In 2012, I worked at Stetson University in Deland, Florida. Deland is just outside of Orlando, which is where I built a home and a community for myself. To get from one place to the other, though, I would drive through a small town called Sanford. In February of that year, a boy named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, while walking home from the 7-11 convenient store with a drink and a bag of skittles.
I will never forget being at the protest rally in Sanford shortly after that with a group of my students and colleagues, listening to speakers like Rev. Al Sharpton and trying to imagine how this injustice could have happened to a boy in our community. I had actually only came out as a gay man two months earlier and was still trying to adjust to the loss of family and friendships that had accompanied that coming out. It seemed like there was just so much darkness in the world all around me.
But not at that rally. Everyone was fired up. They were angry and they were devastated, but perhaps most surprising to me was that they were joyful, too. This was not a sorrowful event. This was an empowering, motivating, and mobilizing event. I left that rally committed more deeply to racial justice than I had ever previously been. My own privilege had allowed me to go far too long without really reckoning with the ways I had benefited from and perpetuated elements of White supremacy. I now knew there was no such thing as neutrality. I now knew that silence was only another form of violence, and that “neutral” stances only ever help the oppressor.
Black lives matter. All lives cannot matter until Black lives matter, too. Black lives cannot matter until ALL Black lives matter. Black Trans lives matter. Black Queer lives matter. Black Hope/ Love/ Health/ Art/ Resilience/ Joy …all of these things matter. In a world that repeatedly tries to convince us they do not.
You may not want to think or talk about this right now. It’s emotionally exhausting, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic. I get it. However, here is one very important thing for us to recognize: opting out of this conversation is a function of privilege. Deciding it’s too difficult or too overwhelming or too emotionally taxing are all opt-out options only available to those of us who are White and have the privilege of choosing our level of involvement.
Black folx in America have always fought back and advocated for themselves, and we are now seeing a bold new generation of that movement unfold before our eyes yet again. But it is us White folx who most need to do the work to understand and dismantle the elements of White supremacy ingrained so deeply in each of us that we likely didn’t even know it was there. As Ibram X. Kendi says, it is on us to not just be “non-racist” (which only requires that we don’t do racist things) but to become “anti-racist” (which requires we actively work to dismantle racism in our daily lives).
If you are White like me, you probably have plenty of things to be worried about right now. No one is saying we don’t or that our lives have always been easy. Whatever we may be going through in this difficult time, though, (health concerns, job loss, isolation, etc.) we don’t then also have to manage an additional layer of fear about the people and systems that continue to communicate to the world that our lives are expendable. That, because of the color of our skin, our lives are somehow less worthy of protection, love, and trust. And then on top of all that, judges us for the ways we tried to protect ourselves and disrupt the oppression we were facing.
I worry for the people of color in my life (and everywhere) and particularly for those who are Black in America. I worry because I love them. I worry because I feel helpless to fix something so big and so broken. My own worry, though, cannot even come close to what I would likely feel if I knew for myself what it is like to be Black in this country. So, instead, I need to listen to and center the lives and voices of those who do know. Those who get it on an even greater level. And then I need to do the work that’s necessary. Here are some resources that have helped me and continue to help me to do that work:
I’d like to highlight a few of the above recommendations in particular:
- How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. This is the most recent book I’ve read on the topic, and Kendi is also very active on social media. I’ve had the pleasure of joining multiple Zoom “teach-ins” with him lately, and he also has a new children’s book called Antiracist Baby. He is one of the primary voices I am listening to and learning from at this time.
- White Like Me by Tim Wise. In 2010, this book most helped me begin to understand my own areas of privilege. I was gay, grew up poor, and had many other reasons for thinking I couldn’t possibly have been privileged. A graduate course with Dr. D-L Stewart at Bowling Green State University turned my world upside down with this book, though. This is also something I discussed in a 2014 blog post about how I was understanding privilege at that time, which you can view here.
- Intersectionality Matters Podcast with Kimberle’ Crenshaw. Have you ever heard the term intersectionality? Well, she’s the one who coined the term! I highly recommend reading or listening to anything and everything you can find by her. Including this TED Talk.
- White Fragility by Robin Diangelo. If examining your own whiteness isn’t painful, then you haven’t gone deep enough yet. This book challenged me and motivated me. I highly recommend it.
- All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson. This isn’t a How-To for dismantling racism. It’s a personal narrative of a Black Queer child, and it is truly one of the best books I have ever read. As a gay man whose childhood femininity was suffocated out by the masculinity I was told to embody, I felt so much of his story deep inside my bones. I think everyone should read this.
- Nice White Parents podcast from the creators of Serial. If you are a white parent, please listen to this new podcast by the NYT. There are some real tangible things you can do to help your children as well as the children of color in your local school. Spoiler alert: it involves relinquishing some of your power. This show is very well done.
And here is a link to NATIONAL RESOURCES FOR BLACK LIVES, including mental health resources, bail funds, and other books and resources for racial justice.