I’ve been debating whether or not to write something on my blog in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, not because I don’t have anything to say, but because I’m worried that what I say won’t be good enough or truly get to the heart of the matter. Then I realized that speaking up in favor of justice, even if it’s inadequate, is always better than silence.
The killings of Floyd, Taylor, and Arbery deeply unsettled me. I don’t have many illusions about racism in America. I know it exists, and I’ve seen its destruction. I grew up in St. Louis, a place that has deeply entrenched racial issues dating back hundreds of years and continuing in the present. The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014 highlighted the hatred and racism that has festered here for years. I lived in Washington, DC at the time of Brown’s murder, and I remember feeling ashamed that I was from St. Louis. I didn’t want to have any attachments to a place where a Black man is chased and killed.
However, over the years I’ve come to realize that this could happen anywhere in the U.S. St. Louis is known for its race-related crimes, but we’ve seen Black men and women killed across the country. These senseless and brutal murders underscore a deep-seated problem in the U.S., which is bigotry and hatred toward Black men and women.
Protests following the murders of Floyd and Taylor are promising, as they show that people are sick and tired of watching innocent Black men and women killed simply because of the color of their skin. I think we’ve reached a point in history where this behavior is no longer tolerated. Every time you turn on the TV or open a newspaper, you’re confronted with images of protestors, memories and portraits of Floyd, Taylor, and Arbery, and heart wrenching testimonies from family and friends. I’m happy that people are speaking out. We as a society need to be woken up to the realities of the situation and hear about the impact of these killings.
Last Friday, I called my friend Julicia, who runs a great lifestyle blog called The Ainsley Life, for our weekly lunch date. When I got on FaceTime with her, she looked exhausted. “How are you?” I asked. “Not good,” she said. She told me that she was deeply shaken by the murders of Floyd, Taylor, and Arbery. She couldn’t cope with the situation like she usually would by going to walk through local gardens because people always stare at a Black person wearing a mask. Julicia also told me that she was scared to take walks around her neighborhood because Arbery was killed while running through his neighborhood.
Hearing this shook me to my core. As a white woman, I rarely worry about going out in public wearing a mask or taking a walk through my neighborhood. I worry about my safety as a woman, but I don’t have the additional burden of worrying about being attacked because of my skin color. We should not live in a society where this is a concern for anyone.
However, we do live in this society. The first step is acknowledging this difficult truth, and the second step is taking responsibility for it. The third step is educating ourselves so that we can take the fourth and final step — enacting real change. If you think about it, many of us were probably never educated about the realities of race in America in school. I know I wasn’t. I learned just enough to have a basic understanding of Civil Rights and racism, but I didn’t learn about white privilege, brutal killings, hate crimes, and other concepts that rarely make it into history textbooks or classroom discussions. If we haven’t learned about it before, it’s up to us to educate ourselves.
I did research. I told Julicia that I’d already ordered some books to educate myself including “How To Be An Antiracist” and “Stamped from the Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi. After buying these books, I asked her if there was anything else I could do. Julicia asked if I would be willing to do a workbook and recommended “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor” by Layla Saad. I said of course. “Thank you. That means so much to me,” she said. “You don’t have to thank me. This is what everyone should be doing,” I said.
It’s important for white people to do their research and take action first before asking Black friends what they can do. Black friends and coworkers can be one resource, but they can’t be the only resource. Black people are already tired and drained. If a white person does zero research and then comes to their Black coworker or friend and asks “What can I do? What resources are out there? Where should I donate?” – they are putting the entire burden of eradicating racism on their Black friends’ shoulders.
Whether you realize it or not, you need to educate yourself. I’ve seen a lot of messages on social media from white influencers about how doing the work to educate yourself about becoming antiracist makes you depressed, uncomfortable, and exhausted. But put yourself in the shoes of people who have suffered and will suffer from racism for the rest of their life. I did. My suffering is minimal compared to theirs. It’s a privilege getting to learn about racism versus having to experience it firsthand. I should be depressed and uncomfortable to live in a society where racism exists. Everyone needs to move out of their comfort zone. That’s the only way we’ll enact real change.
There are so many ways to help. You can patronize Black-owned businesses in your community. You can have difficult conversations with friends. You can participate in protests. You can respond creatively, because creativity is a powerful tool. You can donate to different causes including Unicorn Riot, a nonprofit news organization that covers social and environmental issues, and the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
You can also watch movies to learn more about racism in America. I recently watched “Just Mercy,” which is free on Amazon right now. It tells the story of Walter McMillian, a Black man wrongly accused of murder in Alabama, and Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard educated Black lawyer who fights to exonerate him from death row. At one point, McMillian tells Stevenson that he doesn’t understand what it’s like to be born guilty. The words stuck with me.
Change will likely happen slowly, and real progress takes time, but we should not sit back and watch it idly. We need to participate, first by listening and then educating ourselves. We should always speak up for what is right. I made a vow to myself to consciously move beyond my privileged perspective and keep my eyes and ears open for injustice. When I see it (not if I see it), I will speak out. I hope you do the same.