“Black lives matter!” I used to think this statement was rather narrow in its focus within humanity and on a few occasions even replaced it with, “All lives matter” not understanding that I was completely missing the point. A metaphor that changed my thinking goes something like this:
Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “everyone should get their fair share.” Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!
I grew up in a community where everyone was white. In fact, in a class of 400 graduating seniors, two were black (and one of those had just come her senior year). I was taught to love and respect all of God’s children and most of the time I did. One summer day when I was a new 7 year old, I asked my neighbor to come over to play. She asked if her friend could come over too since they were already playing together at her house. I remember her asking me, “She’s black. Is that okay?” I remember thinking that was a strange question. Why did I care if she was black?
This sort of inclusive and non-discriminatory thinking continued throughout most of my 20’s and I incorrectly assumed racism was only a part of our history. The summer before my 6th year of teaching brought me to a training in Tahoe, California where I stayed at a beautiful four-star resort with some of my co-workers (two of them black). Many of my evenings were spent bonding in one of the many hot tubs. We developed a friendship and I experienced racism for the first time. TWICE in the same night we calmly and quietly joined people in one of the hot tubs only to have them leave the second we got in. We were not rowdy, drunk, or offensive in any way and yet the people left… almost instantly. It upset me that people would treat my friends that way. I experienced people being judged by something that cannot be changed, the color of their skin.
I processed through memories of that evening for about a year moving from shock to a determination to switch my mindset. The mindset of acceptance slowly shifted to actively anti-racist because acceptance doesn’t defeat racism. That said, I’m still determining what I can do to help. Hannah Arendt once said,
There are no dangerous thoughts; thinking itself is dangerous. I think non-thinking is even more dangerous.
We need to push ourselves to think, question, and grow. One thing I’m focusing on is educating myself with the perspectives of others and trying to share what I learn. Last year only 6% of the books I read were written by POC. This year, I’m at 24%. I’m not trying to hit a certain percentage. It’s not about the numbers. It’s about purposefully moving beyond myself. It’s about listening without trying to make personal connections or getting offended- just listening. Today I finished, Men We Reaped and it was moving and difficult to read. Jesmyn Ward describes her childhood taking occasional breaks to describe men that she lost in her life. There are many injustices brought up and situations told from a different viewpoint. Stories change when the viewpoint shifts and I’m grateful for this, and other books, that allow me to see things from a different angle. Through glasses different than my own.
What do you think are the best ways for white people to be allies? What are books you’d recommend to me?