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:
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