I am a white woman raising white children with my white husband in our predominantly white New England town. I was born in the south, raised in the west, moved back to the south, and now reside in the north. No matter where I have lived in this country, I have never considered myself a racist. For a long time I thought that was enough.
People of color are talking. They have been talking. They are exhausted from talking. Many of us, myself included, have not been listening. I didn’t think their message was for me, because “I am not a racist.” I wasn’t getting it. Their message is exactly for “non-racist” white people like me. It is a call to move past complacency and to be totally anti-racist. I am finally listening, and here is what I am learning.
Our black community is tired. Tired of racist acts against their people, obviously, but they are tired of so much more. They are tired of our hashtags, our social media posts, our running with Ahmaud, and our apologies. Without action, all these gestures bear no fruit. And that is what is desperately needed — change.
As Danielle Coke so beautifully illustrates, change starts from the inside and works its way out. First within each of us individually. Next with how we raise our children and talk about race at home. And then, we change humanity.
Within myself, I have to recognize my privilege. It was my privilege that allowed me to turn a deaf ear to the cries of another race for so many years. It has been my privilege to sit safely in front of my TV with my husband at night instead of fighting for the justice and rights of my people. When a Netflix documentary or a book on racism begins to make me feel too distraught, it is my privilege to be able to walk away from the content that people of color live with daily. It is my privilege to freely name my children knowing their names will not affect their likelihood of getting called in for a job interview one day. It is my privilege to dress them in any clothes I want, because their blonde hair and blue eyes pose no outward threat. It is my privilege to never have to talk to my son about what to do when he is pulled over for a speeding ticket someday. It is my privilege to not have to fear that my daughter’s word will not be enough should she ever need to defend herself.
Black lives matter. Your instinct might be to counter that all lives matter. While it is true that all lives do matter, the point is that for centuries we have not been acting as if all lives matter. My white life has mattered more to society than my neighbor’s black life. My white life has not been targeted or threatened in any real way in 34 years. I doubt very many black lives can claim the same. If our petition is that all lives matter, we have to act like it.
It is not enough to raise our children in “non-racist” homes. Race must be a discussion that is had often. The history of racism must be taught, including what is left out of public school curriculum. Hard conversations about current events need to be explained. Our children need to understand their privilege, and furthermore, know how to use their privilege to stand in the gap for those without privilege — not just our black sisters and brothers, but our sisters and brothers of all races and cultures. If you feel unsure where to start these conversations with your children, start in some basic ways. Make sure people of all color are represented in your children’s books, toys, and TV time.
It occurred to me this week that my son or daughter could very well grow up to be a police officer. It was easy for me to quickly put away the idea that they would ever commit a crime as horrific as what we saw in the murder of George Floyd. But then another thought seeped in — what if they were one of the three other cops who stood by and did nothing.
It is not enough to teach my children that we are not racist. My children will be taught to be anti-racist — to defend, stand up for, and ally for black lives.
As we listen to, learn from, and grieve with our black community, we must also advocate for them. Where do the candidates on a local, state, and national level that you vote for stand on this issue? On social media, make sure you are following people who don’t look like you, and listen to what they are saying. Are you gaining knowledge from the voice of a person of color? Show your appreciation for their work by donating to their platform. Challenge your biases. Notice your privilege. Use your privilege to help those without.
You do not have to have all the answers — you won’t have all the answers. These conversations will be uncomfortable at times — it’s OK to be uncomfortable. Let your children know that you are learning along with them — be vulnerable with them. We cannot let our fear of saying the wrong thing keep us silent.