There is a major block that I see planted in the way of racial justice and equality—and I want to address it.
Talking about race is painful (can’t even believe I feel the need to write this).
Of course, it is nowhere near the same galaxy of pain as experiencing racism, but for white people, especially if this is the first time you are being introduced to the conversation, talking about racism, racial injustice, white privilege, and its deep history in our country and world is painful.
Here’s why that scares me: people avoid pain. The block that I see is pain versus comfort. Humans are wired for comfort. Humans are wired to avoid pain. Black people do not have the option of avoiding the subject of race: white people do.
I’m writing this because I really hope that you don’t.
In America, we love the values of working hard and of pushing through the pain, because we know that on the other side of hard work and on the other side of being uncomfortable are growth and success. I don’t need to tell you this, because from Steve Jobs to J.K. Rowling, we hear these stories all of the time: they are what our parents, teachers, and society instilled in us from the time we could take them in.
See, I’m not asking you take on a whole new belief system. I’m asking that you notice that the ones you already hold apply here.
I know you believe in justice.
I know you believe in equality.
I know you believe in fighting for what you believe in…now look around. Do you see?
The profound, yet blatantly obvious truth that I’ve come to deeply understand in the past few weeks is that this is not a Black people problem; this is a human problem. As a white person, I can never understand the infinite layers of pain and complexity that come simply because your skin has more melanin than someone else’s, but I can say that when the long-overdue reckoning and revolution began just a few weeks ago, I felt broken.
I felt broken because I understood on a new and deep level. I understood how someone my age was out for a jog and hunted and killed like an animal and someone with the same birthday as me was shot in her bed and that this wasn’t a fluke—it was common—and that didn’t just disturb me for five minutes or one day as I watched the news and posted my black square; it broke me because it challenged my sense of humanity.
The injustice and oppression of Black lives that occurs every day in this country challenges our basic sense of dignity. It challenges our basic sense of morality. It challenges our heart that, whether you’ve pushed it away or not, is filled with love. It challenges our soul, which, whether you’ve ever met it or not, strives for freedom.
If you are at all tapped into your own sense of humanity, then as the revolution began and (with the guidance of the cosmos) the veil was pulled back and all was brought out in the open, I hope you have felt personally challenged.
If you have felt personally challenged—then the ball is in motion. And if you are the people I hope you are, with the values I know you say you hold, you will push through the pain and discomfort of recognizing your own privilege and recognizing your own ignorance, because on the other side of it is growth.
I hope this will not come as any surprise to anyone, but Black people are not keeping themselves oppressed, and they certainly are not oppressing themselves—and wrenchingly, in the case of so many, they are not murdering themselves.
This is a human problem, yes, but Black people aren’t doing this to themselves. This is happening at the hands of white people (even if it’s not you) and systems that were built on white supremacy. Like it or not, because you, fellow white people, have less melanin in your skin, and you have been able to reap all of the benefits of such, you now have the responsibility to do your part. Not because of some new, complex ideologies, not because some white girl is asking you to, not even because (I hope) you have Black people whom you love who need you to, and not even because people are literally being murdered for no reason…
I am asking you to do what you already know you need to do. I am asking you to stand by the beliefs you already have.
If you are a white American reading this, or a person anywhere, I would be willing to bet that you would claim the value of love. You would claim the value of basic human dignity. You would claim the value of equality. You would claim the value of justice.
If someone asked you if you believed in these things, I think you would say yes, and if I asked you if you are willing to fight for these values that you believe in, I think you would say yes.
Today, our focus is on our Black brothers and sisters, but the values themselves are not targeted. There could be a day and there has been a time and place where being white means being oppressed for no other reason than being white. In that case, I think you would hope that your brothers and sisters who don’t look like you—who hold the power—stand up for love, for basic human dignity, for equality, for justice, and you would hope that they are willing to be uncomfortable and push through the pain to do so.
I know these past few weeks have been a lot—but, to be perfectly honest, this is not hard to wrap your head around.
Just do something to keep moving the ball forward. Something in the way of love, in the way of light, in the way of equality, in the way of justice. I know it’s uncomfortable; keep pushing through the pain.
Don’t do it for me. You don’t even have to do it for Black people. The goal is all the same.
Do it for the things you already believe in. Do it for humanity. Do it for the world you want to see that holds those values you claim you stand by. Do it for our human growth, for our human success—because that is what is on the other side here.
Here is a resource on how to be a better ally, crafted by creator, coach, and educator Gloria Atanmo.