I don’t even know how to form the words around what I am feeling right now. I sat down, wanting to talk about the news this past week. But then reality hit me. The news this past week isn’t something new. It isn’t even something different. It is the same thing that has been happening since long before I was even born into this privileged life I have.
But this week, the reality of all of things I have never, and will never have to talk to my children about invaded my thoughts. It became increasingly heavier as a pastor from my church spoke in a podcast about having conversations with his children about how they need to be aware of how people will treat them based on the colour of their skin. I have never had that conversation with my parents, nor will I ever have that conversation with my own children. If you, like me, are white, let that sink in.
During that podcast, I was taken to my earliest memory of observed racism: I was with my family in a place that was always fun for me, when I had overheard one of the elder members of my family started firing cruel comments about the black families that were nearby. “Careful, it’s getting dark – better start smiling so we can see you”, and “Go home n*****”. At this point in my life, I quickly recognized the tone in their voice before I realized the magnitude of their words.
I remember thinking why? Why would my family think it’s okay to say that to someone? I felt full of shame and questions because the laughter that followed the comments implied these comments were normal, while the families that were forced to hear those racist comments told another story. When I asked about the way the elder behaved, the response told a story of having been wronged by a black individual in the past. That never sat well with me as I watched my elder interact with other (yes, white) people, having been wronged by some in the past, with no issue.
So here we are, I’m older and know better. I have taught my kids to treat people like people, no matter what they bring to the table right? Maybe, but I think I can do more. What hit me this week is the bubble we live in where I am. We see this kind of racial violence happening on a screen, far away from us and distance ourselves from it a little because it’s not in our community. What we don’t see is the stage we have set in our community with that distancing behaviour. We watch the news and become enraged that this level of racism still exists, but rest on our laurels being thankful that we are non-racist.
Something I saw on instagram this week speaks to the point I want to make: it’s not enough to be non-racist; we need to be anti-racist. How can I do that? How can I teach this to my children? For me, the most important piece in this puzzle is relationship. Think about it – the people you are in realtionship with. What is one thing you are consistently doing with those people? The answer is working to understand them. Without understanding, there is no realationship.
A site called From Privilege to Progress gave me a beautiful picture of what I can do as a white kid from the East coast. I would like to share that with you.
Listen. When we hear someone discussing racism, listen to them. If privilege is mentioned, still listen. There is no understanding, no relationship without listening.
Honour feelings. Avoid placing the weight of your own feelings on the shoulders of another race.
Ask. Work to understand through asking questions. Relationships are built on understanding. We get there through respectfully asking questions.
Learn about racism. Acknowledge and understand the history.
Challenge the people in your life to think about, learn, and understand racism.
Encourage those in your circle to understand “perspectives of people of color”. Do not attempt to lift yourself up as ‘the only one who understands’.
Do not compare different forms of “oppressions with racism unless it’s directly relevant”.
Own your mistakes. Ask how you can fix them.
Intersectionality. Get to know how there are several important pieces to someone’s identity, thus several areas where oppression can be taking place. Do not take it lightly.
Be vocal. Call out white privilege. If you see it happening, name it.
The truth is, as heavy as my heart is, I cannot feign a true understanding of what racism has done for so many generations. I can choose to no longer stand by idly, resting in the assumption that simply being nice is actually doing something. I am encouraging you, dear reader to strike up a conversation – either in the comments, or in your circle of peers, to carve a path forward so that we can become a catalyst for change. Because something has got to give.