I did not realize I was on a journey until it became more of a mission. This happened just a few short years ago. I don't remember the day, the time, the moment. I do remember being scared to speak out, scared to questioning my white friends, my white colleagues at work. I did not make it clear where I stood as it relates to race. I heard a racist joke and made a sort of attempt at a laugh, although I felt it was not funny. I listened to colleagues, friends, and family members say things about "them" and just sort of nodded my head, avoiding conflict. That was me, that is where I would say 99% of white people are/or have been. No research to back up that, just a gut feeling.
I don't know how or where I learned to check my bias. I don't know how or where I began to make sure I did not say racist things. I was never taught not to be a racist, I was never taught anything about race or how to think of other races. I saw things, I experienced things, but I was never asked how I felt, or given the opportunity to ask questions growing up. I regret this, but this is my white privilege.
I have had experiences in life and friends in life that have shown me and guided me in a direction against being a racist, but for 30+ years of my life I would consider myself a non-racist. I am currently 41 years old. A non-racist person to me is someone who understands their biases, makes attempts to treat everyone kindly, but when push comes to shove, does not say anything against racism in most situations, unless it is impacting someone they care about.
I remember the first time I said something to a white friend about their racist remarks. It was in high school, they were talking about one of my basketball teammates. I had to stand up, my white friend did not get it, as I knew my teammate and black friend's story. I immediately did not associate with that white friend again on the same level ever. It was awkward. When we were in the same spaces I saw him differently, and I think he saw me differently too, although we never spoke about it. Fast forward 25 more years, and I don't know that I said anything to any other white person about racism until about 4-5 years ago. Why not....? I think I was scared... That is not okay.
I ask myself why? In 25ish years, I am sure there were jokes, I am sure there were comments. I am sure there were feelings I wanted to share. I don't like to admit I was scared, I know it takes courage to speak up, but that has never been my problem, at least I thought. I think I just settled in my privilege of not having to say anything. I could always "move on" as it really never affected me. Keep it safe, stay in my lane, others would do that work, I did not have to. Besides I was a teacher, an admin, working with children of color. I was doing to work, did I have to speak up too?! I compared myself to the accountant friend that literally did nothing of this work, who work with white people and numbers all day.
There was always a feeling, many feelings, there was always a "I am in this position for a reason. I chose this, now what am I doing with it" other than my day to day job...
So I want this writing to give permission to white people, especially white males in power positions to be able to say something. At the same time I want to admit that for the majority of my life, I did not say anything. I am not going to call myself a coward, but probably should, although I know a little of my white fragility played a role in that. As I stated earlier, I really don't know what it was that prevented me from me from speaking up. If I had to settle on 1 word to describe my cowardliness it would be comfort. I am comfortable being white, and I did not want to lose that.
I never thought of myself as white before.
I never defined myself as white.
I never recognized what I got because I was white.
I never realized being white, starts you half-way through the race of life.
I always thought I had to work hard.
I always thought I had a struggle.
I always thought my accomplishments were earned by my efforts.
I always thought my accomplishments and successes were earned on the time spent.
I still think that, I still know I performed when I needed, because of the struggle and intention I put in, but I now also recognize I am white. That was the single most changing event in my journey. I am white, I am not ashamed of it, I do not apologize for it, but I am white.
What do I do with my "whiteness"?
That is now the question that drives me? That is now what I say to myself when I hear a comment. I literally say this in my head, because it is not instinct yet,
"what can my whiteness do to speak up, correct, or change the course of this event?"
I have said things in public, I have said things with friends, I have spoken to colleagues, I am developing a Spiderman sense of my surroundings so that I can use my whiteness to interject. I think people of color have always had this power. They know when the comment, the look, the attitude was just not right. I HAVE ALSO ALWAYS KNOWN IT, but I never activated it until recently.
It is definitely activated, running, and certainly liberating.
So here is the next part white people. Turn on your sensor, make sure you are aware of your surroundings and then ask questions.
Why do you feel that way?
What do you mean by that?
Why do you think _____ is ____?
Then you need to be prepared.... So here is the work. Here is a clip to watch and some books to read. Because you need to have talking points, if you are going to ask questions.
In particular, go to minute 22, and listen. Wait for it, research, data, census, by minute 27, you get it. 4 minutes to change your outlook. There are millions of other examples, literally millions.
I think at this point, you are ready, and needed in this work.
People of color can't do the work for white people. People of color are there to guide us, help us, and answer our questions. This is our work.
This is not something to do, but something we have to be. We have to be a society that does this work. It is generational and has to be repeated over and over. I don't believe we are ever going to not have racism, but we can move to a place where we have less racism and working every day to have less and less.
I finish with this. Certainly take it and use it. But there are 5 main points I want to make sure are understood.
- Understand your "whiteness" it is okay to admit what this means to you. Accept it and don't be afraid to ask questions because you think you are going to be called a racist.
- Do some research and reading about the history of race in our country.
- Say something, be ready to lose friends, but it is so liberating, it was for me. I have never felt so alive and true to myself as I do now with my Spider sense on high alert.
- Give yourself some forgiveness. There will be and are still moments for me where I regret not speaking up, but get them next time.
- I still say racially insensitive things. I still say a chauvinistic thing here and there. I am still human. I just need to be ready to be called out as well, as intentions are important.
You are educators, we have to do this, this is not a choice. Please join me.