Black Lives Matter: What I have learned about what I should be doing.

Sitting between my legs in the bath, my four year old niece was looking at me like I had three heads.

bath

Photo credit: vallgall

A minute before, she’d announced, “I’m going to marry Daddy,” and I’d replied saying, “You know you could marry Mummy instead.”

She screwed up her face and looked at me through her eyebrows. Then she asked, “Who do you like?”

As I gently swished water at her, I said, “I like two people right now. A boy called Jim and a girl called Emma*. Who do you think I should marry, Jim or Emma?”

*(names changed, I’m sure you understand)

“Jim, because there needs to be a mummy and a daddy.”

“Well, in fact, sweetheart, a mummy can marry a mummy.”

 

I have long been talking to the kids in my life about queer issues.

As a queer lady, who’s had friends and relatives on the LGBT spectrum for most of her life, I feel very comfortable talking about how I could be a mummy with another mummy, or how someone could be born with a foo-foo, but inside, feel like they are a man, or born with a ding-dong but feel like they are a woman.

But when it comes to talking about race and racism? I get scared and uncomfortable.

And, like most white people I know, I’ve grown up believing that it’s my right not to have to feel uncomfortable. Which means that I’ve often simply turned away from the issue.

This week, I had to stop doing this.

The senseless deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have shifted the issue of racism in America (and Canada, and the UK, and other countries mostly ruled by white people) to a new level. These men did nothing wrong. Philando Castile was simply following the exact instructions of the policeman standing next to him – reaching for his license, as the officer asked him to – and following the letter of the law – announcing that he was carrying a firearm, as is legal in his state – when he was shot dead in cold blood at point blank range. Four times.
Alton Sterling was being pinned to the ground by two police officers, when he was shot six times in the chest and back.

I have spoken to black friends who are hurting. They’ve told me that, every time a cop car pulls up next to or behind them, they’re afraid. They’ve told me that, on occasions where they’ve been pulled over (for no good reason) they were shaking, wondering if they were about to be killed. This is something I do not have to worry about.

And the question I’ve been asking is, What do I do? What can we do?
And how do I handle this as a white person, who has no direct experience of racism?

For the longest time, I thought that racism only meant overt racism. This was easy to deal with, because I am not overtly racist. I do not say obviously racist things – and so I was fine. My work was done.

In trying to educate myself this week, I’ve been learning that this is absolutely not enough.

If you’re a person of colour and you’re hurting right now, I cannot begin to imagine how you must feel. I am so, so sorry.

Here are some things I’ve learned that I and other white people who want there not to be racism, must do:

(1) We must educate ourselves

When we grow up not having first-hand experience of racism, there’s a LOT we don’t know. And there are a ton of resources out there to help us learn. The first thing I’ve learned to do is NOT to turn to my friends of colour right now for education and advice. It’s not their job, and at the moment, they have their own self-care to deal with.

At the bottom of this blog, I’ve linked to several articles that have helped me, but this short piece is a really good place to start:
https://thsppl.com/i-racist-538512462265#.k77fsxpjw

(2) We must learn to be uncomfortable

I have been sick with nerves about writing this post. I worry that it’s not my place, that it will look like I’m trying to make this all about me, that I’ll get something wrong.

In this (very excellent) article, professor Dr Robin DiAngelo talks about the fact that, as those in the dominant position in our society (because most of our countries are run predominantly by white people), “whites are amost always racially comfortable, and thus have developed unchallenged expectations to remain so”.
(side note: even writing the word “whites” gives me a stab of “is that racist of me to say??” discomfort)

But in order to educate ourselves – which is the ONLY way those of us who are white can help reduce racism – we must learn to sit with the discomfort it brings.

(Side note #2: as any good Buddhist will tell you, getting comfortable with discomfort in general is also the quickest route to a peaceful and happy life)

baton rouge reuters pic

Photo credit: Jonathan Bachman for Reuters

(3) We must talk about race. Because not talking about race breeds prejudice.

As I said, I – like a lot of white people I know and don’t know – feel DEEPLY uncomfortable talking about race. As well as it feeling like it’s not my place to, I worry that, by talking about it, I might be being racist.

But staying silent implies that we are ok with what is happening – we are fine with our inherently racist system, that is killing innocent men and women – and that is not ok.

Further, for those of us who have kids in our lives, staying silent can breed prejudice in them. Kids often learn by example, and a recent study showed that, when parents don’t talk to their kids about race, the children infer that the adults are racist:

“Almost half of the 5 to 7-year-old white children in the study [whose parents reported positive racial attitudes] said they did not know whether their parents liked black people, and about 35 percent either said that their parents would not approve of them having a black friend or they did not know if their parents would approve.”
(source: Washington Post)

For resources on talking to kids, see below or HERE.

If you’re not sure how to speak up, reposting thoughtful articles, statuses or videos that you’ve found on Facebook is a good place to start. You know how you can “folow” people on Facebook you’re not friends with? I’d highly recommend following Yvonne Whitelaw, Kerra Bolton and Desiree Lynn Adaway

(4) We must be willing to f-k up

As you might expect, I’ve been writing and re-writing the words above. I’m terrified to post this. While researching and reading this week, I’ve been asking questions and writing emails that have made me anxious beyond all measure, due to the fear that what I’ve said will get taken the wrong way, and I’ll be attacked for it.

In fact: I f–ked up this morning, writing something on Facebook where I tagged a friend of mine who is black, and afterwards had to edit the post and apologise to her.

My discomfort pales in comparison to the experience of being on the receiving end of racism. I feel uncomfortable writing an email or blog post. It feels like a small burden to bear, given that I don’t have to fear policemen, worry that I’m being turned down for jobs based on the colour of my skin, spend my days sick with anxiety because I’m worried that my kid is going to get suspended from school based on the colour of his.

(5) We must speak up when we see or hear racism

A relative of mine, who is one of the most left-leaning people I’ve ever encountered, recently told me a long and winding joke, that ended in a racist punchline. I was totally shocked and called her out.

She said, “But it’s not racist – it says that black people are jolly!”
I had to explain that, especially when you’re a white lady, saying, “Black people are ____” is racist. And that, because they are predominantly white (and not sitting under centuries of racial oppression), it’s not the same as when you say, “Russians are ____” or “French people are ____”.

I don’t always have the language to call people out eloquently or artfully. It feels uncomfortable. I might f–k up. BUT it’s essential that I call them out. And that you do, too. Again, compare your discomfort with the discomfort of being on the receiving end of racism. If we need to be uncomfortable in order to stop people feeling that – and we do – then we must learn to sit with it.

(6) We must keep reading and sharing stories

“When I rolled down my window he informed me that he could have shot me through my windshield for threatening his life. At no time was my foot on the gas or my car even rolling — and even if it was, he could have easily jumped out of the way. But why would he do that when he could just use that as an excuse to whip out his gun, take another life and show the citizenry whose boss, right?”

This one, by successful entrepreneur Rachel Rodgers, is particularly powerful – in part, because of how un-shocked she was by what happened to her:

http://rodgerscollective.com/look-like-threat

 

Or, watch Senator Tim Scott’s speech where he recounts stories about his experience of driving while black:

(7) We must take action

Some ideas:

Join the mailing list at http://www.showingupforracialjustice.org (a national network of groups and individuals organizing White people for racial justice)

Sign up for petitions to sign at http://www.colorofchange.org

 

Consider donating to Black Lives Matter (or another, similar organisation): https://donate.idex.org/checkout/donation?eid=66399

Read some of the articles linked to below.

Keep doing 1-5 above.

 

Sweet friends. I know we are all trying our hardest. I certainly am, even as I post this, my stomach knotting in anxiety about what the response might be.

I urge you, please, to make sure that as part of your trying, you’re reaching beyond your own day-to-day, and you’re willing to sit in discomfort. Or if this has directly affected your community and you’re struggling right now, I hope you’re practising self-care and self-compassion. And I’m sorry.

xxxMarsha

PS if you need a little further convincing, here’s a quote from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, in his Nobel Peace Prize speech:

“How naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent…That is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

Reading ideas:

I, Racist

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism

Do I look like a threat?

It’s My Job To Raise Children Who Are Not Only Not Racist But Actively Anti-Racist

Resources For White Parents On Talking To Kids About White Supremacy and Racism

BlackLivesMatter.com
All lives matter cartoon

Credit: Kris Straub at ChainsawSuit.com

Featured Image credit: @raisingself on Instagram

7 Comments

  • Andrew

    Reply Reply July 14, 2016

    Great post, Marsha! Bravo for being part of the change, and for empowering all of us to work to make things better. (I now have about a dozen tabs open in my browser, ready to review, thanks to your links…)

    One side note: You used the phrase “point black range” above. It’s usually said as “point-blank range.” Not sure if this was a typo or intentional? Either way, it seems like a most appropriate evolution of the phrase, sadly.

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Yipes, Freudian typo. Will correct now – thanks for catching it.
      Hope you find the reading illuminating. Thanks so much for doing it xxyyM

      • Andrew

        Reply Reply July 14, 2016

        I don’t know, I think you just coined a fitting new term and you should keep it. It describes pretty well what happened to Alton and Philando (and far too many others, of course).

  • Kendrick

    Reply Reply July 15, 2016

    I adore you and your posts but this is my favorite post ever. Thank you

  • Catherine

    Reply Reply July 15, 2016

    Thank you Marsha. Wish those three words could convey all of the heartfelt gratitude i feel for this post.

    Thank you for being willing to “sit with” uncomfortable to the point of anxiety in order to encourage others to move beyond the “don’t-know-what-to-do” numbness by providing excellent resources.

    Your courageous honesty and tender vulnerability are the strengths that inspire and change all whose lives you touch.

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