Given the most recent murder of a Black man by those entrusted to ensure our safety; given Amy Cooper’s display of overt racism against a Black man; given the eruption of despair and rage and grief, we have gone around and around about what to say and how to say it. Is this yet another moment to talk about systemic oppression and speak to how much our current context gives rise to a culture of violence? Is it a moment to express our pain and solidarity? Somehow that feels inadequate at best, almost hollow at worst.
Instead, we have decided to address those of us who identify as White or European American. This message is for those of us who have benefited and continue to benefit from neighborhoods, schools, loans and inheritances. It is for those of us who are able to move freely about society without generally being threatened or harmed just because we exist.
This moment could be different. Not because this has not happened before. It could be different because, as you well know, we have been told to cease and desist our normal operating mode. In this moment, people are talking about broken systems, systems that cause and perpetuate harm for the gain of but a few. Racism—exploitation of some human beings for the gain of others—is at the heart of what is broken.
Let’s Get to Work
Instead of apologizing or expressing our concern to those who have been harmed by our callous disregard for others’ lives, let’s get to work.
Instead of writing to our friends and colleagues of color and saying we are so sad that this is happening, yet again, let’s get to work.
Instead of going numb or helpless, let’s get to work. Let’s lean into our discomfort, our shame or guilt, our frozenness, our disbelief or our sense of helplessness.
Instead of feeling sorry for some other person or group of people, let’s feel sorry for the fact that we do not know how to heal this wound of racism.
Let’s feel sorry that we do not even know how we are a part of the wound, that we are so numb that we do not feel the impact of living with the myth of white supremacy.
Let’s feel sorry that we think it’s enough to give money or to “help” those “less fortunate,” a mindset that only perpetuates the distorted belief that the problem of racism and inequity lies over there.
Let’s feel sorry that it is us who are less than fortunate for having our minds warped by beliefs we do not sometimes even know we hold. Having our minds and hearts shut down to our own accountability in the matter of systematic, ongoing, deliberate harm from which we continue to benefit, will forever keep racism in place.
Let’s do the work of thawing to feel the pain of a system that robs us all of our humanity.
Below are a few things those of us who are white can do to transform our relationship to race and racism. Any transformative process begins with your own inner work. Now, let’s get to work:
- The path to your own awakening is decolonizing your own mind. What does that mean? You will have to figure it out for yourself and the work of Bonnie Duran is a great place to start your education in this domain.
- Speaking of education, most of us are completely ignorant of our true American history. In this moment, imagine if our history books were written by the Derek Chauvin’s of the world … And that is all many of us have been fed since childhood. It’s time for that to change. Start from scratch with relearning American history and then move out to the history of colonization from whence we are born. Bryan Stevenson and Edward Baptist are great places to start.
- Diversify your sources of information. We have a love/hate relationship with social media. That said, when it comes to finding resources, it is a great place to start. Reach out to your white brothers and sisters (Robin DiAngelo, Tim Wise, Jane Elliott, Chelsea Handler) to educate yourself on your whiteness and your own racism. And don’t just read about your whiteness and privilege. You need to jump into the deep end of the pool. Do you bring up racial issues when you are with your white friends or family? Does race come up at the dinner table? Do you ask other white friends how they are decolonizing their minds?
- Don’t get distracted by “people of color” issues. There is anti-Black racism that is pervasive on a global scale. If you water this down by focusing on POC issues in this moment, we believe nothing will change.
- Do not ask Black folks to educate you on race and racism OR soothe your discomfort. These requests perpetuate the role we, as a society, have put Black folks in. We wonder if reaching out to Black folks to see how they are doing is an attempt to soothe yourself.
- There are Black journalists, activists and educators who think deeply on race and racism and reading their work or following them on social media can be an education. bell hooks, Ella Bell Smith, Michelle Alexander and Audre Lorde are great authors to dig into. On social media, follow @shaunking, @laylafsaad, @ruthkingmindful or @lamarodowens. Per #6 above, stay out of their direct messages to ask for education unless you are willing to pay for their services. So often, white people ask to be educated for free without accounting for the labor required. When work is done by people of color, honor it with payment.
- If you are really looking for something to do, Shaun King gives you something to do almost every day. Yes, every day…
- And remember it’s about who you are being. See #1 above.
- When you have thoroughly worked these six steps and have brought these conversations off of social media and into face-to-face conversations within your white world, then you can start to have cross-race dialogue. We are committed to these conversations. We do want you to speak your truth and take missteps with you, but the place to start is with your personal work.
We’ve given you seven steps to transform your relationship to race and racism, but for those of you who want permanent change, we offer you this practice:
Set your phone alarm to ring 1-6 times throughout the day, depending on how deep you want to take this. Change the text of the alarm from “alarm” to something else. Here are some phrases to consider:
- How am I decolonizing my mind?
- How am I asleep to my whiteness?
- I am racist; I don’t want to forget.
If you keep these alarms on in perpetuity, it becomes difficult to forget and maybe, just maybe, that will be how we can end anti-Black racism in our lifetime.
If your Black neighbors, friends or colleagues do not want to talk with you right now, bless them to take radically good care of themselves even if it means they are not with you right now. Remember this is not about you. Do not ask to be taken care of in this moment and that includes requesting a response to your outreach. Audre Lorde said it best:
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
For many Black folks, there is no new news here. Watching how Christian Cooper and George Floyd were treated happens every day … and has happened every day on this land since 1619.
May we remember
May we never forget
May we know
That we all have an unalienable right
We realize this note is more intense than some we send. It seemed necessary to us to match the moment. May we use all that is happening to deepen our stand for life that works for all beings. May we all be free from greed, hatred and delusion. May we know that Love is the Answer, the antidote to fear, and the only force more powerful than the violence and hatred we are experiencing.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction …” — MLK 1963
A Final Thought
Never forget this moment. When the protests die down and life gets busy, when we are allowed back to the barber, to the bar and out for brunch, don’t let this awareness slip away from you. Whatever you are feeling right now, use it as fuel for your own awakening. Because if it is accurate that all things are interrelated, then there is only one liberation.
I am not free until you are free. Let’s get to work.
Yours in all humility,
Gina and Jen*
*A special shout out to the women who gave us their heart and soul for this note: Cheryl Wilson, Patrice McDermott and Sue Richardson
For a list of anti-racism resources, please click here.