I know what you are thinking. Why is a white mental illness awareness blogger writing about racism and the senseless death of George Floyd?
I am writing about racism and the murder of George Floyd for two reasons.
First, I believe that centuries of marginalization, inequality and hate have left an indelible mark on the African American community’s mental health. Racism has affected the way they perceive themselves, and the way they perceive the world. People of color have wounds the white community will never completely understand.
Second, watching George Floyd beg for his life and die affected the entire world’s mental health. It affected mine. Watching that video opened a floodgate inside of me. I could no longer hide behind my white privilege and pretend that what was happening to my African American brothers and sisters was acceptable.
I could no longer use #AllLivesMatter on social media because the truth is, as long as black men are being killed simply for being black men, all lives do not matter. It is a flagrant lie. I am ashamed I ever thought #AllLivesMatter was an accurate statement.
Another Privileged White Voice
I know what else you are thinking. Do we really need another privileged white person telling us how to respond to racism?
Yes, I believe we do. Not because I think I have all the answers, because I don’t. I don’t have eloquent words that will stop the atrocities we are watching on the evening news and social media.
But I do think as long as white Americans stay silent, we are complicit in the problem. I have walked around this week in tears, my grief weighing me down, convicted that I spent so many years remaining silent.
I will mess this up, and my words may not come out right, but I have a voice, and I must use it. I will no longer hide behind my white privilege and stay silent because I feel uncomfortable.
I will no longer remain silent because I am afraid of how the world will receive my voice, and I will learn from my mistakes as I advocate imperfectly.
I think the white community needs a place to start. We need actionable steps that we can follow. I believe we should follow the lead of our African American brothers and sisters who spread awareness and stage peaceful protests, but there are also several things the white community can do to get started.
Here are five things white Americans must do in response to racism:
1. Pray, align yourself with God’s Word, and examine your heart and motives.
“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Racism is not just a hate problem; it is also a heart problem. George Floyd’s death was not the first senseless death of a black man. But if I am completely honest, I think the white community has become desensitized to racism and violence against people of color. It has become a way of life we don’t think about until we see it on the evening news, and then we only think about it in passing until the news cycle changes.
As a community, we must get on our knees and get back to the basics. We must align ourselves with God and His truth before we can add anything of value to the conversation. We must do a heart check to see if we have been part of the problem or part of the solution. We must examine our motives to make sure we are not just trying to look good to our black friends.
We must pray for our country, our leaders, our African American community and our white community for healing, unity and equality. We must make our hearts right, so that when we approach God with our prayers, we are doing it out of a spirit of humility and a willingness to make hard choices and do hard things.
Although we must all do our part, we must also remember that God is ultimately the one who will heal our broken hearts and restore and unite our country and our world.
2. Listen to the stories of your African American brothers and sisters.
It is important that we don’t let the George Floyds of the world slip through the cracks of history. It is important to know about Armaud Armory, Christian Cooper and Trayvon Martin. It is equally important to know about Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. It is important to immerse ourselves in Black literature and culture.
But if I am being honest, knowing those things only improve race relations and understanding to a point.
What happened to George Floyd horrified me, but it was a conversation with a friend I love and admire that woke me up. I can pretend what I am seeing and hearing on the news is happening to other people and doesn’t apply to me, but when my friend tells me her husband was racially profiled at the church we both attend, I can no longer pretend.
When she tells me about Christian, God-fearing people using the n-word and making jokes about slavery in her presence, the blindfold falls off. When she tells me how her husband has been mistreated by law enforcement and by the business owners he makes deliveries to, I can no longer pretend I don’t hear. When she tells me a white man made fun of her son’s hair and pulled rubber bands out of it, it was not just her imagination.
When someone I love tells me the story about how racism has touched them personally, the problem becomes real. The things I pretended I didn’t see now become facts I can no longer ignore.
3. Have an honest conversation with your children about racism and lead by example.
Children are taught to see color, because their innocent hearts are full of love, not hate. It doesn’t take long for children to see the division of power and treatment fall along racial lines.
What can you do practically as a parent? Have an honest conversation with your children. Don’t say that you want to teach them to be colorblind. That is an overly simplistic approach that is ineffective because the lines have already been drawn, and we don’t help the plight of our brothers and sisters of color if we pretend we don’t see them.
Use age-appropriate language, but don’t be surprised by how much your children have already picked up on. My ten-year-old told me that the Declaration of Independence only applies to white men! She had already surmised that African Americans and women do not have the same rights, even though those rights are “guaranteed” by law!
It is not enough to have a conversation with your children. They need to see you on the front lines standing in the gap for the African American community. They need to see you loving on and respecting your black and brown friends. They need to see that your heart is broken by the injustice, and they need to see you speak out when others spread hate.
4. Leverage your talents and gifts to do your part to spread awareness and promote change, but don’t compare your contribution to others.
God has given each of us unique talents and gifts. It is our duty to use those gifts for good. God has given me a way with words, so I must use that talent to speak up and shed light on injustice and darkness in the world.
Some have the gift of boldness. They must be on the front lines, taking part in peaceful protests and raising their voices. Some are gifted teachers. They must use that gift to educate the world about the realities of racism, inequality and hate. Some have the gift of leadership. They should leverage that gift to create an organized movement against systemic racism. Some are prayerful. They must use that gift to rally their like-minded prayer warriors to pray for unity and healing for our nation.
What I think is equally important to leveraging your talents and gifts is not comparing your contribution to others. My contribution to the cause may seem quiet and insufficient next to Jane Doe down the street, but make no mistake, even the smallest contributions have worth and matter. It takes all talents and gifts working together to make change happen.
5. Don’t lose your urgency.
This may be the most important point of all. I go back to the conversation I had with my ten-year-old daughter. She told me that in a couple of weeks when the news cycle changes, like it always does, no one will be talking about George Floyd anymore. How heartbreaking that a ten-year-old already knows the ways of the world!
Watching the video of George Floyd’s murder horrified me, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I am afraid that I will be one of those people that my daughter is talking about. I am afraid my talk is just talk, and it will never lead to meaningful change in my life and the way I approach racism.
My eyes have been opened, but my awakening to the plight of the African American community only matters if I keep talking. It only matters if I internalize the fact that this is a marathon, not a race, and I am willing to do hard things and continuously leverage my talents and gifts to benefit a community that has been devalued and abused for centuries.
Unfortunately, I believe there will be more George Floyds before things change, but I am grateful that we live in an age of smartphones because when we see a video of blatant injustice, we can no longer pretend it is not happening.
But knowing there is a problem is not enough. If I am outraged and remain silent, I am complicit in the problem. It is not enough to say that I see the plight of my African American brothers and sisters, and I am outraged. So instead, I say not only do I see you, but I will raise my voice with you until the world hears us.
And while I know my attempts will be feeble and imperfect, I pledge to listen, learn and do whatever I can do to change the way the world perceives and treats the African American community. I pledge to walk hand in hand with you as we write a new chapter in the history books. We can’t rewrite history, but we can work together to change the ending.
Great points! I hope I can explain this all to my kids one day and raise them to not have any sort of prejudiced views.
Jen, I believe having honest conversations with our children will go a long way toward ending racism in the United States.