If you’re white, I need you to stop for a minute. Take a deep breath. Actually, take ten, this may take a while.
This post isn’t about making anyone feel guilty. I’m not going to call anyone a racist. I’m certainly not going to tell anyone they don’t deserve whatever they’ve worked to achieve in their lives.
I’m just going to say this: We need to do better.
We’re waaaaaaaayyyy beyond the ‘this makes me uncomfortable so I’m just going to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist‘ phase of the game. You know those stories about your mother’s friend’s cousin Gert, the one who smoked two packs a day, coughed up blood for years but chalked it up to cat allergies? The one who, when she eventually went to the doctor’s, found out she had stage 4 lung cancer? That’s where we are. We are at Stage 4 racism.
We, as white people are the cause. We, as white people could have done something about it earlier. We, as white people bear the responsibility for fixing it and cleaning up the fallout.
We need to do better. Big things, little things, every damn day things. We must do better.
Do better. Stop the “…but my great-uncle was denied a job because he was an Irish red-head” anecdotes. Stop using ‘some of my best friends are black,” as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Stop using ‘black on black crime’ as a justification for refusing to acknowledge the killing of black and brown men and women (or even more importantly, a refusal to look at the institutionalized racism of the judicial system itself). Stop using “it’s how things used to be” as an excuse not to change.
Pointing to a red-haired uncle on the family tree or having watched The Cosby Show growing up, touting hip-hop as your favorite music genre or being appalled by the n-word does not absolve us of complicity in this mess.
Because make no mistake, it’s a mess. It’s a fucking mess. And not only do we bear sole responsibility for this mess, for centuries we’ve been forcing/asking/expecting people of color to clean it up.
Do better. Own the damn mess.
Do better. Get over the fact that being called racist may hurt your feelings. Understand those were our ancestors, not us is not a valid excuse. Know that as whites we don’t get to turn away from the cancer of white supremacy by whining about history.
Why? We forfeited the right to put our feelings at the forefront or to play the fairness game way back when the US had to go to war over the issue of whether it was ok to own other human beings to bolster our profits.
Do better. The history of racism in the United States is not told in bronze statues and marble monuments. And it doesn’t begin with importing and trading human beings, but when white Europeans thought the genocide of Native Americans was a proportionate response to needing a place to live. It’s not about statues of men on horses. It is about systematically oppressing, subjugating, ignoring, raping, kidnapping, belittling, demeaning, and overlooking Native, black, and brown Americans–not only what they have endured, but what they have as accomplished as well. Not only in the past, but ever since. Right damn now.
Do better. Acknowledge just because black Americans are not in literal chains doesn’t mean they are not still bearing the weight of them.
Do better. Stop diluting the black experience. Stop saying All lives Matter. The BLM movement does not mean the lives of white people don’t matter. ALL history, past, and present points to the opposite–that white lives do indeed matter. In fact, statistically they matter MORE than black, brown, and native lives.
This is not an either/or situation. This is an ‘in addition to’.
When whites insist all lives matter because it hurts their feelings that someone might think or insinuate their or their white child’s life doesn’t matter? That’s diluting the message. And the message is this: We have always put the hurt feelings of white people above the very lives of black and brown people.
Do better. Stop turning away from racism with ‘hey, at least things are better than they used to be‘. I know this one is true… because looking back, I did that my whole life. Post slavery, post MLK, Jr.– no one ever taught me how deeply ingrained racism is. But it’s more than that. No one taught me about black girls like Ruby Bridges. No one taught me about whites burning the busses of Freedom Riders in Anniston, Alabama. No one taught me what happened to Emmet Till. No one mentioned the Tulsa Massacre that wiped out the wealthiest black community in the United States in one fell swoop. But equally importantly, no one ever taught me of the accomplishments of Pauli Murray, Amelia Boynton Robinson, or Katherine Johnson. When listing off successful business owners, no one mentioned Madam C.J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire.
As a white girl growing up I learned Harriet Tubman helped slaves escape and Rosa Parks sat on a bus and now we’re all equal. That’s it.
My history was whitewashed. The bad AND the good.
Do better. Learn the names of black women and men who have always been there making history and never getting any credit. The ones who have been begging us to listen. The ones who we’ve been tuning out because we’re only tuned to hear our white skin frequency.
Do better. It’s easy enough to threaten to wash your kids’ mouths out with soap if you ever hear them say the n-word. It’s not so easy to teach them the sneaky, serpentine ways that institutionalized racism runs like an electric current under everything we do.
Do better. It’s easy to say, don’t treat someone differently because of the color of their skin. It’s harder to say we are treated better because of the color of ours.
Do better. It’s easy to say hey, that’s not right. But it’s harder to say, here’s how we fix it. Because that means facing up to the fact that we all of us, ALL of us, have benefited from white supremacy. Even if we didn’t know it. Even if we’re poor. Yes, even if your Irish great-uncle with the red hair was barred from applying for a job. Even if you’ve been the victim of racial prejudice. Even if, even if, even if.
I walk through my life, a white skinned woman, with all of the privilege that confers upon me. The biggest privilege of all? I can turn away from racism. I can have a few dinner table conversations with my kids and pat myself on the back. I can convince myself I’m not like those hood-wearing triple K Klansman. I’m not even like everyone’s great-aunt who makes racist jokes at the Thanksgiving table that nobody blinks at.
I can do more. I can read and listen to voices of color. I can elevate them above white voices, support them and give them an amplifier in any way I can.
I can reexamine the way that I benefit from this skin I wear.
I can do better.
I acknowledge my life is different because of my white skin. Regardless of any hurdles I have faced, those hurdles would be magnified ten-fold if I was black. None of this invalidates my life, or me, or my accomplishments. No one is trying to take anything away from anyone else. Remember, it’s not either/or. It’s in addition to.
Do better. Stop demanding people of color explain themselves or educate you on racism. Our mess. Our responsibility.
Do better. Stop refusing to look at white supremacy as a political tool that has been used to keep the power in the hands on ONE group.
Do better. Stop using the success of black Americans as evidence of being post-racism. Lynching isn’t merely done from a tree in the back woods of Alabama. Black Americans have succeeded despite every roadblock we, as white people, have erected for them. They’ve had to be ten times better to get there. Recognize it for what it is.
Do better. Start branching out. One thing I try to do is diversify my go-to portfolio. Instead of using the first white woman or man who comes to mind, I seek out a woman or man of color to hold up as examples. Use them. Whatever the opposite of dilute is, do it. Throw some color into the pool. It’s been over-bleached for too long. Representation matters.
Do better. Realize this centuries old mess is not going to be cleaned up in a day or a month or a year. Realize you’re going to fuck up and people are going to, rightly, call you on it. Listen to what they say and do better.
Now take ten more deep breathes and do better.
12 Comments Add yours
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This article is so on point. The best part is that it is not blaming the white people for who they are, but pointing out the gaps that need to be filled.
Thank you. I think that’s where a lot of conversations break down before they even get started–doing better doesn’t mean taking away from everything anyone has done. It just means doing better.
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If you would like, do check out my blog 🙂
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Thank you for this article. In this world of chaos, everyone needs to start the change within ourselves.
At the end of the day, we can only change ourselves, right?
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I agree, let us be the change we wish to see in the world, said Ghandi =)
Well said, Dina. Well said.
The graphics are on point, too.
Getting people to consider their role in a racist world is tough, and this does it.
“Do better” is a good way to begin.
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Thanks, Sheri. I was really excited by the graphics when I saw them posted the other day on social media too, so was glad to be able to include them. Sometimes seeing something in visual form drives a point home harder.
I cannot change what the Dutch and some African tribal chiefs started 400 years ago. I cannot change what others do today, be they white racists or black racists. I am prejudiced against people who perpetuate racism and use the past as an excuse to do so. I can encourage everyone, no matter what race, to do their best and to live for the future, not dwell in the past, and to treat everyone equally.
When white allies speak out… It affirms I’m not crazy. I can’t believe how prevalent racism is and at the same time how much even I have to ignore or pretend it doesn’t exist to survive. So thank you. We’re doing the work.
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You’re not crazy. To be honest, I don’t know how you’ve managed to stay sane bearing this 400 year old burden of racist fuckery. I am learning, I am listening. I am filling in all the blanks where my own history was whitewashed growing up. And I am struggling because at times I am petrified I am doing the wrong thing, or not doing enough of the wrong thing, but you shoulder it, and you move forward, and you think my God, swimming through this swamp, which is so deep, and so murky, it’s no wonder you can move at all. If I can take on a little bit of that so that you can simply survive? Pile it on.
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