.
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Thank you for moving beyond any discomfort you may have had to write this post. Your specific suggestions and readings are so welcome. Let’s work to heal this broken world.
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Thank you for finding your voice to share this so important and relevant post! I too hold so many privileges that to be honest have always made me feel very uncomfortable and have given me an extra sense of responsibility (hence my constant volunteering / leading activism projects on the side). I have had my share of discrimination – as an immigrant – but nothing to compare to this. Keeping informed, educated, empathetic, strategic and proactive has always been very important to me. Your list of reads is very valuable. I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me” a few years ago and it is still so vivid. I recommend it. One of my privileges has also allowed me to travel around the world and that has been my largest life lesson – being an “outsider” in environments and cultures completely different than mine. It has opened up my eyes to “the other” and to my own self in a deeper way than anything else I have experienced. I hope this time around, we can all be proactive – reflecting on our own privileges and finding our own voices in one way or another to think, inform ourselves, communicate, act strategically, propose actionable items and demand change. Also to be kind!
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Thank you for this Patti…so hard to know the best way to comfort those who are in the depths of so much hurt. I had never thoughtof myself as a “woman of privilege” but that’s exactly what I am, and what so many others like me are. We live quite comfortablelives and are often just bystanders to the horrors of outrageous behavior going on in the world right now. We flick off thetelevision, tune into classical music, and try to get on with our corona-virus restricted lives. If ever there was a time to try to understand”other” it is now. In the past there has been strong leadership to help us cope with disasters, strong words to guide us as thecountry suffered. We have none of that now. Perhaps our white privilege can push us toward a better understanding of “other” , to readand try to comprehend “other”, to be aware of the terrible pain of “other”, and to leave behind the comfort zone of all that we have feltentitled to. Pat Sullivan
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