“How old were you when you first experienced integration?”
That was the question Margaret Edds asked at the beginning of her talk on her book We Face the Dawn several years ago. I didn’t have to think hard to answer it.
I was eighteen. I left my all white town for college, never having had a conversation with a Black person. Now, here I was, one of thousands of young people in a multi-racial, multi ethnic crowd. Inside that swarm of bright-eyed, energetic people bursting with opinions and perspectives, I felt the world expand. This was what I’d been missing in high school.
I (mistakenly) didn’t consider myself a product of white supremacy — I was better than that! — but I knew that my light skin tilted the scales in my favor. I benefitted from institutional racism.
My little sundown home town is in Ohio but now I live in the capitol of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia. Like many other U.S. cities these days, Richmond’s streets and parks are filled with protestors coalesced around the Black Lives Matter movement. The towering monument to Robert E. Lee and the Lost Cause, now colorfully contextualized, is a focal point for unrest. A few blocks away, the headquarters of the Daughters of the Confederacy was fire bombed.
A friend’s comment struck me: “These young people aren’t going to put up with what we put up with!”
HOLD ON!, I said to myself. “HAVE I been putting up with stuff?”
Well, duh — YES! I’ve been well aware that BPOC are abused and disrespected by our white dominated society. But — here’s an example of white privilege — I didn’t have to think about it everyday. My efforts to ameliorate conditions were piddling at best. This tree has to come out by the roots.
If I don’t want to put up with it anymore, what do I do now? Being nice is not enough.
I turned to a trusted advisor — Google. I read articles and watched YouTube and listened to podcasts.
I bought the Me & White Supremacy workbook and am using it as best I can.
I’ve donated to two bail funds for protestors and set up a monthly donation to Friends Association for Children. Founded with the help of Quakers in 1871 to care for newly-freed orphans, Friends still serves a primarily Black community. I increased our long-standing monthly donation to the Southern Poverty Legal Center.
I’ve written to my county supervisor to urge creation of a civilian review board for our police department and asked others to do the same. If we stay on it, it will happen.
I am deliberately choosing books by BIPOC*. I’m following Black authors and book reviewers on Twitter and YouTube.
It’s not very much and it’s not enough. But I’m learning. At the very least, I might avoid offending BIPOC through ignorance.
Are you also white? How are you responding?
*Black, Indiginous, People of Color