Over the past few weeks I, like countless others, have made a concentrated effort to better understand systemic racism, unconscious bias, microaggressions, and many other topics surrounding it. This effort has mostly been specific to the systemic oppression of Black people in America. I decided that in order for me to organize my thoughts, I need to write down some things that I’ve learned. Throughout this post I’ll use only the personal pronouns “I” and “me” because I can only speak for myself. I also feel it’s necessary to say that I’m not done learning. This is only the beginning, and I probably won’t get it right all the time, but I’m going to do my best, and then I’m going to do better.
Racism is not new to me.
I knew about it before these protests and demonstrations. I saw Remember the Titans and read To Kill A Mockingbird. I learned about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks in history class. There was a chapter heading about Brown V. Board of Education and Jim Crow laws in my 11th grade AP US History Textbook.
But it was a different time then! It’s not like that now, right? Segregation is illegal! It has been since the 60s. Sure, there are some outliers like real White Supremacists. But I’m not one of them, so I couldn’t possibly have any real work to do….
This week, it became very clear to me that racism in America is alive. It’s alive for a lot of reasons, but if you ask me one of the most important reasons is my ignorance. I think that because I’m not overtly racist there just wasn’t much else I could do. But when I really started to reflect this week it was so obvious that there was plenty I could do to actively fight racism. That I must do to fight racism.
As I read articles, watched movies and documentaries, and followed dozens of Black influencers, creators, authors, and educators I found myself gasping over and over and again. I read stats that astounded me. I kept asking myself how this was even real. How could anyone ever have treated another human being this way in my parents lifetime?
Then I did what I had been avoiding. I watched the footage of George Floyd being knelt on until he suffocated then yanked onto a stretcher and suddenly what had seemed so far away, was right in front of me.
I don’t say all this to be consoled. If I have learned anything over the last week, it’s that no Black person or Person of Color owes me anything. It’s not their job to console me or help me understand this. It’s not their job to wake me up or help me while I work through this. It’s my job to seek to understand and quit making excuses for being quiet all this time.
I’m making a pledge now to stay awake. I’m keeping my eyes open. I will refuse to live in ignorance. I’ll read from diversified news sources and interact with people who don’t look like me. I will amplify black voices. I will speak up when I hear or see something that is racist or unjust.
I will pay attention to where I’m privileged. And I’m going to teach my kids about this. I’ll teach them about that time in my 20s when protests occurred across hundreds of cities around the entire world over the systemic racism in in the world today. (I tried to find exact numbers, but none of the articles I read provided any concrete number I feel comfortable sharing. This Vox article does provide some good information about what the global Black Lives Matter landscape looks like though.) I’ll tell them that even Ben and Jerry (you know, the ice cream guys) all but quit selling ice cream to help educate people on what is really going on here.
I want to be able to talk about 2020 as the year that everything changed.
Since I started writing this post last week confederate statues and monuments to the slave trade and been torn down. Use of the confederate battle flag is finally being widely accepted and condemned as a symbol of white supremacy. States that have it embedded in their flag are considering changing it. Positive pubic opinion and support of the Black Live Matter movement is skyrocketing. People on my friends list of who have literally never had opinions that align with mine are posting that Black Lives Matter. Police departments are actually getting defunded and deconstructed. Schools are severing their ties with enforcement officers. People are demanding change. We’re realizing that this isn’t a political or partisan issue. This is about people and their real, actual, existence on this earth and how they deserve to be here as much as anyone else. It’s about how Black Lives Matter.