Dear White Community,
Hi, my predominantly white community. Can we talk for a second? I know you probably don't want to, but this is important.
It's really hard for many of us to acknowledge and understand some of the things that our neighbors, friends, coworkers, and family members of color live through every day. We hear things and think, "That can't be right," or "They must be mistaken," and "I was taught this and that must be right because I have never experienced what they're saying."
But the thing is, a division exists and we as white people live in a reality that is drastically different than those of so many other folks. It's important that we trust others' experiences and we hear them when they tell us something is wrong and hurting them. We have to choose to trust, not wait for proof from some other authority that says that person's experiences are valid.
If I were to tell you I was pulled over and the officer disrespected me and made me feel unsafe, you would believe me, right? It's time to think really hard about why we have such a hard time believing stories like that (and those that are much much worse) when people of color share them. And it's time for us to stop making excuses for the systems we helped build and continue to sustain. It's okay to acknowledge that we've failed, because that means we can work to build something better.
Right now, it's not about the individual—I have always felt safe with police officers, your friend is a cop and a great person, that time a black guy harassed you at the bus stop. Right now it's about the systems that continue to allow this type of violence to exist—believing institutional authority over human experiences, media portrayal of people of color, the assumed sense of objective authority we each have in every conversation.
If you have never dealt with any type of systematized oppression, it's going to take work to see it happening all around you. And it's going to suck, a lot. It's painful and upsetting to learn that not everyone has been allowed to live their lives as freely as you or I and that each of us has contributed to that just by existing in an unfair world (not to mention the way we have lived).
To start seeing this oppression and our role in it, it's going to take a long time and a lot of conversations where we do more listening than talking. We're going to have a lot of conversations where our normal authority cannot exist. But that's our job. It's our job to have those conversations with each other, calling out privilege. It's also our job to give up the floor to people of color, where they can share experiences, feelings of anger and hurt, and other things we would honestly just rather avoid.
In that vein, it's important that we also not tell someone else how to talk about their experiences, how to advocate for themselves, or how to fight for their freedom in the world. I might do it one way, but my experiences and ability to live in this world my way have shaped that position. Anger is okay and my discomfort with that anger shouldn't dictate how someone else expresses their needs. In fact, that might be one of the hardest things for us to understand. We built the expectations and the realities of the world. It's a lot for us to decide to share control of both of those things now, but it's what we have to do. We have to make this right.
None of us have to be perfect and our individual ability to see oppression around us will not change whole systems alone. But we need to try. We are in a place of power and it's time to use it by sharing it.
Want to talk about this more? Let me know! I absolutely do not have all the answers, but I would love to ask questions alongside you. These are hard conversations, but we have to talk to each other to fix this. I also invite you to check out this article. It's good stuff. Remember, we all do better when we all do better.