“I want you to think about what you want your white friends to know.” Tasha sipped her Topo Chico casually. These conversations are familiar for her. As founder of Be the Bridge, a group focused on racial reconciliation, it comes with the job description. I sat there, not feeling quite as comfortable. I felt burdened suddenly. Scared. There is so much I’ve learned in the last few years as I started this journey, I don’t even know where to begin.
The journey I’m on is to be an ally to the Black community. I’ve never considered myself against the Black community, but I wasn’t really educated about their plight so I wasn’t an advocate either. In that sense, I wasn’t fighting the status quo. When you don’t fight the status quo, whether you like it or not, you are facilitating it.
When Tasha asked me this question, it was after a long, gentle conversation about racial reconciliation. She was so kind to me as I shared pieces of my story and I was honored to hear some of hers. Her smile is warm and her eyes still sparkle, even if it is from the reflection of brokenness. She has witnessed so much brokenness. Yet, she still has hope. She gets her strength and hope from Jesus. That’s what she’ll tell you. She is strong and it is clear she was divinely made for this.
I, on the other hand, am not quite so sure I’m made for this. I can be arrogant, impatient and quick-witted. When my mind fires up it’s like a pistol trying to find a target. Perhaps a bad metaphor during these times, or maybe a perfect one.
Well, my mind has fired and here’s what I’m ready to shoot: Instead of bullets that kill, how about rubber ones that stun. The ones that stop you in your tracks but don’t end your life. Friends, I want you to stop. We all need to stop for a moment and take a look around us. There is a message being sent to us and if we’re not careful, we’re going to miss it just like our predecessors did.
White friends, here’s what I want you to know. Colorblindness is not the solution. That option flew off the table years ago when Black people and other people of color were oppressed and brutally treated in our country and throughout the world. Color matters. It effects the daily lives of us all. That cannot be undone at this time. If it’s unity you want, then first we must hear the pain and tend the wounds.
Take this picture in. A man is furious with his roommate because he repeatedly uses harsh language and demeans him in front of his other buddies. He’s been patient and compliant, mostly because if he isn’t, he’ll be subject to more pain. Years have gone by and he’s tolerated this treatment, but now, suddenly, he has had enough. So he stands-up to him. He yells, “You’ve been treating me like crap for years and I’m over it! Enough!” His roommate stops, looks at him and says, “I’m not really sure what you’re talking about, but I’ll try to be nicer.” He is nicer… most of the time. Now his words are passive aggressive. There’s still an undercurrent of disrespect. At times, the roommate calls him names behind his back. Finally, he calls him on it, “I’m so over this! I deserve to be respected!,” he demands. The roommate doesn’t even look at him this time but continues to read his magazine and says, “Everyone deserves to be respected.” The man stares at his roommate. It’s pointless. He won’t listen to the frustration or the pain that he is feeling. Why even bother?
When we’re experiencing pain, we need that pain to be acknowledged. We want it to be understood. The Black community is and has been experiencing pain for years. Some of it, we had nothing to do with because it was inflicted before our time. We still need to give our fellow Americans the dignity of their story being heard and honored. One practical way to do this would be to have a national holiday: “Emancipation Day.” To have one day when we could all stop as a nation, honor those lost from the slave trade and to recognize the importance of the historical decision to fulfill the constitutional right of every person to be treated with dignity. It’s time that we stop asking people to just move on and get over it. That’s what the roommate did with his friend, he doesn’t want to acknowledge his friend’s pain or offer solutions. He just makes a blanket statement that anyone would agree with “Everyone deserves to be respected” without paying any service to the specific disrespect that has been shown to his friend.
Do you see how this is the same as saying “All lives matter”? Of course, “All lives matter.” That’s a given. But it’s not. It’s not because a part of the “all” should include Black people, correct? Well it hasn’t been including Black people. So if you want ALL lives to matter than we need to focus on the ones that haven’t mattered so that the statement can be true. If we keep saying “All lives matter” it doesn’t address the problem that is making this statement false in our country. I hope I’m making sense here. One doesn’t negate the other, in fact saying “Black lives matter” is only a statement which is trying to make true the statement “All lives matter.”This is just another way of trying to be color blind and we have to stop it. Maybe someday we’ll all hold hands and sing but that day is not today. There is real anger, hatred, and bigotry happening and that can’t be ignored.
White friends, here’s the other thing about color blindness, it’s boring. Who wants to all be the same? We can have unity while still celebrating our differences. I have Italian heritage and I’m proud of that. That’s ok. African-Americans have a cultural heritage that they celebrate too and that’s ok. Octoberfest. Chanukah. Juneteenth. Ramadan. Chinese New Year. The list goes on and on. Aren’t these cultural differences wonderful?? Who doesn’t love them some good German beer and a pretzel on a hot October day, huh? We don’t want to stop acknowledging our differences, we want to embrace them. We want to learn from them. We want to give them a place.
What we don’t want is color discrimination. We don’t want to ascribe negative attributes to large groups of people due to how they look, where they are from, or their religious beliefs. That is not ok. Unfortunately, we all do it naturally as a survival mechanism so we have to be on guard for this. That’s what we have to do as allies of the Black community. We need to be careful of our own prejudice and we need to allow ourselves to see it when it’s happening. Let yourself notice how underrepresented Black people are in the media (especially in positive roles). Let yourself get angry when a Black person is shot and killed without due diligence. It’s ok. Anger doesn’t have to turn into hate or violence. Anger is that natural part of us that wants justice. If we allow this anger to turn into fuel for creating change then our world will see unity. If we go on, pretending that injustice doesn’t exist, the world will never change.
White friends, it’s hard for us to talk about this stuff and I get that. We’re not used to it. We were taught as kids to just get along with everyone and not make a big deal out of skin color. We’ve had the luxury of our skin not being an issue (in a negative way) probably about 99.9% of our lives. It’s time that we sit and listen to our fellow citizens of color and let ourselves absorb the disturbing reality that our experience is limited. We have to extend our ears to people across our country with different views than what is familiar. If you are willing to take a chance on this I want to assure you, you are headed towards peace. This is not a road that needs to lead to hate towards police or other white people. You get to choose what you do with this information once you have it. I suggest that you allow yourself a couple of months to immerse yourself in the experience of the Black community at large, not just the people around you, but people from all over the nation. Give yourself the gift of space to take this all in. Chew on it. Cry about it. Own it as a part of your nation’s reality.
Then you can jump in and be a true peacemaker.
When Tasha asked me to think about what I wanted the White community to know, it was before I was the mother of a Black son. Now, I implore you, as the mother who just had to explain to her 3 and half year-old son why she’s sobbing. I’m crying because now I have a little taste of what it’s like to be Black. Just a small taste and let me tell you it is a bitter taste today. I have a son who could be a victim of a fatal shooting because he is assumed to be a criminal. I have a beautiful brown skinned baby boy who could be taken away from me because of ignorance and that makes it hard to breathe.
So from this place, this place of heart-stabbing pain, I ask you to please dig into this. Dive all the way in. Do it for my son, do it for your children. The next generation can benefit from the broken glass of our mistakes. Our eyes can sparkle with the hope that it doesn’t have to be this way. They can see the pain and they can see the way out. But we have to talk about it. We have to be real about what is happening. Only then can we hope for solutions. Only then can we find peace.
Peace be with you,
- White Fragility– by Robin DiAngelo. An excellent article about why it is so hard for white people to talk about race.
- The New Jim Crow– by Michelle Alexander. “We have not ended the racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”
- Just Mercy – by Bryan Stevenson A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice.
- White Privilege, Racism and The Cost of Inequality Video featuring Tim Wise, author of “White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son.”