Trying To Find the Words to Talk About My Role in Racism

There are not always words available to express the way that something feels. And sometimes, even when we try to use the words we know we can’t fully articulate the amount of emotion that needs to be attached to what is said. I’ve written this reflection several times. I’ve had friends read it. Still, it doesn’t fully capture what I want to say with the level of intensity that I want to say it. I feel inadequate to fully express what I’m trying to say, and for my inadequacy, I apologize.

I have very few words that can accurately express the emotions that I’ve been feeling over the last week and since the murder of George Floyd. I’ve been trying for days to put the right words together feeling like it’s an impossible task. At first, the hurt was for the world and how we can’t seem to get our shit together. The image of people protesting horrific injustices in pandemic masks and the violent videos on social media are something I can’t get out of my head. Then I began the grief of thinking about what the situation would have looked like if George was one of my friends. If that had been Desmond or Rodney or Sarah or anyone else who I deem as being family and whom I love like crazy – I would have lost my mind. Now, I have moved into a new grieving era. The one where I realize, upon further inspection, that maybe I haven’t always been the most awesome white friend.

In my mind I’ve advocated by being accepting and loving. I have tried to be what people call an anti-racist. I have asked questions and been thankful to have friends of color that would patiently explain things to me because I was admittedly stupid in my whiteness. Like admitting I was stupid excused all the questions I wasn’t asking. I’ve taught my children to appreciate others for exactly who they are regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, sexuality…that none of that matters because everyone has value. I realize now there is so much more to this than just accepting.

I have also been embarrassed at my lack of outright support. The things I knew I didn’t know and I was quietly, subconsciously accepting of my ignorance. I was incredibly proud of my son for going out and protesting and then immediately felt guilty that I didn’t do the same. Why didn’t I think of doing that? I struggled for days to say the right thing on social media and kept putting it off because I was fearful of offending the very people that I wanted to support. I understand how much of a coward that makes me seem. 

I have a brown daughter. I have watched racism touch our family. The intense anger that accompanies it is difficult to contain and difficult to put into words, and of course that doesn’t even begin to touch some of the experiences that others have had. When we adopted her all those years ago nobody prepared us for that. They said learn about her culture and teach her, but they never warned us about how truly hateful some people can be. We learned that on our own, but we didn’t know that because we had never experienced it. Because we are white.

And even those experiences didn’t push me to learn more. Probably because I was too comfortable in my whiteness. 

I want to say I’m sorry but I can’t imagine that matters much. A friend equated it to speaking with a grieving widow or mother. What do you say when you know nothing you say will make anything better but could potentially make it worse? I want to find the words but can’t. I’m speechless. I feel sad and dumb. Like I missed a mark that I conveniently didn’t know was there.

Mostly because I really believed my only job was to love my friends.

But I think now that I may not have been loving them in the right way. Loving them is maybe only 50% of what we are supposed to be doing. Advocating for them, teaching our children how to be better than we are, and calling out inequalities may be more of a start. I’m not exactly sure how to move forward, but I’m committed to figuring it out. Not only because it’s the right thing to do but also because I have friends of color who I couldn’t imagine not having in my life – those who enrich my life and make me a better person just for knowing them. Those who have shaped me into who I am. Those who I love with such conviction that I would gladly do anything to be better for them. Anything to be able to learn to love them in the right way. Because I would die inside if I ever knew I made them feel less than. In so many ways they are so much better of people than I could ever hope to be.

I’m committed being better. I’ll unlearn and relearn. 

Articles that say “this is how you teach it” are valuable, but to teach it we first need to be able to look at our own assumptions and biases. Two articles that were personally focused and that really resonated with me lately are How to Be a Better White Person (thanks Desmond Hasty) and EDITORIAL: What I Said When My White Friend Asked for My Black Opinion on White Privilege (thanks Jeff Kubiak). Another really fantastic resource I read was An Ongoing List of Ways to Join the Anti-Racist Fight which provides organizations, podcast, books and other resources to learn more. 

I’m sorry as a blog reader if this post seems all over the place. If it is, it’s an accurate representation of how I feel about the world right now. The best way I know how to reflect is through my writing. Thanks for allowing me to reflect with you.

2 thoughts on “Trying To Find the Words to Talk About My Role in Racism

  1. Mandy, I am so moved to tears by your writing, your recognition of where you have been, and where you are learning to go next. You are a learning person. That’s your being, your essence. I am with you. I am new to voice my feelings in a public arena. I am mixed race and have been silent for nearly 6 decades. I am Black and I am German. I am me. It’s time to learn and give voice or words to our feelings for injustice, starting with ourselves. I have walked your path. We don’t do any favors for our friends whom we are fearful of offending. We can no longer allow them to walk around in ignorance about us or how they may be deluding themselves. We must learn to live with their hurt and disappointment if it comes. There is also blessing for those who receive the message and say, “teach me more about how you feel.
    I am learning…that is what we do to honor the humanness of who we are and to be the teachers we claim to be. Live the truth in your life as you plan and speak more. Don’t stop. I’ll be listening. I’ll stand with you. Sincerely, Steve

    Liked by 1 person

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