It’s time to end this fallacy that if you aren’t wearing hoods or Swastikas and using the “n-word with hard-R,” it means you are absolved from the many layers of prejudice.
Unfortunately, it’s much deeper and much more complex; and all of us have a role. Enough with sitting on the sidelines and staying silent for fear of making things uncomfortable.
We saw the extreme end of the racism spectrum in the brutal killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Thankfully, these kinds of overt, textbook racism is the exception and not the rule. But, even though these acts of bigoted violence rear their ugly heads infrequently, we oftentimes act as though everything is black and white … and we ignore the gray area.
“Hey! We elected our first black president back in 2008. We don’t see color. It’s all good now!”
Far too often, this ideology leads to silence and apathy. These are the paths of least resistance. The issues of race don’t impact you directly so why bring that drama into your world and risk backlash or risk losing a friend on social media?
It sounds nice, but this line of thinking is exceedingly flawed.
Let me be crystal clear right now: Inaction and silence are layers of this cycle of oppression.
My social media timelines have been flooded with so many ill-informed rants on everything from Colin Kaepernick to Black Lives Matter.
It’s typical to lash out at things we don’t fully understand or have never experienced.
But this is the easy way out.
It takes strength and courage to educate oneself on things outside of your comfort zone. However, for many in the white community, the subject of race relations is best handled by the talking heads on cable news. It becomes easier to ignore the cause.
I grew up in a predominantly white Southern town. For many, I represent the only person of color they knew growing up. Yet most didn’t know I dealt with everyday aggressions:
- receiving threats and suffering from racially-charged bullying
- being spit on by fellow white students and classmates because of my skin color
- having my background questioned by white friends for not being “black enough,” or (my favorite) “you’re only HALF black.” As if that level of blackness doesn’t count.
Not one person I know from my hometown ever bothered to ask me if I’d dealt with these kinds of stereotypes.
Look, I’m far from trying to be the torchbearer for suffering. My fellow minorities from all walks of life—LGBTQ, Muslim, women, etc.—have many additional experiences to share.
We are all angered. We are in pain. We are saddened and hopeless that this shit will never change, or that this cycle of oppression will continue, or perhaps even worsen.
And we feel alone in this battle. But enough is enough.
To my white friends, family members and colleagues:
I’m asking you to take a minute to ask some questions and conduct some introspection. Avoid missing out on another opportunity to learn and expand your mind. It’s up to you to be just as outraged as we are today … and tomorrow … and the next day.
The Black community, the LGBTQ community, women, Muslims, minorities of all walks of life are all included in this struggle for justice. But, we can’t win this fight unless we get reinforcements from those at the top. If you are just as outraged as we are, then show it with the same level of passion that we bring to the ongoing battle for equality and respect.
Understand that this is not simply black and white. There is a vast gray area in this fight, with apathy being the chief injustice in that middle ground. Going forward, your apathy can only be considered as complicity in the hatred that continues to plague our discourse. Make the change now to speak out:
- Challenge that racist uncle at Thanksgiving.
- Call out the uncomfortable crap by pops.
- Stand up to your friends and coworkers.
- Demand more from your kids and get familiar with their acquaintances.
- Stop being silent. Stop being comfortable even though much of this doesn’t affect you directly. Start speaking up.
And please, start asking some damn questions. Even if it means not liking some of the answers. And even if it means asking more questions tomorrow and the next day.
We can’t begin to solve these issues without the silent majority finally speaking up.
And if these words sound familiar to you, they should. I wrote the above text nearly three years ago after the events in Charlottesville and just swapped out a few things to update it.
I got a bunch of likes and a whole lot of “Great post, Pete.” comments. And like most of the other racial flashpoints of the past, you went on with your life and went back to not caring that much anymore.
To be fair, this current week feels a bit different. I’ve been processing and taking things in and noticing more white people willing to be allies. To that, I say thank you.
But I’m also here to challenge you. Again. Hold on to that anger and that sadness and that passion beyond this week. When the collective attention moves on to the next Netflix documentary and we’ve forgotten about the suffering and the frustration that people of color are experiencing right now, that’s when your work as an ally really begins. Keep making things uncomfortable. Keep standing up. Keep speaking out. And perhaps most importantly, keep listening to people of color.
No, shut up and really listen.
We all have different stories to tell, experiences to share, pain that we’ve lived and felt. And if you are truly ready to be an ally, then it’s up to you to be willing to listen even when you kind of don’t feel like it or would rather talk about something else.
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