Yesterday on CNN, Van Jones commented on the death of George Floyd, and in sharing his insights on this tipping point in American society, he spoke some wisdom to me. Not to me personally, but to white allies like me, who have been hoping like hell that somehow the Black community has been overstating its case all these years. I, and likely most people I know, have been desperately clinging to the idea that incidents like this are anomalies, exceptions, one-offs. We stubbornly resist the idea of systemic, pervasive racism and hatred in this county because we want it to be something that can be and will be and has been overcome.
Mr. Jones’ words were hard to hear. So hard that I couldn’t stand it. I felt seen, and shamed, because my amazing loving husband, who is a Black Man, has been gently trying to make me recognize this in myself for nearly thirty years. And at last, I get it.
And then today, Joe Biden said that he used to think you could beat bigotry, and that he eventually realized that it just learns how to hide, waiting for the oxygen it needs to breathe. And then it resurfaces. And he’s right. I used to think the same thing. I know better now.
I’m not just an ally, I am a family member. I live every day honoring my husband and my children, and I stand in awe of what they endure. I also share their fear, although I will never know it the way they do. I cannot walk in their skin, but I can use that milky white, privileged sheath that I was swaddled in at birth to fight for them.
A white friend asked me today if I could tell them what more they could do. I didn’t know how to answer at first, because I have been searching for that same advice. But then my husband reminded me that I’m already doing all that I can do, so I thought it might help just to list some of the things I consider everyday rules to live by, in case some of you are wondering what you can do:
*Lead by example, in action and intent, not just in word. Walk the talk. All the way, every day.
*Realize that racism is everywhere, in every city county and state, all the time. Remember, it knows how to hide – it’s standing right next to you in the grocery store check out line.
*Refuse to accept racism or bigotry when you hear it or see it. Call it out, shut it down, turn your back. Silence is complicity, not courtesy. Do not accept the unacceptable. Stop hoping for the best to come out in others – demand it from them. Right now.
*Understand that racism is not learned behavior that can simply be unlearned. It is not a lack of education or understanding. It is an indoctrinated belief system. It cannot be challenged or changed in an unwilling heart. Enlightenment is something that must be come to, it cannot be imposed.
* Believe people when they show you who they are. People who say racist things are racist. It’s not innocent, or accidental, or unintentional. It’s not ‘how they were raised’, it is WHO THEY ARE. Welcome sincere change in others when you see it, butremember that true change comes hard and slow.
* Aid those who are being victimized any way you can. If you wait for someone else to act, help will come too late – if it comes at all.
*And last but not least, prepare to stand your ground, even when it is uncomfortable. Especially when it is uncomfortable. You may be the only thing standing between life and death.