I’m not only white, I grew up in “Whitelandia” – a wealthy suburb of New York City where “diversity” was Irish or Italian with maybe a German or Polish family thrown into the mix. We were all white. We were at all Catholic. I didn’t even know anyone who was Black until I went to a Catholic High School in another county. Not sure I would have even made any effort to have a relationship with the few Black girls in the entire school if they weren’t my basketball teammates.
I began to develop some cultural competence going to college in Philadelphia in a predominately Black neighborhood. There were often clashes between the students and neighbors – I was never involved. It wasn’t my fight, right? Simply staying out of it was a good thing, no?
By the time I turned 30, I was working in New York City and developed significant relationships with a diverse group of co-workers, many of whom became friends. But while I wanted to believe that we were all no different than one another, that certainly wasn’t the case. An experience I had when leaving work one evening with one of my friends changed how I would forever think about race. I finally understood that no matter how much I got to know people and felt I was being supportive, the world they were experiencing was so vastly different from mine.
On this warm spring evening in 1996, I was walking out of our office building at the corner of 26th Street and 8th Avenue with my friend and co-worker, Eric, who happened to be Black. We were not out the door but a minute when a police officer suddenly appeared out of no where, grabbed him and pushed him up against the side of the building demanding to know where he had been all day. Apparently, he “met the description” of someone wanted for a crime in the neighborhood.
I quickly explained how I knew Eric and that I could vouch for his whereabouts all day. The police let him go and I walked him to the subway. On the way he told me that wasn’t the first time something like that happened and he knew it wouldn’t be the last. While he boarded a train to go home to the Bronx, I walked to the PATH station – shaking – to make my way back to peaceful Whitelandia forever understanding that no mater how culturally competent I could become, I could never fully appreciate the experience of Black people in America.
Yet, this is our fight too. We can not live quietly in our communities if we continue to allow anyone to be victims of the great injustices that People of Color have experienced. This was a week of reckoning. There is no more simply sitting on the sidelines and saying, “I’m not a racist.” The time to act is now. Real action. Beyond the knelling and peaceful protests are opportunities that can contribute to lasting change. I’ve spent some of Week 11 working from home sifting through ideas for white people who want to make sure we’re contributing to solutions. Here are some of the best I found:
- Guidelines for Being Strong White Allies – Paul Kivel, 2006, RacialEqualityTools.org. Get the updated book Uprooting Racism 4th Edition here.
- Dear White People: Here Are 10 Actions You Can Take To Promote Racial Justice In The Workplace – Dana Brownlee, Forbes.com, June 1, 2020
- How White People Can Be Better Allies to the Black Community – Jackie Saffert, Wit & Delight | Designing a Life Well-Lived, May 29, 2020
- Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice – Corinne Shutack, Medium.com, August 13, 2017 (and continually updated)
- Anti-racism resources for white people – A document compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker, Alyssa Klein in May 2020.
Start simply by reading through those links. Pick out a few things you can do today, later this week, this month, and onward. I’m doing it too. We’re not perfect, but we’re evolving and we can get better at this everyday.