Black Lives Matter
Photo by Heather Mount

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

#CliffordGlover, 10, was shot and killed by a police officer.

Black People Can’t Have a Bachelor Party

Sean Bell

Hours before his wedding, #SeanBell, 23, was shot and killed by police officers.

Black People Can’t Celebrate New Year’s Eve

Oscar Grant

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

trayvon-martin

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

jordan davis

#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

#RenishaMcBride, 19, was shot and killed after seeking help following a car accident.

Black People Can’t Run

walter scott

#WalterScott, 50, was shot in the back and killed by a police officer.

Black People Can’t Have a License to Carry

Philando Castile

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

terence crutcher

Moving away from a disabled vehicle, #TerenceCrutcher, 40, was shot and killed by a police officer.

Black People Can’t Leave a Party

Jordan Edwards

After leaving a party, #JordanEdwards, 15, was shot and killed by a police officer.

Black People Can’t Play

Tamir Rice

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

Stephon Clark

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

Botham Jean

#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

Atatiana Jefferson

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,

Marissa

ahmaud-arbery

30 thoughts on “Dear White People”

  1. This makes me so sad. This world needs to change. Why are people so afraid that they have to resort to senseless violence against the innocent.

  2. This is a great message for everyone. While I can’t imagine what it is like for Black people (especailly Black men), to be out in our crazy world today. Sometimes it seems like thing have not shifted in many years. I pray for change do what I can in my community.

  3. God, seeing their faces broke my heart. I live with my mom and younger sister and at night I have to take my dog out. It kills me to say that I often walk holding my keys as a weapon because I’m a woman alone walking at night. It’s such a small portion of my day and it’s still scary as hell, I can’t even imagine how it must be to live with that fear 24/7.

    1. It really is heartbreaking, Mimi. Feeling threatened 24/7 can really take a toll on people. I’m hoping things will change one day, but things are so bad right now that it can be hard to have hope right now.

  4. I am the mother of a 20-year-old black son. My heart is heavy every time he leaves the house in a way I can’t articulate. I love him (obviously) but know that the world sees him differently than they see me, a white woman. I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve been out together, laughing or walking or waiting in line, and a stranger will come up and ask if I’m alright. Like, he’s my kid? And even if he were a friend or a stranger, I’m not in distress, I’m laughing? I can only hope that more people begin to open their eyes to the disgusting pervasiveness of racism. When I hear my white friends say “I don’t see color!” I try to tell them that’s not a helpful response. I could write so much more but am limited in space.

    1. Wow, I don’t even know where to begin. Sadly, the world doesn’t see your son the way that you see him. Unfortunately, some people probably see him as a threat. The experiences you shared illustrate that. I agree, saying “I don’t see color” is not helpful at all…in my opinion, it’s pretty problematic.

  5. This is so powerful. I can’t imagine the life Black people face just being Black. While I always felt sorrow for each of those cases you mentioned, I never did enough to bring attention to them or elicit change from those who just don’t get it. This time, I feel more compelled to speak out and drive whatever change I can

  6. This post is triggering, it just reminds me of the injustices that we continue to go through. Unfortunately, as optimistic as I would like to be, I don’t think things will change. I would like to think that by having allies it would change but unless the officials such as police, judges, lawyers and other professions that make life or death choices are injustice system, will be the same.

  7. As the wife, mother, aunt, and sister to many Black and Brown men who some in our country would consider to be intimidating, my prayer is for hateful hearts to be healed and my men to be safe.

  8. As the wife, mother, aunt, and sister to many Brown and Black men, I need this country to come together and call those hate-filled racists out on their words and thoughts. Only when we stand together will this begin to change.

  9. It can be downright exhausting being black in America. Because of this, the hard conversations are necessary.

  10. Great article that serves as a reminder that the world we live in is not fair or just. I am calling out the white women that raise these horrible pieces of human beings. Children grow up to be who they are taught to be when they are younger. I am the mother of two adult strong black men. My youngest son is in the US Airforce stationed in London. Both of my sons attended college, and both were raised to be kind, polite, and respectful towards everyone. Both had ample opportunity to engage with folks of all races. My older son still keeps in touch with a set of (white) missionary twins from kindergarten. The point is that mothers play a critical role in how their sons evolve into manhood.

  11. This just makes me very sad for us. So many emotions. We’ve come so far but yet not far enough. Until fear and judgement are replaced with love and compassion, we’re back to square one.

  12. I was just talking to my husband about the way the black community is still being treated unfairly today. It makes you realize how much things haven’t really changed, and how we need to do better — more so for future generations.

  13. Pingback: We the Unheard
  14. Marissa,

    Can I tell you how much I appreciate you undertaking this most difficult and exhausting teaching? Your willingness to fight through pain to engage with and respond to White readers is amazing and inspiring. We co-conspirators need to do more of this work ourselves. Know that I’m out here working and sending you love. Please take good care with your Mom and Brother.
    Jen
    ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

    1. Thank you for showing up as a co-conspirator, Jen. The work is definitely draining, but I’m trying to do my part. My hope is that the collective efforts of Black people and our co-conspirators will result in change.

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