As Minneapolis Burns, A Letter To White PeopleMay 30, 2020
I understand that tensions are high and that cynicism and frustration and criticism are easy fallback positions. It’s not easy for anyone right now and it is heartbreaking to see the devastation. It is almost always easier to be angry and cynical than it is to feel sadness and empathy. But I want to invite my fellow white people to resist this temptation. I continue to think that we can do better than tearing people down.
We all need to be doing whatever we can right now to promote civility, to stop fighting and to try to learn and understand together. I'm talking specifically to white people here. Your anger is misplaced.
I'm trying to stay calm. I'm trying to have respectful conversations, especially with those I disagree with. I am honoring the pain and suffering and anger and horror that many people of color live with each day. I'm trying to recognize the people in the communities that are being destroyed and their fear and their need for comfort. I am checking in with people and offering my care and attention.
The neighborhood where I lived for many years is trashed, some of the people there are scared, and some are deeply heartbroken. I am processing that grief.
I am sharing perspectives that I think are useful for people to understand. I'm trying to be kind. I’m trying to take care of myself so I can be patient and listen. And I'm trying to do my homework so I don't wade into conversations that have centuries of history--armed only with my own uninformed feelings. I’m trying to learn from the people most affected. I’m trying to stay clear about my role. I’m watching black people lead and listening because I know that they hold the ideas and solutions to this situation. I’m actively affirming the humanity of each person I encounter. I am rejecting dehumanizing language and calling it out.
And I'm feeling heartbroken that our city is burning and that instead of trying to understand why, many white people are being defensive and unyielding. I have written before about why I don’t condone but certainly understand the destruction that we’re seeing on our streets. A couple days in, there is some evidence that there are some professional provocateurs among the rioters who are destroying our city.
Most of the protests have been peaceful. There are people gathering to grieve, tell stories, share food and be together. There are many people at night who don’t condone the destruction of neighborhoods.
And there are those who believe that nothing less will create the necessary pressure.
And it is true that peaceful protests haven’t gotten many white people to consider something anew. I’ve seen plenty of white people get upset about even the most gentle, simple peaceful protests. Angry because the peaceful protest interrupt life for a few moments. Angry because the protest isn’t the right time or place. For example, protesters taking over the highway. I know this is controversial to many white people. But it hurts no one. And it raises awareness and maybe some people will begin to question their own assumptions.
I don’t know you at all. But maybe you have disparaged the protesters. Disparaged Black Lives Matter. Maybe you say something like all lives matter.
This is defensiveness and an unwillingness to accept another person’s reality. How can all lives matter if you’re not including black people? How can you look at the number of black people killed on the street by cops over the past decade and say that cops killing black people isn’t a problem? That black lives are included? They aren’t.
There are only two reasons that I can imagine that my fellow white people can’t understand this problem. The first is the ugliest: they just don’t want to and they would rather blame black people. This stance has long, deep, and dangerous roots.
The second reason is that you think you’re doing the right thing. But you haven’t done any of the work necessary to know what that right thing is. You haven’t fully grasped the situation. You haven’t done your homework. Have you spent time with black people listening to their perspective on race and how it affects their lives? Have you studied the history around race relations and how race has influenced every system our country is built on? Have you read the blogs, listened to the podcasts, read the essays and books of people who spend their lives on these issues? Or what have you done?
Because if your answer is that you've done none of these things, you may want to reconsider wading into a life and death conversation so completely unprepared. And if your only window into the black community is Candace Owens: expand your horizon, friend.
How many times are you forced to consider why black people are dying in the streets? Maybe, while you’re inconvenienced for a few minutes by a protest, you’ll consider.
Don't waste the moment: if what you hear doesn’t fit your ideas and all you do is become defensive and angry, you simply create a more entrenched situation all around. Changing this conversation is on us, my fellow white people. This is one of the reasons that protest is important.
And if you’ve done nothing to help this situation and instead criticize people for trying to be heard, for trying to stop being killed, then I ask you: What can you change? Because we need you. If you have any energy to give, please give it toward healing and peace instead of division and mockery.
When you look in the direction of healing you will see that accepting people's pain is a way to clear the anger and to move toward productive action. When we start to believe that other people's experiences are valid and that we need to make some changes, we all win.
If our city and our country is going to move forward productively, we need one another. Don’t take my word for it. In a quiet moment, ask yourself: What does our world need right now? Does our world call for scoffing at one another? Does it call for cynically mocking each other? Does it call for completely dismissing people's lived experiences? Does it call for cheap, thoughtless responses to complex issues?
Because I see a lot of mocking, criticizing and scoffing where white people are outraged and upset about black people rising to say “No more.” How are you helping? Truly consider your response: It matters.
And if anger and mocking and conflict is the need you see or the only thing you’re willing to do, then there is nothing I can say to you that will help the situation. We will simply have to disagree and the world will continue to burn.
Be sure to understand this: your inability to use your power for good will continue to haunt our city and our country. Your silence is approval of cops killing black people and not being held accountable. Your inability to see or hear people of color means more innocent people will die.
We are all part of the problem and if you don’t see that, nothing will change. We all need to be doing whatever we can right now, today and going forward, to promote civil communication, toward building one another up, toward the hard work of listening, and toward a world where those who live with us are no longer routinely killed on the streets because of the color of their skin.
Although I've written all this, chances are that most people on this page will not read it. If the past is any indication, they’ll put a laughing emoji or make a snide remark. Or if they do read it, they will do so thinking about how to defend their behavior. Thinking about how I am wrong. Thinking about how they can argue back.
I ask you respectfully: please pause. Can you not find yourself in this note anywhere? Do I really miss the mark so far? Are you willing to do *any* work to change the conflict and strife and pain in our city? Please don’t come back at me with flimsy one-liners. I have never been anything but respectful here even though we deeply disagree about most things. I appreciate being allowed the space to engage here and I know I’m welcome.
If you’re not up for a real conversation and you’re clear that you are right and you have nothing productive to say, move along. I’m here for real conversations: difficult given that this is online and we don’t know one another, but more important than ever.
You ask me what I have done to help. What I have done is so inadequate to the challenge we face. I want to be clear: I am not better than you. I am not saying I am. I fail all the time.
But I will use my bit of power and position and skill however I can make to a difference toward understanding, toward being respectful, staying calm and remedying the deep problems of inequity in our systems. Because that’s what I’ve got. I ask you now: will you do that work with me?
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