“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Sometimes, quiet is violent.” – twenty one pilots
So, here’s the thing: A few weeks ago, a Black friend of mine called me an ally. I’ve come to understand that’s an earned title, and I intend to keep it—which means I need to say some things. As shaky as my hands are… as nervous as my belly is… as swirly as my head is… I need to say some things.
I don’t want my friend to remember my silence.
I typically try to offer some sort of balanced perspective in my writing. But what’s happened in Charlotte and Tulsa (and Ferguson and New York and Cleveland and Baltimore and on and on and Will it never stop? and on and on) is far too one-sided for me to be overly concerned about all the “on the other hands” I usually explore.
So it’s from that emotional space I offer this post.
Dear White People:
When we’re watching news coverage about the ugly, awful mess that’s happening:
We don’t get to tell POC* they’re over-reacting.
We don’t get to tell POC they’re being angry the wrong way.
We don’t get to shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, he should’ve complied.”
We don’t get to replace #blacklivesmatter with #alllivesmatter and then proceed to justify violence against black and brown bodies.
We don’t get to act like this is only about law enforcement.
In other words, we don’t get to pretend like racism hasn’t metastasized to every system in this country.
We don’t get to disagree with that last statement.
We don’t get to talk so damn much.
Fine. What do we get to do, then?
We get to affirm.
We get to learn.
We get to uncover our own biases and racist tendencies and obliterate each and every one of them to the best of our privileged ability.
We get to understand that “white privilege” isn’t an accusation. It’s just a truth. And it’s a truth we get to use to the benefit of marginalized, oppressed people.
We get to own our mistakes and our ignorance.
We get to ask POC to help us understand their lived experience. We get to graciosuly accept when they tell us they’re too tired or angry or overwhelmed to spend their energy educating us. We get to listen—hanging on every word with a completely open mind and heart—when (if) they choose to engage in that conversation.
We get to remember their words and allow them to radically transform our view of the world and how we move within it.
We get to engage in difficult conversations with our white friends and family based on the new reality we’re coming to understand.
We get to ask, “What can I do?”
And then we get to do that.
Even when it’s hard.
Even when it’s incredibly uncomfortable.
Even when our family disagrees with us and we start losing Facebook friends.
Hey, you white folks who rolled your eyes as you read this list? You white folks who barked out bitter, offended laughs just now? You white folks who have defensiveness coming off you in waves? Take a deep breath, please, and then keep reading. And remember I love you, okay? Here goes:
Imagine if it were your son who’d been shot and killed. Now imagine your neighbor showing up on your doorstep with a casserole saying, “It’s too bad. He really should’ve done what the cops told him.”
Imagine if it were your dad who’d been shot and killed. Now imagine your teacher sitting in the chair next to you saying, “Now, don’t be angry, okay? Cops have a really, really hard job.”
Imagine if it were your brother who’d been shot and killed. Now imagine your pastor showing up at the funeral home saying, “If only he hadn’t been dressed like a thug, maybe he’d still be with us today.”
Please, please, please… dig as deep as you have to and find some empathy for people who are “going through the unimaginable.”** And yes, I know there are some law enforcement officers and their families who are walking through their own nightmares right now. That’s not the post I needed to write today. And the problem is about so much more, anyway.
Let’s do better.
*People of Color
**“It’s Quiet Uptown,” Lin Manuel-Miranda