It is time for white people to wake up from “the Dream,” recognize the pain our privilege causes, and begin to make amends.
There has been so much said on social media since the seven murders last week and now today. Some powerful words have been shared. Some people have remained silent because they don’t feel they have to comment while others have been silent because they just don’t know what to say. Each time I think I’m ready to put my thoughts out in the world there is a Huffington Post article or a blog that either encapsulates it all – much better than I could – or just shuts my mouth and forces me to think. As a human relations fellow and a social worker who has endeavored to learn about and discuss power and privilege, the readings I share below made me realize what a beginner I am in this essential work. Here is some of what I’ve been reflecting on recently.
The first thoughts in my head last week were those that are often top of my mind –
how do I raise my white son and daughter to be awake and aware of their privilege and to be part of the solution not the problem?
Alyssa Hadley Dunn’s blog On Mothering White Sons to Know #BlackLivesMatter captured my feelings exactly and offered direction for the work that we white mothers must do. As she notes, “But here’s the thing: it shouldn’t matter that Alton Sterling was someone’s father before his death reduced him to a hashtag. That Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice were someone’s sons. That Ryneshia McBride and Sandra Bland were someone’s daughters. They were — they are — someone. Period. It’s on us to make sure that our sons never forget that.”
I thought about a study I read where pregnant African American women expressed the fear they have about bringing a son into the world. Ta-Neihisi Coates’ words, “Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered” (Between the World and Me) have been haunting my head and heart. As hard as I’ve been working to close the black-white gap in birth outcomes, these words somehow just portrayed the sheer fragility of these precious babies and families.
The Huffington Post article by George Sachs on 10 Ways White Liberals Perpetuate Racism introduced me to the word microinvalidations. This read was one of the toughest because the truth is hard. But I also appreciate that at the same time the article was rightfully critical, it also provided a few nuggets for how to pay attention and be better. As President Obama said in his eulogy on Tuesday, we (white people) need to stop invalidating the experience of people of color and start listening and learning from experiences that are different from our own.
Justin Cohen’s blog Advice for White Folks in the Wake of the Police Murder of a Black Person and John Metta’s Huffington Post blog I, Racist continue to illuminate important issues around white privilege and our avoidance of looking in the reality mirror. Coates’ book Between the World and Me is profound, painful and incredibly important. This book should be required reading for all social work and public health practitioners who see themselves as white.
We need to approach this work thoughtfully and relentlessly as white people. For myself and white people I know, we have an urgent desire to “do something” but we aren’t sure what to do. As the Racial Equity Institute notes, there is a tension between people wanting to rush out with a fragile, limited understanding and “do” something and illuminating how much more they need to know in order to put the new learning to practice. So that is my call to action. To hold the fire and push the envelope. After a year of violence that started in Charleston it is no longer (and never was) adequate to have a vigil, discussion group and move on. It is time for white people to wake up from “the Dream” (Coates), recognize the pain our privilege causes and begin to make amends.