Have you ever wondered if your words or actions are racist? Are you sure they aren’t? Is claiming “I’m not racist!” enough? Can a person protect and promote systemic racism without even realizing it? Is ignorance a good excuse?
Recently, one of my friends inquired as to why I am suddenly so passionate about racism in America—she didn’t say “suddenly,” but it does feel that way. I’ve gone my entire adult life assuming I was an ally, but I’m not sure that’s true. The more I learn, the more I wonder if I’ve actually enabled and supported systems designed to hold back and oppress people of color.
I officially stepped into the conversation about white privilege in 2016 when I joined the Be the Bridge to Racial Reconciliation Facebook group. When a white person joins the group, s/he agrees to remain silent and listen for three months. Not only are you prohibited from posting in the group, you’re also prohibited from commenting on other folks’ posts. Violation of this rule gets you banned from the group. It’s a good and important rule.
Silence Forced Me to Listen and Learn
The silent rule forced me into the role of student, not teacher. It required me to keep my mouth shut (and my fingers off the keyboard) when my first inclination was to chime in and offer advice/feedback/input while unwittingly minimizing other members’ experiences.
Waking up to white privilege and systemic racism has been hard, and I would not have made it this far without the encouragement of friends and mentors who encouraged me to listen to people who are different than I am.
By expanding the circle of authors I read, speakers I listen to, and people I follow on social media, I’ve become much more aware of the ways I subconsciously participate in an inherited, stratified system which over-values whiteness, oppresses the poor, and dehumanizes the different.
Debating the existence and effects of racism in America is uncomfortable for many white folks like me, and it’s tempting to turn a blind eye to the problem. To change the channel. To click over to another page. To look away before making eye contact. To walk on the other side of the street.
But, if you’re able to ignore (or deny) the problem of racism, then—whether you realize it or not—you are exercising white privilege. People of color don’t have that option. They can’t ignore it or deny its existence. It’s in their face every day. All day.
With white privilege comes much responsibility.
So, I’m determined to learn about my own hidden biases despite how opening my eyes and looking in the mirror makes me feel. I want to be a woman who elevates the voices and lives of those who have struggled to be seen and heard for far too long. I will be a catalyst for difficult conversations between white adults who need to join me on this journey of waking up. I want to be an ally. And being an ally requires diligence and re-education..
Re-Educating Myself about Racism
When I asked my friends what I should read, one book was recommended more than any other: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by best-selling author Beverly Daniel Tatum.
In this compelling and insightful book, Tatum documents the experiences of people of color in public schools and many other public spaces. “People of Color” or POC is the term used to refer to African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinx Americans, Native Americans, Pacific Island Americans, and others of non-European descent.
The author shares the story of a young black student who is the target of a racist comment by one of her teachers. When the student shares her experience—the comment and how it affected her—with her best friend who is white, she is further-traumatized when her friend dismisses the comment by saying something like “Oh, he didn’t mean it that way. He’s not a racist.” THAT’S why Be the Bridge has the “3-months of silence” rule for new white members. It’s like they knew that we needed to spend some time listening without the opportunity to minimize and further traumatize brothers and sisters of color. Smart.
Learning to keep my mouth shut is probably going to be a lifelong process for me. The first month of silence was hard: I had not yet realized I was the stereotypical white girl who wanted to fix all the things. The second month of silence was a bit easier. By third month, I understood how very little I had to contribute to the conversation and how my words could easily have the opposite effect of what I was hoping to say. And I don’t post very much in that group at all. They have opened my eyes to what life is often like for people of color in this country.
I’m appalled at the ignorance and racism so many exhibit on a regular basis. I’m determined NOT to be a part of it.
How I am waking up…
Over the next few months, I’m going to detail my ongoing journey to “wokeness” (I have NOT arrived), because it’s just way too much to include in one blog post. I invite you to join me in conversation as I share my own personal experiences with people of color—both traumatic childhood experiences that shaped my view and adult friends and mentors who have helped—and are still helping—me figure out how to be an ally, not an adversary.
I will share websites, podcasts, books (and audiobooks), social media feeds, and other resources that are helping me understand white privilege in America and how that lines up (or not) with the good news of Jesus Christ.
I am not an expert on racial reconciliation, and I have no solutions to offer. All I can do is invite you to join me on the journey. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is not to evaluate my journey but to humbly examine your own. The challenge is to take a long, hard look at your words, actions, and attitudes with an open mind, and if you see something that needs to be changed, you commit to changing it.
The goal: Be more like Jesus.
Are you in? Comment below if you’re up for the challenge.