I was talking with a Black friend today about her dismay over so many white people coming out of the woodwork wanting to hop on the antiracism bandwagon now when the exact same life and death issues were happening for Black and brown people four months ago, four years ago, etc. Her “Where were they when we were asking for support and help with X? What’s different now? Is this concern really for real? Will it last?” questions are so valid and the pain in her voice was hard to bear. Not only do I not want her to hurt, but I know I’m among the “they” she referenced. Maybe I was showing up some more than others and it didn’t take George Floyd’s murder and covid-19 to get me on board, but I’m certainly not one of those white people who was working to dismantle systemic racism in her 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, or even early 50’s. I’m a total newcomer and that’s hard to face.
Relatedly, someone from my church attended a lecture by Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, and he conveyed some of the Q & A; in response to a question something like “what can white people do to address racism?” DiAngelo gave very pointed feedback, the gist of which is:
- You need to ask yourself how it is that you didn’t know about systemic and structural racism before now. How was this possible? It’s not difficult information to find whether through the scholarship or the media. Police brutality against black people is nothing new and it’s been well publicized for many years now. You need to ask yourself what has allowed you, as a white person, to walk through life, if not unaware, at least, not concerned enough to prioritize the issue before now.
- What is it about this specific moment in history that has moved you to ask t what you can do about this problem? Why do you believe it took until now? Why weren’t you moved to action in 2016 when Trayvon Martin was murdered? What about when Charleena Lyles was murdered by police in Northeast Seattle in 2017? Why not when Tamir Rice was gunned down or when Philando Castile was murdered in front of his partner and her daughter? (Apparently the list of Black victims of police brutality went on for a very long time.)
Her response to newly “woke-ish” white people reaching out for advice on “How to Run Antiracism Workshops” was apparently a very firm “Don’t” as in “just, don’t.” Sobering, sage advice if there ever was any.
Circling back to the conversation with my friend, where we settled was that a “both, and” posture might be wise. On the one hand, it’s totally fair to take this mostly newfound enthusiasm on the part of white people for antiracism work with lots and lots of grains of salt and “a wait and see” or “show me” attitude, and on the other hand, we have an opportunity to water some seeds and try to set conditions for people who are just waking up to wake up more, stay awake, and actually help move the fight for justice along.
We also agreed that it doesn’t make sense (at all!) for newly engaged white people to jump straight to action. Like DiAngelo stressed in her responses to what was essentially the “hey, us white people are on the scene now, what can we do to fix racism?” question, we need to instead do some serious self-reflection along the lines noted above and we need to see that as our work right now. Personally, I see this self-reflection work as key and my goal is to do it in service of slowing myself down and letting go my “let’s make a plan and tick through the steps” way of being so that I can park my ego and follow BIPOC people’s leads.
May we all be safe one day very soon.
May we commit to this vision of safety for all plus lots of happiness for everyone.
May those of us who need to be willing to be strong like willows and yield and bend for the greater good.
May we accept how hard it is to change our entrained ways of being.