Have you ever stuttered and skipped back and forth through life believing that you’re mostly doing the right thing and supporting the right causes and agreeing with the right people and then you read something that makes you feel like you’re barely half-assing it?
Yesterday evening, a woman I respect with every ounce of respect I have posted this article. Please read it. Please read every word of it. It shook me and slapped me and embarrassed me in the exact way that I believe I *should* be shaken and slapped and embarrassed.
I’m linking to the article again right here just in case you didn’t click on it up there. I’ll wait for you.
When Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson last year, do you know what I did? I bought a t-shirt. It’s a Black Lives Matter shirt, and if I remember correctly, the money went to support kids in poor neighborhoods who needed (and probably still need) food and school supplies.
I bought a shirt.
Did I go to Ferguson and help? No. I went to our church where racial justice is a priority, I wore my shirt several times to the grocery store in my (mostly white) neighborhood, and I gave a big thumbs up to articles on Facebook that align with how I feel. I went to church, I went to the store, and I hit a button that says Like. Yup.
Speaking of Facebook, I recently joined a University of Missouri alumni group because I wanted to stay on top of the changes taking place at my old campus. Yesterday, one of my fellow group members accused the Mizzou student body president of lying about the racism he has experienced on campus. This group member went on to say that Jonathan Butler (the man who went on a hunger strike) comes from a wealthy family, so it’s impossible for him to know how oppression really feels.
I read what this man wrote and I was enraged, and then I turned off the computer and went back to knitting a hat.
I need to do more, because right now I believe I’m part of the problem.
I need someone to help me know what I don’t know, because sometimes I don’t even know where to look.
11 thoughts on “I’m not doing it right.”
I’ve been feeling the same way. I do write about it like you do – especially when I’m awakened to something I feel others need to realize, but beyond that I’m often at a loss. Some days I’m overcome with anger at people I love for their words and I just want to hide but I’m certain that doesn’t do any good either. *sigh* Thank you for be honest about not knowing what to do, I didn’t even buy a shirt.
I don’t know what to do either.
I’m right there with you. I’ve spent the past 35 years trying to compensate for the culture of racism in which I grew up, but it’s all been ideological. How exhausting and eyeroll-worthy must that be to someone of color, to deal with someone like me? What have I done from a practical standpoint to bring about change? Pretty much nothing. The message coming through loudest for me is that I need to listen more. Not ask, just listen. I don’t think I’ve been listening well enough. I’ve been listening while the radio of “your family of origin and the entire region where you live is full of racists and you need to break that cycle, woman!” plays in my head and that’s not really listening. That’s only half-listening.
Being of an age at which I came of age during an era of social protest, I find perspective on this to be difficult. While we (as a country) have made amazing strides in equal rights for women and same-sex relationships, why is it taking so much longer to achieve racial equity? My community, although ethnically extremely diverse, includes few if any African Americans. I live in a bubble of economic privilege, shared by a great many academically successful cultural minorities — many with dark skins, but not “blacks”. I have no answers, but I do applaud you for seeking some of your own!
I’m really not trying to be flippant, but the article you linked to did mention some authors – that might be a good starting point. And there is always the public library – ask the reference librarian for help finding books and articles.
Your heart is in the right place. These are VERY confusing times. And I am almost 62- lived through all kinds of craziness but nothing like what we are seeing now in the world.
So ironic… I just registered to go back to college. One of my first three classes? “Race Relations”
I was in a seminar yesterday about equity work (diversity is not enough, cannot be our goal). The facilitator was Heather Hackman and she had some very compelling things to say. I’ve been doing it wrong, too, but I’ve signed up for her newsletter and I’m going to keep trying (and keep making mistakes) and do my darnedest to actually get in the boat (her analogy, stolen). You might be interested: http://www.hackmanconsultinggroup.org/
Thank you for sharing. I appreciate your self reflection here a great deal. It’s the kind of reaction I’d hoped the essay might generate, as opposed to depression, though I think a period of that is necessary for some people to process its truths. Also, I love your activism math.
I guess what upsets me is when a black person meets me for the first time they think that just because I’m white that I don’t know what life as a black person is like. Well I am one lucky whitey as I was raised in a household that believed in the human race not the white race or the black race. My dad worked alongside of black men and my mom did also. These people taught me the meaning of love for one another. I will stand alongside any man woman or child regardless of race and fight for their rights as long as they will fight alongside of me.
I apologize in advance for making your comments section of your blog a place of controversy. But I’m really striving for an active discussion on a difficult topic.
MJ, I must call you out on the perfect example of the ignorance that white privilege brings in your comment. You state, “just because I’m white that I don’re know what life as a black person is like.” Ummm…I’m sorry, but you have ZERO clue of what life like a black person is like. Unless you have lived with black skin in our world, you will never, ever in a billion years know what life as a black person is like. We who are white can try to empathize with black people, but the first step in being an anti-racist racist (which is the best any of us can do with having white skin), is to acknowledge our white privilege, and realize that we will never truly know what life is like for a black person. We have not walked a day in their shoes. Just as a man will never know what it is like to be a woman.
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin is an absolute MUST read for any white person to truly get how we don’t, nor will we ever, understand what it is like to be a black person.
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