Arthur W. Page Society

Don’t Stop Now

When I was first dealing with a cancer diagnosis several years ago, many friends reached out to me to see how I was doing. I appreciated their kindness and their concern even though I knew, and they knew, there wasn’t anything any of us could do or say to change the situation. No matter how many times someone uttered “I’m sorry” or “This is so unfair,” I still had cancer. I know they needed to express the weight they were carrying but didn’t really know how. At times, I felt like I was carrying their burden as well as mine. I had cancer, but friends looked to me to make them feel better. It’s a strange turn of events, but I hear this same thing from many people I know who have been sick at one time or another.

Today, as I continue to watch civil unrest unfold in front of my eyes and blatant, horrific racism in action, I find that in a strange way I have those same feelings about my friends again. It’s the same, but different. This time, I’m not the one who is sick. Our country is. My friends are calling me to see how I’m doing. They are concerned. The same words are being repeated and the same questions asked, “I’m sorry,” “This is so unfair,” “Do you need anything?” But this time, the answer is different. 

I say, “Yes, I do need something. I need you to use your voice, your power, and your privilege. I need you to be outraged about how people of color are still being treated, and I need you to be as shaken to the core as I am. I need you to work with me and with others to make sure that the systemic mistreatment of black people comes to an end, and I need you to help make racial equality a reality. Let’s work together so that my future grandchildren and millions of other black children won’t have to spend even one moment wondering at work, at home, or anywhere, if their life matters or is valued in the same way as their white friends. The reality today is that your white voice means more than my black one. But our collective voice can change the world.” I genuinely believe that.

My family is a mixed-race bunch. I’m black, my husband is white, and our two daughters are bi-racial. We have always taught our girls that they represent the future. Because they can exist in this world and belong, we know that racial harmony is not only possible, but inevitable. When people ask them, “What are you?” referring to their ethnic make-up, we’ve taught them to say, “I’m the future.” But today, their life experience is teaching them differently. In just a few short weeks our family mantra of “you represent the future” has been replaced by a growing reality that they may just exist in a country where they were never meant to live. That even though they are mixed race, to the government they are black and have none of the protections or privilege that come with being white. We are reminded that in 1967, my husband and I would not have been able to legally marry because of the anti-miscegenation laws that existed until then. Still, I tell them the same things I say to my friends, “Use your voice and take some action to make change happen.” I tell them that it’s okay to be disgusted and outraged by what they see on television, and it’s okay to be angry, but to channel their anger into something useful. I tell them that it’s okay to be afraid but to let their purpose be greater than their fear while they, too, fight for equality while reconciling the meaning of their multiple ethnicities. 

While I am discouraged by the injustices I have seen and heard about over the past weeks -- and for many years before that I personally witnessed and experienced -- I am also encouraged by the unity I see and feel today. The protestors are no longer only black people who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. I see protestors of many ethnicities standing together in support of their black brothers and sisters. I see people who are trying to make a change. I see law enforcement officers kneeling with protestors. In all of this, I see hope.

Yes, I am still scared. I am still tired. And my heart still hurts. I want to help my white friends understand. But I won’t carry the burden to help them feel better. This time, I need them to help carry mine – ours. We need them to use their voices because from today on, any silence is deafening,

Here are a few things my white friends, colleagues and others can do to help. This is not an exhaustive list, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers.

  1.  Reach out to all your co-workers, friends and especially your black friends who may be feeling especially sad. However, if your black colleagues were not your friends before, this isn’t the time to pretend they are your friends now.
  2. Don’t ask what you can do. Just do something that counts. Raise issues in the workplace; when you see an injustice, no matter how small, report it.
  3. Keep the conversation alive. Don’t let this be a one and done so that we forget as quickly as we became angry in the first place.
  4. Educate yourself on what is really happening around you. Don’t ask your black friends to explain it to you. A simple Google search can tell you everything you need to know.
  5. Stop telling your black friends that you don’t see color. When I hear someone tell me they don’t see color, they are telling me (unintentionally), that they don’t see me. I want you to see me. I want you to see my color; I just don’t want you care that we are different colors.
  6. Remember MLK’s words that have been repeated over and over again lately, but that I have uttered for a long time and use them to remind you of where our world is today. 1. “Riots are the language of the unheard.” and 2. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

And finally, to my friends, white, black, or otherwise. Keep calling and keep asking questions because while I don’t want to carry your burden or for you to carry mine, I do want us to carry them both together.

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