I have been scrolling through my newsfeed the last few days, reading, “liking,” and sharing certain articles addressing the devastating news of the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police officers. Even just typing that sentence feels disgusting and cowardly. I’ve been silent beside those swipes of my fingers. I have felt sick, enraged, helpless, guilty, hopeless, devastated, and weak.
Although, quite frankly, I’m not sure it matters how I feel…and coming from a therapist, I know that is a pretty rich thing to say. I say that because it doesn’t matter what I feel in this situation, it matters what I do (or don’t do). It matters what I say (and don’t say). It’s like I tell my clients, young and old, feelings are there to tell you something, often to spring you into action, hopefully thoughtful action. But here I am. Actionless. White, privileged, and absolutely zero action.
Here is my something to say. It’s not perfect. It’s not the be-all end-all, but it’s action. I am going to say the wrong thing in some people’s eyes (e.g., Stop saying you’re not racist. We are all racist to a certain extent.) I feel scared to say something. I feel scared to voice opinions and feelings. Well, to reiterate, it doesn’t fucking matter that I’m scared. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, and even that is a struggle sometimes, but I can’t even begin to imagine the fear people of color are LIVING IN just by being exactly who they are. So, fuck my fear. It’s nothing. It’s meaningless, truly. I am not a person of color and I, conversely, don’t have to wake up every day with fear just because of the skin I live in. I am choosing to feel and be afraid and speak anyway, because I think saying something matters, especially as a person who experiences the privileges of being white every day. The fact that I have a choice to say nothing about this, means that I must say something.
The longer the debate continues on “if” this was an issue of racism, the further we travel away from getting to work. Getting to work on how do we address the systemic racism that exists in the fabric of nearly everything we do? It keeps the conversation stuck in a yes or no dichotomy without a meaningful end in sight. What I used to see as an undertone of racism, has clearly just become the tone of the country…I imagine it’s always been that way, but my privilege kept me blind to this fact.
I used to consider myself a completely unracist (not a word turns out and that in and of itself feels poetic) person, but what I’ve realized is that we are all socialized in some form or another (e.g., familial, societal, media, systemically) to have racist attitudes and beliefs. You are not exempt from racism and it’s impact because you get along with people of color, or have family members who are people of color, or even if you are a person of color. Internalized and institutionalized racism is so god damn deep and in some cases so “quiet,” we, White America, don’t even see it, because to see it would mean we’d have to acknowledge, fully, our privilege. By acting like we don’t see it, we make it so fucking big and ugly. We must say that we see it…“It” being racism and privilege. By recognizing this truth…a fundamental truth, we allow ourselves to work on combating this monster. And, do not be mistaken, this is a monster that cripples us as individuals and as a society. We are all responsible in suffocating this monster, but first we have say that it, indeed, does exist and that we can see it. White Americans even more so than others.
I read this great article by a black ex-cop who made a point that is obvious when you sit and think about it, but maybe doesn’t always feel obvious given our country’s history of waxing poetic about inclusion, which has become just utterly laughable for me. The author, Redditt Hudson, said that, “Racism is woven into the fabric of our nation. At no time in our history has there been a national consensus that everyone should be equally valued in all areas of life. We are rooted in racism in spite of the better efforts of Americans of all races to change that.”
Really think about that…Never has this country and it’s people said (and meant and acted on the idea that), “Every HUMAN deserves equal value in our society.” Never. If you’re a person of color this may not be that much of a revelation for you. As a white female, with all the privilege that comes with that, this particular articulation was so important to hear. We’ve never been to a place where everyone in this country felt and was told they are worthy. One thing I tell to my clients often is that we all want and NEED to feel that we are important and that we belong.
My boyfriend likes to subtly point out that sometimes I proselytize on here, well here I go again: If you’re in any way telling someone they are unimportant or they don’t belong, you are a part of the problem. I believe we are responsible for taking care of one another and doing what we can to make sure that every human knows they have value and that they belong, especially people of color. Why do I add that specifier “especially people of color”? People of color have heard messages, implicit and explicit, their whole lives that they don’t belong and they are not only unimportant, but detrimental to our society and country if they act, look, sound, are anything other than a white person. This is why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important. We need the sound of our cries that Black Lives Matter to be deafening because the sound of every message that they don’t is so obnoxiously loud. If you can’t hear it, you’re not listening.
It’s OK if you don’t fully understand all that is going on or how to talk about it. That is just the place where you’re (including myself here) starting. It isn’t where you have to stay, though. I remember being a little, pasty white, graduate college student learning about all the ways I had unknowingly and ignorantly acted racist or committed a microaggression. My initial response was to be defensive and avoid, avoid, avoid (kind of like I’ve been doing the past few days). The only cure for that puppy is accountability. I learned I have to feel that shame and accountability that comes with those biases. I will never stop learning how to be more vigilant in bringing my underlying biases and, lets call them what they really are, racists attitudes, to my consciousness. Only in that space of conscious accountability can anything evolve. I beg you, please don’t let your defensiveness and discomfort stop you from learning.
The same is true here, we can only reach solutions if we acknowledge what happened, not if it happened. It fucking happened.
They always say don’t present a problem without a solution. In this case I think it’s OK to start with presenting the problem…especially if it’s been denied over and over. Maybe until we, all of us, fully acknowledge the extent of the problem (and I know the term problem doesn’t even begin to cover it), any solution will fall devastatingly short.
With gratitude and compassion, Your Beth