When we begin doing anti-racist work, as white people, it can feel uncomfortable. We will experience guilt, shame, and host of other white fears and feelings. Our brains will come up with all kinds of excuses as to why we aren’t the right person for the job: the right person to protest, the right person to call out the racist joke at the office, etc. The brain does all kinds of weird things when it’s uncomfortable. The important thing is that we don’t let the excuses win.
Excuse #1. “It’s not my place”
Like it or not, we live in a world where white people are seen as good, safe, trustworthy, and Black people are seen as bad, unsafe, and untrustworthy. Like it or not, we as white people directly benefit from the oppression of Black people. Therefore, it is our responsibility to fight to end that oppression. This is not just my personal conviction. “SPEAK UP WHITE PEOPLE” is the overwhelming message I am hearing from my Black friends and leaders in the community.
Excuse #2. “I don’t want to say/do the wrong thing”
As white people, we are not going to do this perfectly. We will say, think, and do things that are misguided, incorrect, and even implicitly racist. This is because racism is a disease that all white people are infected with, to varying degrees. Right out of the gate we need to accept this, and not let the fear of messing up prevent us from speaking up and showing up. The perfect is the enemy of the good. If we wait for the perfect moment to act, or if we wait until we are “perfect” to act, we will never act, and change will never happen.
Excuse #3. “I’m afraid of messing up and getting roasted”
Because mistakes are inevitable, we will inevitably get called out. We may even get dressed down. As social creatures, we care about our reputation. We don’t like to feel shame, embarrassment, and humiliation. But as white folks, we need to develop a thicker skin. We need to graciously accept the criticism, apologize and do better. We need to care more about ending racial injustice than we do about preserving our own ego and image.
Excuse #4. “I don’t know enough”
It is absolutely true that we can do more harm than good if we aren’t educated. This is why it is crucial that we do our research, check our sources, and to read up on the history of racial injustice, police brutality, systemic racism, white privilege, and allyship. But it is also crucial to recognize that knowledge without action, or theory without practice, is meaningless. Yes we need to educate ourselves, but we also need to vote, protest, donate, call our representatives, and have uncomfortable conversations about race with our loved ones and acquaintances.
How are we just now hearing about this? all of my white queer friends asked each other when we learned, months after the actual event, that Louisville police had busted into Breonna Taylor’s apartment, shooting and killing her in her sleep. Later we watched in disbelief as the Louisville police fired rubber bullets at peaceful protesters, and violently destroyed the food, water bottles, and other supplies that a mother and her young daughter were handing out to peaceful protesters (at the same protest where Kentucky State Representative Attica Scott was tear gassed). We watched our mayor, Greg Fischer, give his condolences to Breonna’s parents, all the while refusing to arrest their daughter’s murderers, and in the next breath put a citywide curfew into effect, encouraging protesters to “stay safe at home.” And then we watched in horror as LMPD released the incident report, listing Breonna’s injuries as “none.”
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve scarcely believed my eyes. This is because I’m white. For my Black friends, it’s just another notch on a 400 year timeline of oppression and brutality, just another day in their Black life. We white folks have a lot of catching up to do: not just in terms of educating ourselves, but in terms of using our white bodies, our white voices, and ultimately our white privilege in the fight against racial injustice. There is no good excuse not to.