George Floyd. Amaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Bothem Jean. Atatiana Jefferson. Elijah Al-Amin. Philando Castile. Alton Sterling. Jordan Davis. Anton Black. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Sandra Bland. Freddie Gray.
These are only the names I can remember.
I can barely contain the rage at there being too many to name them all.
Innocent, unarmed, beautiful black people are being murdered by white people because they deign to run in “our” neighborhoods, wear hoodies, listen to rap music “too loud,” play with toy guns, or resist arrest from police they cannot trust to protect them.
Quick to see and easy to condemn, this illness of overt racism.
Meanwhile, its more invisible sibling, white supremacy, is fed, harbored, and allowed to metastasize all around us.
We must dismantle all of it.
It starts in the naming of uncomfortable truths.
White-bodied people must look racism in the eye and not avert our gaze when we see our own reflection in the shadows. Racists are not some “other” version of white people. It is all of us. We disarm it by owning it.
Our historic resistance to admitting to and healing from our nation’s original sin of slavery has left a core wound to fester. These incidences of violence against black people are not suddenly surging in the Trump era. We just finally have the technology in every hand to bear witness to it.
Black people cannot fix this. This is the work of white people. When we go there, the door to healing that we open is not just our own; it’s a collective consciousness that emerges renewed.
Walk through this door with me. Step out of whiteness. Commit to more than just posting your anger and regrets on social media at the next gruesome video.
Change. Your. Behavior.
Very few harbor intentional ill-will and active prejudices against people of color. However, most of us are untrained to see how racism seeps into every corner of our lives.
Let’s be clear that saying “I’m a racist” doesn’t mean what you think it does. You aren’t hosing people down with water and unleashing attack dogs, burning crosses in lawns, or administering choke holds. You are not denying someone a job or scholarship because you are prejudice against their color.
For a long time, the absence of those overt behaviors was evidence enough of innocence.
The truth knows a deeper subtlety. Racism is also a collection of unearned benefits white-bodied people have received but have not earned – merely for being perceived as white. Bank loans with favorable interest rates, better schools, nicer neighborhoods, jobs with upward mobility and the gift of constantly being given the benefit of the doubt and presumed innocence.
Some will say we have earned everything through hard work. But we have been competing within a system that has rigged all the rules in our favor.
In acknowledging this, we allow space to come forward that helps us see more clearly how people of color have had a boot in their face every time they try to climb the ladder of the “American Dream.”
This dream never included them from the beginning. But we can change this now. Through our desire to give up unearned privileges and taking on the hard work of discussing reparations, we can begin to truly dismantle the legacy of racism.
You ask, “But what if I am one of the ‘good ones’ who goes to trainings and reads the right books – you’re not including me in this, right?” Yes, my friend, I am. We call ourselves anti-racist racists.
All white people have a place deep within that is inviting each of us to be brave, face our fears of this difficult topic, and embrace an opportunity to heal what is broken in all of us.
My favorite anti-racism teacher, the Reverend angel Kyodo Williams, reminds us that whites were seduced, induced, or reduced into participation with white supremacy systems. Some of our ancestors were seduced by the financial gains of enslaving black people. Others were immigrants eager to trade their status for the privilege of being seen as white. Some were induced through not-so-veiled threats that either you do this or it will be your family we come for – cleaving divisions of people, fighting amongst themselves for status and protection.
Most of us have no idea how the nets of seduction and induction entangled our ancestors. But we do know that we have all been reduced by this. Shame, guilt, and self-hatred is the white inheritance of complicity with this unspeakable history. Our collective lineage has passed on to us a hidden trauma of whiteness that continues to inflict so much injury.
We hate ourselves, so we take it out on you.
White fragility is a thing. And we have to get over ourselves.
The work of undoing racism is upon us. This is the calling of our generation.
Truth liberates us. And when we step into our power to shift the dynamic of racism in our lives, we heal in multiple directions – ourselves, our ancestors, and the children yet unborn.
See the ugly truth of white supremacy all around you — not just the obvious racists pulling guns on innocent black people — see the legal system that gives disproportionate sentencing based on skin color. See the mothers and babies that receive inadequate health care compared to their white peers. Notice the toll that the Coronavirus is taking on black and brown communities. Call out corporations that dump their toxic waste in black and brown neighborhoods and governments that refuse to provide clean drinking water in Flint, MI. Pay attention that you do not have to pay attention to anything when the police pull you over for a routine stop. See the weaponized fear that the “Karens” and “Beckys” use to their advantage to put black people back in their place. Condemn police brutality. Notice the not-so-subtle jabs and jokes whispered in hushed tones in the comfort of other white people.
And vow to disrupt it.
Agitate for law changes and vote in political representatives who will champion them.
In mixed spaces, shut your mouth and open your heart. Whiteness often has us speaking first, looking for applause. We do not always have to get it right. We do not have to possess the best, fastest, rightest answers. Performance does not prove who we are. We must unlearn the ways that we have been taught to take measure. Let other people shine.
Give up some of that power which has been unfairly bestowed upon you and share more of the resources that we have horded to protect our status.
Racism is embedded in our system of existence. Commit yourself to overturning it. Embody your awareness. Teach your children a different way. For these pervasive daily injustices are just as lethal as the life-ending ones.
Start speaking up against racism in white spaces. It gets easier with each step, with each word. Use your voice of privilege. Let your heart lead you.
Love is the pathway to liberation. Radical love is our partner in undoing racism.
White people, we have work to do.
Written by Heather R. Mizeur, CEO + Founder, Soul Force Politics, a non-profit organization that envisions how the world would be different by putting radical love into action.
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