As my Facebook feed can attest, the majority of my friends are like me: Concerned White People.
My demographic friend disparity results from a segregation I didn’t choose: the neighborhood my parents moved me to, where I attended college, who I’ve worked with.
No. Let’s say I did choose this segregation in effect, but only indirectly — obliviously — because when I chose my college, my jobs, my neighborhood, I wasn’t actually thinking at all about race. Because I have that luxury. Some call it privilege.
I’m so white and concerned and have so many Concerned White People around me that I even get to feel genuinely incredulous that people actually don’t see how systemic racism affects encounters with law enforcement (until I read comments sections).
I’ve seen an unprecedented volume of articles calling for more vocal, more involved white allies this week. Meanwhile, I’ve also seen an unprecedented surge in social media posts by my fellow Concerned White People publicly examining their own consciences and wringing out their hearts in relation to the recent killings by police in Baton Rouge and St. Anthony (MN), the sniper attack in Dallas, and the countless, race-related police brutality cases preceding these:
I’ve seen what amounts to an public apology for not personally speaking out sooner as a white ally.
I’ve seen what reads as an impulsive condemnation of any (other) white person choosing to post a funny meme, or photo of their damn dinner plate, or anything not outrage right now.
I’ve seen relevant, moving poetry by a white friend, shared by (among others) Concerned White People (including me, because I was moved, and I relate to all these posts).
I’ve seen more white friends than ever before make it personal. And I’ve heard plenty of reasons why this is hard for a someone like me to do:
Because this isn’t about me.
Because I’m ignorant of the true, lived reality of black challenges and black pain.
Because I don’t want to offend.
Because I don’t want to sound stupid…
Because I have no insights to add.
Because what if I’m just trying to make myself feel less complicit?
Because what if I’m just trying to make myself feel more noble?
Because what if I’m just congratulating myself?
Because why should I get the satisfaction of fighting hand-in-hand with people whose struggles I’ve long ignored or benefited from?
Because what if this is so much cultural tourism?
Because what if I’m just co-opting a movement and insulating myself in insecure, theoretical discussions with mostly other white people, mostly about the feelings, inadequacies, and shame of white people?
You know what? Even if all of this is true, I still choose to raise my voice.
Because this is what making it personal means: really looking where I’m at in relation to this mess: my privilege, my conscience, my awkwardness, my vanity, my shame. And owning it.
And the thing about making it personal?
Everyone’s “personal” will begin and advance differently. Some may confront their racist uncles. Some may post #hashtags. Some may pray. Some may try everything, but I hope everyone tries something.
I hope I have the courage to challenge racist sentiments when I hear them, even if it makes my cheeks burn because I like to please, and I dread debates, especially those likely to turn combative — and even if I’m convinced I won’t change anyone’s mind. Because, those feelings? Compared to suffering the consequences of active racist sentiment, they’re caresses. Maybe my perfectly safe, mild discomfort will bring me infinitesimally closer to better empathizing with someone else’s actual problems.
I will continue to forward articles and plaster hashtags across social media, because the online debate right now is rich in perspectives, analyses, and information. I want to keep this conversation flowing, and even throw in. Not to diagnose or advise, but to explore. And mainly to help prop up platforms through which people of color speak, and to join in the discussion that surrounds those essential voices. Even more than that: to listen and learn.
And, when I feel confused or paralyzed, I might even pray. Because, though I like to imagine prayers can affect the outside world, my reason is not convinced. But I do believe they can affect me. They may not succeed, and they certainly won’t suffice, but prayer offers a chance at greater clarity, humility, and loving intention at least for the one praying.
Beyond that, I want to change my outer world. Not just by standing “with” people of color online or at my family Thanksgiving dinner. But by actively choosing not to segregate myself and my family anymore:
By prioritizing diversity in my kids’ lives.
Even if that means choosing the standard, neighborhood preschool for my kids, despite my misgivings about standard education policies, and despite the (whiter) alternative, “cooperative learning” school a bit further down the street.
By examining the demographics of our future neighborhoods and their future schools, and avoiding disproportionately white-dominant settings.
By diversifying my kids’ books, dolls, and cartoons, so that not every face they see mirrors theirs. So that the maidens in their stories are “fair” not because they are always pale, but because they behave justly.
By reaching out to and welcoming in people of color whenever I can. Not as a self-improvement project, but because I’d like to know people who don’t already live in my bubble.
Doing all of this requires ongoing vigilance and, sometimes, a suspension of comfort. And those are genuinely hard things for me to initiate and sustain. Because I’m not used to that. And I speak for my own white self when I say that when I have to do something hard, I sincerely crave acknowledgment, acceptance, validation — even, yes, praise and gratitude. At least feedback.
I’m so used to all of that.
And here, I’m owed none of that.
I’m owed, to quote Malcolm X, precisely “nothing” for all my good intentions, and self-appraised good deeds, and discomfort, and pretty words. Because for once in my life, “making it personal” is not about seeking personal satisfaction. It’s not about gaining something. It’s not even about giving something. It’s about listening, and really responding.
…for a change.