“I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”
Henry David Thoreau
It has taken me a few days to gather my thoughts in order to write something that wouldn’t look like an outpour of angry feelings. I needed to share the words embedded in my mind about how I feel, perhaps inspiring people to reflect in their own way, with their own words.
I am a white woman in my early thirties. I live in a suburban city where most of my neighbors are middle-class working Americans, with impeccable looking front yards and flags hanging by their windows. In the 10 years that I have lived in the United States, a cop has stopped me only once. In that instance, I happened to be in a grocery store parking lot very late at night, needing to buy medication. The officer wanted to make sure that I felt safe coming out of the store by myself and waited until I sat in my car before wishing me a good night. I have rarely felt unsafe going out by myself. However the few times that I have, it had nothing to do with my race but rather with my gender.
That’s my reality. That’s my PRIVILEDGED reality and maybe that’s yours too. I haven’t chosen this kind of life. In a lot of ways, I am extremely lucky and blessed to be carefree about my interactions in society. Although racism exists, I don’t remember ever experiencing it myself. I would be lying if I wrote that I think about it on a daily basis or that I’m a front line activist. The underlying reason is certainly my lack of direct exposure to it. I, as a white woman living in the United States, do not feel threatened because of the color of my skin.
The last few years have been overwhelmingly eye opening for me. After each senseless act of racism that would cost someone’s life, I would be left questioning my role in society as a privileged person. It seems that communities have been fighting racism for hundreds of years yet the conflict is far from over. Is the problem so rooted that it can no longer be fixed? As I watch the news and read about the actions of hundreds of communities across the country, I realize an important reality: Being human comes with many responsibilities and protecting the ones in need is at the top of the list.
If we consider ourselves privileged enough to be on Earth, then we all must act accordingly. We have a responsibility toward our fellow humans to be caring and respectful. After all, we all share the same space. I ignore the reason as to why my road was paved with fewer holes and rocks than those of colors. But in my privileged reality, I have to be responsible. It would be destructive to the human race if I weren’t. We cannot be white and believe that racism exists only far away from us. We can no longer witness it with binoculars from our porch and pretend that it doesn’t directly concern us. Racism affects all of humanity. As the importance of human connection has been the subject of abundant research, it becomes clearer that when a part of society is hurting, we are all hurting. When social or economical issues touch a part of the population, we all face difficulties moving forward. When egocentrism is more important than cultural diversity and community togetherness, love and care among individuals can’t reach its full potential. Consequently, we all hurt.
Keeping this in mind, the time has come for us to reevaluate our involvement with racism. We are an embarrassing society if we can go to space but can’t listen to each other on Earth. It’s a shame to have a racist friend and be afraid to confront him about it because it could be uncomfortable for one or both parties. It’s a disgrace to join a march after a tragedy but remain neutral on a daily basis when the crowds are gone.
It is undeniable that we are all hurting one way or another. Whether it’s because of social injustice, the loss of a loved one to violence, fear of the future or inability to accurately put feelings into words, the situation can no longer be ignored. Regardless, this is not the time to have an individualistic mindset. This is not the time to take things personally in hopes that we can redirect the focus on something more comfortable. Truthfully, this is not the time to blame black people for violence, when we can barely address the violence used against them.
This is all uncontestably very painful but it would be wrong to try to make ourselves feel better by saying things like “I’m not racist, I’m completely against violence no matter the race” or “it’s just a bunch of bad apples”, “all lives should matter equally.” I am sure that you have read some of these sentences online or heard them through friends or family. None of those are wrong, but when we use this sort of rhetoric, unconsciously or not, we run from responsibilities. We hide behind a passive approach that simply doesn’t bring change. In fact, we contribute to accepting and sharing the status quo.
Racism won’t be defeated passively. It will need activeefforts from all of us. That means if we are not racist, we need to educate someone who is. Good cops need to stand by their communities, and interact positively with the people who have become terrified of them. If we know or work with “bad apples”, we need to educate them and hold them accountable for their behavior. If we rightly believe that all lives matter, then we need to show it by standing next to the ones whose lives clearly haven’t mattered equally. We need to join local communities, interact with minorities, become their voice when they need one, vote even at the lowest levels, take part of the social justice reform, and understand the issues. The “It’s not me, it’s them” mentality doesn’t help because it doesn’t bring change. Instead, it contributes to the continuation of the problem.
When Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “March on Washington” speech that “we cannot walk alone”, he explicitly acknowledged that white people are needed in the fight against racism because “their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.” Racism is an issue that needs to be fought by all men, for all of mankind.
Being white has never excluded us from the problem. It’s quite the opposite. The time has come to realize that we are as responsible as anyone else in planting seeds of love and care to preserve our communities. Without all of us working together, all lives can’t matter.