I cannot find the words, but I’m going to try.
How can I possibly find words, or the “right words” to express the outrage, heartbreak and shame I’m feeling over the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and now George Floyd? I’ll never have enough words, or the right words, to explain how embarrassed I am by the fellow white woman in Central Park that wittingly put Christian Cooper’s life on the line by weaponizing NYPD against him for his blackness. There are no words to adequately honor or acknowledge the senseless and countless deaths of black men and women at the hands of white people and police that preceded them either. No words will ever be able to breathe life back into any of their bodies and return them to their families. Partners, children and parents will live with the longing to hold them, hug them and hear their voices again.
Instead, I’m writing these words.
These imperfect, inadequate, not enough words to say I will not be silent on the topic of race, racism and injustice. I don’t want to get this wrong. The things that make white people feel uncomfortable need to be said- not only by people of color, but by other white people like me. The violence against black people and other people of color needs to stop.
I want to vote politicians into office who will enact policy to protect black and brown lives. We need leaders who lift up black and brown voices. Our leaders should elevate and surround themselves with people of color. We should have no choice but to listen and respond. I want leaders who ARE people of color with black and brown skin that look nothing like me. Mostly though, I want the black and brown children being raised by my friends, growing up in my neighborhood, my city and our country to LIVE.
I cannot bear the thought of any of these children one day being murdered by a cop who presses his knee into their neck for 8 minutes while they slowly lose consciousness and cry out for their mother with their final breaths like George Floyd. I can’t shake the sounds of a mother’s cries as she learns her black son was hunted by white men as he went for a jog simply because he looked like he didn’t belong like Wanda Cooper, the mother of Ahmaud Arbery. It’s impossible for me to imagine what it felt like for Kenneth Walker to wake up to his home being stormed by police officers, guns drawn and spraying bullets into the body of his girlfriend, Breonna Taylor as she lied sleeping in her bed. These are cruel, brutal and inhumane ways to die and the perpetrators of these acts need to be held accountable to the fullest extent possible under the law.
No justice, No Peace.
Unfortunately, our justice system birthed in a nation that was founded and literally built on the backs of enslaved black people is broken. The idea that justice can be applied fairly and equitably without bias has never been reality. I don’t know what the answer is or how to solve all of those problems (or any of these really) but I know I cannot be silent when it comes to speaking out against racism. As a mother, as a friend, as a colleague and as a counselor, I cannot sit by and say nothing, do nothing.
White people are asking for peace in the streets of Minneapolis. Black people have been asking for, begging for and dying for peace for centuries. Sometimes the only way to rebuild something that’s broken is to burn it down and start over.
White people are asking black people to stop protesting loudly, to sit down and be patient. To let the criminal justice system do it’s job and allow it to deliver justice. Black people are tired of waiting for justice that rarely comes. Black people continuously try to protest peacefully and quietly only to be met with accusations that they’re disrespectful and unpatriotic. You might recall some players kneeling silently on the sidelines of NFL games in recent seasons. They were peacefully drawing attention to police brutality against black people. Justice will never be served and lasting change will never come as long as the only protests that are acceptable to white people are ones that we can easily ignore in exchange for maintaining the status quo.
Black Lives Matter.
White people are asking for people to have mercy on Central Park’s Amy Cooper, the police offers and retired officers involved in deaths of black people who were murdered. My hunch is white people empathize with these individuals because they can imagine themselves having done or said similar things to protect the power they feel entitled to. It’s white people who chant “all lives matter” in response to the cries and calls that “Black Lives Matter.”
White people- if all lives truly matter to you- to us- we need to recognize and reject racism. We need to acknowledge our shared history, our complicity and our silence and begin to speak up. We need to use the same privileges and power that allows white people with guns to storm state capitals and come toe to toe with police officers without fear for our own lives, to fight and push for radical systemic change with regards to racial injustice in our country.
I want my children to grow into adults who recognize their own privilege. I want them to learn to use it in a way that propels others forward. We (white people) are the ones who need to SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, and LISTEN. And we need to hear what people of color are telling us. We need to do our own work to address our own inner biases and racist thoughts and beliefs. We need to challenge those beliefs, correct them and then get to work.
It’s my hope, prayer and plea that we will see a day where children with black and brown skin grow into adults who can go for a jog, go birdwatching in Central Park, go to work and go to bed unafraid and with the belief that their black life matters to us all.
Resources for white people who are ready to sit down, shut up and listen/read.
These are some great resources created by people of color that can help us (white people). These leaders teach us to better understand our whiteness, gain a deeper understanding of racial disparities and injustices. We need to learn howe we can participate in reconciliation. We need to support the work of bridge builders and people organizing, advocating for and fighting for equality and justice. These are a few online resources that have been particularly helpful and eye opening to me.
For Our White Friends Desiring to Be Allies by Courtney Ariel
Be the Bridge – founded by Latasha Morrison
Black Coffee White Friends by Marcie Walker
Mockingbird History Lessons on Instagram by Marcie Walker
If you’re looking for counseling or support, you can learn more about Anne Russey Counseling here.