White People: Be Quiet and Listen. It’s Time to Get Comfortable Feeling Uncomfortable

Here I am again, all perplexed, sickened, disenchanted, and angry.

I woke up to headlines of another mother-flipping shooting, and I feel like I’m about to blow. Calm down, everyone. I strive to be a peace and love girl, and I’ve learned to channel my angst by grabbing a pen and paper or parking it in front of my computer, playing my music extra loud, plopping down my yoga mat for a few sun salutations, or going for a quick run.

Today I’m going to say some hard things. I am by no means condoning violence, and my heart goes out to everyone who lost loved ones in another senseless shooting.

I’m sickened.

My father was in law enforcement and many loved ones currently work in the field and want change more than anyone.

I’m not writing to pit one group against another.

This post began in my head this morning after learning of the tragedy in Dallas and listening to further media commentary and discussion about differences in experiences if you are a person of color in the US.

I am a white woman who grew up in the deep south in the 1980s, where racial tension is still highly present even though we pretend all things are equal.

We need to take a long hard look at deep-seeded race issues in this country.

We’re in serious need of a cultural mental health toolbox.

We need  empathy training where we all learn to put ourselves in someone else’s world, and we need to learn to pay attention when people say over and over and OVER that they’re upset about issues around race.

And YES, white people, I’m looking at you.

We need to remember that OUR reality is not necessarily everyone else’s.

When our friends and fellow African-American citizens continually say that THEIR reality is that THEY ARE TREATED AS LESS-THAN in this country, instead of telling them they’re wrong or being too sensitive or whatever. For the love, SHUT UP and LISTEN!!!!!!

This is NOT the time to speak and tell about YOUR experiences, white people.

It’s NOT the time to make sure everybody knows that you’re not racist.

Close your mouth and open your ears, but more importantly, open your hearts.

Open your minds and commit to learning, and don’t expect your black friends to educate YOU.

Get comfortable saying, “I love you. This topic makes me uncomfortable, but I want to learn and help make it better. You’re the expert on this even though it shouldn’t be your job to educate me. How can I help? How can I support you as your friend?”

Then be quiet.

Here’s what I think I know as a white woman in the US:  Avoiding the conversation about race ISN’T WORKING.

I wasn’t planning to write in this much detail about such a delicate subject today, but I started typing, and it started coming out, so I figured I’d roll with it.

I’m tired of being silent about race.

I’m also tired of trying to discuss the subject with other white people, only to be met with painfully uninformed retorts.

****Please note, I KNOW I’m generalizing here. Of the few close white friends I’ve chosen to go there with, ALL have been beyond open to discussion and feel as sad as I do and truly want to make this situation better. At the same time I see over and over and over again well-intentioned white people making the same uninformed comments — enough so that those of us who hopefully DO see that it’s a BIG problem need to start figuring out ways to enlighten them while taking part in major continuing education ourselves. I KNOW there is so much I don’t know and can never fully grasp, but I can certainly commit to learning and doing what I can.**** 

Our friends of color are hurting. Aching. And I can’t NOT speak out for another minute.

I’m willing to risk saying the wrong thing…and being criticized or misunderstood. It’s the least I can do.

Many of my regular readers know I’m on an indefinite Facebook/social media sabbatical. I am SOOOO sick of the hate.

Over the past year every time I think I’ve trimmed (or at least hidden) the loud, uninformed (and I’m being generous here) “friends,” someone else reposts or “likes” some filth about the first lady OF OUR COUNTRY, calling her unladylike or a man or some other inaccurate and thoughtless bullshit.

Or someone has to get their two cents in with a lash-out reminding us that “All lives matter” because heaven forbid someone get behind the Black Lives Matter movement.

Yes, ALL lives DO matter, but unfortunately, no one wants to acknowledge the reality that in the United States of America, black lives matter less than the others…and if you want to argue, please do some research on the prison system.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander would be my suggestion for starters.

Do you feel uncomfortable yet?

I made the mistake of pulling up my husband’s Facebook account this afternoon while we were stuck in a traffic jam (he was driving), and again saw example after example of well-meaning people saying horribly stupid things.

They come off as quite proud, throwing out bits and pieces with a fact or opinion here or there. What they are not saying, and what I believe needs to be addressed, is that one true statement does not negate what an entire group of people is saying over and over to deaf white ears.

What I hear from black people in the United States loud and clear is this:

THESE ARE OUR EXPERIENCES. HEAR US.

Before you tell me I’m wrong, think on this for a bit:  How many black people did you learn about in your history classes? I’m gonna take a gander that in basic K-12 classes, the regulars can be counted on one hand.

If you attended college, depending on the school, they might have had African American Studies classes and MAYBE a degree or emphasis, but unless you chose this route, your basic college history requirements didn’t touch on much more than your high school did. And don’t even get me started on textbook inaccuracies.

On one hand I’m glad African American Studies classes are offered, but I have mixed feelings. WHY are students taught the same things again and again about US history, about the same “monumental” historical figures while others are barely mentioned?

My guess is BECAUSE AFRICAN AMERICANS’ experiences are deemed not as important.

.If this is ever going to change, we are going to have to get comfortable talking about some very uncomfortable subjects and having an ongoing uncomfortable conversation.

For white people, this means get ready to do A LOT of listening.

Hold still:  The Colonists (our white ancestors) stole people — ripped them from their homelands, shoved them onto crowded ships with horribly inhumane conditions, sent them across the ocean to what’s now the USA, auctioned them off for the best price, then forced them to work and be owned as property. I’d say if that were YOUR heritage, you’d be more than a bit miffed. I’m also guessing you wouldn’t just get over it. Here’s a link with some more info on slave trade, though I’d love for a more scholarly research person to vouch for the accuracy. One of my life rules is: Question Everything.

Racism is very much still alive in the US. Though the argument often boils down to white people feeling personally accused or attacked and black people feeling misunderstood and tired of having to explain themselves again and again and again (according to friends of color), the part that is rarely discussed– THE most destructive form of racism– is systemic or institutionalized racism. Dig deeper on the topic here.

The US was founded as a racist society. Therefore, racism is embedded in the laws, social institutions, practices, etc. and give an unjust amount of power to white people while denying them to people of color. This is reality.

So while you, white person (and I’m including myself here), may not hold any personal ill will towards persons of color, you benefit from a broken, archaic system.

It sucks to talk about it, and yes, for white people it is achingly uncomfortable…but it MUST happen if we have any hope for moving past it in the future.

My emotions are front and center today.

I saw posts that annoyed me on Gil’s news feed, but I’m not here to give those any more attention. The ones that gave me pause were the painfully honest posts from my friends of color.

The wife of a childhood friend posted a picture of their three sons. She lives in fear every time her children leave the house. If you don’t understand why, reacquaint yourself with the names Trayvon Martin, Jonathan Ferrell, Michael Brown, Eric Garner. And that’s just the beginning. Read the news.

One of my dearest friends posted of her pain, a sad but much-needed reminder to me that she has a younger brother who she worries about constantly. She loses sleep hoping and praying that he makes it home alive Every. Single. Day.

There were more. And it sucks.

I know what it’s like to have sons, and I know what it’s like to worry about their safety.

I DON’T know the reality of fearing for their lives because of the color of their skin, and comparing my experiences as a white mother with white male children to those of my black friends is uneducated and insensitive.

They deserve better.

They deserve a world where their children aren’t more at risk BECAUSE of their skin color.

They deserve a world where their ancestors’ experiences are shared and honored in history classes because they are part of the history of the United States of America.

I want to invite anyone who is white to sit with any discomfort you might be feeling right now…and then sit with it a little more.

I get it.

It IS uncomfortable.

Now go and check out some books from your local library by African American authors.

Try some bell hooks, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker. Try some Audre Lorde and Langston Hughes. Ask your friends for recommendations.

A quick search turned up this Huff Post piece by Zeba Blay with some suggestions I’m adding to my reading list.

This thing called the Internet can be an amazing resource.

Here’s another incredible source of information — 29 Stupid (and harmful) Things White People Do and What We Can Do Instead.

Print it out! Commit to learning and doing better. I can’t fathom that any white person hasn’t made more than a few of these mistakes.

If you made it through this, I appreciate you reading.

If you’re white, I hope you will kindly consider your thoughts and feelings on race, regardless of your education, experiences, who your friends are, who you’re married to, etc.

We can ALL do better.

I welcome all dialogue, and as long as it’s not hate-filled and nasty, I want to hear your experiences whether you agree or not.

If you’re a person of color, I’m listening, and I want to learn. I want to be a better ally. Add any and everything I’ve missed if you feel moved to do so.

This subject is one I rarely write about but that I ponder constantly.

Peace, y’all. Put some love into the world this weekend. We certainly need it in buckets.

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4 thoughts on “White People: Be Quiet and Listen. It’s Time to Get Comfortable Feeling Uncomfortable

  1. I appreciate and stand in solidarity with all people who desire to see change in racial relations in America. I am African American mother and my only child is son. My son had an experience with the state troopers in Florida on his way back to Georgia. He had just returned from a 15 month deployment in Iraq in 2007. He flew to Florida to pick up a car he purchased. On his way back to Georgia he was pulled over by Florida state troopers. He had purchased an older car because he has a love for them. The police stopped him and searched his car and even after constantly showing them his title, registration, military orders, driver’s license, Military ID card, they continued to badger him and treated him like a common criminal. They told him the car was stolen and was used to transport drugs. They brought dogs to sniff his car. Finally, after hour beside the highway, they didn’t find anything he was able to leave. He felt humiliated and started to question his decision to serve a country that allows cops to treat him the way he was treated. We must do something to make things safe for our children and their children. God bless us all!

    Like

    • Wow. What a horrible experience. I can certainly understand why your son would begin to question his decision to serve after something like that.

      Thank you so much for sharing such a difficult story. My heart aches when I hear of these atrocities, yet it is SO important that these experiences are shared if true change is ever to occur.

      I’m committed to listening as much as I talk, so I’ll use the first line of your comment because it was perfect and beautiful and I feel the same way:

      “I appreciate and stand in solidarity with all people who desire to see change in racial relations in America.”

      Love and peace, and thank you again for taking the time to comment.

      Like

  2. Incredibly well spoken. I am a white man married to a black woman. I have two mixed race sons. I like to THINK I am aware and tolerant. Yet I still do not grasp the deep rooted fear that some people of color RIGHTFULLY harbor. When my wife tells my son to be extra careful. When she tells him how to respond if pulled over by the police. When she tells him to always be polite and carry himself with dignity. When she explains to me why she is African American and not “black American” or just American”. When I hear one of her relatives who grew up in the south, who LIVED the history that is supposed to have CHANGED race relations.
    I try to understand, I know but do not KNOW how she feels. She does not outwardly consider her herself different from anyone else. She is educated, well spoken, has produced two children who are wonderfully educated and well spoken in their own right. She does not harbor a sense of entitlement because of her history.
    Yet in spite of all this, she is still perceived as “different”. And I love her to the end of the earth – yet still, I know but do not KNOW, the feelings she feels when she meets a new person and witnesses the almost imperceptible raising of an eyebrow or change in tone. Nor do I question her actions when we pass another Aftican American and he gives her “the nod” or the extra compliment. Yes, I will never KNOW.
    So if anyone happens to see this, yes, please be quiet and listen to what is being said.
    Thank you for ousting this, Madam.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for sharing this. As you speak of, in spite of your obvious love and adoration for your wife and I’m certain hers for you, it’s complicated. For you, raising mixed-race sons, I’m sure it becomes further complicated.

      Just since writing this post, I’ve received numerous comments and varied feedback — both positive and negative, and all I can conclude is that the idea that there are still extreme differences in one’s experience as a white person in America and those of people of color is a reality lost on many.

      I hope to eventually do a follow-up post. Although when I posted this piece, I was prepared for anger and silence and overall mixed reactions, I’m still sitting with my own discomfort — I suppose this was less expected. I’m most uncomfortable at the reactions from white people who were not raised in the south, many of whom have never spent time here minus a weekend here or there and are insistent that these atrocities of which I speak were certainly not committed by their ancestors, therefore they refuse to “accept responsibility.” Sigh… Again, there’s a lot of talking before listening.

      I do hope that the silence from many is a good sign that there’s a lot of listening and reflecting going on.

      I wish you and your family the best, and again I very much appreciate your comment.

      Like

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