I am not a rich woman but I am a woman of privilege. I am not a socially prominent woman, but I am a woman of privilege. I am not powerful in business or politics but I am a woman of privilege. With privilege comes responsibility, and I feel it is my responsibility to add my voice to the call for justice and equality.
I live an insular life. That does not mean that I live in a white ghetto, I live in a racially integrated neighborhood that is filled with diversity. I live an insular life in that the people I live with, work with, and play with share a common ethical and moral stance. They, for the most part, care about their personal growth and the lives and welfare of others. I do not interact with outwardly bigoted people. I also do not interact in any significant way with people who are different from me.
This week, I have heard the outrage and powerless of men and women over the tragic, brutal and senseless death of George Floyd. In my circles, I have heard anger, grief and bewilderment about the events that lead up to and including the riots that resulted from these wrong and painful events of the last few weeks. Over and over I have heard the question, “What can I do?”
Combating racism and inequality begins inside of each of us. It then must move out into the community. At one time in the fight for equality, cultural competency was considered enough to fight racism and prejudice. Progress has been made but not enough. What is needed now is more active intentional action. We need to become anti-racist.
Anti-racism is both an internal and external process. Being anti-racist is more than ridding yourself of racist attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. It means actively fighting these attitudes, beliefs and behaviors as they manifest in your lives on a daily basis.
The steps involved in creating an internal system of anti-racism.
In blacks, people of color, any minority or marginalized person, racism creates internalized fear, hate, insecurity and shame. From it develops a feeling that one does not have a right to exist, much less the right to live a life where their needs are met and their dreams are fulfilled. In those who harbor prejudices, it creates an internalized fear, hate, insecurity and shame. It is dangerous to live in a world where you see those who are different from you as a threat.
We take notice of the big events: the shootings, murders, police brutality, inequality in the justice system. We also need to notice when children go hungry, grocery stores in predominately minority areas have inferior supplies, or when we see fear caused from a lack of acceptance. These events are of equal importance and occur daily and hourly.
Wrong is wrong, no matter what the cause. Stop the action, then address the cause.
This attitude of, “I did not and would not do this, therefore I am not responsible,” leads to not seeing within ourselves the seeds of prejudice. It exists within all of us. See it, accept it and work for change inside yourself.
No matter how much we want to live in equality and acceptance, we ALL do these things. Take the time to listen to those quiet voices inside yourself and know your deeper self. You can change and make better choices when you are willing to face yourself.
In doing so, you are creating compassion. In your sphere of influence, face and address those small moments where racism is expressed.
Listen for the meaning and the emotions that accompany the events you see. Learn to say, “I do not know, but I am willing to listen and learn. Will you teach me?”
We can only hope that by having a willing heart we can begin to hear the experience of others.
When the furor over the death of George Floyd calms down, don’t forget that racism and injustice is still alive and it takes time, attention and hard work to create change.
The anthropologist Ruth Behar once described a photojournalist who was documenting a mudslide. He stood helplessly by, taking pictures as a young woman drowned in mud, until he could take it no more and he suddenly reached out to her. Behar identified this moment of tension between observing and intervening as a central dilemma of all efforts at witnessing.
This is the tension we must all confront now. It is no longer enough to witness and validate the struggle for equality, it is time to take action. Protesting, posting resources, calling representatives, donating, sharing, speaking up and listening all are important ways we can show up.
The words he spoke, “I can’t breathe,” reflect the emotional response that I am seeing and feeling. However, unlike Floyd we can breathe and we have the opportunity to use our breath and lives to make a difference.