Today, with fear and sadness I am exhaustedly witnessing the volcano of pain and oppression that has existed in our country since its inception. The devastating impact of the pandemic combined with the once again senseless police killing of a black man, on our streets, in broad daylight, not blinking an eye to the cameras that were filming them—combine for a perfect eruption that some people are having a hard time grasping. I grew up being taught the story of our country’s creation with pleasant photos of “Indians” and “Pilgrims” happily sharing a meal they prepared together. Nothing about the evolution of our country could be further from that lie. We tortured, killed and stole from Indigenous People to take ownership of their land. We OWNED human beings as if they were livestock. Sold, tortured, raped and killed, to gain control and power.
I say WE on purpose. I cannot hide from being white. Today’s generations of people of color were not alive when original slavery existed, but every day they carry the systemic, generational trauma and experience our new version of slavery wields. No, just because we do not hold public slave sales and proudly stake claim to the ownership of another human being, doesn’t mean that the intentions of slavery have disappeared. So if I am an ally in the change that is possible, I have to own what my people did. If I can’t do that, I can’t make change. I can’t begin to be an ally. We not only have to own what we did then, but we also have to acknowledge what we are doing today to ensure that people are oppressed and under-resourced.
This awareness isn’t new to me, but it has come closer to my heart and life in the work that I do with children caught in the criminal justice system and personally as I raised my biological child of color. I raised him to always feel confident in challenging any authority including me; choosing wisely his time, place and manner of disagreement and question. I want him to know he has a voice and his voice matters. If he disagreed with a grade, ask. If he disagreed with playing time in basketball, talk to your coach. If he didn’t understand my decision for denying a request, let’s talk. When he started driving I worried about him being pulled over for being black. Would he know what to do and how to do it without getting arrested or shot?
As he began to move his life journey further away from home, the worry compounded. Going to college in Indiana; would he know how to confront racism when it entered his space? A college weekend in Nashville kept me up at night praying he would understand the different environment for a black man in Tennessee than in Los Angeles. When he came home and was out later being a responsible young adult, I literally feared him driving home from a friend’s house at 2am because I didn’t want him to get pulled over on the freeway…because I didn’t want him to be killed by police.
I am an ally in the change that needs to happen in our country. Because I read books and watch films that make me uncomfortable, but help me understand what I don’t know. I’m not afraid to say, ‘Help me understand’. And most importantly, I listen… without defense, explanation or judgment, to people who have had a drastically different American experience than me. I can say ‘Black Lives Matter’. Period. End of sentence. I wouldn’t call our military personnel heroes, with a qualifier saying, “and so are police officers, firefighters, EMTs, ER doctors and nurses, coast guard, rescue workers and my mom.” If you have three children and one of them comes to you in tears saying ‘Mom, am I important?’ Is your answer, ‘Yes, and so are your brother and your sister and your dog.’ No, you acknowledge the need of your child asking to be seen and valued. You don’t need to know why they are seeking that acknowledgement before you can give it, you just give it because it is what they need. Don’t get me wrong, being able to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ doesn’t make me special or insinuate that all is right now. Far from it. But if you can’t do that one simple thing, you are part of the problem.
I have nowhere near the expertise or experience to lead this change. There are people who have the platform and those in communities across the country doing that. The leadership comes from those most impacted. As allies, we need to step aside, read, watch, learn, LISTEN. We need to get proximate to people whose journey we don’t understand and see each other as valuable human beings. We need to stop saying ‘I can’t hear you when you’re yelling.’ Well, we haven’t been listening for centuries when people have been crying, begging, talking to try to change things. We have to stop saying ‘slavery is over, move on’; ‘It’s not my problem’; ‘they and those people’; ‘Irish people were lynched too’; ‘my ancestors had a hard time when they came here and they worked hard to change their lives’; ‘Michael Jordan made it out of the hood, why can’t the rest of them’; ‘athletes need to shut up and play’.
and…Black Lives Matter.