Disclaimer: We are taking a firm stance in the Black Lives Matter Movement and stand strong in our values. We will be embracing our vulnerability to inspire action and change within ourselves and our community.
I’m not racist - I have lots of black friends.
Wow - had it always sounded this brash the countless times this thought had run through my head in the past? Or were the layers of my insensitivity finally beginning to peel back with the recent events in our country regarding the Black Lives Matter Movement?
I say “recent” events - when really this issue has been going on for hundreds of years, suffocated by the system created by our own country. I’m referring to Systemic Racism, and if you are unsure what that is, let me explain. Systemic racism refers to how ideas of white superiority are captured in everyday thinking at a systems level: taking in the big picture of how society operates, rather than looking at one-on-one interactions. These systems can include laws and regulations, but also unquestioned social systems. (source) For an easy-to-follow step-by-step short break down, check out this video here.
So whether or not we believe we are racist on an individual level, we all play a part in our society’s racism. I’m white, I’m a female, I’m 33, and I grew up in White America, in a middle-to-upper-class suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I graduated from one of the top high schools in the state along with 700 other kids. Three of them were black. Three.
Speaking bluntly to the white people reading this - does your story sound anything like mine? How does it differ? Hold onto those thoughts for a moment and ask yourself if you’ve ever said this:
I’m not racist.
Likely, you have said that at some point in your life. But let’s examine this: Have you ever said that...and only that? I’m not racist. Period. Or has it always been followed up with something?
I’m not racist. I donate to kids in Africa.
I’m not racist. I know plenty of black people.
I’m not racist. My co-worker is black and we’re cool.
Why do we, as white people, feel the need to validate our “un-racism”? That we need to justify our actions? To me, the moment it was pointed out, it seemed very strange. It seemed like we were making racism about us and how it makes us feel. And if we follow “I’m not racist” with these justifications, we feel like we (as individuals) are not part of the problem. And if we don’t feel as though we are part of the problem, then we don’t feel the strong need to be a part of the solution, and we can all sleep better at night. We don’t have to feel uncomfortable.
Well, I’m just going to say it, white people - we are part of the problem. A huge part actually, and no, that does not feel good to say. It’s quite uncomfortable to even admit. After learning more about Systemic Racism and the role I’ve played in that (sometimes unbeknownst to me - which makes it even worse, as it is truly the definition of ignorance) I was embarrassed at how little I actually knew.
I was actually more embarrassed because I do have so many black friends. And because I work with black people all of the time. How had I been so ignorant never knowing my role and how it affects their lives? All of a sudden - my “validations for not being racist” turned into huge reasons why I could no longer walk around blindly anymore. So white people, please take whatever excuse you follow up “I’m not racist” with - and use that as a reason to be a part of this movement.
Movement. Not trend. Let me repeat - this is not a trend. This is a revolution. And the good news is that we live in an amazing country where you get to pick what you do! You get to decide if you want to continue to be a part of the problem, simply due to your white privilege - or choose to be a part of the solution.
I’m not racist + >insert any excuse why< is no longer going to cut it. It doesn’t matter if you’re “not racist.” We must be Anti-Racist. We must oppose racism, not tolerate it. We must speak out, even if we don’t know exactly what to say. We must advocate, even if we don’t have all of the answers.
I’ve lived in Houston, Texas for six years now. One of my favorite parts of living in this city has always been the diversity. Greater Houston is the most ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the United States. At least 145 languages are spoken by city residents, and 90 nations have consular representation in the city. (source) This type of diversity was just something I was never exposed to growing up in White America. I never had anything but white friends until I moved to Houston. (Another embarrassing thing to admit.)
I decided to reach out to some of my white friends, some still living in 99% white areas and some not, to discuss Black Lives Matter. While all were very empathetic, the common response was, “I don’t know what to do.” Some were scared to say the wrong thing, others focused on the rioting and protests, and some realized they had no black friends to even check on. These are not bad things. But they can be.
They can be bad things if nothing else is done. Yes - we don’t know exactly what to say. But we can’t let our fear of saying the wrong thing keep us silent. Yes - we don’t know exactly what to do. But here’s the kicker: we do not need to know all of the answers to start to take action. We can take small steps - donating, voting, using our platforms to speak out, supporting black businesses, educating our children - to eventually take bigger strides. And if we are trying to educate others, we must educate ourselves. I’m fairly certain that whatever you are proficient in right now, you had to educate yourself and learn how to do it. Sound about right? I’m just gonna leave that there.
It’s okay if you don’t know the answers. Try to find them out - research, educate yourself, have hard conversations. It’s okay if what you say doesn’t come out the way you intended and someone corrects you - vulnerability and learning are both very difficult things. But again - this isn’t about us. There is a much bigger picture out there - don’t you think you can help create a beautiful one?
If you’re ready for it, try this exercise:
What’s your reason for not being racist? (What have you said in the past?)
I’m not racist because ____________.
Great. Now switch it around.
I’m going to be actively Anti-Racist because ___________ (same reason).
I admit I am part of the problem. I don’t know what to do or say. But I am committed to educating myself and those around me to be a part of the solution.
Just start there. Are you willing to get uncomfortable? Make your choice. Then use your voice.