“To bring change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.” -Rosa Parks
Since taking the first step in facing my fears and opening up about my experiences, people I know will approach me and say, “I know I should be educating myself instead of asking you, but…” I understand why they make that statement. I know it isn’t a popular opinion that blacks “educate” whites about racism, but I’m okay with sharing both what I’ve experienced and what I’ve learned in my own quest to know more. If someone is willing to take the first step, I’m happy to take the next steps alongside them. If people want to learn and are open to listening to a different perspective, why wouldn’t I embrace that? If nothing else, I can point them in the right direction. It’s at least a place to start.
When I began this blog, I wasn’t sure what kind of response I would get from sharing my world with others. It was such a vulnerable spot to put myself in. To be honest, I’ve considered stopping. I’ve had days when it feels like those who think a certain way will always think that way. That I’m only reaching the people that already have their eyes open to these issues. But since almost giving up, I’ve had people tell me that they are learning from my experiences. This has given me a renewed sense of hope. And that hope has encouraged me to work harder to get the wheels turning in a different direction.
Growing up, I never understood why people, who didn’t even know me, didn’t like me because my skin was a few shades darker. I never understood what led to such hate and malice. I was a good girl — followed the rules, went above and beyond to make sure people knew I was kind, tried to convince them that I was an okay person to be around. And yet, it seemed some people wanted to dislike me, just to dislike me. So, where do these negative feelings come from? Why do some people have such a disdain for people of color? What’s happened to cause one group of people to feel superior to another group of people? How did it come to be that people feel it’s okay to demoralize someone they don’t know based on their skin color? And so began my journey to understand the other half of who I am. The half that I was reminded of often, but in my past wished I could hide from.
My curiosity led me on a mission to learn more. I began learning from others, reading different perspectives, and starting to dig deeper into history to help answer those difficult questions. I’m embarrassed to say that there is so much that I didn’t know. So much black history that is just skipped over in school, on the news, in books. So much besides slavery and segregation (usually the two topics that are actually covered) that continue to fuel the fire of division. Things like the Vietnam Era GI Bill (https://www.history.com/news/gi-bill-black-wwii-veterans-benefits), or Redlining (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/redlining-what-is-history-mike-bloomberg-comments/), or Black Wall Street (https://officialblackwallstreet.com/black-wall-street-story/), or mass incarceration (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/michelle-alexander-a-system-of-racial-and-social-control/), or the full history of race in America (great video with an overview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGUwcs9qJXY). There are so many things that have been kept in the archives. I had (and still have) so much to learn.
If the topics mentioned above are unfamiliar to you, I urge you to read the linked articles about these heavy issues. If it’s too overwhelming, maybe just read one a day. Maybe one a week. And then don’t stop there, keep reading, watching videos, talking to others, and learning more. Many people have told me that they feel so helpless and don’t know how to make a difference.
While I’m happy to share my voice to help people understand, I also encourage white people to go beyond only asking black people for knowledge. I encourage them to learn more about the history of racism. To dig deep into finding out about its roots, explore how it still rears its ugly head in our society today, then use their powerful voice to speak out against it.Think about it this way: Have you ever tried to share someone else’s story? We often try to tell it ourselves and then say, “Well, they can tell it a lot better than I can.” Stories are much more powerful when told from a first person perspective. So instead of responding to someone by saying, “My friend is black, and she told me about this.” How much more powerful would it be for a white person to talk about the impact it had on them as they learned about issues of racism that have a direct impact on their black friend’s life? How much more impactful would it be for white people to talk to others “like them” about issues of racism that they’ve invested their own time into learning about?
Many white people are tired of hearing from people of color. It’s one of the reasons I hesitated to start this blog. People view it as needless complaining. People wonder why we keep bringing up “things from the past” now that things are “so much better”. White people today say they didn’t start slavary or segregation in the past, so why is it their problem? I don’t believe any white people I know own slaves, and blacks are allowed in restaurants and can drink from a common drinking fountain now. But racism is still very prevalent. Certain benefits in society are still not readily available to all people. Life experiences are still different based solely on the color of a person’s skin. The effects of the horrible injustices of the past continue to linger. However, by learning about how racism is perpetuated, you can be part of the solution to this problem. For those of you who are white, maybe a white friend who is set in his/her thinking isn’t open to hearing yet another black person “venting”. But, they might listen to you if you are white and are sharing things from your perspective. They may see the work a fellow white person has put into learning about the issues and be more open to listening. The more we know, the more knowledge we can pass on. If we choose to learn more, we will arm ourselves with the knowledge to fight against racism.
I do want to stress one thing in all of this….grace. I know it is intimidating to put ourselves out there. But as Rosa Parks said, “We will fail when we fail to try”. Let’s just get out there and try. Will there be times when we mess up? Yes. Will we say the wrong thing sometimes? Most likely. Will there be days that we feel like we aren’t able to reach anyone? There will be many. And it’s okay. Friends will call me and apologize for something they said or did when they were with me that has been weighing on them because of my color. I always tell them that it is okay. I appreciate the fact that they are trying. I appreciate that they are being mindful of the racial divide. I appreciate their willingness to learn. Above all, I tell them to give themselves grace. Because if they are thinking more deeply about their words and actions when it comes to issues of race, it means they are trying and wanting to learn. And what they learn can and will make a difference.
I encourage us all to want to learn more. To dig deep. To answer the tough questions. And I will continue to learn right alongside you. There will be bumps along the way. There will be times we feel like we are banging our heads against a brick wall. But let’s just try. Let’s fight the fight together. And let’s remember to give ourselves grace. If we can begin to understand the bigger issues, we can begin to be a bigger part of the solution. All we need to do is be brave enough to take that first step.