We Are Not Powerless
This is not about Buffalo and it is about Buffalo. That’s because Buffalo (and so many more) is about each and every one of us. And I’m not sure I even know what to say. But since I am a White person, I know that my role is to speak to my people, so here goes.
I went to the grocery store today. The entire time I was there, I was acutely, painfully aware of how powerless I felt, how deeply my heart ached that I am constantly, actively and passively separated from being in true community with my neighbors because of the white supremacist culture we are all harmed by.
There are barriers to building those relationships everywhere we look, including inside ourselves. My heartache is always there, just freshly exposed by the most recent racist violence. These wounds we suffer cannot heal when they are reopened over and over again with new names of community members murdered and new locations of tragedy to tally in our national consciousness.
I also understand how essential it is that I use every ounce of my willpower and determination to ensure that anti-racist work continues and grows and that each and every one of us participates in dismantling white supremacy. And I honestly don’t know what to say to encourage more people to start and/or continue the self-work and community work that is needed. But I refuse to give up, so here I am, writing to each of you.
This work is both urgent and long-term, and while it is happening in many places, we need to keep going, to keep doing more. White supremacy culture influences everything we do, every institution and organization and government office and it fights back when challenged. And yet it must be challenged or it will continue to spread and grow and harm and kill. Do not imagine that “good people” will be spared from its effects — we are each already harmed and often blinded to that harm. Choose to see the harm so that you can choose to fight against it.
If you’re already feeling overwhelmed because you’re already fighting for something else, do not see this as an “extra” cause to take on. See it as a shift in the WAY you fight for justice, in whatever manner inspires and sustains you. If you’re focused on reproductive rights, do it in an anti-racist way. If you’re focused on environmental justice and combating climate change, do it in an anti-racist way. If you’re focused on educational equity, do it in an anti-racist way. If you’re focused on politics or criminal justice or housing or poverty or hunger or anything else you’re focused on, do it in an anti-racist way.
Do you know how? What barriers do you face to doing this work?
Some oversimplified guidance for White people doing anti-racist work:
(1) Commit to the self-work for the rest of your life. Keep learning, keep apologizing, keep unlearning biases and assumptions, keep growing. Use self-care so you don’t burn out.
(2) Don’t do this work alone. Find others who will support you, help you grow, listen to your failures and struggles, and encourage you to keep going. If you don’t have a person like this in your life, contact me and I’ll be that person for you.
(3) Choose solidarity (doing with) over helping/supporting (doing for). Build relationships with the communities you want to work with in an inclusive way, following existing leadership and trusting people to know where they want to go.
(4) Wherever you are, show up in an anti-racist way and be open to adjusting as you earn the trust of those you are working with. Earn that trust every day in the way you show up, the way that you grow, the way that you listen.
Ok, here’s the hardest one (again, for White people):
(5) DO NOT exclude people who disagree with you or challenge your beliefs. Turning people away, excluding people and banishing them because they aren’t on an anti-racist path yet (or as “woke” as you) will always undermine our efforts. We must be welcoming to all because white supremacy will always make white people feel like they belong, even as it harms them.
Anti-racist efforts must be as inclusive as we want our communities and institutions and governments to be. We must model the solidarity and liberation of the world we are trying to create. As my dear friend Whitney taught me several years ago, do not allow your anti-racist work to send people towards racism. Bring them with you.
Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.