June 7, 2020

Dear Privileged People, Change is Overdue. Here’s How we can Actually Help.

Do you know was has made my heart hurt the most in the last 10 days?

Amidst all the negative news coming out of the United States, it’s been the outcry and demonstrations spreading throughout the country that hit the hardest.

While there seems to be more news than any of us can realistically process, it’s the pictures, videos, and words of both gut-wrenching and heartfelt expression flooding my social media timelines that I simply cannot turn away from.

Protesters in Portland lying on a bridge; thousands in all, on their stomachs with their hands behind their backs. Videos of journalists being arrested by the police while reporting. Peaceful protesters being forcefully cleared from a public square. Masses of people demanding to be heard while others mar the message by inciting confusion and violence.

The despair and the anger resulting from so many decades of unsuccessful struggle brings tears to my eyes, and I find it hard to pull my thoughts together.

Silent No More

As a white American, I feel shame at what’s happening in the U.S. right now—what’s been happening for a long time. I cannot imagine what it would be like to live a life not knowing whether your husband, son, or brother will come home at the end of each day. Simply because of the color of their skin. So much hate; so much racism. Too much silence.

My heart goes out to George Floyd’s family and all the others who have been terribly wronged.

It’s time for the silence to stop because change is long overdue.

It’s right that people are marching, speaking out, and pulling together in solidarity. And it’s good to see police offers kneeling with the demonstrators.

You can only change what you’re willing to see.

If you are not affected personally, racism can be a lot like smoke and mirrors—you catch glimpses of it from different angles, but something else happens, and you get distracted. It’s easy not to see what you aren’t looking for.

Not too long ago, I saw a video that made me think.

A few dozen young adults were getting ready to take part in a race. The fastest runner would get a hundred dollars. But before they could start, one of the organizers had them stand in front of him in a straight line, left to right. And, this is what he said:

Take two steps forward if your parents are still married. Now, take two steps forward if you never had to help your parents pay the bills.

If you grew up with a father, take two steps. Take two steps, if you never had to wonder where your next meal is coming from.

It went on a bit longer, but the crux of the exercise was that, in the end, those people who moved forward the furthest had white skin. People like me; people of privilege.

And it reminded me of how good my chances in life have always been and continue to be.

Awareness is the first step toward change. I still feel confused. I feel compassion, and I feel shame. There’s this need deep inside to do something.

So, what can I do?

Channeling change

It’s time for a change, and it’s up to each one of us to do what we can. Over the past week, I’ve read articles, watched videos, and did my best to hear what demonstrators were saying when asked what white people can do to help. Not just for right now, but from this day forward.

Change happens when we’re in it for the long haul.

Here’s what I’m hearing is needed and what I am committed to doing (I welcome your ideas and insights in the comments below): 

>> Speak out. Raise your voice against racism, wherever and whenever you see it.

>> Get informed. Where does racism exist in your community? Please do something about it.

>> Be open. Get to know people who do not look or think like you.

>> Listen up. Mix up your timeline by consciously following people outside of your bubble on social media.

>> Be proactive. Volunteer and donate to foundations and projects that seek to end racism, inequality, and injustice.

>> Practice acceptance. Teach children that skin color says nothing about a person. Everyone is different in some way, and that’s what makes each of us special.

>> Be supportive. Give a voice to those who are less privileged than you. Take a stand against inequality in your profession and help others learn to recognize it, too.

Together, people all around the world are channeling change. Momentum is building, and so much about this movement looks and feels different. A sense of hope and determination overlays the anguish and pain, a feeling that this time is different.

Change has taken a long time in coming, but this time, we are all in it together.

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