The following is from a Facebook post I shared with friends shortly following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers. After his death, and a few days had gone by with notable silence from most of my white friends and colleagues about his death, I started thinking about what I could say that would have any relevance in this space. Often I have found that when people speak out on issues of the moment, there is a stronger desire to be seen by others than there is to learn from them. For a long while, I have been studying and trying to understand more about the struggles the black community is facing, and while my eyes have been opened up to a great deal over the past few years, I know that I will never fully understand because I am not walking in their shoes. For that reason, I was hesitant to say anything at all for fear that my voice would not be welcome. That being said, when I turned on the news and saw that protests and riots had begun, I was not surprised. When I looked at my Facebook and Twitter feed to see that the same white friends and colleagues who had been silent in the days prior were now fully vocal about the “rioters and looters,” I was also not surprised, but admittedly saddened. At that point, I decided to post the following, which Tonza Ruffin so graciously asked me to repost here.
I have not said anything until now, and I am sorry to my black friends and persons of color for that.
I have struggled to find the right words at a time when words, which are normally my strong suit, have seemed to fail me. This may run long, so fair warning.
To my black friends, and my friends and all persons of color: I see you.
I am not colorblind to your skin tone. I see you and I honor you and the identity that makes you who you are. You are beautiful and wonderful and no differently deserving of love and respect than any other person on this earth. This post is made for my white friends who I have seen too often now speaking out against the protestors and not against the problem itself. And I can’t sit silently anymore.
I truly believe that racism is the deepest and oldest sin this country is still guilty of, and until we are able to confront it, acknowledge that it is real, and truly repent from it, we will never be able to meaningfully grow together.
I do not care if you think that it doesn’t affect you because you personally did not cause the problem- it is perpetuated every day by those who continue to both ignore it and benefit from it. We are dealing with the symptoms of this long standing problem that keeps repeating itself, and until it is rooted out, our country will never be able to become something truly special. These are major issues, and I will be the first to admit that I don’t know how to solve them all, but acknowledging that they exist and having the honest conversation is the crucial first step.
In my opinion, there are three major issues at play at this moment in time, and they are intersecting in an explosive way which is causing tensions to run high.
First, regardless of what you might believe about yourself, we as white people have benefitted from a lifelong privilege that most of us don’t even want to acknowledge we have because we may think it makes us inherently bad people. It doesn’t- necessarily- until you refuse to acknowledge it.
This is not a monetary privilege, although socioeconomics does come into play as well. This is a privilege that permeates into everything we say and do, so much so that we do not even realize that the things we say and do might be racist. Being of the race that has amassed the majority of wealth and political control in this country affords us a comfort level in our daily lives that black people and persons of color do not have. If you don’t think this is true of you, please ask yourself, truly and honestly, if you have ever thought or said something different around a group of all white people versus a group with one or more black people in it, or had any inherent thought or judgment about a person of color before interacting with them based on their skin tone. I am ashamed to admit that I was one of those people until Philando Castille was shot. I couldn’t wrap my head around what happened to him, and I kept replaying the altercation I had seen on the video over and over in my mind. Up until then, I was able to “justify” a lot of the shootings I saw happening because the person had seemingly done something wrong. However, I was so bothered by this incident because I couldn’t find a reason, and I wanted to make sense of it. It changed my entire perspective when one day, I was changing my infant son’s diaper and I thought about Philando’s mother, and out of an attempt to comfort myself I suppose, I thought “They wouldn’t shoot my son, though, so it’s okay,” and then I realized that the only reason I could possibly think this was because he was white and I was sick with what I had just thought, and the realization that no black mother will ever be able to have that same feeling BECAUSE of racism, and THAT is the very definition of privilege. I am sorry for my contribution to privileged thinking in the past. I acknowledge it and I am working hard to change the minds of others. It isn’t easy to admit these things, but if we want to make change then we have to talk about it.
I watched in horror as George Floyd cried out for his mother as he died. My heart broke into a thousand pieces for his mother and for his children. He was arrested for suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill, and was not resisting from anything I saw on that video. His family had to see it. I cannot make sense of it, and I am not going to try to. There is not possible justification for what happened that day, and if he had been a white person I do not believe that would have happened.
Second, I believe that we as human beings are generally averse to things that shock and unsettle us, so we try to make it easier by looking for some other reason to make it seem better.
It is far easier to blame the deceased for something they did wrong, because it gives us some control in the sense that if we don’t do what they did, we won’t suffer the same outcome. Hear me when I say that it is beginning to become abundantly clear that the only thing we can seemingly do to not suffer the same outcome is to not be black or of color. And that is simply UNACCEPTABLE. If you don’t believe me, then ask yourself the next time you get pulled over for a ticket whether you are genuinely afraid for your life for any reason. I can assure you that black people and persons of color are.
Finally, as a nation, we have a form of government in which we give power to the executive branch to enforce our laws in exchange for the promise of protection from one another for our life, property, and liberty, and it is through enforcement of the law that we can peacefully coexist.
When those who are given power over the people abuse that power, we have laws in place to deal with it. When the government fails to do its job to handle such abuses of power, the citizens have no recourse but to (1) vote, and/or (2) revolt. Sadly, the latter action often seems to be the only effective way to instigate change, and we have celebrated it as a nation when it suits our narrative. (See Boston Tea Party, circa 1773, Women’s Marches, etc). Rioting, protesting, marching, are all part of our country’s history and can be the only way at times to get the point across and cause the government to take action. Am I advocating for people to destroy the property of others? Of course not, it shouldn’t be necessary. Are peaceful protests the ideal? Sure, but people are angry because they are not being heard. They want to take power back from their government, even if it is on a small scale. It should not have to be that way, the government should carry out the laws we have voted on and protect ALL people without riots, but it isn’t doing so. Why not? See point #1.
This has gone on long enough, and if you are still reading, God bless you and I hope that you will consider my words thoughtfully. I do not wish for a debate on my page and will promptly delete any hateful comments.
Together we can begin to deal with the problem of racism in our country, but before we can ever do that, we must first acknowledge that it exists, have constructive conversations, and vocally oppose it wherever we see it.