As a white woman, I can go about my daily life as if the recent deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas police officers had not happened. I don’t have to think each day about how to teach my sons to behave in “acceptable” enough ways to keep themselves safe and to stay alive. I don’t have to worry that either overt racism or implicit bias on the parts of others could result in my sons’ mistreatment or even death. And, for the most part, this is what I do. I pause and hold space for the families of those whose lives has been lost, I talk with loved ones and friends about the events, and I get on with my life. There has been no commitment to do the work.
But I’m tired of doing that. I’m tired of throwing up my hands because I’m stuck in a place of such deep discomfort that I feel paralyzed. I’m tired of taking the easier route and letting time pass as I forget about these tragedies until the next one occurs. I don’t have any answers and I don’t know what to do as a white woman, but here is where I am right now:
I am welcoming my discomfort: Instead of retreating when I feel uncomfortable, I’m leaning into that discomfort. So many uncertainties swirl in my head. I even debated if I should write and share this piece. Who am I to have an opinion about all of this? I certainly don’t understand what it’s like to be black in America. But then I hear people of color urging white people to talk to each other, to call each other out when it comes to racism, and to do our own work among ourselves. Might I say something wrong or offend someone? I might. I hope that I can recognize when and if I do that, and apologize and keep being vulnerable. There is no guidebook for engaging in discussion and participating in activism about race issues. I could continue to do and say nothing for fear of doing it wrong and saying the wrong thing. But I’ve had enough of that.
I am listening: I’m seeking out the thoughts and reflections of people of color and finding things written by black writers. I won’t ask people of color to explain their feelings to me or to tell me what I can do. That’s not their responsibility. But I can commit to finding and engaging with the work that many of them are doing and the thoughts that many of them are sharing. And I can commit to reading and listening with an open mind, being willing to challenge any knee-jerk reactions that I might have. I can stay curious.
I am inviting dialogue: As I read things written by black writers, I am sharing them. I am trying to amplify their message. A quick search on my town of Dover shows that 90.6% of our population is white as of the 2010 census. I’m not living in deep community with people of color. But I can invite conversation with other white people as we try to learn more together. And I can certainly challenge any racism that I observe, whether online or out in my community. I understand that perhaps not every white friend or family of mine will agree with me. But I don’t want to stay quiet any longer because silence doesn’t lead to change. And something needs to change.
I am trying to raise my white sons to be allies: There is so much I am thinking about in regards to this. I certainly haven’t figured it out. But I have some ideas. I am not teaching my sons to be “color blind”. The truth is, life in America is different for white people and people of color. That doesn’t mean that we need to be divided from one another, but we do need to recognize and acknowledge the differences of experiences and opportunities that are present. I am teaching them about slavery in age-appropriate ways and making sure they have the chance to think critically about the history of race in our country and how it has led to the situation we are all in today. And I am committed to not raising them in a way in which there is a “power-over” dynamic in our family. If I, as their parent, control them and exert my power over them, I can tell them that everyone should have equal rights and opportunities until I’m blue in the face, but the message they’ll internalize is that some people have power over others. And they may go out into the world and act on that belief.
Finally, I am committing to keep learning. As I said earlier, I can easily let this all go and before I know it I’ll have spent months not thinking about any of it. But this time I want to make a different choice. I’m setting aside time each day to read something or listen to something that will keep me engaged with this issue. I am staying open to what might come of that and to the idea that it might take me down paths I can’t even envision yet. Here are a few of the resources I’m starting with:
By no means have I written this because I think I have figured out the answers. Perhaps I have it all wrong. But this is my commitment to start doing the work; to listen, share, and participate. I invite you to join me, challenge me, or share how you’re doing your own work.