About a year ago, I purged all social media apps from my phone in order to curb my mindless scrolling through Facebook and Twitter. Like many people my age, I do not have a cable subscription. I do not watch the news every day and, while I have three newspaper subscriptions on my phone, I have taken to skimming or ignoring the notifications on my phone for my own mental health. Most of my news comes to me a few days to a week late from a handful of podcasts I listen to every week.
All of this to say, I was a little behind the curve when it came to learning about George Floyd’s death. Which is a small part of why this blog post is only going up now, far too many weeks after his murder. The other part, the larger part, was fear and discomfort. I am a straight, white, cis-woman. I did not want to be one of those white people putting out another blog post talking about something that I do not understand like I know everything. I wanted to take some time to listen and learn more before I opened my privileged mouth and said something. I am still learning how to be the best ally and advocate for black people and I am sure I will need to keep educating myself every day until I die.
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Tony McDade, Sean Reed, Yassin Mohamed, and the countless others whose lives have been taken from them should all be with us today. We have to stop murdering black people. We as a country, we as every state in this country, every county, every city and town. We have to stop. We, as white people, need to stop the murdering and killing of black people that we perpetuate every day.
I grew up in a small, rural town that was majority white and Christian. I didn’t have any idea how ignorant I was until I went to college, and, even then, my enlightenment was pretty limited. I was one of those white people who didn’t “see” race. If I didn’t like you, it was because of your attitude or actions, not your skin color. I had no conception of how hard it must have been for any of the kids in my school who were Latinx, Asian, or black, and possibly the only person who looked like them in their grade or, at times, the whole school. It simply did not register.
And I thought myself to be very open and knowledgeable. In high school, I was part of a “Community Wide Dialogue” to end racism. I was actually part of the pilot program and was being taught to be one of the facilitators for the first cohort. Our little all-white group of facilitators-to-be would get in a van and be driven into the nearest big city (“big” being very relative) to learn with the inner city school’s facilitators-to-be. I truly feel bad for our instructors. At that age I thought I was so fucking smart, but had no idea how little I knew. I have foggy memories at best about what we learned in history class, but at the same time I was a straight-A, know-it-all who paid attention in class, and got mad when people interrupted class for stupid reasons. But for all those brains I could not fathom why black people needed Affirmative Action and why they “couldn’t just let slavery go” because “it had been so long ago.”
I was ignorant and I am sure I hurt people in that ignorance without even realizing it. I am truly sorry.
In college I got a little bit better, but not by much. I did not seek out any classes that expanded my understanding of race because it wasn’t something I was interested in. I figured I had already learned enough from what I had done in high school, and it always made me feel uncomfortable to learn or talk about race so I just avoided it. It also didn’t help that I had won a scholarship to the university I attended by writing a horribly ignorant essay about illegal immigration (it doesn’t help, but at least I only won anything because I followed all the directions, not because the essay and my idea had any merit).
My sophomore year of undergrad was the first time anything even started to get through. I took an English class that was required for my major. This class was meant to teach all of the different theories or “lenses” one could read and interpret fiction through. When we reached race theory we were assigned some articles that broke down race and racism in America. I was stunned by what I learned, horrified at how ignorant I had been as a facilitator during that “Community Wide Dialogue” and also betrayed that none of this history had been taught to me in high school.
Unfortunately, the epiphany didn’t stick. I quickly fell back into taking classes on what I loved and found interesting instead of what challenged me and made me a better person. I have, for the most part, continued in that fashion. I have been the white moderate in whom Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gravely disappointed.
I know that this blog post is not enough and that it is beyond late. There are many excuses I could give, but that is all they would be – excuses. I wrote this blog post because it made me feel uncomfortable, because it challenged me to look at who I am right now and know that I should have been doing this work over a decade ago. That if I had had the courage to look at the things that scared me and made me uncomfortable, I would have been able to live a decade as a real advocate for equality and equity. I wrote this post because often we, as white people, like to become allies without scrutinizing who we were and who we are now. I cannot control where I was born, my education for the first seventeen years of my life, and the beliefs that my society impressed upon me, but I can admit that I was lazy and ignorant for thirteen years and I can work to change that now.
My plan is to first give myself the education I avoided in undergrad so that I can work hard to be someone the black community might consider an ally or advocate. I start with education because many smart black people have been telling white people to pick up books written by black people and educate themselves for a long time.
I end with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”