By Dan Theal
Dear White People,
I write this message to you as a white male of privilege, unqualified to give any perspective of what is like to be a person of color in America. Like many of you, my heart has been in angst over the senseless murder of George Floyd and the racial injustices that are being thrust into the national spotlight. But for as much sadness and anger that we have felt, I know that my Black friends and family are feeling a much deeper pain. To the extent we are outraged at unjust acts of police brutality, these current events ignite a far more complex array of emotions for our Black friends based upon their lifetime of experiences. While we both may be upset with the current reality, I do not know what it is like to live in fear every day. I do not know what it is like to be afraid to drive through the wrong neighborhood, to get pulled over by the wrong cop, to be judged before saying a word. To have all aspects of my life affected by discrimination, prejudice and inequality. To be the constant recipient of stares, offensive comments and racial profiling. Whatever emotions us white people are feeling right now pale in comparison to the lifetime of hurt that our Black friends are feeling. With that being stated, here is my message for my white friends today:
This movement is not about us, but it requires us.
To explain the first part of this message, we need to understand that this is not the time to place the spotlight on ourselves. I have seen countless social media posts where the individual denounces racism while highlighting how much they are not racist. While this may have pure intentions, it can also come across as empty and self-serving. Keep in mind, our Black friends are hurting right now. Although I do not have personal perspective on this, I would imagine that a proclamation of your stance on racism does not go a long way in comforting them or solving the the systemic problems they face. I would like to remind you that we are not the experts on racism. So let's not fool ourselves by acting like we are. Further, although we may define ourselves as non-racists, we all (including myself) have been guilty of behaviors, thoughts and actions that could be deemed as judgmental, prejudiced or minimally, offensive. We have all been a part of the problem. We can try to convince ourselves that we "don't see color," but that would be a bold-faced lie. We all are guilty of holding unconscious bias. So rather than showing the world how much we are not racist, let's use this time to self-reflect, humble ourselves and challenge ourselves to identify and eliminate some of the prejudice we hold. That is not so say that we should stop posting or talking about the topic. To the contrary, dialogue is critical at a time like this. But I'd like to encourage us to do less talking and more listening. Rather than simply self-declaring that you are an ally, show your intentionality of being a better ally by asking for ways that you can contribute to the cause. Which leads me to the second point of my message...
The systemic racism that exists in our country is not a Black person problem. It is a white person problem. We have the responsibility for reconciliation, not the other way around. We have all heard the phrase, "Talk is cheap." Talk without action is meaningless. For as much dialogue as there is currently on racial and social injustice, we risk that this becomes the topic du jour or flavor of the month. We may have great intentions to be a part of the solution today, but let's be honest: As the summer wears on and the reopening of our economy gives us other things to be distracted by, this call for justice will become a fad for many. I've thought to myself, if the NBA playoffs were going on right now, would I be as engrossed in this? Sadly, if I'm honest, probably not. But the pandemic has created a once-in-a-lifetime environment where America has no choice but to focus on this. There have been several race related protest movements before, yet here we are. Not enough has changed. I'm not an expert on why previous movements haven't led to meaningful change, but I would imagine that over time, protests wane, activism dies off and political pressure diminishes. Shame on us if we allow that to happen this time around. I have been convicted on my lack of previous action towards this cause. Although racial justice is something I'm passionate about, I've been guilty of being a bystander. We can't watch this one play out from the sidelines. We need to be on the frontlines of action and actually be agents of change. What does that mean for us? Having uncomfortable conversations, calling out injustices when we see them, commiting our time and resources, being consistent advocates, humbling ourselves and being shining lights of love in our circles of influence. A phrase I recently heard resonated with me: We need to move from being non-racist to anti-racist. The former is a mentality and the latter is an action.
It takes some soul-searching and dialogue to determine which actions are right for us. But do something! Radical change in society requires radical change in our behavior. Let's not miss this opportunity to correct the injustices that have existed for generations before us. We can't screw this one up.
Thanks for reading. As I mentioned, I'm not an expert on this topic and am seeking to be a better advocate. But I would like to reiterate that dialogue is critical! So let's keep the conversation going and keep ourselves accountable to lead this change.