Waking up is hard to do, and yet more white people than ever are taking a stand, showing up, and speaking out on behalf of Black lives. We are marching, holding our candles in silent witness and demanding change. It’s a great place to start. But don’t stop there!
It’s critical for us white folks to look into our own stories of oppression and discrimination, racism and sexism, as victims and as perpetrators – not in order to beat ourselves up or to defend white privilege, male privilege, class privilege, hetero privilege, but in order to free ourselves to engage fully for the long-haul. To create a community, an island, a state, a country where “liberty and justice for all” means just that… for all! If one of us isn’t free, then none of us is free in a country where we declare our allegiance to justice for all.
It is important that we study and analyze. By all means, read “Waking up White” and “White Fragility” but don’t stop there. Read “How to Be an Anti-Racist” and “So You Want to Talk about Race”. Discuss with friends and colleagues. Be honest about what makes you uncomfortable, what makes you squirm, what makes you want to turn away and speak of other things. Being white is not our fault; it’s what we do with it that counts.
It matters that you pen a statement of solidarity with Black Lives for your business or non-profit, but don’t stop there. Determine how you are going to demonstrate that support. Take those first wobbly steps and hold yourselves accountable as you do.
It is essential to be an ally, a listener, a learner, an observer. To cheer on your brothers and sisters, friends and family of color. But don’t stop there. It’s not enough to stay on the sidelines. Remember your children are watching and learning from what you do. And for many of us, our grandchildren are watching as well.
Become a co-conspirator, an accomplice, a risk-taker with skin in the game. Decide how you are going to engage and how you are going to heed the voices of Black people and brown people and Native people. Some of us complain that it’s hard to find those folks on a mostly white island, but I’m not talking about peppering Black folks with our well-intended questions, hoping they will give us the answers, and then throwing up our hands in despair when they don’t hand it to us on a platter. That’s NOT their job.
I’m talking about tuning in to Black-led podcasts and videos, following leaders and individuals of color on social media, always in the spirit of discovery. Donate to and volunteer for Black-led organizations. When you feel that “yes-but” gurgling up in your throat, swallow, breathe and listen. Over and over! Begin today and then begin again tomorrow and then begin again the next day, accepting that you will falter because we all do. Perfectionism is the enemy of change. It keeps us from stepping out, tripping over our own white feet, dusting ourselves off, and lurching forward. Apologize without justifying, forgive yourself and begin again.
I don’t claim to have easy remedies for racism, even though, as a white woman, that’s exactly what I long for. We are unique in the ways we strive for liberation just as we are in the way we comb our newly shaggy hair and choose which pair of sweats to throw on today. You have to find your path; the important thing is to persist! Fortunately, there are local groups here to support your activism and engagement and call you in when you feel like sitting this one out.
- Vashon-Maury SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice): firstname.lastname@example.org
- Parents and Friends for Racial Equity on Vashon: email@example.com
- Backbone Campaign: firstname.lastname@example.org
- ViSA (Vashon in Solidarity Alliance): email@example.com
- Indivisible Vashon: firstname.lastname@example.org
(All can be found on Facebook as well.)
I urge you to watch this exhortation by Black author Dr. Bettina Love, who lays out for us white folks what it means to move from being an ally to a co-conspirator for justice. Most of us remember Bree Newsome, the brave young Black woman who climbed the flagpole and took down a confederate flag. Who remembers the white guy who supported her doing it? In my opinion, that’s the way it should be. See tinyurl.com/y9lgmxm6.
As white people, we may be tempted to fall back asleep, to minimize our roles. It’s a practice to stay engaged. Each morning when I wake up, I remind myself to pay attention, do more, and to utilize my privilege to tear down the institutions that perpetuate white supremacy. Because if we are not in this work for the long-haul — when it’s no longer sexy, no longer cool, when we are tired and discouraged and we wonder if we’re ever going to get there, then what is the point?
Janie Starr is a racial and social justice activist on the island, involved in a number of island groups, including SURJ — Showing Up for Racial Justice, and Indivisible Vashon’s Immigrant/Refugee Rights Group.