White People, This is Where We Start

by Michelle Palmer

[Notes: For those of you new to Tuesday Justice, these posts are generally packed with links to other sources & previous posts. If it’s bold and not black, it’s a link, and you should definitely check it out!]

A dear young friend of mine messaged me Wednesday about George Floyd. He said, “I’ve been a wreck…I want to do something, but I feel helpless.” 

Image by Faith Gintz
  • We should all be wrecked when we see injustice, especially when perpetrated by those who are supposed to serve and protect. 
  • YES! Do something. White people, we are needed. We have got to do something. 
  • It is overwhelming. The whole system of racism is against us. Fixing the problem means upending the status quo. It will NOT be comfortable or easy or quick. But we are NOT helpless! I’m hoping the resources and steps I share here give him (and you!) a clear path forward. 
  1. Inside work. 

We have to begin by unraveling the racism in our own hearts. Look within yourself, recognize the racism in your heart, and be honest with yourself about your complicity in the system. This is a hard, but necessary, first step!

I wrote about how my journey to anti-racism began in a previous post, but it’s not the whole story. In the fall of 2014, I had just come back to the States from the UK, Michael Brown’s death was on the forefront of the news, and the Black Lives Matter movement was gaining momentum. In that season, my friend Zhaleh regularly posted about systemic racism; she shared information, articles, websites, etc. that helped me to learn about the deep roots of racism in America. (I am forever grateful that she used her platform to educate!) During that same time, I worked retail and spent hours standing at the entrance of a dressing room, where I was able to spend time reflecting. When I saw people pass me as they shopped, I questioned myself: “What are my assumptions based on their appearance? Skin tone and clothes and demeanor, what are the judgments I’m making and are they fair?” At first, I was appalled and deeply uncomfortable. But the more I questioned myself, the more I was able to dismantle those assumptions, and the more quickly I was able to catch myself and reroute the thoughts. And not only that, but I also started to notice where those assumptions came from, how racism is woven into the fabric of our society, how unfair and inaccurate representations of minorities in the media had infected my mind. 

And guess what? Six years on, this process is still ongoing. I may never get beyond ALL of the ingrained racism in my heart, but I can keep fighting it. I can refuse to consume media that reinforces it. I  can keep working to spot it and root it out. I can call it out where I see it. 

Yesterday morning, as I scrolled through Twitter, I read an excellent thread by speaker & author, Kristie Anyabwile. At the end, she said this: 

But for those who want to know what they can do, here's a start: 
Look inward for seeds of racism in your heart. 
Repent of racist attitudes, actions, systems that you willingly participate in. 
Call your family and friends to account. 
Risk something for the sake of another.
  1. Learn! Read! Listen! 

My NUMBER ONE RECOMMENDATION for people new to this journey is the Be The Bridge Facebook group. One of the best features of the group is that all new members start with a 3 month period of silent, active listening. That time to learn and not speak is truly invaluable! Be the Bridge has tons of resources as well, which you can find in the group or on their website, and lots of great discussion and commentary on current events.

Next, we have a resource list here on Tuesday Justice. Books, articles, curriculum…there is a ton of content out there. You can follow us on Facebook and we’ll add things regularly to keep you updated and learning. If you feel overwhelmed, SEND US A MESSAGE. You can do that here through the blog, on Facebook, or to tuesdayjusticeblog@gmail.com. We can help you find where to start based on your particular needs and interests. Don’t freeze up. Don’t be too scared to start. We are here to help. 

Social media has its faults, but following folks who are smarter than me and getting their real-time reactions and commentaries on current events has been hugely helpful to me. Often social media provides bite-sized insights that help me learn about issues in ways that I can ACTUALLY process. Here are my personal faves…

I’m too old for TikTok, but I bet you can find some there! 

  1. Follow, engage, and support (POC-led) organizations DOING the work. 

In addition to the super smart people, following organizations who are working to fight structural racism is a great way to find ways of getting involved. You never know when an organization will post a way to contribute, volunteer, or work for justice. Again, here are some organizations doing great work: 

  1. Amplify Black voices. 

Hit that share button. Retweet. Add post to story. Do whatever you do on TikTok. And not just on social media! Find ways to help more of your white friends hear the words of our Black brothers and sisters. They are speaking. It’s our job to hold up a megaphone! 

  1. Commit acts of micro-compassion at every opportunity. 

Most of us have probably heard the term microaggression. Step 1 is to not commit microaggressions. Step 2 is start committing acts of microcompassion (or microinclusion) at every available opportunity. My dad is great at this! He uses his place in the world as an older white man and PURPOSEFULLY smiles at/talks to/engages with people of color to recognize and affirm their humanity and value. Don’t be like Amy Cooper.

  1. Affect your own circle. 

I had a chat with another friend this week about posting on social media about these issues. She said…will it really change anything?! We went back and forth for ages, y’all. I’ll spare you the details, but a big conclusion we came to was that it’s not about trying to change the whole world right off the bat. That’s neither realistic nor sustainable. The most important thing you can do right now is within your circle of influence. 

  • Lindsay is a teacher. She stocks her classroom library with books that include characters of color and speaks up when her district skimps on Black History Month programming. 
  • Mattie is a writer. She writes poetry that helps us feel the depth of sorrow of Black murders. 
  • Faith and Rachel are artists. They create and share pieces that spread a message of change and kindness. 
  • Slim is a pastor who preaches passionately from scripture about the importance of justice
  • Will is MY pastor who asked me to speak to our church about Juneteenth and why it matters to the neighborhood we serve (and why it should matter to us). 
  • I know of a whole group of symphony board members who actively think about how we can engage more of the local African American community at our concerts and events. 

Wherever you are, whatever you do, you can have an impact. This is where you start. Will these six steps bring systemic change and upend the status quo? Probably not.

But it’s where we start. And we need to start now. 

Additional information…

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