I wouldn’t call myself a racist. I don’t think anyone would.
But not being a racist and not contributing to the existence of racism in this country are two different things.
And I didn’t get this until about three days ago.
Up until three days ago I believed that because I was a nice person, because I am accepting of all colors and genders and sizes and lifestyles, because I teach my kids tolerance and acceptance and empathy and not to judge, that I was doing enough.
Now I know better.
I know better because in the last week I’ve seen lots of posts on Facebook that have been either light taps or full on smacks in the face.
I usually stay away from super divisive stuff here. I don’t really talk about politics or hot button issues.
But this past Monday I decided it was time to say something.
This past Monday it became clear to me that I couldn’t stay silent.
This past Monday I realized that not being a racist isn’t enough.
So I wrote a post on the Not Your Average Mom Facebook page.
What I still didn’t realize before I wrote that post is how ignorant I am.
What I still didn’t realize before I wrote that post is how this ignorance has perpetuated the racism issues black people continue to face daily here in the United States.
In my Facebook post, I acknowledged that I’m a very white woman who grew up in an upper class town in Fairfield County, Connecticut.
As white as it gets.
I acknowledged I will never face the struggles black people face.
I acknowledged I will never be able to understand because I will never live it.
I was doing really well in that post.
Until I asked for black women to help me learn.
That was my first ignorant move of the day.
More than one person pointed this out to me.
Two of them were black.
They both let me know in slightly different ways that asking black women to teach you how to stop oppressing them is kind of a shitty thing to do.
They didn’t say shitty.
I added that in myself.
So then I made ignorant decision #2.
Instead of sitting in discomfort and allowing the words these two women had shared with me sink in and resonate, I fired back immediately in my own defense.
But what I really meant was…
The only reason I said that was…
After I had posted two comments detailing how I had in fact, not done anything wrong, then I felt the desperation in my replies.
So THEN I made ignorant decision #3!
I was on a roll with the fucking ignorance!
I deleted the post.
Again, my intentions were pure.
They were riddled with ignorance again, but they were pure.
It doesn’t matter if they were pure, though.
I removed the post because I didn’t want to be hurtful and insensitive to more people than I already had been.
But by removing that post, I also removed the voices of the women who had made me aware of how hurtful my words were.
And what they are faced with over and over and over again.
Even if that wasn’t my intention.
It doesn’t matter that my intentions were pure, and it doesn’t matter that I didn’t know any better.
This is where many of — I’ll go as far to say most of — us white women go wrong.
Here is why I didn’t know what to say.
It’s not because I’m white and I haven’t had blatant racism show up repeatedly in my life.
It’s because I’ve used ignorance as an excuse.
I haven’t said anything because I didn’t know what to say isn’t saying I’m standing with you silently.
It’s saying, it’s not a priority for me.
It’s not worth my time.
It’s not worth my discomfort.
You are not a priority for me.
You are not worth my time.
You are not worth my discomfort.
One of the women who originally commented on my post contacted me after seeing I had deleted my post.
Over the course of two days, she has taught me a lot.
I told her how confused I was. How I felt like I just kept fucking up.
And here is (part of) what she said (published with her permission).
Yes, it is very confusing. Admitting, acknowledging and recognizing your privilege is helpful. It is helpful to others to see it in you and possibly in themselves. What is hurtful and insensitive is then asking those who are being oppressed/discriminated against, whatever you want to call it, to figure out a way to stop it. It is incumbent on those doing the oppressing and discriminating to stop themselves and those who are benefitting from the oppression and discrimination to recognize it and call it out and stop it. I know it feels like everything you do is wrong. That’s how black people feel when we try to protest or point out injustices. We can’t protest by taking an knee because it’s disrespectful, we can’t protest by wearing clothing during professional sports games that depicts racist actions because that’s against the rules and fines are levied. We can’t protest by speaking out at award shows because its too political and networks cut the feed and go to commercial. We can’t protest during a production of Hamilton where the VP is in attendance because he just wants to enjoy the show.”
Let’s put it this way.
Imagine your daughter is getting bullied at school by three girls. And those three girls have five friends who sit with them at lunch.
So there are eight girls altogether sitting at a lunch table.
And for the entire school year, those three girls relentlessly make your daughter’s life a living hell.
The other five girls are not okay with the bullying, and they don’t actively join in, but they also don’t come to your daughter’s defense.
They just sit in silence.
A couple times a year, the school holds an anti-bullying assembly. The principal gets up on stage and asks all the kids in the audience who are against bullying to stand up and hold a sign that says Bullying Is Bullshit.
(Okay, so those probably aren’t the words the principal would use, but you know what I mean).
Those five girls stand up, proudly holding their Bullying is Bullshit posters, convinced they are taking action.
One day when the three mean girls are particularly agitated, they beat the living shit out of your daughter.
The other five girls finally see the light. They can’t stand by anymore and let this happen to your daughter.
They run and get their Bullying is Bullshit posters and walk through the hallways with them.
And then, the next day, they send your daughter who is sitting in a hospital bed, a text. And they say, “Please teach us how to not contribute to the bullying issues you’ve been dealing with this year. We want to learn.”
The responsibility of learning what to do differently doesn’t fall on the shoulders of the oppressed.
And that’s what so many of us have done and are doing.
We are asking the victims to teach us how to do better, rather than figuring that shit out ourselves.
This was not a fun realization for me to come to.
Saying “I haven’t said anything because I didn’t know what to say” is not a justification for being silent.
It’s a cop out.
A more accurate statement would be “I haven’t said anything because I have chosen not to educate myself about what the reality — and history — is for people of color.”
We use ignorance as a justification for staying out of it.
It feels REALLY shitty to have this awareness.
It feels really shitty to know you’ve been contributing — whether you were aware of it or not — to the systemic oppression of millions of people.
It feels really shitty to realize that while you thought you were a good example of what anti-racism is, you have in fact, for all of your life, been a part of racism.
People don’t like discomfort.
You can use the discomfort as a justification to bury your head in the sand.
Or you lean into it.
I shared this the other day on my personal Facebook page:
You know what doesn’t feel shitty?
Knowing you are putting in the work. Knowing you are growing. Knowing you changing. Knowing you are now a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem.
You know how you learn what to say?
Start by listening.
Listen without coming to your own defense.
Resist the urge to convince people your words/silence/action/inaction are justifiable.
Listen and then sit with it.
Sit with the discomfort.
Sit with the shitty feelings.
Sit with the ick.
Then, lean into it.
And then, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
It’s okay that you didn’t know.
It really is.
But now that you know, what isn’t okay is not making changes.
Posting an image with the words Black Lives Matter is a good first step.
But it’s not the only step.
Posting a black square with the hashtag #BlackOutTuesday is a great show of support.
But it really means nothing if, on Wednesday, you go back to business as usual.
The danger now is that as more and more distance gets between the world and George Floyd’s death, the intense emotion will begin to fade for so many people.
Remember how up in arms you were after the last school shooting?
When is the last time you actively did or said anything about that?
I bet for many of us it’s been a long time.
Don’t let that happen now.
Continue to take action.
Taking action happens in lots of different ways.
Arm yourself with information.
And make it your goal to never put yourself in the position to feel the need to say the words,
“I haven’t said anything,
because I don’t know what to say.”
Oh yeah. One more thing.
The woman who contacted me to help me understand what I was (and wasn’t) doing?
Well, I asked her if it would be okay to send her a friend request.
I do consider us friends now so please feel free to send the request, my new ally!
And that’s what happens when you are able to stop reacting and start listening.
You don’t just learn about yourself.
You learn about other people.
And then you have transitioned from being a part of the problem to a part of the solution.
And if you are really lucky, you’ve made a new friend in the process.