I keep trying to figure out the exact ‘perfect thing’ to say about the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests all around the world. You know — the thing that demonstrates how entirely woke I am while simultaneously stays humble in the face of all the things I have yet to learn and yet still manages to have just a teensy touch of patronizing “wisdom” to share with all of my less woke white brethren – that perfect thing. But I can’t quite find the winning combo of consciousness, humility and condescension.
I feel like anything I say or post on social media is either utterly tone deaf, i.e. “Look at this picture of my adorable new puppy!” (Translation: “I have the privilege of ignoring the calamitous firestorm of shit outside my window and playing with my puppy!”) or I’m just another white chick spouting her over-represented viewpoint, trying to make the movement about herself somehow. Even now I am whining about how difficult it is for ME to express myself in these tumultuous times. Fuck me.
I keep seeing celebrities posting things like “I know I won’t get this right all the time but I’m trying, so please forgive me for the mistakes I make along the way,” and it makes me cringe. It feels like one more instance of a white person demanding a privilege that has historically been denied to people of color: the benefit of the doubt.
So for a while, I didn’t say anything at all.
Obviously, that’s wrong too. How do I speak out and at the same time, take a seat to let the voices of the repressed be heard? Famous folks are giving their Instagram and Facebook feeds over to leaders of the BLM movement – yielding the stage and their millions of followers to people who warrant the attention. But I don’t have millions of followers so my platform isn’t terribly valuable in that way.
Instead, my answer has been to post and re-post suggestions of Anti-Racism Actionable Steps that various persons of color have thoughtfully compiled. Steps that I can take right now — from my safe vantage point inside my comfy house in my affluent city which was built, quite literally, on the bones of Native Americans. Actionable steps that can be taken by self-righteous liberals like myself, who normally just discuss the issues during Naropa classes or while enjoying a drink on the patio of the newest microbrewery but never actually DO anything because the issues are mostly hypothetical for us.
Since the gruesome 2016 election, I’ve basically chosen to put my head in the sand and wait it out. I have decided, “for the sake of my mental health,” to just stop watching the news, ignore the social media vitriol, ignore everything outside of my tiny world and wait for the 2020 elections to restore sanity. My individual life as a well-to-do white woman in the 96% white Boulder Bubble is not directly impacted by the resident of the White House, therefore I have had the appalling luxury of biding my time, hoping the next guy will fix things. Shameful, I know.
I recently learned from a BLM webcast (Episode 4 if you want to check it out) that one of the presidential candidates who I had hoped could fix things — Mayor Pete — was actually just another part of the problem; publicly claiming to be working closely with local activists on getting justice for Eric Logan (a black man controversially killed by South Bend police), while in reality Mayor Pete never attended a single meeting. It’s the thing that ended his presidential campaign but I didn’t know that because I wasn’t paying attention.
And that, I think, is the answer to the “what can I do” question: I can fucking pay attention and then act accordingly.
To be clear, I’m not happy about paying attention; ignorant bliss is way more comfortable. Defaulting to meaningless platitudes is way easier than calling my congresspersons. But what matters now is keeping the BLM movement top of mind beyond a few weeks of protests. The only way I know to do that is to integrate the actionable steps — the petition signing, the donating to activist groups, the supporting of black-owned businesses — into my daily life. I have to do something every single day.
Every day I have to read the Black Lives Matter and Color of Change emails and take whatever action is requested. Every day, I have to re-learn a piece of history because the lessons I was taught in rural 1980’s Texas were either outright lies or completely nonexistent.** Every day I have to recognize and discuss with friends and family the white privilege each of us experienced that day. Every day I have to acknowledge the part that having my head in the sand has played in perpetuating systemic racism.
Every day. So that anti-racism becomes automatic, a muscle memory, as common and natural for me as posting pictures of my dogs and sharing funny stories of my ridiculous life. The silly things are only acceptable if I I’m also doing the difficult things every day.
Obviously, like the celebs say, I will not always say or do the perfect thing; but do NOT give me the benefit of the doubt. Hold me accountable. Every day.
** I had never heard of the firebombing slaughter at Tulsa, OK until I saw the video of Kimberly Latrice Jones’s brilliant explanation of economic oppression. Texas schools didn’t even teach us the bullshit version about the massacre being a ‘riot’ — they didn’t broach the subject at all. I would know because in college I had to take ‘American History 1865 to Present’ three times before I passed it and there was absolutely no mention of this atrocity.
Suggestions for other actionable steps? What are you doing? Comment below!