You wake up, smack the alarm into silence and consider your day. 7:30 drop the kids off at school, 8:30 meeting at the office. Maybe after work, it’s yoga or drinks with friends. Or dinner with the family.
You see the violence and hate-filled news and think, “This is so tiring” or “This is so annoying”. And you go about your day, only temporarily put out by what you’ve seen.
But guess what? It’s the color of your skin that allows you that privilege. That opportunity to ignore those things, because why? Watching it on the news is as close as it will likely get to you in your bubble. I use the word “opportunity” and not “ability” because while some may be able to block things out, they aren’t given the opportunity to do so.
Because when they look in the mirror, they see skin that’s not white. They don’t see things like wife/mother/husband/brother/educator/volunteer – the first thing they see is the color of their skin. Because we’ve taught them to do so.
There Is No Middle Ground
Remember that thought you had earlier? The annoyance at what’s happening? If all you ever do is think about it – and never act or even simply speak out – you are siding with the oppressors. You’ve likely heard the phrase, “silence implies agreement”. The real implications of that agreement are being played out across the country, with torches and guns and cars. People are living in fear and some are losing their lives to the hate machine we’ve allowed to continue.
We feed that machine with our silence.
So what can you do? You have a family to support, a demanding job, whatever those things are that fill your life. Your privileged life.
You need to step outside that bubble. I’m not saying you need to grab a sign and rush out to a protest. But you need to challenge the way you think and then help others to do the same. From those thoughts will come the ability and desire to make a change. In you, in your community.
Yes, it’s going to be uncomfortable. You’re challenging a mindset you’ve had your entire life. You’ll be tempted to once again bury your head in the sand of your comfortable life. Resist that temptation. Realize there are others who have never had and will never have that opportunity.
It needs to be done. And it needs to begin now.
Tell Me What to Do
My first suggestion is to educate yourself. There’s a reason shows like, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” exist. Many of us have a tenuous grasp on the history of this country and its people. So learn about it. Read. Make sure you challenge your own cognitive bias, too. The one that makes you read things that you already want to agree with. Resist the easy choice of the news you already think you know. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. (That phrase is courtesy of Jackie Summers, a man you need to know).
Don’t just stick to the news, either. Read books or look at art or listen to music made by POC. And for those who are truly just starting out on this, that’s People of Color. That’s all of them, not just your “one black friend” or the “the nice Asian lady who does your dry cleaning”. Next essay we’re going to dive into what those statements are really saying and why you need to think in different terms. For now, branch out and try new things.
My bet is that your new level of education will make you uncomfortable to a point you want to do something. It may even make you angry. Use that anger to create the motivation to start speaking out. Are you on Facebook like 85% of the country? Start sharing what you’re reading. Comment on posts. Or pick up the phone and talk to someone you know. But start talking.
There are quite a few issues that I’m intentionally leaving for another day in this piece. There are distinctions that some make – saying that people who only talk and don’t act are “slacktivists” and the like. For now, you need to get beyond the initial hurdles in your own mind. We’ll talk about the rest later. But one thing we’re not going to skip, because it’s the biggest current threat to your newly-found enlightenment, is the term “white fragility.” Here’s how it works.
It’s Not Always Welcome
Clearly, if you marched up to a KKK member or other hate-monger and started talking about equal rights, they’d spit in your face. Even literally. But what if you start talking to your friends and family and experience the equivalent of that? The frowns, or mumbling or perhaps straight-up denial. They may refute your statements with versions of their own.
That’s going to be tough. There’s no way around it. Once again you’ll be tempted to go back to your bubble where it’s easier. Please don’t do that. Sometimes, yes – regroup and try again. But TRY AGAIN. The color of your skin lends a weight and credence to what you say that POC do not enjoy. Think about Barack Obama, an Ivy League-educated, articulate, compassionate, intelligent…black man. Because of the color of his skin, his words were ignored and ridiculed (and still are). But if someone white were to say those same things, suddenly it’s an epiphany, it’s the truth…it’s HEARD. So despite the frowns and dirty looks and the really uncomfortable holiday dinners many of us are bound to have over this, don’t run away from it.
Words Have Power
As you may have guessed, I use words for a living. I am very well aware of word choice and placement. Here’s one that you may find helps you: emotional labor. This education process, this speaking out will come at a price. You’ll feel tired after an especially difficult conversation. You’ll just want to look at cat memes on the internet. But there are two things I want you to remember:
1. POC can’t just walk away from it. They cannot change the color of their skin. As hard as it gets, you’ve got to work through it. This isn’t the company softball team you can just quit. This is the fight for peoples’ LIVES.
2. There’s a positive side to emotional labor, too. Finding people that help you understand, that are in the same place or beyond it, can help replenish what you’ve used up. Find those people.
I’m not saying give up posting cats in shoeboxes or that weird food video you can’t stop watching. Do it.
We’re humans. Don’t stop being human. Because once you do, you not only go back into your privileged bubble, you once again give your implied support and consent to those who kill other humans for the color of their skin.
Here are a few things that can help you on your journey. Google can give you variations on all this stuff. Not in LA? Find a museum near you. This is just a start.
How America Spreads the Disease that is Racism by not Confronting Racist Family Members and Friends – this has a particularly helpful chart on the spectrum of racism. It may help identify your own thoughts and position and help you change it. Awareness is the first part of your process.
California African American Museum (CAAM) – I had the privilege of knowing and working with the previous Executive Director. CAAM is a great museum and community partner.
Occupy Democrats – a political organization, but they often have news and info that’s less mainstream.
Find Your Elected Officials – know what they stand for, elect those who don’t perpetuate this evil.
The role of men is changing in the 21st century. Want to keep up?
Photo Credit: Getty Images