In the last few weeks, I struggled to write and touch on the issue of white privilege and black lives matter. It hasn’t felt right to bang out some light-hearted content as I’d planned after the heaviness of COVID. It also doesn’t feel right to be silent. I think that’s a big problem for me. I was told my entire life not to have an opinion. Go to school, follow the rules, do what you’re told, don’t question. It helped me cope, but I’ve always had a silent scream inside of me that I can’t quite fully let out. I don’t know. It all feels weird. And it feels very wrong not to take this baby step, face my white privilege, and use my voice for anti-racism.
I’ve wanted to address the unrest in the world, but I’m afraid to say the wrong thing. I’m not an activist. I’m fearful of judgment from family and community. I had an entire blog post written and then deleted, where I tiptoed around the subject.
TYPE, DELETE. REPEAT.
Then I realized, what the hell is the point of writing a personal blog if I’m not using my voice? I’m holding back because I’m scared that I’ll offend a family member, acquaintance, or social media stranger that I went to a black lives matter protest? That they’ll think because I went, I’m anti-police? Or I’m pro-rioting and looting? Or, even worse, a liberal? GASP! (There aren’t much worse things I can be in some circles.)
Last week I saw this on a meme:
“A lot of people don’t want to hear your opinion. They want to hear their opinion coming out of your mouth.”
Ain’t that the truth.
Here’s the thing. You can quickly close the tab on your computer, and walk away right now, never thinking about this blog again. You can label me because I’m writing about my experience of being white in a world where black lives matter. It’s not happening to you, or you think you have to choose a “side” and it’s the opposite of me, so you have that (white) privilege to turn your back and forget this little chat ever happened.
Black Americans can’t turn their back and forget.
I’m listening and I’m learning. I want to understand the black lives matter movement so that I can make an informed opinion, become an ally, and be a cycle breaker in my family, a job I’m already familiar with and take seriously.
Two weeks ago, I attended the Black Lives Matter protest in my town.
There was a lot of fear of violence surrounding the event that I won’t give life to. I fed into the fear. I wasn’t sure if I should go, let alone bring my daughter, who wanted to be there to see a peaceful protest with her own eyes (unlike the chaos she sees on the news). I’m a 43-year-old white woman who’s never been to a protest. I grew up on the advice that my one vote doesn’t make a difference and I avoided anything politically charged until well into adulthood.
But I’m finding it hard to turn my head. Death is final. That’s why dying at the hands of a police officer, as George Floyd and all the others did, is profoundly disgusting. It’s the last act of racism that can be carried out—the most extreme. It gains the loudest cries, the most frustration. And it’s the most confusing and unjust in a system that’s supposed to serve and protect us all.
There are a million little acts of racism that lead up to the final scene of a man calling out for this breath and his mother in his last moments.
I’m so f-ing tired of all the hate in my kids’ world. It’s exhausting.
And if I’m pissed, how angry and frustrated are black moms raising black kids right now? This is the world they are supposed to send their babies off into? Where black men still get called the n-word and have their faces spit on? Where a police stop still ends in 7 bullets in a back? Where white families still sit around a table and brag about their hatred for anyone with brown and black skin. It happens. You and I both know it does, and we’ve likely heard it happen.
With that in mind, and deeply curious, I went to the protest. I took my daughter, and I kept an open mind. I wish I could say I went without fear. A part of me was scared for our safety and fed into the Facebook fear-mongering.
I can’t believe I almost didn’t go. I can’t believe I let my white privilege almost keep my eyes closed. Again.
The protest was everything except violent. It was a beautiful, peaceful gathering, giving a voice to those who’ve felt silenced. You give someone a voice by providing a safe place to speak while listening without reacting. The organizers spoke, local politicians, and community members – all with different backgrounds, opinions, and experiences. No two stories were the same, which gave depth to the experience. Confirmation that racism isn’t a clear issue – there isn’t one way to solve it. Its generational. It’s deep within our psyche and our systems.
The concept of white privilege has been confusing to me. I certainly didn’t grow up feeling privileged.
But I now realize I never had to look for a teacher with the same color skin as me to love me a little more as a struggling kid. I never had to search for a therapist with the same skin color like me to guide me into adulthood when my parents weren’t there. As I learn more about black lives and hear studies about education and healthcare, I realize those things are part of my privilege.
Up until that day, at that protest, I’ve never listened to a black person speak in an empathetic way. Not once.
That’s not easy to admit.
I’m learning it’s not enough to be “not a racist.”
I would’ve said those words in the past. I’ve spent a lot of time as a mom preaching acceptance and kindness, not being racist, not judging people by the color of their skin, removing myself and my kids from conversations that include hateful words against black and brown people. “I’m not a racist.”
I’ve been curious for a while and felt maybe all the above wasn’t enough. I read the book Just Mercy for my book club a few years ago, and it was the first time I felt pissed off about racial injustice. It was also the first thing I’d ever read about the subject. I’ve been following more on social media about white supremacy since then, and it’s been confusing and triggering.
But I don’t talk about it. Why.
It isn’t easy to talk about something that isn’t actively happening in front of your face. That’s a privilege, to be able to skirt around an issue and not face it head-on. My silence makes me complicit.
I’m committed to learning more and not being silent. But I can’t move forward without understanding where the black lives matter movement came from. How did systemic racism happen, and what does that mean? How have I contributed to it?
It isn’t enough to be “not a racist.”
Listen, I’m not about to quit my day job as a nutrition therapist and become a full-time activist. But I’m gonna make damn sure I know enough to teach my kids, and they can show their kids, and so on. I’m going to participate in “anti-racism” actively. That requires more than acceptance and love and kindness.
Right now I’m focusing on a few things:
- Learn more about black lives and the deep history of the system built around them so that I understand better.
- VOTE. My vote DOES count.
- Have conversations and discussions about ways to do better as a white human being in a world where black lives matter.
I also won’t look to hear my opinion coming out of everyone else’s mouth all the time. I’ll hear other ideas that challenge me to either learn and grow or dig my heels in deeper.
I don’t have to attend a protest to care. I don’t have to be against one group or another. I don’t have to label myself or hashtag the shit out of my social media to make a difference. None of these things matter without continuous action afterward.
Listening to someone’s experience without positioning myself or reacting can only make me a better human being. We all want our voices and opinions heard – but right now I have to hear black voices.
I’m listening. I’m learning. I won’t be silent.
Here is a list of podcasts, articles, and books for those who are actively learning or curious – and if you have resources you’d like to share, comment below.
First, a way for NJ residents to use their voice, no matter what your opinion is, in shaping NJ Use of Force Policy: https://www.insidernj.com/grewal-outlines-process-revising-new-jerseys-use-force-policy/
Podcasts: On black history and farming: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/1619/id1476928106
Conversations between two friends, one black and one white: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-opt-in-with-aurora-kelly/id1480787042
On healthcare and education (this was my favorite): https://www.npr.org/2020/05/22/860926909/people-like-us-how-our-identities-shape-health-and-educational-success
An experience of a black woman and anti-racism: https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-with-austin-channing-brown-on-im-still-here-black-dignity-in-a-world-made-for-whiteness/
Articles: On being black during the pandemic: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/american-nightmare/612457/
Social Media on Instagram @sharethemicnow
Liz PS – I’m eager to hear private thoughts and what you’ve thought of any of the recommended Podcasts especially, Contact me here.