Updated: Jun 5, 2020
"So how can I help?"
This is the post for all of you (predominately white) people who truly want to be engaged in this fight against institutionalized racism.
To be honest, I debated whether or not I was going to write this post. My sheer exhaustion and extreme frustration made me hesitant to offer any sort of help or information. I found my heart hardened thinking, "They've never helped us, so why should we help them?" However, I recognize the personal call God has on my life to be the kind of person I am asking others to be. That's not the heart of God, so that's not my heart. In this case, that means understanding that this is difficult and uncomfortable for many of you. It means realizing that as obvious as it seems to me, many of you have been truly unaware. It means being gracious and offering you some tools to help you help us if you're genuinely committed to the cause.
However, I also want to say the following: Don't rely solely on black people to tell you how to solve this problem or get engaged in this fight. We are still trying to keep ourselves alive. We are still trying to fight for justice. We are still trying to protect our children. We are still grieving. We are still mourning. We are still tired. Don't burden us with the responsibility of teaching you everything you need to know. Be responsible, be accountable, and be willing to do the work.
Just as we have had to educate ourselves independently because the educational systems don't accurately inform us about our heritage, history, and systems that exist to keep us at a disadvantage, you too must take some personal responsibility and independently educate yourself about the systems, policies, and practices that exist which allow institutionalized racism to thrive.
I also want to preface this post by saying that what I'm sharing is a starting point. You should begin with these steps, these tools, and these resources and build upon them. Let them be your foundation, but do not stop here.
Now with all those disclaimers out of the way, let's dig in:
Now more than ever you need to be quiet and be listening. For too long black people have been fighting to be heard. Every time we've tried to draw attention to our mistreatment, injustice, and pain we have been ignored or gaslighted.
Don't listen to respond. Listen to understand. Don't judge the form of expression. Seek to understand the heart and message behind the expression.
Truth is, black people are going to say a lot of things you won't like right now. You will be called out on some things. You will be challenged by some things. You will disagree on some things. You are going to hear some things that will make you feel uncomfortable. Your comfort is not our concern because our lives are at stake here. Besides, given all that we've taken and endured, the least you can do is listen to some things that make you feel a bit uneasy. Continue to listen actively. This will help you broaden your understanding, enhance your perspective, and develop empathy.
Educate yourselves. You cannot adequately advocate against something you aren't properly informed about. Actively listening to what black people have to say right now is a great place to start, but it needs to extend far beyond that. If you have black people in your lives that are open to conversing with you and answering your questions, that's great. But also read books, watch films, visit museums, watch documentaries, view art, watch shows, attend discussions, go to cultural events, explore music, follow reputable black news sources..... the list is endless. It's not for me to layout every single way you can educate yourself. As previously said, you have to take some personal responsibility here. If you're truly committed to this cause you will do the work to find the information you seek.
But I would be remissed if I failed to mention that a large part of education is exposure. If you don’t have black people in your lives…. Correction, if you don’t actively do life with black people, that is problematic. If your only friends, the only people you discuss news and politics with, the only people you discuss policy and systems with, the only people you discuss music, art, and culture with have the same skin color as you, how do you expect to have a well-rounded and diverse view of that matter? I get it, It's uncomfortable to navigate black spaces as a white person, but we as black people are the minority in this world every single day virtually everywhere we go unless we intentionally create a space for ourselves. You can handle a few dinners, trips, outings, museum visits, or conversations that are going to challenge you. At least at the end of your time, you get the luxury of going back to the comfort of your white privilege. That is security we will never have. So expose yourself and gain some perspective and understanding.
Now is not the time for silent support. We need vocal advocates. We need people who are going to stand up in front of their communities and take a clear stance against racism, prejudice, and bias in all forms. We need people who are willing to go beyond privately reaching out. We need people who aren't afraid to put themselves on the line to be allied with us. Does this mean you have to post on social media? If social media is your predominant means of expression/activism or if you have a platform that can reach others in a meaningful way, I personally think it does mean you need to post on social media. Why would you use social media daily for trivial things like food and trips and lattes but not use it to discuss the value of black lives? However, let's say you aren't active on social media but you're a writer like myself. Then I think you need to use your primary platform/medium (writing) to address the issue. Apply this to whatever your primary medium of expression/activism might be. For some, this will look like participating in protests. For some, this will look like creating art that highlights the issues. However you go about it, it needs to be visible and sincere (not opportunistic).
Engagement goes beyond just speaking, it's about getting actively involved and doing the leg work that will bring about real change. It's signing petitions, calling legislators and district attorneys to demand justice. It's supporting policy (whether politically or organizationally) that advances justice, promotes accountability, and establishes equity/equality and rejecting/fighting against policy that allows racism, prejudice, bias, inequity, and inequality to persist. It's being intentional about uplifting and making room for black voices and stories to continue to be heard. It's being intentional about promoting and supporting black businesses, black products, and businesses that have taken a stance for black lives, while also withholding funds from businesses, companies, celebrities, and influencers that have remained silent or appropriate black culture.
It's calling out racism, prejudice, and bias in your social circles (even when no one else is watching). I highlight that because it has the most direct and impact on the lives of the black people you know personally. We (black & other white people) need to not only know that you're not racist, but we also need to know that you're anti-racist too, meaning you're willing to hold people accountable who hold racist ideologies, prejudice beliefs, and biases.
Here's another thing, most spaces of power/influence are occupied by white people. That means you all typically hold more power to influence the types of changes we need. Invite more black people to the table so you have diverse perspectives and voices. Create the policies, committees, boards, etc. that will be inclusive, just, equitable, fair, and reflective of our diverse society. Don't wait for black people to demand this of you- be proactive.
Changed behavior starts with changed hearts. Racists aren't born racists, they are taught to harbor hate and superiority in their hearts. So be intentional about teaching your children about racism. They need to know what it is, what it looks like (the systems, practices, and ideologies), why it's wrong, and how to be actively engaged in the fight against it.
This is a marathon. We need people who are in it for the long haul. Long after this falls off the newsreel, long after the protests stop, long after Covid-19 ends and people can go back to their lives, there will still be work to be done. We need people who will continue to be vocal. We need people who will continue to advocate. We need people who will continue to amplify and magnify our voices. We need people who will continue to challenge the systems and practices that are unjust. We need people who will continue to demand justice and equality for as long as it takes.
I've included a list of resources that again should be a starting point, not an endpoint.
I pray this was helpful and that you are moved to action.