A Call to Call Me Out (or In)

I haven’t posted on here in a while. It didn’t feel like it was my place.

Like the vast majority of America, I was shocked, disgusted, dismayed [insert more adjectives] by the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. And as I watched my social media feeds flood with infographics, calls to action, resources to listen to, read, and watch, and all of those black squares, I felt dizzy and paralyzed. And rightfully so; as a white person, I should be humbled and made uncomfortable by my complicity in innumerable structures that systemically and systematically harm people of color. But those feelings couldn’t tell me what to do.

And see, that’s the first problem. We white people want someone to tell us what to do to make this whole racism thing go away. As if it’s an injury that we can slap a band-aid on, rather than a terminal illness with no known cure. We want to turn to our BIPOC friends (or more likely, acquaintances) for clarity on what we should do, when it is not their responsibility to educate us. We post black squares and other demonstrations of optical allyship without really knowing what we are standing for. Anything to make us feel better.

Initially, the (justifiably) angry voices on social media scared me. They left me with a sick feeling in my stomach, and all I could think to do was turn away from it. I deleted Instagram and stopped looking at Facebook. If I couldn’t see it, it couldn’t upset me.

I now realize that this is yet another egregious error that white people make. It is an act of total white fragility — feeling so triggered by insinuations of our racism that we become defensive or shut down. We turn away and tell ourselves that we’re the “good white people,” that we cannot be compared to the true racists, the racists with displaying Confederate flags on their lawns or donning Make America Great Again hats. But we have to face it: by being complicit in countless systems that seek to silence, incriminate, and harm BIPOC, we are all racist — just to varying degrees.

The specific white sin I committed: white silence. By having the privilege to turn away from potentially triggering content, I was perpetuating the cycle. Outside the protesting noise, I could enjoy the luxuries of being white and not feel the suffering that BIPOC endure every. Single. Day. And I could get away with it, too.

Well, not anymore — at least, I will not allow myself to.

The first step was overcoming the perfectionism that I think many of us are facing right now. We’re so concerned about being the perfect ally, saying all of the right things, taking all of the right actions, showing up in all of the right ways, that we end up not saying or doing anything at all. I spoke to my roommate — who I respect and admire very much, and who has worked in politics for years — about my feelings of paralysis and insecurity. And her advice really spoke to me: “Activism takes many different forms. You need to find methods that work for you in order to be effective.”

That cleared a mental hurdle for me. So, what methods did I want to take? By and large, I wanted to educate, educate, educate myself. I’ve been reading articles and books daily that have broadened my views tremendously. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo was so eye-opening that it actually led me to recall specific incidents of outward racism I exhibited toward my previous roommate, who is from Hong Kong. I reached out to her, re-iterating my sincerest apologies, telling her that I didn’t expect her to forgive me nor console me. Just to say that I was sorry and I’m doing the work now. And she appreciated it.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngoza Adichie is my new favorite book, hands-down. And I’m not just saying that. It is so expertly and beautifully written, exposes truths in a cynical style, and best of all: the protagonist is a blogger. I could barely put it down. I’m now reading her novel Purple Hibiscus and am enjoying it thoroughly, too.

Interspersed with the reading, I’ve listened to some compelling podcasts such as White Lies and I’ve watched videos that open up dialogue, such as Emmanuel Acho’s series, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. But I think most importantly, I just finished Layla Saad’s 28-day journaling challenge, Me and White Supremacy.

In this challenge, Saad introduces a range of topics related to racism, provides background and education on the subject, and then provides a series of journal prompts for you to answer. The idea is that you don’t do the 28 days of journaling just once, but rather think of it as an iterative process. Something you look back on, read, reassess, write some more, and repeat.

Saad’s work taught me terms I’d never encountered before, opened my eyes to the insidious nature of racism to an unprecedented degree. It forced me to recognize and own my specific forms of racism. Not only the aforementioned white silence, white fragility, and white apathy, but also my previous acts of tokenism, white feminism, white exceptionalism, and so much more. It all returns to my previous statement: white people are all racist, just to varying degrees. I now am far more cognizant of how my racism shows up, and I feel far more equipped to recognize it, own it, and then eradicate it.

But the work isn’t done, nor will it ever be. I’ve been taking a hard look the implicit beliefs I grew up surrounded by, the communities that raised me. For one thing, I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older, my social circles have had fewer and fewer people of color. It’s no wonder that dialogue on race makes me deeply uncomfortable and anxious; I’ve been — unconsciously or consciously — avoiding situations (i.e. people) that would arouse such conversation. And that has to change, too.

Saad acknowledges that this work is exhausting, and because it is never finished, it is easy to fall back into white apathy, to think of the problem as either outside of ourselves or too big to address. But just think how exhausted BIPOC are everyday having to deal with constant prejudice and injustice. That should be enough to galvanize us white people to do more.

For now, I am soldiering on with my readings, podcasts, videos, and films. I donate when and where I can. But these are simple steps, steps taken by an individual. As I continue to educate myself, my goal is to dispel my fears of making mistakes and to bring more people into this work with me. To be willing to call out or call in my friends, family, and acquaintances when I witness racism in any form. And acknowledge that my call out may be imperfect; I may not have my thoughts fully formed, I may make errors, I may stumble. But it is only this way that I can learn, and so too can my peers.

I don’t list all of these actions I’ve been taking for a pat on the back. Really, this blog post is arriving so late in the game. I was afraid to post anything about the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, for fear of saying the “wrong” thing; I was afraid to post about anything else for fear of being shamed for ignoring BIPOC voices and taking up space. I am simply explaining my journey, as a white person who has a lot of owning up and self-educating to do and who wants to share resources she found helpful.

One of Saad’s final journal prompts was to create a list of three concrete actions I could take in the next two weeks that would challenge me in my anti-racism work. The first action I chose was to finally speak my mind on my blog. So here it is — please feel free to call me out or in.

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