My news feed has been dominated the past two days with tributes and shock at the lynching of Mr. Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia in February. Violence against black people is not new––as Ta-Nahisi Coates said, only the cameras are new. And it’s hyper local. In the past week one of my black friends had her six-year-old daughter called the N- word by a neighbor. Another black friend was followed by a police officer as she drove through a predominantly white town as she visited two different friends’ homes. Ask any black or person of color you know––violent, racist experiences are a daily occurrence. And the response of us, white people, is almost always silence.
The Rev. Dr. King’s admonition to the white church leaders in Birmingham, Alabama in April 1963 has never been more true:
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”Excerpt from “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As the news about the lynching of Mr. Arbery has flooded our feeds in the past two days, I see and hear my white siblings and friends expressing shock, dismay and outrage. The phrase, “There are no words” keeps coming up. A commitment to prayer is frequently intoned. Placing our white selves in the position of Mr. Arbery’s black embodied experience happens again and again––“I remember a time I felt unsafe running around the block.”
White friends, I am glad you are outraged. I am glad you are thinking about what our black siblings and friends face. It’s about time that we use our imaginations to just begin to touch on the racial terror that is life in the United States in 2020.
But it’s not enough.
Outrage is not enough
Outrage without action is simply the white moderate being the greatest stumbling block to true freedom and equity in this country. Outrage is not enough.
You may be asking, “Well, what, then, do I do? I can’t go around talking about racism all the time. I’ve shared this Facebook post, isn’t that enough? This problem is too big for me to solve on my own so I’ll focus on teaching my children how to love everyone.”
Friends, our good intentions are not enough. Our paralysis is not enough. Our focus on our own homes, our own families, our own neighborhoods, even, is not enough.
The time has come for us, without hesitation or restraint, to clearly and plainly admit: I benefit daily from white supremacy. My inaction is part of the problem. My commitment to the privilege I find in my whiteness kills black, indigineous and people of color. And now, enough is enough.
The most urgent work of our time as white people is to dismantle white supremacy and fully embrace a life of anti-racism. This work goes beyond words, platitudes and friendships. It involves a wholesale examination of our entire lives: how we spend our money, where we shop, who we read, where we live, how we educate our children, what media we consume. If we want to honor Mr. Arbery (and the simplest way to start is by referring to him using his honorific; only his family and friends should use his first name), we must do more than reshare images and posts. We must say enough is enough. And then do something about it.
What we can do about it
You may be asking, “So what do I do?” Here are a few ways to begin your journey of anti-racism, ways that I work on every day.
1. Contribute to his family’s relief and legal fund
A GoFundMe has been set up to help cover the costs of relief and legal fees for Mr. Arbery’s family. Continue to say Mr. Arbery’s name, share his image, and tell his story.
2. Get used to being uncomfortable
Being uncomfortable is part of the process. You will feel many things – shame, guilt, fear, anxiety, exhaustion, grief. Do not let the discomfort stop your journey. Stay in it. Acknowledge it. You will mess up, insult others, say and do harmful things, and fall short. Take responsibility, offer a clear apology, and keep going.
3. Educate yourself on white privilege and anti-racism
As white people, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on white privilege and anti-racism––not the work of our friends who may be black, indigenous or people of color.
Listen to podcasts, read books, find online forums for white people wanting to dismantle white supremacy. If you’re a reader, The New York Times Antiracist Reading List is a great place to start. One podcast that I have learned a lot from is Seeing White from Scene on Radio. Here’s a list of resources that can be accessed for free.
Attend the Racial Equity Institute when it’s held in a town near you. In Charleston, it’s hosted regularly by the YWCA of Greater Charleston. I had the opportunity to attend the institute with some of the folx from our staff team a little over a year ago. The course is comprehensive, thorough, and painful at times. It gave us a foundation as an organization to pursue anti-racism in deep ways.
Our church is hosting an online book club on “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness” by Austin Channing Brown. If you want to join the book club, you can sign up on our website here.
4. Consume media that elevates the voices of black, indigenous and people of color
Diversify your media content. Commit to reading books by black authors. Listen to podcasts by black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). Go right now and add 50 black or people of color to your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Watch shows that are directed by BIPOC. Break out of our white, dominant culture shell. Listen. Don’t debate the new people you follow. Listen, learn, absorb.
5. Put your money where your mouth is
Change how and where you spend your money. Commit to spending as much of your money as possible in black, indigenous and people of color owned businesses.
Don’t know if your favorite spots are BIPOC owned? Ask.
Think about where you do your banking, grocery shopping, eating out, clothing shopping. How can you shift your everyday spending to black-owned businesses?
If you live in Charleston, here’s a listing of Black/POC/Woman/LGBTQIA+ Business in Charleston. If you know of a business that should be added to the listing, send me an email at email@example.com and we’ll get it added as soon as possible.
6. Speak out
The most difficult action is the one you will do every single day in a journey of anti-racism: speak out.
Every time a coworker makes a racist joke, call them out.
When your family member uses a racial stereotype, correct them.
When your Facebook friend shares a racist meme, post a rebuttal.
When you act or talk or think out of white supremacy, name it out loud. Every time.
If invited––and only if invited––be physically present when black communities and communities of color have rallies or gatherings to use the presence of your white bodied privilege as a shield.
Your friends will be annoyed by you. Your family will ask what’s gotten in to you. Your coworkers will start watching their language around you. It will be uncomfortable. It will be tense at times. We must keep doing it. It’s the only way to save black lives.
Friends, we can do this work. We don’t have any other choice. The blood of murdered and lynched black people is on our hands. Our friends need us. I believe in you. I believe in us.
Let’s change the world together.