Dear White Women,
I’m just like you.
I’m a woman.
And this is a call for all of us to invite other women to stand and act on behalf of those who do not have the same resources to speak as loudly. This invitation isn’t only relegated to white women—no one is excluded; everyone is invited.
I didn’t understand until my late thirties that because I’m a white woman, some things are available to me that are not available to others. I can casually walk across a street to grab a burrito for lunch without being stopped by police. I can wear a hoodie any time I want to without getting looks of suspicion. I can ask another woman to leash her dog and not have the police called on me. And I can be accused of writing a bad check and not get murdered for it.
Some refer to this as “privilege,” or, more specifically, “white privilege.” The color of my skin and my gender, naturally, with no doing of my own, afford me unspoken rights that aren’t readily available to others.
At first I shrugged off the label. I'd never consider myself privileged in any way. After all, I didn’t choose to be a white woman. I was born into a middle-class family and I was not, at least in my view, privileged. And I certainly haven't exploited that reality or used it to my advantage.
Or have I?
All Things Not Being Equal
But then I had lunch with a black woman who changed my mind. She and I met several years ago at a business gathering, and we discovered that we worked with similar clients in our respective coaching practices. As we shared a meal and discussed a number of topics ranging from our business models to healthcare reform, we eventually landed on the topic of behavior change. As coaches, promoting behavior change is really the heart of our work. But that topic led us to another topic: Oppression.
Oppression: unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power
I shared with her my belief that equal opportunities exist for all of us, that we can change our circumstances by being resourceful and working hard, and that human beings all have the ability to overcome odds, regardless of our situations or the color of our skin.
And that’s when she stopped me.
She argued that pointing to a few, isolated examples of people who made it out from under the heaviness of oppression doesn't prove it isn’t a barrier that needs to be removed.
Oppression isn't a self-imposed limitation, and it is a reality for many marginalized groups in this nation.
Marginalized: to relegate to an unimportant or powerless position within a society or group
How had I missed something so blatantly obvious?
Get Off My Wall!
Earlier this week, another black woman who I'd met only once in person but am friends with on Facebook, gave me a second wake up call. “Get off my wall!” she demanded of her white Facebook friends.
“Use your own platform to speak out about this,” she pleaded.
And that’s when I realized it wasn’t enough for me to show my support within the walls of the groups who were already fighting. They need more support. And humanity is being called to respond on a much bigger level.
As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, we're facing another threat to our collective well-being: Racism.
- The unfounded accusation of a black man by a white woman in a park.
- The murder of an accused black man by a police officer who refused to hear his cries for help.
- The Hennepin County District Attorney who claims there have been no arrests because “there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge.”
- A peaceful black reporter covering the Minneapolis riots who is arrested without cause.
Silence is Deafening
I am a white woman who has largely turned a blind eye to the oppression of black Americans. I admit that, and need to be honest with myself about that. I acknowledge there are injustices that I haven't recognized as injustices. I mourn the loss of so many beautiful souls who have been treated differently.
But I have done so privately, for the most part.
And I have to ask myself some hard questions right now. What have I done to show that I am, indeed, an American? What have I done to show that I am an anti-racist? What have I done to stand up for others who cannot stand without being threatened? What have I done to speak up for those who have no voice?
These have been some of my excuses, and maybe you’ve used them yourself:
- “I’d love to help but I just don't know what to do about it.”
- “I’m waiting for the right time to do something.”
- “It’s none of my business.”
- “Why am I being blamed for something that happened before I was born?
- “I haven’t done anything wrong personally.”
- “This has nothing to do with me.”
- “I don’t have the power or the ability to change this.”
But I now know that my silence is deafening. And there’s no excuse for my inaction.
A Chat with White Folks
If you’re looking for something real, this is it. If you’re looking for a productive dialogue, this is it. If you’re struggling to know where to begin, start here.
Two days ago, I watched a discussion entitled “A Chat w/ White Folks.”
The facilitator, Michelle, said she felt led to organize the event after reading a comment posted by a white friend and thinking “that’s not enough.” The purpose of the discussion was to explore if there was “some good that can come of us talking.” There were no promises made about the forum being a safe place. The only rules were that the conversation had to be productive and healthy as a group, and as individuals.
Michelle openly admitted that she wanted the white community to “feel shame” for what is happening. I won’t deny those words were hard to hear. But I listened anyway.
One by one, most of the white voices reported not feeling like they belonged to any community as a white person.
“There is no singular white community or identity,” one man said, bringing up doubts that communal shame could even be possible.
“It feels like we have no power, like we have no voice,” said another.
“I don’t feel like I have any way to say I’m sorry,” another admitted.
“I feel your pain and I don’t know what to do about it,” said another white voice.
A request for guidance about what we can do as white people echoed throughout the call.
And then we heard from black voices:
“I’m terrified every time my son says he wants to go for a walk,” one woman said.
“The fragility is what gets in the way of the change…and the unwillingness to acknowledge that every single minute you’re designated as white you have rights that will never be afforded to my son,” another voice added.
“’We’ve got to go and see about it’ isn’t good enough,” said another.
“It’s not my responsibility to make white people better,” voiced another.
“We are tired of explaining what you can research,” someone else said.
And then my heart heard this loud and clear: “I usually don’t come at individual white folks and say get together. But today I am talking to the individuals who are white...and I am saying this is your fault. This is historically your fault. And this is currently your problem. When I see somebody post ’I feel so bad for the black community’ I want to jump through a screen. This is not my problem. You should not feel sorry for us, you should wonder what the hell is wrong with my people? Why do we think it’s okay? Why do we think privilege is so important to maintain that we will murder? What is troubling to me is that I have a lot of white friends…I love them and I know that many of them love me. But the difference is between them loving me and actually wanting to take action that would be beneficial to me. Because they have to get uncomfortable. And they don’t want to.”
One white participant vulnerably admitted that he experiences fear when discussing racism. “My heart beats in my chest and it’s really super scary. I’m really scared most of the time that I’m going to say something wrong. I need your help. We need your help.”
There was little sympathy.
One black woman said, "those kinds of internal reactions are something like what black men feel every time they get pulled over by a cop. So...I don’t feel bad for you. I don’t feel bad that your heart races that you’re gonna have a conversation. Suck it up. If you love me, suck it up.”
A white man then asked what he could do to help support the black American community.
The answer was this: “I don’t need you to help me. What’s gonna happen is, I’m gonna find my black friends and I’m gonna get healed with my black friends. I’m gonna go get cared for and loved and listen to black people talk about what’s good about us. And then when I come out of that room, I’ll have a little bit more grace and patience for white people again. I don’t have an interest in what you can do to support me like that. I’d prefer right now for you to take all your energy and get at your people.”
“They’re gonna heal you to love white people again," another black voice added while heads nodded in agreement.
Love. Yes, this is what we need more of.
So, what about love?
“Love is no longer going to be able to be tolerated as a feeling word," a black voice said. "If there’s no action to it that actually puts you in some kind of risk or forces you or calls you to sacrifice beyond yourself, maybe puts your reputation, your comfort in jeopardy, it’s not love.”
The comments in the chat box were equally sobering.
“Oh we’re so sorry…forgive us. Shut Up with that crap!! None of you are Christian.”
“Own that you are a murderous white community! You've been raping, stealing and killing people of color forever!”
“Part of white culture in America is ugly and violent and disrespectful and murderous…and you need to own it. I’m not saying it because I want you to feel bad I’m saying it because you should feel bad.”
“It’s taxing for me to feel this funk and then have to uplift you.”
“You cannot change what you don’t acknowledge. White females in particular…if we do not acknowledge that we have not addressed racism, nothing is going to happen.”
But the resounding plea of the dialogue was this: “When is enough going to be enough? And when will you all stand with us?”
An Invitation to White Women
This invitation extends to everyone, but white women are specifically being called upon right now—to stand taller and speak louder.
This is going to require a lot of self-care, my friends. It’s going to require courage. It’s going to require love. It’s going to require discomfort. It’s going to require that we to reexamine our beliefs—about ourselves and about our place in this world. And it’s going to require that we listen to things that are hard to hear.
Here is the invitation:
- Learn. Continue to educate yourself about racism and white privilege. Read books like Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Don’t expect marginalized groups to teach you or do the work for you. It isn’t their job; it’s yours.
- Forgive. You’ve made some poor choices. You’ve said things that were insensitive. You’ve remained silent when you were presented with an opportunity to speak up. You’ve felt your heart race because it wanted you to intervene and you resisted. You aren’t perfect. But you must forgive yourself and your imperfections in order to move forward.
- Create a strong community. Expand your community. Seek out strong support systems that encourage you and hold space for you. Build relationships with non-white individuals who can offer you differing perspectives. Strengthen your existing relationships and model the behaviors you want to see. America is suffering right now. Marginalized communities are suffering. Police officers with good hearts and a deep desire to serve are suffering. Police spouses who worry about their loved ones working amid the riots are suffering. Every American is feeling this in some way.
- Acknowledge goodness when you see it. Should we have to commend people for being good humans? Evidently, we do. Whatever we reinforce, we get more of. So, yes. Commend, applaud, and call attention to the acts of goodness you see in the world. Recognition is much more powerful than you think. Acknowledging goodness is the only way to create more of it.
- Practice self-care. Honor your body with nourishing food. Get sufficient amounts of restful sleep. Make time to move your body physically. Manage your emotional well-being through journaling, meditation, yoga, or working with a therapist or counselor. You’re going to need your health to move through the discomfort of doing this work. And you’re going to need your strength to continue to be in service to your family and community.
- Be inclusive. We are all Americans who have been afforded equal rights and freedoms by our Constitution. Equal means the same, not similar. Equal comes without limitations or special circumstances. Many lives have been lost so that we may enjoy these freedoms, and we must protect them.
- Hold each other accountable. When you see injustice, it’s your responsibility to point it out. If someone in your circle speaks or behaves in a way that perpetuates inequality, hold them accountable—and ask them to hold you accountable as well. Do the work together. It’s going to feel uncomfortable. If you’re someone who avoids confrontation and discord, this is going to feel especially uncomfortable. Your heart is going to race. You’re going to second-guess yourself. You’re going to find a lot of excuses as to why you cannot do what you need to do. Hold yourself and others accountable for standing up and speaking out when you’re called to do so, and encourage the behaviors you want to see more of.
- Resist the urge to criticize. While we must hold each other accountable, we must also resist the urge to criticize and pass judgment. Just because someone isn’t taking the action you feel they should, doesn’t mean they aren’t trying. Accusations and criticisms and judgments will not produce the results we want. Labeling people as lazy for not being more educated and enlightened isn’t going to encourage them to learn. Bashing people for not speaking up isn’t going to get them to use their voice. Admonishing people for their lack of action isn’t going to make them act. Shaming people for their role in racism isn’t going to end racism. Ask questions. Listen. And offer resources you’ve found helpful.
- Value all lives. Wherever you stand on the #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter sentiments, in order for all lives to truly matter, we must give more support to our BIPOC communities right now. That's the road that leads to all lives mattering.
- Vote. Voting is one of our greatest freedoms, and it’s where we hold the majority of our power as agents of change. Exercise your right to vote. (Side note: Did you know that the majority of registered voters in this country are female?)
- Stop…and be a witness. When you see injustice—even if you’re not certain if it’s injustice—Stop. Observe. Be a witness. Offer to testify. Offer to provide a statement. Offer truthful information that upholds equal freedoms to all.
- Intervene. Build bystander intervention skills. Film injustices when you encounter them. Come to the aid of those in need when you witness inequality.
- Here are 75 more things white people can do for racial justice.
No matter where you are on this path to creating more unity, being on the path is what matters most.
You aren’t going to have this all figured out today. I sure don't. Give yourself space to feel and express the flood of emotions that are certain to come.
It's time to stand together and learn together.
NOTE: This is a living document, meaning it will be updated from time to time as I integrate new information and resources. I ask for your forgiveness if anything here feels insensitive or ignorant. I’m still learning and I’m open to other perspectives. My intention in writing this is to open a dialogue and close the gap between the freedoms some get to enjoy and the hardships endured by others.
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