What Now? A follow up message for new anti-racists.

By Michelle Palmer

I wrote this in a fit of (mild) frustration in the middle of last week. The excitement of seeing so many of my white friends finally speaking out on racism was exciting and inspiring. But then negative reactions and whataboutism and friends heartbroken because of the ignorance of their loved ones got me thinking about what’s next. Where do we go from here? Here’s my mildly frustrated rant.

Notes for my friends who are new to anti-racism:

  • You will get your feelings hurt. My feelings have been hurt. It’s not that our feelings don’t matter; it’s that we have to care more about Black lives than white feelings. Now more than ever. (But also always.)
  • The outrage will probably fade. Media, both social and mainstream, will start to focus on other things. (The downhill trajectory has already begun.) And our energy might fade along with it. But the work does not stop. We just have to decide if we’ll still be part of it. 
  • It’s not all protests and sign making and kudos. There’s difficult soul work and reading articles that challenge your whole worldview and books that make you so appalled at the American education system that you just want to say, “What is the point?!” and quit. You will watch one police officer shove an elderly man onto the pavement, then see dozens of other officers walk past his motionless, bleeding body, and you will want to turn away. As a white person, you can. You can quit and turn away. Don’t. 
  • YOU WILL GET YOUR FEELINGS HURT. We have to stop arguing about whether or not we’re racists. That’s not helpful. In fact, just stop saying you’re “not a racist.” That’s also not helpful. You gotta admit that you’re not perfect and racist ideas are in your head and racist feelings are in your heart and the work to root them out will not feel good. People will call you out. I’ve been there. This work is more important than how good we feel. Black lives are more important than white feelings, remember?

I promise I’m not trying to show off my guns here; I was worried about a farmers tan. Blisters & sunburns from protest marches happen, but there’s a lot more to gain than any of our suffering should stop. (But also, wear sunscreen.)

  • You will disagree with people, sometimes people close to you, and it will be uncomfortable. You will disagree with other white people. You will disagree with Black people. You will have to contend with the fact that there are Black people who disagree with each other, and it will become PAINFULLY obvious that Blackness is not a monolith, and as nice as it would be to paint the entire Black community with a single brush, it just doesn’t work that way.
  • You will get your feelings hurt when people like me capitalize Black but not white. 
  • Your pride will get in the way more often than you care to admit. It will happen time and again, and you’ll have to decide what’s more important: racial justice or you & your pride & your feelings. 

After I wrote that list, but some time before I figured out just what to do with it, I found another, possibly more helpful, definitely more practical, list written by Tatiana Mac on Twitter. I deeply appreciate her perspective here! Burnout is real, and we are not ready, folks.

Here’s what she says (we have made some formatting changes for the blog and lengthened some abbreviations which you’ll see in brackets, but you can see her original thread here):

White people: We gotta talk about burn out. You aren’t conditioned to be thinking about race this much because of your privilege. We need you to do all you’re doing today, tomorrow, and until the end of time. Let’s talk about ways to focus on current & systemic change.

You’re asking a lot of questions and receiving a lot of answers and being overloaded. 

Systemic: You can’t learn everything [right now]. Make a list. Learn to find the answers yourself before asking. Take the time to actually look it up. Read multiple sources. Sit with it.

*Michelle’s note: I had to make a rule not to read Twitter after 9 p.m. It was too much information before bedtime, and like my dad always says, “Sleep is a weapon.” 

Big donations now [are great] to fuel the movement. Budget and set up *recurring donations.* Consider how much you can give. Can you give more? If you gave 5K in one swoop, can you give 400/month? 

Systemic: Ask your bosses about recurring matches for donations long-term.

You’re in 3 book clubs with loved ones cramming for the anti-racist test now. Set monthly recurring reminders to write short reflections; mistakes made, lessons learned. See your own progress. 

Systemic: Build Black authors into your life, fiction, non-race-based non-fiction.

Examine where [your] money goes long-term. Are you still buying from Amazon? It’s going to take time and patience but research Black-owned businesses to support instead. 

Systemic: Boycott massively complicit companies.

*Michelle’s note: This one is hard, but this post can help… “I’m rooting for everybody black.” The importance of supporting black-owned businesses 

You’re confronting people [now]. You’re fired up. Will you still in a few months when fewer peers still are? 

Systemic: Evaluate what your long-term commitments to this work are. Build vocab to address racism. Figure out your “if they do this, I will do this.”

You’re making a lot of mistakes right now. You’re learning a lot of lessons, sit with it. 

Systemic: Teach it to all the people around you, especially the ones who look like you.

You’re talking to everyone from Twitter trolls to parents, expending energy everywhere, much of it, wasted. 

Systemic: Write scripts about how to confront racism with colleagues, friends, family. Figure out your boundaries, like when you’ll walk away. Prepare to lose people. 

Michelle’s note: When you post about it a lot on social media, the people around you get a sense of your passion. They either show they’re interested in growing and learning or not by their actions and questions. 

National politics tend to be the focus. Do you know much about your mayor? City commissioner? Local zoning laws? 

Systemic: Figure out what role you want to play in local politics. Read local news. You have a lot more sway with politics at this level: 

Mayor and Governors: This is how you tackle racism

Camille Busette writes about what Mayors and Governors can do to respond urgently to endemic racism and to create sustained racism-free equity. Image from brookings.edu

At the end of the day, the message is best summed up by my friend Mattie. 

“My white friend told me yesterday that she feels like she is drinking out of a fire hydrant, seeing everything in a new perspective. This made me proud. I felt it on a deep level. I know it is hard to see the ugly parts of human existence, to open ourselves up to the truth. But we can’t stop now. We can’t look away. We have been standing on the backs of our black brothers and sisters for too long. They are finally being heard and we owe it to them to listen and not turn away. We owe it to them to lift them up. We owe it to them to drink from the fire hydrant of their lived sorrow. Swallow hard and slow if you have to, but do not stop.”

Listen y’all, we are needed. We are needed to leverage our privilege and step up to the plate and fight for justice, and there’s a long way to go. Don’t stop, but do take care. 

Like Tatiana says, “We need you to do all you’re doing today, tomorrow, and until the end of time. “

Not just a typographical change: Why Brookings is capitalizing Black

The role of white people in the fight against racism

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