A few nights ago, I got a DM from a friend asking what she can do to help in the current climate. Now, this isn’t new…I’ve been both heartened and heartbroken by the white friends in my life who have reached out in this way. Heartened, because, it seems like we, as black people, are finally being seen. Heartbroken, because, I’ve lost a lot of friends over this. Some I have known for decades.
Also heartbroken, because it took so much pain, so much loss, and so much time, TO be seen. See, we’ve been dealing with this, some of us for our whole lives, but, this is very new for some of you.
I don’t blame y’all for this. Because, to borrow from an analogy I’ve used a million time this week, “as a man, I cannot actually know what it’s like to be a woman in America”. I realize some may see that as a cop out, as giving a lot of people a pass for missing what was in front of them all along, but, in truth, that’s simply how I am. I can’t be mad at you for not seeing the forest for the trees, when now your are FINALLY noticing it.
I just need to thank God that you finally see. I feel compelled to say, “Welcome to the cookout. Pull up a chair. We’ve got a long way to go.”. And hopefully, in whatever minuscule way I can, guide you to see even more.
There are loads of articles about what you can do to help, like “Guidelines for Being Strong White Allies” [PDF], “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice”, “Dear White People: Here Are 10 Actions You Can Take To Promote Racial Justice In The Workplace” and thousands of other articles on the subject that you can find via Google.
I’m not going to rehash everything said in those articles, I am only going to speak from MY heart. I am only going to speak about the things I would like MY white people to do, for me, my family and my people.
1 – Speak up. Speak out.
This seems easy, but, its not. Look, I didn’t wake up this morning saying, “Hmmmm what should I do today? Xbox or Social Justice Warrior (SJW)?”. I don’t WANT to be an SJW. I’d prefer to exist in a world where SJWs weren’t needed. And I’d prefer to live in a world where certain people didn’t throw the term “SJW” around like an insult.
But, here we are.
What we need YOU to do, is become an SJW as well.
But, not just in public. Not just at the rallies, marches and in the boardrooms. You need to speak up in your private lives as well.
The fundamental truth is: The racists are in your family. In your friend groups. They are cousins, they are aunts and uncles, they may be siblings, they are that girl from your sorority, your buddy from the bar or that guy you take in ball games with.
Hey, I’d love it if they listened to ME. That would be easier for both of us. But, lets face it…racist white people consider black people to be beneath them. And no one cares about the feelings, hurts or even thoughts of what is beneath them.
Keep in mind, America cares about dogs more than it does black people. #FACT. It’s a sad truth, and it may shock you. Go back in your Facebook timeline and see how many of your white friends were upset about the way Amy “Central Park Karen” Cooper treated her dog in the now infamous video. How many of them said “OMG did you see how she treated that poor dog!”. And how many celebrated when the rescue organization took her dog away (she’s gotten the dog back BTW, while y’all weren’t paying attention)
And then count up how many of your friends were appalled by the fact that she lied and threatened to call the cops on a black man, which could result in his arrest, or worse yet, his death. All for the simple “crime” of being a black man, who had the audacity to ask a white woman to follow the rules.
Chances are, you’ll be surprised by the results.
Now imagine how you’d feel if you were black. Imagine being black and feeling outrage at yet another white person using their privilege to police our bodies in spaces they considered theirs. Essentially weaponizing their privilege against someone, and then claiming afterwards that that was NOT what they were doing. Then keep in mind it happened again and again….in the same WEEK. We can’t sit on a park bench minding our black business. We can’t use an office gym in a building we pay rent in.
They get to apologize, tell the world, “Sorry for you thinking I was racist when I did the racist shit, but, I’m not really a racist”, and life goes on.
We need white people to stand up and say, “Racism is not only unacceptable, but, will not be tolerated.” To paraphrase my friend Ransom, we need racists to do the cost benefit analysis and realize that racism isn’t a viable option. They need to feel that being racist will lose them friends, lose them loved ones, lose them jobs, and lose them acceptance in a modern society.
Harsh? Yes. Necessary? Also, yes.
I had a discussion (argument) with a guy named “Steve”, on a friends timeline the other day on this very subject. Steve felt that all of her activism was ruining lives. Steve wanted to know: should people lose friends, jobs, or their standing in the community simply because they posted vile racist shit online?
My question to him was simple, “Let’s follow your logic…” I said, Would you be ok working alongside a pedophile who had never actually harmed any children? Sure, this pedophile thought about it. Sure, this pedophile talked about it. He might even write posts online about it. BUT – he’s never actually harmed a child. Would you be okay working next to that guy? Would you be ok with him saying those things around you? I mean, these are just thoughts, right? These are just words, right?
Since “Steve” seemed to be the “ ’Merica, fuck yeah!” type, I said, What if the guy at work next to you supported ISIS? He’s never actually taken terrorist action, he hasn’t blown anything up, he hasn’t done anything other than talk about how awesome he thinks they are. I mean, these are just thoughts, right? These are just words, right?
Yes. They are just thoughts. They are just words. Even when they come from racists. But, they are unacceptable in our presence.
No, I don’t believe in “thought police”, or taking away someone’s freedom to speak their mind. I believe in freedom of speech. For the racists. For ISIS. And even for the pedos.
HOWEVER….Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from the consequences OF that speech. We do not have to support these people, endorse these people, defend these people or even allow them in our lives.
And white people need to start looking the same way at the racists in their lives.
If your quaint old Aunt Sally hopped up on the table, in the middle of a family dinner, and took a big steaming shit right on all the food, you wouldn’t say, “Oh…that’s just Sally. She does crazy things sometimes.” Or “We’ll have to excuse that, deep down Sally is a good person.” Or “Well, she hasn’t done this at other dinners….so this doesn’t mean anything”.
You’d be PISSED. Aunt Sally wouldn’t be coming to any more dinners.
So, don’t allow quaint old Aunt Sally, or Uncle John, or your cousin, or your spouse, or anyone in your circle to be racist around you either. And don;t defend them to ME or to other POC.
Because every, “Well, he’s not really racist he just….” Or “Deep down she’s a good person” out of your mouth? Is them shitting on MY table.
Every, “Nothing against Jews, but…” or
“Hey, don’t get me wrong I like black people, but…” or
“Hey, some Mexicans are good ones, like Jose down at the plant…” is them shitting on YOUR table.
Stand up. Speak up. Tell them that if they want YOU in their lives, they wont bring their bile into YOUR life.
And do it when ONLY white people are looking, too…not just when POC are around. Don’t send the signal that they are insulting your friends…send the signal that they are insulting YOU.
My friend Amber, a tiny little thing that probably weighs 110 pounds soaking wet with a barbell on her back, has made it her mission to be a one-woman wrecking ball for change in her section of Pittsburgh. The line of pissed off racists who WERE in her life is quite long.
My girl Shilo posts all over FB and Instagram, not only about justice, but about how people can help. And shes well known for getting right up in the faces of those who oppress, to use her privilege as a shield for the oppressed.
Follow their lead.
2 – Keep learning.
We cannot stop learning about who we are, and how we got here. A lot of us are already learning about history from a white lens, via school, and via TV, movies and books. But, very few white people take the time to learn the history that exists outside of their own whiteness. The way our history is written and presented to us, you could ALMOST be forgiven for thinking that white people did all of this. Almost.
Time to change that. And it takes action from you to do it.
Personally, I think every white person should read “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” and “Tomlinson Hill: The Remarkable Story of Two Families Who Share the Tomlinson Name – One White, One Black”.
The first is an examination of how we got here, and why you (and folks like you) are conditioned by society to think, feel and act the way you do. I promise you, it will be eye opening.
The second book is a more personal journey, that I think a lot of people could relate to. Imagine tracing your family history to find that not only did your forbears once own slaves, but, that they once owned the slave ancestors of a famous football player. Imagine how that would change both of your lives.
Comcast Xfinity and Prime Video have both created sections on their sites for movies to watch. Throughout the month of June, Warner Brothers has made the 2019 film, “Just Mercy” free to stream. The LA Times has created a list of “Free movies about race in America to watch and learn from”.
3- Keep asking.
You are not alone in this. I am a cis-gendered, straight, able-bodied, natural born, American male. I have to keep checking in with my LGBTQ friends and family, to make sure I am on the right track. I have to LISTEN to immigrants to understand things that I could never know, as a person born here. I have to respect, defend, and listen when women around me speak…because they know what the hell they are talking about. And on, and on…
Allyship isn’t easy. It takes fucking WORK to care about the people around you. And intersectionality matters. I saw someone post, “Don’t feel you need to save the world. If everyone lays a brick, we’ll eventually build a better world.” That shit rings true.
And keep checking in on the folks that need it. At times like this, they simply are NOT ok. As James Baldin said, ‘To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. ‘ And a word from you could mean a lot to someone feeling this right now. A simple word that says, “I see you. I know you hurt. I’m here for you.”
I had a call yesterday from a dear friend who is going through amazingly tough medical issues right now. No one would blame her for simply focusing on herself. But, she said she needed to check on how I was doing…even in the midst of her own very real pain and discomfort.
I don’t even have the words for how awesome that felt.
4 – Go back to step 1, and repeat.