I don’t have the right words to express how I’m feeling or thinking about what’s happening in the US right now. But I also don’t want to be silent. Staying silent in this case is to support a system of racism that continually oppresses black Americans.
Like many, I woke up last Tuesday to see the horrific video of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer killing George Floyd. His last words the same as Eric Garners six years before as he too was killed by police. Floyd and Garner’s murders are just a couple in a long list of black people killed by individuals charged to protect the community.
Our system is broken. It’s so broken that it took a recording of the actual murder (after hundreds of the samevideo) combined with a global pandemic, that is also disproportionately killing black and brown bodies, for such a global reaction. People from all corners of our deeply divided country have come out to condemn George Floyd’s murder.
Even with this global condemnation, the question is turning away from “why are we killing black people” to “why are they protesting like that.” The sentiment is expressed differently; from questioning the violence and looters to wondering, “but don’t all matters,” but the consequence is the same to removes the focus from the specific grievances of black Americans.
The thing is the black community have been protesting peacefully for years; for the Civil Rights “sit-ins” to “kneeling in protest.” And black people keep getting killed, because the system does not change. We must ask ourselves, as Spike Lee does in his incredibly powerful film juxtaposing the murders of Eric Garner and George Floyd to the fictional killing of Radio Raheem in the 1987 film Do the Right Thing, “when will history stop repeating itself.”
We must keep reminding ourselves that George Floyd is one of many examples of police brutality. We must educate ourselves and speak out for the thousands of murders that are not caught on tape. Now more than ever, we stand together to combat the dominating narrative and support the black community.
Racism is a truly hard and uncomfortable topic to discuss. I have started and stopped writing this particular post about twenty time. Do I try to explain what racism is (a system of oppression), do I try and create a glossary of terms (BIPOC = Black, Indigenous, People of Color)? Do I write about my own experience with racism? The truth is I don’t have to recreate the wheel. There so many people, particularly black activists, that have spent longer and can say it better. Tolerance.org, White Accomplices, and Racial Equity Tools both have incredible resources. There are thousands of fantastic videos, Instagram, books and articles available if you search for it.
It is a privilege not to think about race every day. Many BIPOCs don’t have the luxury to ignore racism. We are forced to confront it in varying degrees from overt expressions (murder by cop) to coded language “but really where are you from?” Racism is not just racial epitets, it’s built into everyday interactions. Racism infects every part of society. You cannot escape it.
Many may say that “they are not racist.” They don’t consciously hate people for the color of their skin. But racism isn’t just hate, it’s benefiting from a system (privilege), it’s access , it’s ignorance. It’s a plethora of “unconscious” actions that you may not realize you are doing.
In school, I was taught that if I was a nice person, I couldn’t be a racist. It wasn’t that explicit, but it was definitely implied. I think this is a trap that excuse the membership of belonging to a system of racism. It is not enough to be a nice person. Being nice doesn’t negate bias. It just obfuscates it, making it murky and harder to pinpoint the complicity.
We must learn to be uncomfortable with our privilege and allow ourselves to feel guilt.
Blanket denials of our own biases are a way of denying that racism exists. I prefer the route that Avenue Q nicely puts it, ‘everyone is a little bit racist.” Once we accept it, we can move forward on how to actively be not racist.
What I’m Doing:
I have personally donated to Act Blue’s “Donate to Bail Funds for Protestors.” You can make a single payment and it will be distributed to nine different justice organizations. The goal of this fundraiser is to help provide bail aid to low-income people, protestors and bystanders who have been arrested and must post high cash bails. If you want to understand why bails are racist, please watch this awesome Last Week Tonight episode on bail.
You can also consider donating to black owned businesses or shop at black-owned small businesses. There is a great list here.
Combating racism is a life-long process. There are no certifications or finish lines that can declare you to be “not a racist.” Instead, we are all born into a system that prioritizes white voices and histories over BIPOCs. Studies have shown that children as young as 6 months pick up on racial biases. Racisms insidious tentacles touch every part of our society. Ben and Jerry’s , of all places, has a great article explaining what on “systematic racism.”
Even though I’ve put many years into learning and unlearning specific behaviors & biases, I still have a lot of work ahead. All I can say is if you are just beginning your journey, if you don’t understand why all the black kids are sitting together in the cafeteria, or why people are so focused on race. Google it. Talk to people. and really, really LISTEN to what POCs are staying.
And perhaps, you’re scared. Don’t let guilt or fear stop you. We all operate from what we know. You will say the wrong thing. Just accept the criticism (LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN), learn and grow from it.
Support More Black Voices
This is the biggest area where I need to grow.. While I occasionally donate or attend a protest, I’m not actively promoting black voices. I’ve been sharing book recs, with little to no black voices. I’m already trying to shop small, but I’m actively committing to buying for black-owned small businesses and amplifying black voices.
I’m starting by re-reading Bell Hook’s Killing Rage, a classic book about finding a source of love and strength in the anger of repeated instances of everyday racism. I’m also going to support more BIPOC artists (and pay for their work). I am using illustrations by the very talented Oh Happy Dani. She is a small business owner/artist and you can support her directly with venmo/paypal to @ohhappydani.
Calling Friends & Family Out for Racist Behavior
This is the hardest one for me. I hate confrontation, and I also don’t always want to be seen as the angry, social justice crusader. It’s easy to call out overtly racist behavior, but it’s much harder to call out the subtle coded phrases. But we need too. If we don’t do this, racism will continue.
Some Final Thoughts
If you are feeling confused about what’s going on, I beg you to watch Trevor Noah’s video on his thoughts about George Floyd’s Murder, the protests, and the recent “dominos of racial injustice.” It is a truly incredible piece that connect SO many important concepts.