Last summer, millions were declaring that the United States had reached a turning point in its painful racial history. The death of George Floyd appeared to be mobilizing people not just across the country but also elsewhere in the world to care about racial justice.
In the United States, protests took place in every state, sometimes in small communities with virtually no Black folks or other POC. Booksellers couldn’t keep up with the demand for anti-racism books, and folks like Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo were dangerously close to becoming household names. As I have written in the past, the moment was also helped along by Trump’s callous disregard and antagonism for people of color. Organizations that worked on racial justice saw unprecedented levels of giving. Surely, change was happening.
Or was it?
People were hopeful, though some—myself included—felt the moment was more like “the perfect storm” of events. Starting with the fact that due to the pandemic, people were actually paying attention to the larger world—prior to that, it was easier to ignore. In the spring of 2020, many of us were locked down in our homes and consuming far more media than ever before, and for a brief moment, there was a universal sense of tapping into our shared humanity.
In that moment, it felt good to dream about the potential of real change. But real change requires real work and sacrifice. Only time would tell what the impact of the great racial justice awakening of 2020 would bring, but for some people of color and many so-called white allies, they were hopeful.
Fast forward to the current moment and the state of racial justice in the United States, and I would say that the hopefulness of 2020 has been replaced with the apathy of 2021 and a decline in momentum.
When Americans—often led by the marginalized—mobilized to get Trump out of office, that’s when the norm of complacence started to settle back in. After all, in getting Biden elected, we also elected our first Black, South Asian female vice president. Surely Kamala Harris was a symbol of the change to come? Or not.
As I write this, Republican-led state legislatures across the country are working hard to ensure that voting will be even harder for people of color and other marginalized people. School boards and others have somehow managed to take a 40-year-old academic concept called critical race theory and turn it into a rallying cry of white persecution and, in the process, they are attempting to do everything possible to ensure that America’s painful racial history will never be known.
Meanwhile Black folks and other folks of color continue to be pummeled by the racial inequity of COVID. The racial financial gap grows ever wider and life for all people of color in the past year has become more precarious.
The racial justice landscape in this country is murky at best, and while there are some white folks in the trenches, the painful reality is true allies and accomplices are few and far between. Instead, most “allies” have been distilled down to following the talking points of sometimes-questionable people of color, throwing a few bucks to the cause and relying on the anti-racism scripts, rather than moving beyond the early days of anti-racism learnings.
No doubt, there are white folks who are diving deep into the work. I am fortunate enough to know a few of them. But for many white people, when the work starts to overwhelm them or it’s uncomfortable, too many are walking away and returning to the sweet embrace of whiteness. Which of course, is the ultimate privilege of whiteness: the ability to walk away and live a life untouched by the horrors of racism.
I can’t imagine what that must feel like, since whether I write on race or lead Community Change Inc., I am always going to be a Black woman. There are no breaks for those of us in Black and other brown-skinned bodies, just the unspoken truth of the burdens we carry, knowing that one day it may cause us to break down. As we carry our lived experiences and the epigenetic reality of our ancestors in our bodies.
Yet while we grapple with the pain and constant daggers of racism in this racially volatile country, white allies and accomplices are often immobilized for fear of appearing to be racist. Thus there are many times when they should be growing in their praxis of the work, but they still need a to-do list. We need our allies and accomplices to do more, because right now they are doing less and once again unwittingly placing the primary burden on Black and other people of color to fix racism. Dismantling the systems of white supremacy ultimately will require a critical mass of white folks. White supremacy was created by white people and so white people need to be at the forefront (and in the center) of dismantling it.
Black and brown folks have their own work to do, and while some of us may choose to be a part of the dismantling of white supremacy, increasingly I see that our work is to deprogram ourselves from the yoke of white supremacy and to heal ourselves and our communities. To live lives which allow us to tap into the full spectrum of humanity, without the constant demands of white supremacy deluding us into stretching ourselves thin and giving from near-empty reservoirs of humanity.
I challenge you to create one concrete action beyond giving money, amplifying voices of color online, or reading books that will be in service to dismantling white supremacy that you can focus on this year. By all means, keep doing the other things, but now it is time to grow in your work. For readers of color, what is one concrete action that you can focus on that will allow you to live joyously in the fullness of your humanity without the burden of white supremacy weighing you down? Tip: I highly suggest following The Nap Ministry online for suggestions.
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