On Memorial Day, a Black man died in the street as a police officer kneeled on his neck. He used his last breaths to tell the officer restraining him and the three officers surrounding him that he couldn’t breathe and finally, to call out to his mom who passed away a year ago.
George Floyd. His name matters. He matters.
Minneapolis is grieving, an unfathomable pain to many of us. To others, this pain is all too familiar. I asked to write this article a week ago, as I watched the city I call home burn around me. I wanted to write about what I was experiencing in my community and the change I wished to see. Since then, all 50 states and even other countries have taken to the streets to join the fight against injustice.
This is no longer about me and my personal experience. It never was. If you’re also white, it was never about you either.
It’s about George Floyd but it’s not just about George Floyd. George Floyd’s senseless death was the last straw, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. David McAtee. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Laquan McDonald. Tamir Rice. Jamar Clark. Philando Castile. Alton Sterling. Botham Jean. Sandra Bland. Stephon Clark. Freddie Gray. Walter Scott. And so. many. more. Their names matter, along with the countless others who have died to the same senseless injustice.
It’s about 400+ years of oppression and a system built to keep Black people and people of color down. We cannot let this continue to happen. We need to do better, be better.
We need to go beyond the surface level and do the dirty work to educate ourselves and break away from systems of oppression.
Recognize your privilege.
White privilege doesn’t mean our lives aren’t hard. It means the tough things aren’t made even harder because of the color of our skin.
Layla Saad, author of the book Me and White Supremacy, says, “White people are not used to seeing themselves as a race. From my own experience, I’ve been very aware of being a Black person from a very young age because, when you’re not part of the dominant culture, you’re always the other.”
We get defensive at the word privilege because we don’t often feel privileged. We might be poor or belong to another marginalized or oppressed group or be struggling with health concerns. But none of these challenges are caused solely by our race or the color of our skin. Whether we like the word or not, that’s privilege.
Saad also says, “It isn’t comfortable to admit that you are safe because someone else is unsafe, and that we benefit from structural oppression in a very real way.”
Confronting this is going to be freaking uncomfortable and it needs to be. You’re going to feel defensive. You’re going to feel embarrassed or ashamed. You’re going to feel guilty. If you aren’t feeling any of these things, you’re not really putting in the work and being self-aware.
If you think this is painful, imagine being oppressed for over 400 years.
Expand your circle.
Who do you spend most of your time with? Who do you follow on your social media channels? What authors do you read? If your five closest friends all look like you, how do you expect to hear the voices of others? Hear their experiences? See their pain? Share their grief?
We will never understand. But we can take a stand.
Call out injustice.
Injustice isn’t just people of color being killed at a disproportionate rate or segregation. It’s also jokes, biases, generalizations and false truths. If you put a black square on your social media page for #blackouttuesday and don’t call out your friend for making a racial joke, you are complicit.
If you donated to one of the communities harmed by looting and fires but aren’t challenging ignorant statements made by family members, you are complicit. If you give someone a pass because you know they are a ‘good person’ or have a ‘good heart,’ you are complicit. In a society built on systemic racism, it’s not enough to not be racist. We must be anti-racist or we are still part of the problem. All lives can’t matter until Black lives matter. Silence is compliance.
Do not ask your Black friends to educate you, especially right now. They are TIRED. They are tired of having to defend their truth. They are tired of the fighting, arguing and pleading to be seen and heard.
For more information and resources about the mental health issues facing the black community, check out this guide. Try to understand where the black community is coming from without asking them to explain it to you. It’s not just a social issue, but a public health issue, and one we are responsible for resolving.
The conversation is welcome when it is met with open minds and support, but this shouldn’t have to be their job right now. It is our job to be an ally and part of that is educating ourselves. Don’t just buy the books. Don’t just watch the movie or TV show. Don’t just listen to the podcast. Buy, read, listen and LEARN.
Here are some places to start:
—The Case for Reparations or Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
—The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
—Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
—How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi
—Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum
—Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W Loewen
—White Rage by Carol Anderson
—I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
—White Fragility by Robin D’Angelo
—Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper
—Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
—The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
—Dear Martin by Nic Stone
**Many of these books are sold out at major retailers right now. They are still available in electronic form but I encourage you to shop around and find Black-owned bookstores to purchase from.
–The House I Live In (Tubi)
–12 Years a Slave (available to rent on Amazon)
–Selma (FX Now)
–Black Panther (Disney+)
–Queen and Slim (available to rent)
–Just Mercy (temporarily free to rent on Amazon, Google Play, and YouTube)
–For Life (ABC)
–When They See Us (Netflix)
–The Hate U Give (Hulu)
–Fruitvale Station (Tubi)
—For Life — The Podcast
—In The Dark (Season 2)
Amplify Black voices on social media.
From Her Track contributor and social editor, Kay Elle ^^^
We need to start having the uncomfortable conversations but it can be hard to know where to start. We are all in different stages of allyship and progress can be messy. We want to use our voices to make sure others are heard. The best way we can do that is to amplify Black voices by following and sharing their messages. Follow and share their businesses. We have the ability to make sure they are seen in our feeds and the feeds of our social media friends and followers.
Let your money talk: Support Black-owned businesses.
The expression “money talks” has never meant as much as it does when talking about systemic racial issues. Do you know the values of the organizations you are giving your money to? Which political campaigns are they donating to? Google the photos of their executives. What do they look like? Is it diverse?
Another powerful way to be an ally is to support Black businesses. Follow Black bloggers and use their affiliate links. Invest in Black artists and their work. Drive a little further to eat at a Black-owned restaurant or grab a coffee from a Black-owned cafe. If you buy any of the books recommended above, I again encourage you to buy them from a Black-owned business.
Here are a few:
Semicolon (Chicago, IL)
Detroit Book City (Detroit, MI)
Mahogany Books (Washington, D.C.)
Hakim’s Bookstore (Philadelphia, PE)
Ashay By the Bay (Bay Area, CA)
Cafe con Libros (Brooklyn, NY)
Right now, there are so many different ways to take action. Not everyone is cut out for the front lines, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. If you aren’t comfortable protesting or marching, you can share resources online, get involved in community clean up events or donate food, personal care products or baby care items to food banks and distribution centers. But what happens when the news coverage quiets down? We can’t take action for a few weeks, then let things go back to normal. The time for change and long-term action is now.
Call your representatives. Sign petitions. Write to your legislatures.
Now sure what to say? These websites will walk you through it and/or provide templates:
Donate your time, your money and your services.
—Local Black Lives Matter Chapter – A global call to action and response to anti-Black racism
—NAACP Legal Defense Fund – Legal organization fighting against racial injustice
—Southern Poverty Law Center – Nonprofit dedicated to fighting hate, teaching tolerance and seeking justice
—Color of Change – Nonprofit to design campaigns and champion solutions to end racist practices
—The Sentencing Project – Dedicated to addressing life sentences and end mass incarceration
—Know Your Rights Camp – Provides civil rights resources for Black communities
—Fair Fight – Ensures fair elections and combats voter suppression
—Equal Justice Initiative – Working to end mass incarceration, excessive punishment and racial inequality
While small changes can be made over time, we also need the right leadership in place to make powerful, impactful change. One way to ensure this happens is through voting. Rock the Vote is “a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to building the political power of young people”. Not only do they provide information on how to register to vote and where to vote but they offer programs to educate on democracy and civic engagement.
We need to make sure the people who are supposed to speak for our cities, our states, our country are actually representing us. If you don’t vote, you are giving up your voice. But right now, we need your voice. Your city needs your voice. Your state needs your voice. Our country needs your voice.
If these things seem too much to ask, I encourage you to sit in complete silence and stillness for two minutes and fifty-three seconds.
Two minutes and fifty-three seconds. That’s how long George Floyd lay on the ground, unresponsive without a pulse as an officer continued to kneel on his neck. An officer who took an oath to protect the city of Minneapolis but decided a $20 bill was more valuable than the life of George Floyd.
I can’t breathe.