Dear white people,
We are in week five of nationwide civil unrest since the murder of George Floyd.
As a 29 year old white woman, I am simultaneously ignited with hope and reeling with dismay after witnessing reactions from fellow white folks. I am hopeful because of the sheer number of white bodies I’ve marched alongside. Yet I am disturbed by those who continue to dig their heels in the ground while proclaiming “all lives matter” and those who deny the palpable problem of systemic racism as well as those who don’t believe in the need for police reform. Our society is upended.
Recently, Trevor Noah described society as a contract that we enter either spoken or unspoken as human-beings where we agree to common rules, common ideals and common practices. Noah said the contract is only as strong as the people who are abiding by it. As white people, we are not upholding our end of the contract to Black people. For centuries, we’ve contributed to and allowed systemic racism. We’ve watched as police brutalized Black bodies. And now, we’ve even managed to make racial injustices against Black people about us.
It’s time for us to talk about some of the problematic responses white people have had.
When white people hear Black Lives Matter they say “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter”. White people are unable to selflessly grasp the concept of why we need to focus on Black lives. Black people are more than 2.5 times likely to be killed by a police officer than a white person.
White people get uncomfortable when brands or public figures take a stance and join the Black Lives Matter movement. They complain and say “stop getting political” or “stick to what you know” because “I don’t follow you for this kind of content”. Can you imagine the discomfort of over 400 years of oppression?
White people deflect conversations about police brutality against Black people by asking “What about Black-on-Black crime?”
White people avoid conversations about Black slavery in America by bringing up Irish “slavery” (they were indentured servants).
White people tell Black people to “get over it” as if those words can erase the deeply-rooted oppression and brutality that has enveloped Black lives since the early 1500s when they were first captured.
White people fail to realize when slavery ended Black people were not immediately elevated to the same playing field as whites. History shows our own government would continue to implement policies to deny opportunities to Black people from the Homestead Act to Jim Crow laws. White people are unable to see the generational trauma inflicted upon Black families as a result of centuries of their mistreatment.
White peoples’ denial of systemic racism is a contributor in allowing it to continue; to those who have been silent, you are also complicit with the side of the oppressor.
So where do we go from here?
First, we ask you to understand when we chant “Black Lives Matter” that we are demanding society to recognize and elevate Black people as equals in humanity.
Next, the steps we need to take as white people will be endeavoring and uncomfortable work without instant gratification. Dismantling systemic racism starts with us as individuals. We must look inside ourselves and challenge any prejudices we hold. We can no longer brush off our racist relative(s) at family get-togethers. It’s time (really it’s been time and a lot of us are very late) to have hard conversations with ourselves, our family, our friends and coworkers. We may estrange some of these people, but it’s vital to speak up and out. We must show up at the voting polls and hold candidates accountable when they vow to implement change for our Black community. We need to push for legislation that no longer allows police to kill with impunity. The work won’t end there, but all this is part of us upholding our end of the societal contract.
Remember when you join this movement as a white person, it’s likely you will make a mistake along the way. It’s vital to acknowledge we don’t know racism or Black experiences first-hand so we must be able to take corrections from Black people.
We are glad to have you, but we have a lot of work to do so it’s time to buckle in for the long haul.
Written by Chloe Lansing