White People, This Is Your Problem

Until we acknowledge it, nothing will change.

Photo used with permission from @mmiikkeeyy

It’s been hard to put my thoughts into words over the past week, so I’m just going to write them out. It may be clunky, but if there’s one thing that’s become obvious to me above all else, it’s the importance of speaking out. I hope that we can all agree that awkwardness is a welcome alternative to silence.

I initially wasn’t too bothered by the killing of George Floyd. Well, not more bothered than I had been every single time before. With each video I would usually bounce from immediate shock to a bit of anger to feeling helpless and finally distraction. Whether intentional or not, that’s what I did, again and again. And yet again, it was looking like I that sad emotional cycle would play out again for me until I saw an innocuous meeting appear on my work calendar.

It was titled “An open discussion…” concerning the events that had occured in Minneapolis. Before I continue, it’s important to state that a common question I’ve heard is why this one? What was so special about this one that spurred people to act, when so many before had fell on deaf ears?

I can only speculate. Perhaps the symbolism of a white policeman’s knee on the neck of a black man was too much to bear? Perhaps the system has finally been caught unambiguously red-handed and laid bare as the villain people always knew it was? I suspect for everyone the reason varies slightly. For me, it was this meeting.

About eighty or so people from my company met and in flowed the tears and the heartbreak, how this is a way of life, how this happens everyday for people of color, this harassment and how many people fear that this could happen to them. I was floored. I had long been able to sympathize with these stories, but hearing them in person, face to face was something else. I have no words to express how sorry I feel.

The story that got me the most though was actually from a white lady who talked about how she woke up that day not bothered by any of this. She slept fine. There wasn’t any nagging at the back of her mind that this was any different or that she was afraid. That hit me hard, because for all intents and purposes that was me. I slept fine for days after it happened. Nothing kept me up at night and I was prepared at the beginning of this day to carry on as usual.

After the meeting ended, I sat in silence for awhile and poured myself a strong drink.

I thought a lot about how much unseen pain there was in the world, how my first inclination subconsciously was always to feel sorry for it, but then let myself get distracted hours later. I realized now how common that reaction is for white liberals across the country. That’s not acceptable.

Most importantly, I thought about myself and what I could do to make a change.

Now, I’m not here to look smart. I’m not here to give the impression that I know everything. I’m not here to puff myself up off the pain of people of color. What I am here to do is pledge to speak up and not stay silent in my life about racism, because this is my problem too. No longer can I hide behind silence, because that silence is deafening.

What I mean by that is the responsibility is with me to be active. Believing that racism is bad is not enough. That is a platitude that means nothing if not followed up with action. More must be done whether it’s going to a protest, bringing the conversation up with close friends and family, or simply educating myself on these issues by listening and supporting black artists.

Listen up, white people — being active for the cause also means bringing your individual skills to bear for the cause. If you are an artist, make art in order to help change cultural perceptions. If you’re a banker, examine the makeup of your company and work to ensure diverse voices are heard at every level of the organization. If you are wealthy, put your money where your mouth is and donate even a little to the range of organizations doing the good work on the ground. If you are writer, constantly write about these issues to keep this important topic in the minds of everyone and not let it fade away. Whatever the skills you have, put them to good use.

Because the key here is in making that conscious choice. It’s going to be a collective effort. No hero is going to swoop in and end systemic racism. We've all got to play our part.

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