Dear White Friends, ‘Not Being Racist’ Isn’t Enough.

I am exhausted. Exhausted from seeing the final, tragic moments of my brothers’ and sisters’ lives plastered across TV screens and computer monitors around the country. Exhausted from living in a country where Black people are seen and treated as the dangerous and provoking enemy despite being on the receiving end of centuries-long genocide and murder at the hands of white people. Exhausted from having to explain to my white friends and colleagues why I seem to “always be talking about race.” Exhausted from carrying the burden of systemic racism on my back, knowing that it will rear its ugly head at some point in my day. Exhausted from the incessant reminders that Black lives should be feared and ended, rather than valued and understood. Exhausted from seeing white people go on about their merry lives while I struggle to feel safe in my skin. Exhausted from living within the confines of an inherently racist country, knowing that there are limitations to my freedom. Exhausted from having to explain why my life matters.

Dear White Friends,

Stop acting like ‘not being racist’ is a badge of honor. Stop patting yourselves on the back for acknowledging the fact that you have privilege. Stop quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and revering the great Rosa Parks if you aren’t standing with Colin Kaepernick and participating in Black Lives Matter movement. Stop being ‘afraid’ to bring up race in your circles of white friends, because you’re ‘afraid’ of what people might say or think about you if you do. Stop justifying your silence and being content in your passivity. Stop making excuses for why the conversation about race doesn’t involve you or isn’t your place to participate. Stop placing the burden on People of  Color to explain systemic racism to you. Stop being surprised at what you see in the news and pretending like the slaughtering of Black bodies hasn’t been happening continuously for the last 400 years in this country.

Start being anti-racist. Start challenging yourself to see the world through the lens that is not your own. Start being a critic of the status quo instead of a participant in it. Start disrupting and challenging the norms you’ve been socialized in, deliberately creating and experiencing discomfort as a result. Start reading, reflecting, and analyzing the racist systems that benefit you so you can identify injustice and speak out against it. Start acknowledging that racism is your battle to fight, as you interact with it more than any other racial group in our country by benefiting from it in every way, everyday.

Stand and speak out on behalf of with Terence Crutcher, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Christian Taylor, Natasha McKenna, and the nearly 140 other Black people who have been killed at the hands of police just this year. 

‘Not being racist’ is passive. It’s the silent observer. It’s not going to ruffle anyone’s feathers or risk saying the wrong thing. It errors on the side of caution. It’s just uncomfortable enough to make you feel like you’re on the right side of the movement. Well I’m here to tell you that it’s not enough. It’s not going to change the realities and disparities that People of Color come face to face with everyday. It’s not going to save the lives of the next Black man or woman who has car trouble or has a taillight that needs to be fixed. It’s not going to protect your Black colleague from experiencing micro-aggressions in your office or being looked over for a promotion. It’s not going to the reverse the centuries of systematic exclusion from the policies that created generational wealth in the white community. It’s not going to repair the trauma that has been inflicted on Black communities and families at the hands of over-policing and mass incarceration. It’s not going to eliminate the bias and injustice that Black and brown children experience in the public schools across the country where over 80% of teachers are white. ‘Not being racist,’ quite, frankly, won’t change anything.

My white friends, I beg of you, I plead with you, to be deliberately, unapologetically, and relentlessly anti-racist. Use the power in your privilege to shift the narrative. Stop relying on People of Color to lead and fight this fight on our own. We need you to feel urgency and responsibility around building anti-racist movements in your communities and in your networks. We need you be proactive and strategic, and willing to change your own realities to transform our country into one that works on behalf of every citizen. We need you to step up to the plate, piss some people off, and rock the boat. If everyone around you is comfortable and at peace, and if no one around you thinks you’ve lost your mind, you aren’t there yet.

You have the green light. What are you going to do with it?

Sincerely,

Alexa Sykes

 

10 thoughts on “Dear White Friends, ‘Not Being Racist’ Isn’t Enough.

  1. Ok, stupid question. How? Sure, I can stand up for someone if they’re being discriminated against. I can educate my friends (as much as they will allow.) But on a day to day basis, what action can I actually take that will help?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Robin, thanks for reading the post and for asking your question – it’s not stupid at all. While I don’t have the perfect answer for you, I will say this: don’t underestimate the impact and power of actively standing up against and calling out discrimination, and definitely don’t underestimate the power of educating and challenging your white friends and family on their implicit biases and learned behaviors when it comes to race. We’ve all been born and socialized in an inherently racist system that we’ve come to learn as the norm. In order to change that norm, we have to disrupt it. We have to call it out like we see it, and unlearn a lot of the behaviors, mindsets and approaches that are deeply engrained in us. Blessings to you as you navigate this road toward racial equity. Keep the questions coming.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If you don’t mind me adding to your great answer, Alexa, I’d like to share with Robin that I’ve been on this journey for about 15 years now and I still struggle with the “how”. Mostly, for me, there was and is a TON of learning to do. The biggest piece to me in being an ally to people of color has been digging into what it actually means to be white, rather than focus on people of color, which easily leads us to savior complex because our brain is so trapped in superiority in a million subtle ways. Although it is also very important to actively learn about the true history of people of color, since that has been erased and lied about to reinforce our belief of cultural dominance and their cultural inferiority. Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States is like a bible in this way and gives white people an opportunity to see our history and the history of many Americans and find new heroes to model ourselves after. The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond has some great resources for learning about what it means to be white, too. Once you start getting into the history of whiteness and the history of how race was constructed and the roll of working white people in that history (still being played out today), it is much easier to take a position next to people of color in solidarity, because you have firm grounding in who you are and what you’re really fighting for- the liberation of everyone, including you. I’ll also add a second big piece is getting VERY comfortable with being uncomfortable. Once you start learning stuff and trying to engage with people, you are going to feel a range of uncomfortable feelings- anger, frustration, stupidity, humiliation. All that great stuff. Get used to feeling that and know it means you are on the right track- moving out of the numbness and detachment we are trained to live in, and feeling the deep pain inherent in this system, is part of reclaiming our humanity.

        Like

      2. Alexa – this is exactly what I needed to hear. In November my church is planning on having discussions regarding white privilege, which will include tips on how to be an ally in working toward racial justice. The material is found at http://privilege.uccpages.org/. Perhaps you may find it useful. The points you share here should be very helpful in adding insight to our conversations. Thanks so much for this!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m sorry, but as a black person, I feel no one owes you or I anything just as we don’t owe anyone anything. My white friends don’t owe me ‘non-passivity’ and this idea that every white person owes black people some sort of active participation is false, wrong, and dangerous. This plays back, in a very snakish fashion, into the idea of the ‘white savior’. Why are you literally ‘pleading’ with the white man to change your condition? This is a low-key sort of inferiority complex that has to end. You want to make a change? Do what the Jews did to basically reduce anti-semitism to rubble. Infiltrate the places of power: Government, media, financial sectors, etc. Run for mayor or congressional senate. Work the hardest at your job as you can with one goal in mind: Get to the top. Start a business with the aim of making it the biggest in the world. Currently, there are really no real concrete racist laws that protesting can change. The only racism left is behavioral, and marching in the streets will not change the mind of those judges, or execs or politicians who are secretly racist, neither will ‘begging’ your white friends. It will only do one thing: reinforce to white people that they are superior to you, since you spend all day every day saying that to them, and this is achieved by finding the smallest reason to prove that to yourself. I feel what is happening right now is that white people are beginning to get fed-up with some of these antics (hence the rise of Trump) since they feel black people have as much rights in the US as them, yet they seem to be asking for special treatment and calling everything ‘white privilege’ and ‘racist’. This is a dangerous slope to get to if we keep going this direction of putting all our burdens on the white man’s back.

    Like

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I truly appreciate them. To clarify a few things that you mentioned, I do not feel that it is the sole responsibility of anyone – white or Black – to move our country forward and to change the status quo that we are operating in. However, from the lens of the systemic nature of race and privilege, it is critical for white people to understand the inherent power that their whiteness yields in our country by default, and that in order to change the system that was creating to benefit them specifically, it will take a conscious and concerted effort to disrupt it in order for it to change.

      This does not excuse us or lighten our burden. This does not remove us from the equation or make us beggers. It only broadens and strengthens the movement because white people are actively engaging in it as well.

      Finally, the intended audience of this letter is to my white friends and allies. It is not to Trump supports or vehement racists. It is not intended to change the mindsets of white supremacists. It is intended for the white people in my social and professional circles who want to do the right thing, somewhere deep inside, but may not even be aware of how to do so. It is for the folks who mean well, but need to understand that their passivity and silence makes them complicit in the status quo.

      Just like the Civil Rights Movement could not have amounted to the transformative outcomes that it yielded without white people stepping in and marching alongside of us, it is a dangerous precedent to approach our current movement in silos. We have to fight to dismantle systemic racism together, and I am not ashamed of that. Acknowledging the impact and influence of white people in a system that they created and that continues to operate on their behalf doesn’t make me weak, it makes me aware.

      Blessings to you.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s