Dear White People,
In the midst of writing this, I often found myself staring at a blinking cursor. Words were nowhere to be found. I’m exhausted. I’m angry. I’m discouraged. I’m emotional. But alas, I want to lend my voice to people who no longer have one.
Author Glenn Singleton offers four agreements for courageous conversations: stay engaged, experience discomfort, speak your truth, and expect and accept non-closure. Right now, I really want to focus on speaking my truth. This truth-letter is addressed to you because I imagine many people of color could have shared similar (not to be confused with identical) sentiments. Speaking my truth might cause you to experience discomfort. It might elicit some white fragility. But I ask that you stay engaged and keep reading.
If it makes you feel better, as a Black person living in the United (I use that word loosely) States, I often experience discomfort. Saying that served to make White people comfortable in this moment; perhaps that coddling is part of a larger problem. I digress. Back to speaking my truth…
With all that’s going on with COVID-19 right now, I’ve taken a three-week (and counting) break from watching the news. Even with that, I’m not able to completely escape the reality outside my window. This week on social media, I started seeing hashtags followed by the name Ahmaud Arbery.
Anytime I see a hashtag followed by a first and last name, I get nervous AF because the Black community has to consistently memorialize our lost community members through social media. A hashtag plus a first and last name is usually the beginning of a plea for recognition that this life mattered. Clicking on the hashtags, I quickly learned that my fears were warranted. Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was murdered while jogging. So now, we can’t jog. It seems like the list of things Black people can’t do grows longer by the day.
Black People Can’t Walk With a Relative
#CliffordGlover, 10, was shot and killed by a police officer.
Black People Can’t Have a Bachelor Party
Hours before his wedding, #SeanBell, 23, was shot and killed by police officers.
Black People Can’t Celebrate New Year’s Eve
Returning home from ringing in the new year, #OscarGrant, 22, was shot and killed by a BART police officer.
Black People Can’t Walk in Their Own Neighborhood
After purchasing skittles and iced tea from a local 7-Eleven, #TrayvonMartin, 17, was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer.
Black People Can’t Listen to Music Above a Certain Decibel Level
#JordanDavis, 17, was shot and killed when listening to music in a car at a gas station.
Black People Can’t Ask for Help
#RenishaMcBride, 19, was shot and killed after seeking help following a car accident.
Black People Can’t Run
#WalterScott, 50, was shot in the back and killed by a police officer.
Black People Can’t Have a License to Carry
After disclosing that he had a firearm, #PhilandoCastile, 32, was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop.
Black People Can’t Have a Disabled Vehicle
Moving away from a disabled vehicle, #TerenceCrutcher, 40, was shot and killed by a police officer.
Black People Can’t Leave a Party
After leaving a party, #JordanEdwards, 15, was shot and killed by a police officer.
Black People Can’t Play
When playing with a toy gun in a park, #TamirRice, 12, was shot and killed by a police officer.
Black People Can’t Carry a Cell Phone
When carrying a cell phone, #StephonClark, 22, was shot and killed by police officers. One police officer claimed he thought he’d been shot at after seeing a metallic reflection.
Black People Can’t Relax in the Comfort of Their Own Home
#BothamJean, 26, was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer who entered the wrong apartment in her apartment complex.
Black People Can’t Play Video Games
While playing video games with her nephew, #AtatianaJefferson, 28, was shot and killed by a police officer.
Black People Can’t Sleep
#BreonnaTaylor, 26, was shot and killed after police officers raided her apartment.
Black People Can’t Breathe
Handcuffed, face down on the ground, #GeorgeFloyd, 46, complained he couldn’t breathe as an officer dug his knee into Floyd’s neck.
It appears that Black people are guilty until proven innocent. In the examples above, that presumed guilt resulted in death. It feels like some people are wired to shoot Black people first and ask questions later. Then, the killers can claim they were afraid. Talk about how to get away with murder.
Stopping to do a wellness check (something else that Black people can’t be on the receiving end of) to see how you’re feeling right now. Are you sad? Angry? Experiencing discomfort? Let’s keep going. I have a few questions for you.
- When you walk in your neighborhood, do you fear you might not return home?
- When you play video games, do you fear you might get shot IRL?
- When you get pulled over during a routine traffic stop, do you fear a police officer might shoot you?
- When your child plays with a toy gun, do you fear he/she will be shot and killed?
- When you listen to music, do you fear you’ll be shot because it’s deemed too loud?
- When you go for a run, do you fear people will claim you look suspicious, chase you, and gun you down?
- If a neighbor asks the police to do a wellness check, do you fear the police might shoot you?
- If you were shot and killed, would your loved ones have to beg for justice to be served?
- If you were shot and killed, would your name follow a hashtag?
If you answered no to a majority of these questions, then I have one more question for you. How are you using your privilege to be a co-conspirator? Allies are cool, and I recognize that we’re all in different places on our journeys. But Black people really need co-conspirators. People who will take initiative and risk it all for the cause.
Allow me to share a text from someone who shows up as a co-conspirator in this messed up world that continues to view Black people as a threat just because of our melanin:
“Thinking of you and the Black community as you mourn another life lost to white supremacy. Ahmaud Arbery deserved better – the entire Black community does. I have called the numbers that have been shared demanding justice. I say this not for a gold sticker but to let you know I stay committed to being a co-conspirator.”
Dear White People, please be like this co-conspirator. If you see something, say something, and do something. Social-distancing protesters aka the “modern-day Rosa Parks” (insert side eye here) have been out and about, so please keep that same energy whenever a Black person is senselessly murdered.
Dear White People, please don’t use your privilege to inflict more harm. Before dialing 911, Amy Cooper (a White woman) said she was going to call the police and tell them “there’s an African American man threatening my life,” after Christian Cooper asked her to put her dog on a leash. She proceeded to call the police, follow through on the threat, and even feigned fear to really sell it. By the time police arrived, both the aggressor (Amy) and the victim (Christian) had left the scene. Luckily, this situation did not result in Christian Cooper’s name following a hashtag. All that to say, please don’t be like Amy. Do not engage in White Caller Crimes.
Additionally, White people (and people of color) need to engage in implicit bias training. This is especially true for police officers, healthcare professionals, educators, and judges. Too many Black lives are being lost due to biases. Too many trajectories are being changed because biases are not being unpacked.
Dear Black People, please know that what you’re feeling is normal. I’m right there with you. I’m angry! I’m sad! I’m discouraged! I’m tired! The racial fatigue is real. It’s okay to unplug. It’s okay to take a break from talking about race. It’s okay to hug your loved ones a bit tighter. It’s okay to take additional safety measures.
Unfortunately, the burden to stay safe is on us. This is especially ironic because at times, the people who are meant to protect us are the ones that put us in danger…deep sigh.
To those of you planning to run 2.23 miles to honor #AhmaudArbery please stay safe,