Like many others, I have been painfully attuned to the senseless violence, the powerlessness and rage, and the inherent systematic and historic racism that has been graphically illustrated and especially devastating in recent days. The suffering has been heart-breaking.
But our grief or anger is not enough. Neither is a passive expression of our solidarity. In this painful process there is both the opportunity to listen and learn, and the opportunity to act.
Now, more than ever, listen to leaders from the black community. Listen to the everyday perspectives and experiences from voices within the black community. In other words, if you are fortunate enough to be from a privileged community that doesn’t intimately know racism, listen to the many teachers that are speaking up right now. Just open your hearts and minds and listen and learn.
Rachael Cargle, writer and activist, recently wrote:
Dear white people,
I am tired of hearing you say “I’m shocked,” “I can’t believe this,” “I had no idea,” “this can’t be real.”
This is, in all actuality, wildly offensive that our pain is so far off of your radar that the mention of it shocks you. It’s actually hurtful to know that the news that’s been keeping me up at night hasn’t even been a topic of conversation in your world.
Instead when I keep you informed on the blatant abuse, racism and trauma happening to women of color and their families, I need to hear:
• I’ve found an organization that helps in these types of instances and I’ve donated money.
• I’ve brought this topic up to my co-workers and family so we can talk through what’s happening.
• I’ve researched this and I have learned more about the history of this particular race issue we have in our country.
Your shock is not enough. Your wow isn’t solidarity. Your actions are the only thing I can accept at this point. And if that is too much for me to ask of you, dear friend, feel free to let yourself out of this community because your complacency is not welcome here.
I recognize myself in her words. I’ve been attuned to racial issues and I think I work hard to attend to my biases or blind spots. But I’m not particularly active. I’m been empathetic and outraged. But I can move in and out of that space, and there are too many who can’t. I can only imagine how devastating and exhausting it is.
I can do a better job listening, paying closer attention and further educating myself. By this, I don’t mean just searching out views that are comfortable for me or fit a narrative that’s easy to digest. This means reading and hearing things that may seem strident, trying to check my defensiveness, or exploring stories through a completely unfamiliar lens.
As always, there are a great many teachers. Here are some voices that I have historically found powerful and thought provoking, as well as new ones that have resonated. Very clearly, it’s just a start.
Website for Ibram X. Kendi, which includes selected essays on race and information regarding the mission of The Antiracist Research and Policy Center. It also includes information on his New York Times Bestseller How to Be Antiracist and National Book Award Winner Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.
Writer and activist Rachael Cargle’s address, Revolution Now, and her TED talk, Coming to Terms with Racism’s Inertia. Her focus is on knowledge, empathy and action.
Bryan Stevenson, human rights lawyer and founder of The Equal Justice Initiative, addresses the legacy of slavery and the need to talk about racial injustice.
Website for Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative, featuring presentations, articles and the mission of EJI.
Brene Brown's Unlocking Us podcast (scheduled for release the week of 6/1), A Conversation with Ibram X. Kendi.
Between the World and Me, National Book Award Winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. A national correspondent for The Atlantic, Coates has written multiple essays on cultural and political issues related to race and the fictional best seller, The Water Dancer.
In addition to becoming better informed, there has also been a call to act. Over and over again, I hear the message of engagement. Ibram Kendi, a National Book Award Winner and leading scholar on racism, stated this:
There is justice. There is injustice. There is no neutrality. No sideline. No bleachers. No exits.
We are all in the human rights struggle to save humanity from human tyranny. Black people, especially, are struggling to live, for the right to breathe.
Being neutral is simply not enough. Those of us in the majority have to work to be actively anti-racist. So where is a good beginning point, in addition to listening and educating ourselves?
• Recognize and label institutional or systemic racism. Talk about it when you see it and open yourself up to the difficult discussions about who it protects and who it fails. Work to be humble and open to the reality of white privilege. There is an incredible amount of content being produced right now that provides an opportunity to better understand policies that dismantle or exacerbate racial injustice.
• Get politically active. Educate yourself about policies that support or undermine equality and get engaged. Demand accountability from the people you elect to represent you. There are also demonstrations in nearly every community, suburban and urban. If there is a means to safely and peacefully protest, consider participating. If you are unable to do this, there are avenues to support political activism by providing medical expertise, meals, or legal relief. Grass roots political efforts and social media campaigns also continue to help facilitate change.
• Make a donation to an organization that supports the black community and people of color in this country. Here are two lists among many published right now. The first is in response to the current civil crisis and the second is a broader list to support.
There is no right way to talk about what is happening in our country right now. No easy way. But it is a critical time for honest, uncomfortable conversations, listening closely and learning. And, most importantly, a critical time for action. I’m committed to being more engaged.