In the last few weeks, I struggled to write my blog and post on social media. It hasn’t felt right to bang out some light-hearted content as I’d planned after the heaviness of COVID.
It also doesn’t feel right to be silent. I think that’s a big problem for me. I was told my entire life not to have an opinion. Go to school, follow the rules, do what you’re told, don’t question. It helped me cope, but I’ve always had a silent scream inside of me that I can’t quite fully let out. I don’t know. It all feels weird. And it feels very wrong not to take this baby step and use my voice.
I’ve wanted to address the unrest in the world, but I’m afraid to say the wrong thing. I’m not an activist. I’m fearful of judgment from family and community. I had an entire blog post written and then deleted, where I tiptoed around #blacklivesmatter.
Type, delete. Repeat.
Then I realized, what the hell is the point of writing a personal blog if I’m not using my voice? I’m holding back because I’m scared that I’ll offend a family member, acquaintance, or social media follower that I went to a black lives matter protest? That they’ll think because I went, I’m anti-police? Or I’m pro-rioting/looting? Or, even worse, A LIBERAL? GASP! (There aren’t much worse things I can be in some circles.)
Last week I saw this on a meme:
“A lot of people don’t want to hear your opinion. They want to hear their opinion coming out of your mouth.”– Unknown
Ain’t that the truth.
Here’s the thing. You can quickly close the tab on your computer, and walk away right now, never thinking about this blog again. You can label me because I’m writing about my experience of being white in a world where #blacklivesmatter. It’s not happening to you, or you think you have to choose a “side” and it’s the opposite of me, so you have that privilege to turn your back and forget this little chat ever happened.
Black Americans can’t turn their back or forget.
I’m listening and I’m learning. I want to understand the #blacklivesmatter movement so that I can make an informed opinion, become an ally to those who need one, and be a cycle breaker in my family, a job I’m already familiar with and take seriously.
Two weeks ago, I attended the black lives matter protest in my town.
There was a lot of fear of violence surrounding the event that I won’t give life to. I fed into the fear. I wasn’t sure if I should go, let alone bring my daughter, who wanted to be there to see a peaceful protest with her own eyes (unlike the chaos she sees on the news). I’m a 43-year-old white woman who’s never been to a protest. I grew up with the advice that my one vote would never make a difference and avoided anything politically charged until well into adulthood.
Death is final. That’s why senselessly dying at the hands of a police officer, as George Floyd and all the others did, is profoundly disgusting. It’s the last act of racism that can be carried out—the most extreme. It gains the loudest cries, the most frustration. And it’s the most confusing and unjust in a system that’s supposed to serve and protect us all.
There are a million little acts of racism that lead up to the final scene of a man calling out for his breath and his mother in his last moments.
I’m so f-ing tired of all the hate in my kids’ world. It’s exhausting.
And if I’m pissed, how angry and frustrated are black moms raising black kids right now? This is the world they are supposed to send their babies off into?!?! Where black men still get called the n-word and have their face spit on?
With that in mind, and deeply curious, I went to the protest. I took my daughter and her friend, and I kept an open mind. I wish I could say I went without fear. A part of me was scared for their safety.
But I can’t believe I almost didn’t go.
The protest was everything except violent. It was a beautiful, peaceful gathering, giving a voice to those who’ve felt silenced. You give someone a voice by providing a safe place to speak, while listening without reacting. The organizers spoke, local politicians, and community members – all with different backgrounds, opinions, and experiences. No two stories were the same, which gave depth to the experience. Confirmation that racism isn’t a clear and concise issue – it’s about skin color and so much history.
The concept of white privilege has been confusing to me. I certainly didn’t grow up feeling privileged.
But I never had to look for a teacher with the same color skin as me to love me a little more as a struggling kid. I never had to search for a therapist with the same skin color like me to guide me into adulthood when my parents weren’t there. As I learn more about black lives and hear studies about education and healthcare, I realize those things are my privilege.
Up until that day, at that protest, I’ve never listened to a black person speak in an empathetic way. Not once.
That’s not easy to admit.
I’m learning it’s not enough to be “not a racist.”
I would’ve said those words in the past. I’ve spent a lot of time as a mom preaching acceptance and kindness, not being racist, not judging people by the color of their skin, removing myself and my kids from conversations that include hateful words against black and brown people. “I’m not a racist.”
I’ve been curious for a while and felt maybe all that isn’t enough. I read the book Just Mercy for my book club, and it was the first time I felt pissed off about racial injustice. It was also the first thing I’d ever read about the subject. I’ve been following more on social media about white supremacy since then, and it’s been confusing and triggering. But I don’t talk about it.
It isn’t easy to talk about something that isn’t actively happening in front of your face. That’s a privilege, to be able to skirt around an issue and not face it head-on. My silence makes me complicit.
I’m committed to learning more and not being silent. But I can’t move forward without understanding where the #blacklivesmatter movement came from. How did systemic racism happen, and what does that mean? How have I contributed to it?
It isn’t enough for me to be “not a racist.”
Listen, I’m not about to quit my day job as a nutritional therapist and become an activist. But I’m gonna make damn sure I know enough to teach my kids, and they can show their kids, and so on. I’m going to participate in “anti-racism” actively. That requires more than acceptance.
Right now, I’m focusing on a few things:
- Learn more about black lives and the deep history of the system built around them so that I understand better.
- VOTE. My vote DOES count.
- Have conversations and discussions about ways to do better as a white human being in a world where black lives matter.
I also won’t look to hear my opinion coming out of everyone else’s mouth all the time. I’ll hear other ideas that challenge me to either learn and grow or dig my heels in deeper.
I don’t have to attend a protest to care. I don’t have to be against one group or another. I don’t have to label myself or hashtag the shit out of my social media to make a difference. None of these things matter without continuous action afterward.
Listening to someone’s experience without positioning myself or reacting can only make me a better human being. We all want our voices and opinions heard – but right now I have to hear black voices.
I’m listening. I’m learning. And I won’t be silent.
Here is a list of podcasts, articles, and books for those who are actively learning or curious – and if you have resources you’d like to share, comment below.
First, a way for NJ residents to use their voice, no matter what your opinion is, in shaping NJ Use of Force Policy: https://www.insidernj.com/grewal-outlines-process-revising-new-jerseys-use-force-policy/
Podcasts: On black history and farming: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/1619/id1476928106
Conversations between two friends, one black and one white: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-opt-in-with-aurora-kelly/id1480787042
On healthcare and education (this was my favorite): https://www.npr.org/2020/05/22/860926909/people-like-us-how-our-identities-shape-health-and-educational-success
An experience of a black woman and anti-racism: https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-with-austin-channing-brown-on-im-still-here-black-dignity-in-a-world-made-for-whiteness/
On being black during the pandemic: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/american-nightmare/612457/
Social Media on Instagram @sharethemicnow