I spent a few hours on Blackout Tuesday educating myself on matters privilege and race. Like most people, I did post a black box on my Instagram, but I immediately questioned it. There’s good intention and meaning behind the gesture, a sign that we’re all trying to stand together. But I felt like I needed to do something more for myself. So I thought I’d start by reading a little.
I praise different voices on the internet that write words without ridicule or shame or anger behind them. I myself try to write in such a way because the intention behind your writing matters. People pick up on that, and the intention behind your words can steer people away faster than anything else.
No one’s eyes have ever been opened through mockery, rage, or shame, which is why I do my best to never have those intentions set in my writing or speaking to others. I am ever grateful to live in a time when the internet allows me stories that open my eyes, and help me understand another’s perspective better.
It’s a loaded word today, one that many hate. For myself, I can say I’ve hated having people look at me and my accomplishments and tell me that I should thank my privilege for them. It’s one of the few things that would make me lose it, as it felt like it minimized my trials, struggles, stress, debts, and efforts to get there.
In having the insults removed from the conversations, I’ve been able to understand the meaning better. That white privilege isn’t a declaration that you haven’t had hardships in your life, that you equally haven’t fought tooth and nail to get where you are.
Rather, it’s a reminder that the color of your skin will never be a barrier for you as it can be for others. The world questions people of color more than they question the white person. As we’ve seen recently, even bird watching can be hazardous for people of color.
While being a woman comes with its own fears about existing in the world, I know that my motives, my actions, my life will never be as heavily judged or questioned as someone of a different race. Whether it be something as simple as going out to eat or to the mall. The concern about what someone will think of me; how they will judge my actions; or even whether or not they’ll call the police on me is something I’ve never—and likely will never—experience.
And that is a privilege, one that many might not realize they have. That’s why the conversation of privilege is important. That’s why you hear people talk about “white privilege”. It’s not that you haven’t worked hard in life yourself; it’s that in being white, there are some prejudices you will never experience.
I’ve read a lot about the idea of colorblindness and how those that are uncomfortable with the subject of race and racism fall back to it. I get it and I understand it, and I feel the intention most people have with it is good. How many people do their best to avoid conversations that get so heated so quickly? It’s no different with someone who doesn’t know how to discuss race and racism. So I understand and empathize.
But that doesn’t mean we live with the discomfort and continue the pattern of saying “race doesn’t matter”. Because it does. Our individual lives are not just made up of our education, jobs, family, friends, and the like; a big part of our experiences is our own flesh as well.
The intention behind saying “I don’t see race” is your way of saying you love all people no matter their skin color. But if you do, then you would also permit people with different skin colors to share their stories. Because many of their stories do involve their race. It is through listening and hearing their voices that we grow and become more empathetic, and can work together to make a better world.
Take time to read stories that come from people of all races. This could be books and stories, but it could be nonfiction as well. It could be posts on the internet or social media. Whatever it is, it’s important that to see perspectives from people of color.
It doesn’t invalidate your own life and experiences, but it does do something crucial: it opens you up to empathy and understanding.
Perhaps you already feel you have this. I know I do. I can’t read reports without choking or feeling the pain alongside others.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t have room for more understanding about the actual experiences of other people.
I mean, isn’t that one of the reasons why we all read? To hear more stories? To open our minds? To grow?
And don’t just limit yourself to reading about the experiences of people of color today. Go back in history and read their stories too. Because I can guarantee you, we didn’t learn everything we needed to in history class.
Better yet: listen to some. Whether its your friends and family; your neighbors; an audiobook; or even YouTubers. We live in a digital age; we have so many ways to connect now. And it’s important to connect for one of the biggest things we need right now:
While we are seeing so much pain and violence and loss on our television screens, our social media, our new reports, a common theme I’m reading about is the drive and push to more love. More accountability. More caring about our neighbors.
A lot of people I know have considered the Black Lives Matter movement to be violent, having seen reports in the past of rioting and looting. But when I read stories and listen to experiences, I hear the pain behind them. I hear the desire to be heard and seen and respected.
The ask, the yearning, the begging, is for acceptance and change. Accept people for who they are and not judging on sight; and change for a tomorrow with less fear.
That’s something I’ve seen echoed in so many stories. The simple and VALID desire for acceptance and change.
This is a mere start at what white people can do, or what they should understand about themselves.
The other biggest thing I can say:
I have included some pieces below that I think gave me more insight, but I’m making sure I don’t tell anyone else’s stories. I’m not trying to overtake personal experiences of people of color, but rather acknowledge ways that that I—and fellow white people—can do a little better.
At the end of today, I just wanted to something—however small—more than just posting a black image on Blackout Tuesday. And dedicating a little bit of time to reading and learning seemed like a good thing.
- Being Black While in Nature: ‘You’re an Endangered Species’
- What It Means to be Black in the American Educational System
- Dear White Teachers: You Can’t Love Your Black Students if You Don’t Know Them
- 27 Mistakes White Teachers of Black Students Make and How to Fix Them
- Being Black in America Can Be Hazardous to Your Health
- 5 Ways White People Can Combat Racism—Starting Now
- Spike Lee on What’s Different About These Protests