On Tuesday morning, my 16-year-old daughter came to find me and said “They did it again, Mom. They did it again. They killed another black man.” On Friday, she came into my room sobbing. “They didn’t use tear gas or rubber bullets when white people stormed a Capitol with machine guns. Why are they doing this to us?!”
My daughter is black and she does not feel safe in America today.
She is worried she can’t jog through a neighborhood, (Ahmaud Arbery), bird-watch in a park (Christian Cooper) or be an EMT at home asleep in her bed (Breonna Taylor), sit in a car to read a book (Keith Scott), have a tail light out (Walter Scott), get in a fight with a friend (Jeremy Sorenson) or, heaven forbid, ask for help after a car accident (Renisha McBride). I am afraid for her, for my black sons, my Asian sons and daughter and my Latinx daughter.
But it’s not enough to be afraid for them. It’s not enough to have “the talk” with them about how I, as a white woman, don’t face the same discrimination they do and how their behavior has to be so careful. It’s not enough to post on social media, although I do plenty of that.
What I and so many others with privilege simply must do is become allies to our marginalized brothers and sisters.
Let me begin by saying that what I have learned about being an ally to people of color, I have learned from my friends of color, friends who are willing to teach me to see. Like fish who cannot see the water they swim in, I did not see the privilege I enjoyed as a white, middle-class, educated woman. As I have grown older and hopefully wiser, I want to continue learning how to see. I am grateful for friends who are willing to teach me how to be a better ally.
So first of all, we need to see the inequities that exist. I used to think that saying I was “colorblind” was a good thing. It’s not. It’s a form of passive racism that allows us to pat ourselves on the back while not recognizing the very unlevel playing field that persons of color face every day.
It is the same thing as saying “All Lives Matter” as a response to “Black Lives Matter.” Of course all lives matter, but until black lives matter as much as white lives, it’s dismissive and lets the ugly roots of racism continue to spread.
Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How To Be An Antiracist” answers the question of “What’s the problem with being ‘not racist’?” It sounds good, right? Yet, “it is a claim that signifies neutrality: ‘I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.’ But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle...One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’”
We need to listen, way more than we talk. And then we need to amplify the stories we hear. (With permission, of course.) We, who can make our voices heard where black and brown voices are not, need to make them heard.
Never try to one-up the stories that are shared with us. White privilege, as the meme goes, doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard. It means that your skin color hasn’t made it harder. It’s also not helpful to exclaim, “I can’t believe this is happening in 2020!” Just because we didn’t see racism occurring doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening.
Your privilege is just that -- privilege. It brings with it both responsibility and opportunity to really make a difference in getting rid of systemic racism and injustice.
I, for one, want an America where my child does not go to bed afraid because her skin color is different than mine.
Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.