“We need those of you who are white to speak up. NOW. Publicly. Not only because we are exhausted and burnt out from living this, but because other white people will listen to you before they will listen to us on these matters.”
The woman telling me to speak up was Erica, a DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) coach I hired earlier this year. It was May 28, 2020. Police brutality had killed George Floyd of Minneapolis, MN just a couple of days prior, and my black friends and business team were – and still are – beleaguered.
I told her I didn’t think my platform is big enough for anyone to listen to me or care. I wasn’t sure it would make a difference.
“Believe me,” she said, “your skin tone gives you more credibility than me in the eyes of a lot of people. Even though your following is small. Even if you don’t see yourself as an influencer or thought leader. Your voice matters. A white woman who won’t listen to black people yet will listen to you.”
This is an uncomfortable truth, and just one example of what covert racism looks like – people who say they aren’t racist, but subconsciously believe a white woman over a black woman who is an actual expert on the subject of racial inequity.
If it’s important for me as a white woman to discuss racism publicly and lift up the voices of people of color, it’s equally important for me to discuss it openly with my children. And I’ve been falling down on the job.
None of us become parents thinking, “I’m going to raise my kids to be racist!” And yet, by saying nothing, we are saying everything. We silently look the other way when we see injustice – a form of covert white supremacy. And we teach our kids to do the same.
Our silence kills.
I am a white woman raising three white children. I am not an anti-racism expert. My own journey has been a series of fits and starts over the last two decades (I’m forty-one now). What I will share is imperfect and far from exhaustive, but I hope it’s useful. And I’ll include links to people who are experts.
Learning about anti-racism is work.
It requires time, humility, and discomfort. It also requires being self-aware, curious, and intellectually and spiritually honest with yourself about your blind spots, prejudices, and privileges. We all have them, and what’s important is acknowledging that; it’s not necessary to feel shame about them, or go around telling BBIPOC (black, brown, and indigenous people of color) how sad and sorry you are. We, white people, are no more responsible for the color of our skin or the circumstances we were born into or what we’ve been taught than they are.
The beauty of anti-racist work is that while we will never be experts on race in America, we can talk to our children, our families, and our friends about what we learn as we learn it.
What’s important is that you show up. When you learn something new, share it with both the children and adults around you. Because even if you just started paying attention yesterday, you’re one step ahead of someone else who needs to hear what you have to say today.
We will do it imperfectly. We will get things wrong, and people of color will correct us. If they care enough to inform us of our errors, it might briefly hurt our egos, but it’s important to listen, say thank you, and figure out how we can do better.
Let’s be good citizens and do the work on ourselves, with humility and a beginner’s mind. Let’s show up consistently, even after the names of the murdered leave the headlines. Let’s show up, imperfectly.
Where to start
In future articles, I will discuss the following topics, but for those who want to get started now, here are sources I recommend.
- What it means to be a white ally
- Understanding covert racism and microaggressions
- Understanding privilege
- Understanding white saviorism
- Why saying we “don’t see color” or “we are all just people” is harmful
- How racism harms white people
- Talking to kids about race and racism
- Why we need to be talking about race with our kids
- Why it’s not too early to talk to kids about race
- How racism harms children
- Visit the Iowa Africa American Museum when it reopens or enjoy their digital resources.
- Get involved with the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission. They have a virtual book club that holds discussions once a month via Zoom. We are currently reading How to Be Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi.
Thank you for joining me on this journey towards anti-racism. People’s lives depend on it.
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