The murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens, and Michael Smith this week have my made heart incredibly heavy. I’m outraged that our society continues to execute black men, and I’m horrified that a black man needed to slaughter police officers to make visible the terrible disparities in our justice system.
I have watched (and read) as my friends of color have described what a day in their lives looks like: from my friend Charlie (a former soldier, and highly respected productivity coach for entrepreneurs), who described his process for keeping the cop calm if he gets stopped, to my friend Chawne (an award winning and talented quilter, and professor of mathematics at a university) relaying what it’s like to be a woman of color walking into a quilt shop. She is, at a minimum, often presumed to be ignorant and unskilled, but usually, she’s treated like a potential thief.
I read these things and I can see I have no clue what it’s like to feel so threatened. How can I? I’m privileged to be white.
As chilling as these stories from my friends of color are, I’m so grateful they’re speaking up because it gives me pause to see how differently I’m treated, and to ask how to help. And their response is this: don’t be silent on the sidelines; stand up, visibly, to support us; be loving, visibly, to support us.
So yes, count me in.
I write here, visibly, to let you know that I am a person who will use the privilege of my whiteness to support people of color. I’m doing it from my business home to let you, dear reader, know who you’re doing business with. If you don’t like this, or don’t agree that black lives matter, please just walk away, quit reading, unsubscribe. There’s no need to argue with me about it, please just leave my home.
To paraphrase my dear and eloquent friend, Maddie Kertay (in her brilliant #SewDiversity post): To assume that saying “black lives matter” means that other lives don’t matter is like thinking that “save the trees” means “screw the oceans.” It doesn’t. It means that these lives that are being so casually snuffed out without reason or consequence MATTER.
Like in any other high stakes social issue, the fight needs the people on the privileged side to stand up for the oppressed. It took heterosexual people to fight for gay marriage rights for the law to change. It takes men to advocate for the rights of women to move the needle on those laws. It takes good men, arguing that the only thing responsible for a rape is the rapist, to change the perception that any woman ever “asked for it.” When an oppressed side fights alone, they are perceived as a whining minority. When the majority starts standing up for them, things start to change.
So, my fellow friends on the privileged side of race, it’s our turn to stand up for black lives:
- Listen to black community leaders for cues on what to do. LISTEN. It’s important that we follow their lead, and don’t try to lead for them. IT’S NOT ABOUT US.
- Reach out to your friends of color to ask what you can do to be supportive. I know that, like me, you’re probably afraid of saying something wrong, but ask anyway, and be willing to learn and understand. Silence is far worse.
- Smile and make eye contact with people of color. Hold the door. Yield the lane. Like you would for people like YOU. Hug them, too.
- Stand up for people who are being mistreated.
- Write your representatives for changes in gun laws, incarceration policies, and discrimination laws.
- Write your local police chief to demand that their officers be better trained in defusing and de-escalating tense situations, and that they have an action plan for removing officers that do not protect and serve ALL with equal care.
- Demand greater transparency in the investigation of police shootings. Demand punishment when it’s clearly due.
- Stop believing that character assassination creates justification for heinous actions.
- VOTE. We’re in an election season, so use your privilege to VOTE in what you believe in, and vote out what you don’t.
Whatever we may think about these tragedies happening in “someone else’s world”, it’s our world too. If we don’t want a world that casually murders black people, we need to be part of what changes it.
As Gandhi said: be the change you wish to see in the world.