“Until we are all free, none of us are free.”
—Emma Lazarus, 19th-century Jewish activist, poet, and author
I have a white life.
When I look around my community, just about everyone is white like me. When I turn on the TV, most people I see are white like me. In my favorite shows, movies, and novels, virtually all the leading characters are white. All my close friends are white. I attended predominately all-white schools and have lived in primarily all-white neighborhoods my entire life. Race has not been a factor or focus in my life, nor has it impacted me in any meaningful way because I am white.
Though I would like to have black and brown friends, I never experienced the absence of diversity in my life as a problem or a loss. Because of this, and the fact that I was raised and socialized in a white-dominant society, I have been able to ignore systemic racism in this country and be blind to the privileges of my whiteness. And I have helped perpetuate racism not by what I have said and done, but by my indifference to it.
After bearing witness to George Floyd’s horrific murder and learning about—no, paying attention to—others who’ve been similarly murdered, I can’t shake this feeling of shame. I’m aghast that by simply not paying much attention to racism, I’ve been in tacit collusion. Yet, racism is intersectional with all the -isms I passionately oppose: Sexism, ageism, anti-Semitism, ableism.
What I’m beginning to realize—just the barest glimmer of understanding—is the depth to which my distinctly white worldview can blind me to the insidiousness of white supremacy in our culture and my own participation in perpetuating it. In her book White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo reminds us that, “Whites control all major institutions of society and set the policies and practices that others must live by.” And that, “White supremacy is more than the idea that whites are superior to people of color: it is the deeper premise that supports this idea—the definition of whites as the norm or standard for humans, and people of color as a deviation from that norm.”
Think about how early we, as white children, were socialized to this norm: What color was your “flesh-colored” Crayola crayon when you were a child? What about the color of the bandage your mother put on a skinned knee? In June 2020, BAND-AID® brand announced that they’ve launched a new line of brown- and black-skinned bandages; it’s only taken them 100 years—they invented the (white) “flesh-toned” adhesive strips in 1920. Think about how every American history lesson we had in school was from a white male perspective. The list goes on. Being white for us is just, well, normal. So how can we possibly have any insight into what it’s like to be Black or Brown in America? We can’t.
Capturing this moment and movement in the magazine is important and my first inclination was to reach out to the few Black writers I know for their perspective and help. I was looking for a commanding Black voice to write a perspective piece for me. Seems to be a too common ask—white people asking Black people to tell them what to do or how to help. “You just want me to give you five things you can do so you can feel better,” replied Seattle artist and writer Barbara Earl Thomas. “Ouch,” I think to myself, the truth of her observation stinging. “Ain’t gonna happen,” she gently chided. Instead, Thomas wants to know how all this is making me feel. When I share that I am sad, angry, anxious, and uncomfortable, she suggests that it might be beneficial for me to sit with the discomfort for a while. “Feeling uncomfortable is new to whites—Blacks always feel that way,” she says. Then another challenge: How did I get to be almost 64 years old and not know what to do or how to talk about race? Thomas urges me to do the work: to start reading, watching, listening, and learning.
It’s time to move out of our white comfort zones and do the work to understand systemic racism in this country and our part in it. Yes, our part. Until we are willing to understand how we are part of the problem and own it, we will not be able to understand how to be part of the solution.
Enough is enough. I am determined to be an antiracist. I invite you to join me on this journey.
Black Lives Matter.
Want to become an antiracist? Here are a few places to start:
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in The Story of Race by Debby Irving
Selma (Amazon Prime)
Allyship: A guide on how to become a more thoughtful and effective ally. https://guidetoallyship.com/