Yesterday, I was chatting with a white person in the park. (I meet and chat with lots of people while walking my dog twice a day.) We started talking about racism. They said: This is systemic. So, there’s not a lot I can do.
WHITE PEOPLE: There is so much you can do. There is so much. And not just going to a protest with a sign.
Do you want to do the minimum? Want to do the least and then get back to your life (no disrespect — life is tough). Write to your political reps about criminal justice reform, voting reform, reparations, etc.
Next, step up — speak up when you hear microaggressions. One person in my neighborhood said, “I don’t see color.” What if I weren’t the person pushing back on that? What if it were you? What if you did your homework and you were prepared to respond to this?
One step further? Expand your social circle and your circle of work colleagues. Don’t share job opportunities and contacts or networks with only white people. Actively become inclusive.
Another step? Anti-poverty work. The system has worked for centuries to keep people of color in poverty. When people have money, they spend it on food, on housing, on education. What amount can you give that might actually represent sacrifice? Not just how much you can spare.
Next: STOP AVOIDING THE CONVERSATION, please. I know it’s upsetting. I know you hate arguments. But, you know who has the best chance of persuading your racist Uncle Bob? A white person that he knows and loves. THAT’S YOU. Do the work. Talk to him and keep talking.
Next step: Make it more painful to be racist than to default to new norms that support equity and fairness. Create new systems and make them the default. You can’t realistically change someone else’s beliefs, but you can make it more comfortable to be anti-racist than racist. That’s just behavioral science.
YES, racism is systemic. But, you know what makes up social systems? Lots and lots of people. You are one of those data points. Be the one standing on the side of justice, with all your might. If enough people move (through action!) to that side, the scales will tip.
When racist comments are made at work, the people most likely to speak up are workers of color. They are also the most likely to be punished for speaking up. To get bad performance reviews, to be called “unlikeable” and “difficult.”
You know who doesn’t (statistically) get punished when they push back on racist comments and practices at work? White people of power and influence. If that’s you, then you must speak up. You cannot relax. You must be watchful and ready to step in every time.
Here’s another thing: Stop before you defend the powerful white guy. I’m not saying that he’s not worth defending. Just pause and think it through. Question yourself. Why are you defending him? Why do you think he’s trustworthy? Don’t make “defend the white guy” your default.
Another thing: Please do your homework. If you have a few hours, I suggest you start here, with @SceneOnRadio’s podcast “Seeing White.” Please don’t ask others to educate you. YOU HAVE TIME. You binge watch shows, so you can spend a few hours on this.
This is your work, my white friends. Race is invented. It’s not biological. It’s not scientific. It was created by your ancestors in order to justify the theft of wealth and of human beings. You didn’t start this, but we need you to end it. WE NEED YOU.
Even someone as light skinned as I am has been thwarted and delayed and punished and abused for decades because of my color. I need all of you to step up now. This fight has taken all of my life, and the lives of so many others. How much time can you spare to help me? How many hours a week can you commit?
Let me be brutally honest here: My family has married light-skinned people for generations, in a racist bid to protect their children. That means I have more privilege than others and a heavier duty to fight the battles and devote myself to a more just future.
Who took the blows for you? Who suffered so that your life was just a little easier? How much time can you give; how much of your income can you give to help lift up those who suffered so that you and your ancestors could feel safer and more secure?
I wrote a book about race that is due out this fall and it WRECKED me. When I finished, I was just emotionally and physically depleted. My friend said, “You think it’ll be worth it?” And I don’t know! I can’t say if pouring all that energy into this project was worth it. But please, I’m begging you, don’t let the sacrifice be in vain. Mine, or the sacrifice of so many who’ve marched, labored, died to wake you up and make you realize that life is hard for you, but harder for others just because of their race.
That’s what “woke” means. It means someone who’s been sleeping comfortably, nestled in the warm blankets of racism, but who wakes up and sees that people of color are holding the weight of the bed on their backs. Wake up!
If racism seems too huge to combat for you, for a white liberal who believes in equity and fairness and justice, imagine how enormous it looks to a person of color. And yet we still fight. We need you with us. Please don’t throw up your hands. We can’t do this without you.
Here’s an easy thing you can do: Stop spending money on all-white things. Don’t attend conferences with all-white panels. Don’t buy tickets to all-white movies. Don’t feed the white supremacist machine. If you can’t fight, at least you can choose not to support racism with your money.
When you choose not to have the conversation with racist Uncle Bob, you know who has to suffer for that choice? The POC who is subjected to his racist comments, the person he calls the police on, the colleague that he undermines at work.
Anti-racism work is a bit like litter. You see a piece of garbage on the ground & walk by, thinking, “I didn’t litter.” That means, of course, that someone has to pick it up. If it was your mom, kid, partner, who threw it down, you should pick it up, so that some POC doesn’t have to clean up after your family.
My anti-racist work has led to work supporting trans people, disabled people, immigrants. When you begin to open your heart to others and get past the “I’ve suffered, too!” mentality, you find no limit to the expansion of your love. Your mind can continue to open exponentially.
Believe me, I have a “I fought against unbeatable odds” story, too, like so many of us. No argument, life is hard. But it does me no harm and so much good! to realize that others have it even harder than I. Accepting that, embracing that, has been life-affirming for me.
Please go to your city council meetings and make a nuisance of yourself, demanding equity and justice. Be the annoying anti-racist person in your community. And then send me video and I SWEAR TO BUDDHA, I will send you cookies.
Maybe that’s the end of this thread: a bribe. If you start today, make your commitment today, to set aside an hour (2? 3?) to anti-racist work. I will gladly bake you cookies from scratch and ship them.
Ask anyone who knows me: I’m a good cook. The cookies are worth it, y’all.