Dear white America,
The Black Lives Matter movement is at the forefront of the news. It has taken over every social media feed in the nation. But this is not new. Black people have been doing this work forever. Black people have been murdered for decades. Now that prominent white people are saying it’s a problem, all of a sudden now it’s a problem worth paying attention to. They’re chanting the same slogans and carrying the same banners we’ve made. But the government and politicians view their protests with less hostility and more validity.
The current administration looks at white people on public property with assault rifles as “good folk who just want their lives back.” While black Americans protest peacefully and raise hell when necessary are “thugs [that] are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd.” Our kneeling, marching and appealing to the fragile ego of the white man in charge have been ignored. That being said, welcome to the picnic. Sit down, shut up and let black people speak. Now that you’re listening, here are six things one black woman wants you to know.
1. Racial issues should make you uncomfortable, but that discomfort must be felt.
If you find yourself incredibly uncomfortable when race is a topic, then you have emotional baggage to unpack. You need to feel that discomfort to truly reach the roots of the privilege you carry. White Americans have had more power in society. Now that the norm is being called into question, the passiveness of white Americans who have become comfortable with their privilege is clashing with the frustration of those who recognize this disproportion. We can no longer afford to postpone painful conversations for the sake of white fragility. We tried that in the 1820s, (see the Missouri Compromise) and it has brought us here. America is splintering over what should be long-resolved issues, in a time when citizens wear freedom on their sleeves.
Discussions of race will be filled with anger, hurt, disdain and discomfort on both sides. Black and white Americans are both negatively affected by slavery, obviously one more than the other. The best way for white people to approach these conversations is with empathy. But only after you have done the work to recognize your privilege can you create a safe space for black people to exist freely.
2. Cultural appropriation is real and it is toxic.
Let’s take a fun glance at the history of the Eurocentric world we live in. The erasure of non-European cultures has become a unifying trauma for African and Asian and Latin American countries. Over roughly five centuries, Europeans have killed millions of Native Americans by way of war and disease. In addition to this, African and Caribbean populations were exploited and enslaved through colonization and entire generations were corrupted with the long-lasting footprint of systemic racism. The progress we’ve made since the time of yellow fever and outright colonization is minimal.
Until America values black people as much as they value black fashion, art, music, hairstyles, skin tones and body types, there will be no understanding. You cannot glorify a culture while simultaneously erasing it. While white fashion is absorbing box braids and dark skin, black people are being pushed out of the narrative. Our stories are being told by our obituaries and by our mourning mothers. While black music is assimilated into the Spotify top 100, black men are discredited as violent thugs with loose morals and loaded guns.
If you really aren’t convinced, let’s talk about Ariana Grande painting herself with a fine layer of melanin before all of her photoshoots. I don’t remember her skin being that dark during her Nickelodeon days. Or the Kardashian clan blackfishing all of Hollywood since puberty. “But white people do have culture!” You’re absolutely right. White culture is celebrated in every instance that a minority culture is completely erased by time, death and trauma. White culture is colonization. White culture is genocide. White culture is appropriation. White culture is white savior syndrome. White culture is white privilege and nothing else.
3. We are no longer craving equality. We need equity.
Equality would have been helpful in the 1800s. Centuries later, equality is not enough. Populations that are disproportionately affected by slavery cannot thrive when given the same resources. Our energy and attention should be catered to each group, as they clearly have shown a need for different levels of assistance.
Imagine you’re tending to a garden. One plant is not given enough water and over time, starts to die. The clear solution would be to devote extra care to the dying plant. Does this invalidate the importance of other plants in the garden? Not entirely, but one may take priority. And that is okay.
If you’ve seen Craig Froehle’s political cartoon depicting the difference between equality and equity (pictured above), consider what this graphic says about the disposition of the characters. This reinforces the misconception that the middle-height and shortest people are by genetics, doomed. The graphic places blame for their height on each character. While a black child born today will inevitably have a more difficult life than a white child, there is a clear reason. Genetics did not enforce years of systemic racism.
4. The police exist to reinforce oppressive infrastructures.
The police force first arose in the south as a way to preserve the slavery system. The first task forces were charged with retrieving runaway slaves and preventing slave revolts. Even following the abolition of slavery, police officers propagated Jim Crow laws and enforced segregation. It is entirely unrealistic to expect an institution rooted so egregiously in anti-black policies to be protecting them less than a century later.
When you say that rioting is not the appropriate reaction, you are perpetuating white supremacy. You are telling black people that they are not to step out of line, even if it means their bodies on the concrete. Rioting and looting are necessary ventures. Even when we protest peacefully, like kneeling during the national anthem or marching through the capital city, we are ridiculed, tear-gassed and shot. To choose silence over the destruction of property, you are choosing broken necks over broken windows.
5. Karen is not a slur.
The “Don’t Call Me Karen” movement is ridiculous. You are not oppressed. You are not discriminated against. You are privileged. Despite Julie Bindel’s Twitter escapades, ‘Karen’ is not an anti-feminist term, nor is it equal to a racial slur. Immediately following this, the term ‘Karen’ was grossly equated to the n-word. The most wholesome white man on this Earth, John Mulaney, in his comedy special New in Town, said, “if you’re comparing the badness of two words, and you won’t even say one of them? That’s the worse word.” The plight of white women is one of inequality and suffering, but it does not come close to the injustices suffered by black Americans.
This also applies to the White Lives Matter bullsh*t. This entire movement is redundant because your worth as a human being hasn’t been consistently questioned and jeopardized. White Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter are two gross attempts to discount the experiences of black people. No one is saying white lives don’t matter. We are saying that our lives matter too. You may be thinking, ‘how can I have white privilege? I’ve had to work tirelessly to be where I am. I’m not racist. I don’t treat black people any differently.’ First of all, your white fragility is showing. Secondly, let me take this moment to remind you that your white privilege exists without your effort.
If you sit down to watch a movie, and never once wonder if someone of your race or ethnicity appears on screen, then you have white privilege. Moreover, if you never worry that the one obligatory black character will die in some heroic moment so the white male lead can succeed, you have white privilege. Is it easy for you to find skincare, makeup and hair care products at any store without browsing aisles for the ‘ethnic section’? Do you worry about dating outside of your race for the fear that you’re being fetishized? What? That never even crossed your mind? That is white privilege. Are you able to drive home with a taillight out without worrying that being pulled over could cost your life? Well, congratulations. You have white privilege and it is your greatest weapon. Use it properly.
6. Murderers must be held accountable
George Floyd, Amaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Sean Reed, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, Keith Scott, Terrence Crutcher, Samuel DuBose, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Walter L. Scott, Akai Gurley, Laquan McDonald, Paul O’Neal, Chrisitan Taylor, Tony McDade, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and every other black person killed at the hands of the police, deserve justice. Do not let the lens of power, privilege and security skew a need for justice. These people were robbed of their lives. You can do something to bring closure to their families. That something is not sharing a video of their murder on your Instagram story. I understand wanting to raise awareness, but you are making your black friends and family relive the trauma every time they see it. Try sharing black art or protest links instead.
Since the government won’t listen until white people raise hell, now’s a great time to use your voice. There are plenty of things you can do to be a better ally: donate to petitions, march and protest, buy from black-owned businesses or talk to your legislators. Have those uncomfortable conversations. Listen to and believe black people. We wouldn’t subject ourselves to the trauma of sharing our stories if they weren’t true.