Growing up in a small town in the South, I remember racism being prevalent. But I don’t ever remember considering myself to be a racist.
My parents were very liberal and my dad was actively involved in campaigning for the teachers’ union in our county.
We attended church every Sunday and Christianity was instilled in me at a young age. I was taught to love everyone and to be accepting of all people no matter who they are, what they look like, or what they do.
My parents wanted to help others and they modeled this for my brothers and I. They opened their home to everyone and were often giving their time and money to people who were less fortunate than us.
In fact, we typically had friends spending the night for days (and sometimes even years) at a time because they would rather be at our house than go home.
I remember my mom would ask how many people would be eating dinner with us that night because she knew the chances of having extra mouths to feed was likely.
At least once a week she would say, ‘Yes they can stay for dinner, but I just need to know how many!”
I don’t ever remember race having anything to do with how my family treated people. We were friendly and kind to everyone.
My first major crush in high school was Black. When he started actually pursuing me, I remember not even really giving him a chance because I was scared.
Looking back now I realize that I was afraid of what people would think if I dated him. I wasn’t willing to follow my heart and engage in a bi-racial relationship.
Understanding White Privilege
When I went to college I decided to major in psychology, because I knew I wanted to help people. So I became a mental health counselor. The required multicultural awareness classes I took in school forced me to begin looking at some of my personal biases.
I still didn’t think I was racist though, because to me racism meant hatred. And I never could truly hate anyone.
There might be people who I don’t choose to spend my time or energy on because of how they act or who they are. But I thought that if in my heart I knew everyone should be treated equally and I tried my best to do that, it would mean I’m not racist.
When I hear friends making racial comments or jokes, I don’t tell them it’s wrong. I don’t defriend those people.
I don’t use my priveledge as a White American woman to stand up for those who haven’t been able to for so many years.
When I watched the video of Ahmaud Arbory being shot by two White men in my own state, I was sickened and heartbroken.
The lack of justice served to the men who killed him very brutally reminded me that racism still exists and is a major problem. It was like a slap in the face.
Since then I have been paying attention to the news stories that have been shared about all of the injustice people of color face on a daily basis in our country.
The stories about Breonna Taylor, and countless others that we don’t even know about because they haven’t been blasted on the news and social media.
I see them through a different lens now. I won’t pretend to truly understand, but I am pledging to stand with the Black Lives Matter movement because I truly believe in it.
HOW CAN WHITE PEOPLE HELP?
Ernest Williams, a 27-year-old Black journalist was recently quoted in an interview with The New York Times saying:
“While many have good intentions, true allyship — supporting Black businesses, deeply exploring personal bias and ferreting out ways that White privilege contributes to persistent racism — must happen in order to genuinely stand in solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed.”
But how can we do that, you might ask? What does that even mean as a mom?
I’m no expert, but here’s what I’ve learned over the past few weeks:
1. EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT AMERICAN HISTORY
Every American with an education knows that Blacks were once slaves in our country. But do you know all of the details? Did you even pay attention in American History class?
Or did you push that part out of your mind like I did, because the thought of it made you feel uncomfortable? Besides slavery was abolished years ago and Black people were given the right to vote right? So what do we even need to fight about anymore?
Let us not forget that the White leaders of our country sailed to Africa in the 1600s and brought Black people here against their will to be slaves. They took away their names, took away their rights, and took away their culture. They beat them and treated them as if they were animals.
Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 which freed slaves from their owners, and the 13th Amendment passed in 1865 abolishing slavery.
Even still Blacks were not given equal rights, like the right to vote until the Civil Rights act was passed in 1964.
That was 100 years later!!
This only scratches the surface of the history of inequality and injustice that Black people have faced.
Do your own research and educate yourself on the facts. Try to really understand where the built-up anger that the Black community is expressing is coming from.
Listen to what Black people are saying. Listen to their stories and experiences of racism. Let them speak without interrupting.
Please don’t say, “But don’t all lives matter?”
Because right now we’re talking about the racism leading to George Floyd being murdered when it wasn’t necessary.
We need to listen to Black people speak about how they have been racially profiled their entire life.
Even if you don’t agree that their experience was about race, it doesn’t matter.
YOU are not the one who lived it and if to them it felt that they were treated differently because of their race, THAT’S what is important. That’s the whole point.
3. HONESTLY CONFRONT YOUR OWN BIASES
I’ve learned a lot already just by listening to other peoples’ stories and experiences with racism.
By engaging in those conversations, I’m becoming more aware of my role.
I’m remembering times in my own life where I used race to form opinions or act on my feelings without even realizing it.
Like the times I saw a Black man walking behind me and sped up because I was scared. Even though that man didn’t do anything wrong.
I’m admitting to myself that I was the one who was wrong. Once you open your eyes, these prejudisms are all around you.
Chances are, I may make mistakes again. I won’t pretend to be an expert on this subject, because I’m only recently owning my part. What I am doing is committing myself to the cause.
I just downloaded White Fragility, Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. I’m challenging myself to read it and confront my discomfort about the topic of racism.
We consider a challenge to our racial worldview as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people.
Robin DiAngelo in “White Fragility“
“How To Be An AntiRacist“ by Iram X. Kendi is another book I’m planning to read.
I’m committing to stand up for others who are treated unfairly. I’m not going to be silent anymore when someone makes a racial comment that offends me. I’m not going to be afraid of what others may think if I do.
Webster’s dictionary defines an advocate as someone who pleads or supports the cause of another.
5. SUPPORT BLACK OWNED BUSINESSES
Now that I’m more aware of this, it’s clear to me that I haven’t been supporting Black owned businesses as much as I could be. I might even avoid them at times for fear of feeling out of place.
Now that I’m aware, I can make a conscious effort to change this.
6. EDUCATE YOUR CHILDREN
You may think that kids don’t see color and I believe that to be true. I actually tested my own 5 and 8-year-olds to see if they noticed there was a difference in people’s skin color and they didn’t.
Not long after George Floyd was killed, my 8-year-old overheard my Black sister-in-law crying when my mom was talking to her about it. He didn’t understand why she was so upset.
I explained to him what happened in age appropriate terms.
I could have let him continue to be color blind, but I want him to know what his cousins are potentially facing. I want him to feel confident as a child to stand up to racism so that he always will.
Then, we watched our public library’s virtual story time.
The special guest was Stacey Abrams, a Black voting rights activist. She read the books Lillian’s Right To Vote, by Jonah Winter and A Is For Activist, by Innosanto Nagara.
I wasn’t really prepared for the difficult questions my kids asked afterwards.
They didn’t understand why Black people were ever not allowed to vote.
I did my best to answer their questions and we talked about how not everyone loves others unconditionally like we do. I may have stumbled through it, but they still learned about the history of our country.
Books can be a great way to help you navigate difficult conversations with children, and I highly recommend these two.
7. DON’T STOP
This is only the beginning. I know this list is not all-inclusive.
We will learn as we go that there is more work to be done. But I’m publicly proclaiming my commitment to being a part of the solution, and no longer a part of the problem in the fight against racism.
I don’t want to be silent any more.
I hope you won’t either!