A simple declaration of solidarity unraveled everything.
“To my friends of color, I know I cannot fully understand your experience of the world, but I stand with you against bigotry and hatred,” a white, male friend posted on Facebook.
Within minutes, his “friends” rushed to add to his statement as if he hadn’t chosen the right words. One of his followers wanted to include “women, Jews, Muslims, and anyone else who has ever been discriminated against because they are different.”
Another person added “fat people” to my friend’s post and a third wanted to include “Jews…because my mom and aunt are Jewish.”
My reaction was swift and fierce: “Can people of color have a damn minute in the national conversation without someone rushing in to perform the well-meaning white person’s version of ‘all lives matter?’”
Apparently, the answer is no.
Judging by the reactions to my friend’s post and the current, national conversation about race, we can’t have a damn minute. We cannot have a Facebook post. We cannot breathe.
Once the first, male, white face framed in a collared shirt illuminated against the firelight of a tiki torch in the warm, southern night, the national conversation turned exactly where he wanted it to — on white people.
Anemic outrage congealed with disgust and chest-thumping promises to “fight and beat the Nazis and white supremacy.” White people are yelling at other white people on social media about how white they are.
The national conversation ducked toward President Donald Trump’s support of white supremacists as “very fine people,” and whether we should allow Confederate statutes to remain. Now it’s about the symbolism of Tina Fey and sheet-cake. It is all so very white.
Where are the narratives about black excellence? Where are the posts supporting African American businesses? Where are the pledges from white parents to make the schools and playgrounds safe for black children? Without prompting or fear of “not being welcomed,” how many white people reached out to their black friends and colleagues and said, “ I am here in whatever way you need me”?
(Yes, yes, #notallwhite people. I get it. Your whiteness is special.)
White supremacy forbids empathy.
To acknowledge the historic, continued, and irreparable damage to generations of African Americans dating back at least 400 years and continuing at this very moment would mean that white people are not at the center of the story.
White supremacy demands white people, white experiences, white guilt, white privilege, and white rage remain the highest priority at every facet of societal institutions and interactions.
Equality begins to look like oppression when you’ve been told your experiences and beliefs are and should remain at the center of everything. This statement is true even for the well-meaning white people who “cannot imagine what it’s like to be a black person.”
But that’s what it will take to resolve (maybe not end) the racial morass in the United States.
When black people said, “it’s up to white people to ‘fix’ racism in the United States”, we didn’t mean make it about you. We meant do the work.
White people who are serious about social justice must be willing to step outside their own experiences, beliefs, and views not to “imagine what it’s like,” but to look at the world as it is, not as they wish it to be, and make it a daily practice much like yoga, prayer, meditation to remedy it.
Racism isn’t hiding behind a corner, waiting to jump out and scream “peek-a-boo.” It’s in the air. It’s in your family. It’s in your church. It’s at your child’s playground. It’s in the television you consume. It’s in the mirror. It’s in the blood in your veins. It’s there and it’s waiting for you to discover and deal with it.
It isn’t hate that needs to be fought; it’s you.
I’m not asking white people to do anything I haven’t done. White supremacy is psychological torture. Fighting it is an inside and outside job. It is exhausting and draining. Hate sometimes threatens to consume me. Grace compels me to pause and remember the white people who consistently show up for me, no matter how much I claw and scratch at them.
That’s why I appreciate my friend’s simple statement of solidarity more than he’ll ever know. To some, it may read as milquetoast. But I know what it took him to get there — a painful and honest conversation with me, soul searching, and a willingness to be vulnerable to me and others. He’s willing to sacrifice himself as the center of the story, acknowledge and heal, and stand in ready service to others. And that is a very good start.