How many times does Lester Holt have to tell me this? Each and every night. Another black man was shot and killed, this time in my hometown last Friday night. His crimes were passing out in his car from drinking too much alcohol and holding up a Wendy’s drive-thru line, then resisting arrest and stealing a policeman’s taser, and running away with said taser and shooting over his shoulder with it at officers in pursuit. Whatever the color of your skin, it’s just not smart to steal a cop’s taser and attempt to flee the scene. Nor is using deadly force when pursuing a suspect whose back is to you and who has only a taser compared to your gun. Yet now, a black man is dead, shot in the back, twice. Once again, a community grieves with a black family, this one with three children, including a sweet 8-year-old girl I saw on tv standing next to her widowed mama, tears rolling down her cheek.
Social media is blowing up with opinions, personal accounts and proclamations. Black boxes are now profile pics, Black Lives Matter our cover photos, and we are sharing #Lovingday photos and stories too. Those galling All Lives Matter posts even crop up now and then, and today I even saw a White Lives Matter post. No likes there. Over these last few weeks I’ve considered replacing my profile picture with a black box, but technologically ignorant, I don’t know how. Besides, adding the graduating senior frame around my profile pic was its own feat, and I suppose selfishly I wanted to relish this milestone – my son’s high school graduation and my little bit of technology know-how a little longer. Meanwhile, the real question looms… what am I learning or doing in real life to trample my own racism?
Should we first educate ourselves with white-approved black books and movies so we whites are better poised to voice an appreciation for the black struggle? Is this voice actually for blacks or are we trying to impress or maybe even convert our racist white brothers and sisters as we convert our own selves? Some are posting movies others have been watching – i.e., The Help – and criticizing their baseless choices, redirecting them to more suitable, on point films for these times. It was a white girl who penned this story turned movie who grew up in a family with “help”, and I believe she wanted to cast a light on the plight and fight of maids in the south in the 60s, a mere sliver of the shit pie so many blacks have had to feed on for far too long. Many, including one of the movie’s own actors, who expressed regret in taking part in this project because she felt it portrayed black struggles through an inauthentic white lens.
What am I learning or doing in real life to trample my own racism?
If one could only gain access to “the list”, the right movies or books could be the catalyst for immediate understanding and empathy, the anti-racist Cliffs Notes, bringing forth a genuine laser focused, potentially spiking and then petering out, finite effort. In addition to learning about black history, some whites are asking if they should now greet black people with their own white balled fist held high in solidarity with Black Power. From the responses I’ve seen, that greeting is reserved for black people and whites best go figure out something else.
I am not consuming black literature at an alarming rate; I’m not consuming it at all. I don’t know if many of the businesses I support are part or fully or not at all black-owned, yet I say to myself I’m in favor of supporting them. And truthfully, I am. Yet I remain ignorant in the many ways I can help. I suppose this makes me part of the problem. But I am beginning to ask questions and open my eyes. I am trying to start somewhere, not out of guilt but out of an intrinsic duty to bridge this gap I’ve felt and seen that’s been between us all this time. I want so much to say I’m sorry for all you are feeling, and I want to help carry the burden until it is no longer there, until there is real change, change that sticks. How and where and to whom can I say this?
True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe
Seems we are all so afraid of what to say or not to say, and for good reason. It is astounding, shameful and egregious what is now happening, what we are all privy to that has been happening for years. Each of us has a response within us but have we perhaps become stuck in a damned if we do, damned if we don’t conundrum? Hello? How do you think blacks feel? Political correctness, social media and other influencers urge us to speak up, but we’d better do it the right way, or even worse, our noticeable silence will signal our complicity. We speak up, but do it wrong and get pounced on, so back into our shell we go. We go to a protest carrying thoughtfully made signs, bearing words we hope will make a difference, inspire someone, change black minds about us and white minds about blacks, convey that we understand, want to do better. But some are inclined to write this off as shallowness and remind us that signs alone aren’t enough (we already know they’re not). Those among us who truly understand blacks, these whites who are enlightening us, don’t need the crutch our sign affords us. They have been walking the walk with white balled fists held high for years, long before we decided to join the trend. Is it now a closed club we’re too late to join? Whites judging whites on supporting blacks. Surely this can’t be helping. How many black people for how many years have felt judgement weighing down on their own backs?
My potential is more than can be expressed within the bounds of my race or ethnic identity. -Arthur Ashe
While some of us are in the wings figuring it out, could it be we are missing the obvious opportunities before us? I realize our whiteness largely renders us unable to even begin to understand someone’s blackness. Is this even what blacks need from us right now, to get inside their skin and feel what they have been feeling for so long? Could it be simple civility they’re seeking, or could we achieve a deeper alliance even, such as understanding or friendship or both? Instead of figuring out how we should now greet blacks we pass on the street, how about for starters we just greet them, doing what is decent, the same you’d do if you passed a stranger? Wait, you are passing a stranger, only now their skin color – plus a heaping serving of our own white shame – intimidates us, rendering us unable to do much of anything. Do we face them or for the sake of Covid-19, cross the street? Was that simply a healthy decision or was that uneasiness and cowardice that perhaps came across as racism?
I don’t know how to explain it, this kindness I am envisioning as two humans pass on the sidewalk, much as I can’t tell you exactly how it is one falls asleep. You lie there still and somewhere between, say, ten and forty minutes you close your eyes and voila! You’re asleep. Such it is with greetings. You make eye contact, smile or wave or say hello, all or a few of these and in no particular order. For purposes of the pandemic, let’s assume on these walks and in most any public places where we can closely encounter other people we all are wearing masks. Please tell me we all are, aren’t we? Realize you CAN smile behind your mask and someone WILL see it and feel it. It takes a bigger, more deliberate smile, but you can do it, and you don’t need permission to do it the “right” way. Also, you can still wave like you always have been able to, too. We all are in our own way scared. I’ve seen too many posts with queries along these lines. These people you’re wondering how to greet, or hug or avoid or love these days are still the same as you are, the same as they’ve always been, pandemic or no pandemic, protest or no protest: they are still HUMANS. We don’t need to enroll in a class to learn or relearn civility, kindness, fairness and friendliness, or develop some proper strain to which blacks best respond.
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. -Arthur Ashe
I know it is not enough to stick a sign in my yard or go to a protest or feel the same I can’t unsee this video horror we all do as we learn about yet another casualty of this trigger-happy society of which we’re all a part. But what can we do to do more? My instinct tells me I need to talk to black people – neighbors, friends, essential workers, for starts. Who better to learn from about what they need, what they are feeling and have felt? Yet is that frowned upon? Is it rude to go straight to the living and breathing source, the receiving end of such anguish, discrimination and exclusion and reach out from our place of white privilege to share, listen and hopefully learn and make things better for black people? Will this unchartered display of whites crossing boundaries to reach out to blacks appear as flagrant boldness or insincere back peddling? Is it better to remain in the wings with Renee’s or Oprah’s book club BLM pick in hand and glean what you can before determining you’ve consumed enough and are now eligible to step up and speak to your fellow black humans?
While I don’t necessarily want to go interviewing my black friends now, I do know I can and want to learn from them. I haven’t spoken to several in years what with changing work, family and geography now between us, and I’ll admit the self-consciousness I carry worries that I’ll look disingenuous if I reach out now. Besides, even if I could understand, would I make a difference? Would black people help me help them? Would they welcome these questions and want to share their ideas for solutions? I want to help in the healing.
They say start with kind. I consider myself kind. So what and now what? Black people are still getting killed left and right, missing out on their God-given right to chances they deserve. What can I do about that? Is my trying to understand it helping at all? Do blacks want or need to vent to whites? What about poor, hungry or homeless whites, those who can’t hire blacks or support their businesses? What can those whites do? Can they make a difference? Absolutely. I believe we all can. Black lives matter and I think blacks need to not only hear us say they matter; they need to feel it too. It doesn’t have to be perfect or rehearsed or white- or black-vetted, but it does needs to be honest, understanding and come from the heart. There’s no time like the present.