“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”– James Baldwin
Change requires courage and after the events of the past week in the United States, it is abundantly clear that America needs to make some lifesaving changes for the sake of her future and citizens.
We are standing on the precipice of change and it’s frightening as hell because we all share a collective fear. Black and Brown people fear for their lives in a nation where our skin has marked us for centuries as “other” and somehow dangerous no matter what, police officers are worried that racial violence is about to boil over and reverse a couple decades or more of declining police deaths, and everyday citizens are scared that their nation is unraveling. All these fears have some validity. Yet in recognizing and dealing with these fears, we as a nation need to stop denying certain realities. We need to buck up and deal with painful truth because, while truth and change is uncomfortable, it’s our only hope.
In 1619, the first enslaved Africans landed in Jamestown, Va., thus setting in motion the dehumanization of a people, the side effects of which we are all still living with in 2016. You cannot enslave people without lasting effects, you cannot systematically build a nation with enslaved people and not expect to one day have to answer for that decision. No living white person in 2016 enslaved people, but all white people in 2016 live with the residual benefits and perks that came about as a result of the dehumanization of enslaved Africans.
America has never righted that wrong; at best we have put band-aids on the wounds that remain. Slavery ended in the 1800s and we replaced it with Jim Crow which ended in the 1960s when we we made an effort to start righting the wrongs of the past. Unfortunately, we didn’t address some of the core issues and, worse yet, we stopped or reversed a lot of the programs and progress long before anything was actually fixed. So, over the decades we have continued to haphazardly slap band-aids on our racial wounds. There are times though when we need must face reality and admit we’re in bad shape. And right now, we are at that place.
Increasingly, we know how we got here. In the past several years, the dialogue on race has gone mainstream and while we have needed these dialogues and need more of them, they are not enough. Knowledge of racism alone isn’t going to save us from ourselves any more than a denial of our problems going to save us. Now more than ever, we need active change that requires all of us to examine ourselves and work within our silos to create it. Anyone who has ever had to make change in their personal lives knows this reality. Change is hard and frankly not at all comfortable. Whether we are changing jobs, homes, partners, or habits. Change is active and intentional.
The horrific act that happened in Dallas has the potential to be one of the many catalysts for change if we don’t allow ourselves to be derailed by the emerging narrative that pits the lives of Black people against the lives of law enforcement. It is not a zero-sum game though and one can be committed to racial justice, full humanity for Black people and a desire for law enforcement officers to not be harmed. The emerging narrative that Black Lives Matters is anti-police or a hate group is an attempt to deflect from the real harm that happens to Black people. It is an attempt to discredit the work that has occurred in recent years. If we allow that narrative to live, we will do worse than slap a band-aid on our gaping racial wounds; we will be ripping open old ones. If that happens, I fear that as a nation we will find ourselves in an even uglier place than we are right now.
Now more than ever, white people who understand structural racism have to take a stand and speak to truth within their communities. People must look at the systems and institutions in their community and ask the hard questions…how are we upholding structural racism? We must look to make change where we can and within our circle of influence. I have said it before: You will piss people off and you may even lose some friends and loved ones. To stand up and talk about the uncomfortable knowing that you will ruffle feathers requires intestinal fortitude and courage, it requires an unwavering commitment to truth and justice.
As a Black woman, my words are biased, because I am personally invested in this fight for my children, my grandchildren and even myself. I want to be free, I want my people to be free. Yet I don’t hold the power or privilege to make that change, I don’t have access to that power and privilege but I try my best. No, this fight requires that those of you who hold that power and privilege be willing to leverage and even give up some of that power and privilege to right this wrong so that we as a nation and as a people can start to truly heal.
How far are you willing to go to create a nation where we can all be truly human and free? A nation where busted taillights don’t lead to instantaneous death and four-year-old children don’t have to bear witness to death from the backseat of the car? Only when we create a world where Black skin is not deemed suspect and traffic stops don’t become executions can we honestly say that all lives matter. Until that time, we live with an uneasy hierarchy where whiteness and proximity to whiteness allows you full humanity and where darker skin leaves you with second tier of humanity where you must beg for your life or explain why you matter.
If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support.