I’m a white woman in America. I don’t deserve a voice to speak on this topic, but because of systemic racism and the color of my skin, I’ve been given one. Let me start by saying that I’m uncomfortable writing and sharing the following words; but I wholeheartedly believe that it’s important we all get uncomfortable and start using our platforms to be allies for the black community. There’s a ton of information to consume, and honestly, it’s overwhelming. But one thing that’s been made loud and clear is this: silence is complicity. Being uncomfortable is part of the process, and the desire to avoid discomfort is a large part of the problem. Our problem.
Fellow white people, I’m talking to you. Whether you’ve known it for some time, you’re just now learning of it, or you’re still denying it; you’re a part of the problem. I’m a part of the problem. The problem I’m talking about is racism, but specifically in this post, white privilege.
I know that a lot of people struggle to understand white privilege. For years, I did. I grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood. My family was a part of the “working class”. Every time I heard someone call me privileged, I defended myself, sure that they would hear my plight and get me.
I thought I understood. But the truth is that I had no idea how many levels of privilege exist. What’s certain is that I’m afforded the most basic privilege; the belief that my life matters. People of color can’t say that with such certainty, if at all. Not when their lives are being stolen and their voices are being silenced.
I know that even as I’m typing this, there will be some white people who still don’t understand; maybe out of choice, maybe because they lack the knowledge or empathy, or simply because this issue is too big and too deep to grasp at first glance. Let’s face it, part of white privilege is not being able to put ourselves in the shoes of our black brothers and sisters. We’ve never been afraid to go to the store, to interact with law enforcement, to walk home from school or work.
Even in the midst of all the devastation, life continues to move on around us, and I was faced with a situation that I was able to create a parable from. And I started to think that maybe, this could serve as an example for someone who couldn’t quite grasp or accept the concept of white privilege. Maybe, I could use my voice to shed some light for someone who is willing to listen to me simply because of the color of my skin.
Please understand that this example is not meant to convey the magnitude of the pain, fear, frustration, or oppression that I can only imagine people of color have been living with and in. It’s not comparable, not important or life-changing; it’s nothing really. And above all , it’s not assumptive that I have any experience or understanding as to how it feels to be black. But it’s a very “white person” experience that might, in some way, be relatable.
My husband had surgery last week. Because we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, I wasn’t allowed to be at the hospital with him. For the few hours leading up to his procedure, we were able to communicate while he waited. Right before he was taken back to the OR, he sent me a quick text to let me know.
As soon as I saw it, I began thinking about how the next few hours were going to look very different for the two of us; how each of us would come out of this experience with unique perspectives. For him, he would lay back while being doted on. Was he relaxed? Were his feet cold? How was his pain? Eventually, he’d drift off to sleep, while someone else did the work to keep him comfortable.
For me, this time would be filled with worry, with anxiety, with a lack of control. I’d be on high alert – watching, waiting, fearful that something might go wrong.
I’m talking about the same period of time, but there’s a stark contrast between these two experiences. In this example, you can see, understand, and acknowledge how these two situations are completely and utterly different, yes?
Good. Because an even larger, more extreme gap exists between the daily experiences of white people and people of color. I think it’s fair to compare the experience my husband had during surgery to the one white people have had all along. We’ve been asleep. While black people have been forced to move through their lives with worry, stress, and fear, we’ve sat back, gotten far too comfortable, and fallen asleep. We’ve had the privilege of doing that – the white privilege.
My husband had the advantage of sleeping while I worried. But the real work started for him once he woke up. The pain, the education, the relearning, the therapy. Not unlike him, we all have some major work to do upon waking up.
But there’s good news here: being asleep allows us to wake up feeling well-rested. Unlike our black friends, neighbors, colleagues, and community members, our white privilege has kept us from fighting for our most basic human rights. We’re not exhausted by the constant fear of simply existing. And now that we’re awake, and we’ve been informed of the unrest that’s been going on around us, it’s our time to put in the work. We can choose to use our voices, the voice of white privilege, for the greater good.
If you still don’t fully understand white privilege, it’s okay. Real learning and growth take time. Heart change doesn’t happen overnight. But let me be clear; there’s a huge difference between not having a full understanding and denial.
“You cannot wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.”-Navajo Proverb
Consider this your alarm. The next steps are up to you; but please know that hitting snooze at this point is a choice. People of color everywhere are fighting for their lives and they’re asking us to be their allies. Will you pretend to be asleep, or will you get up and take action?
If you choose to stand by the people of color, there are tons of ways that you can get involved. Here are some of the suggestions offered by the many black and brown voices shared on social media: Read a book*, blog, or article. Watch a documentary. Listen to a podcast. Donate to organizations working to end racism and injustice. Expand your social media and real-world network. Have conversations without pretending. Be bold in who you are; a white person with white privilege that wants to be better. Use your voice when it’s appropriate, but exercise your ability to listen more. Be kind. Be strong. Apologize when it’s your fault, and even if it’s not; just because you didn’t directly cause the pain doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Offer grace. Understand that everyone, everywhere is relearning a lifetime of thoughts and behaviors. But before you can do any of this, you have to first realize, accept, and admit that like all of us, you’ve been asleep, and wake up.
- So You Want To Talk About Race – Ijeoma Oluo
- The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
- How To Be an Antiracist – Ibram X. Kendo
- White Fragility – Robin DiAngelo
In an effort to use my voice and privilege in the best ways I know how, I wrote this post, and I also created the Say Their Names design below, which features just a small percentage of the names that represent the black and brown lives lost through appalling acts of racism. 100% of the proceeds will go directly to Color of Change, an organization committed to ending racial injustice. Orders can be placed June 7th – June 20th. To view all the products and/or place an order, follow this link.
Say Their Names
If you feel called to contribute to this campaign, while keeping the names of those lives lost close to your heart,