Tell Me What To Do
In the last few weeks, especially since the Charleston Massacre, I've seen a number of white people asking the question, "What should I do?" I've noticed this question has been asked on a personal note, but more and more I am seeing it asked on behalf of others. Like "Hey I know some white people who get it, and they are itching to do something but I am not sure what to tell them. Help!?" Have you seen this, too? After witnessing this on a few occasions, there a couple of potential pitfalls I would like to address:
1. The reading and learning never ever ends. There seems to be this thought process that one can read a few books, and then once those books have been read, its time for the "real" work to begin. Well, friends, reading and learning is a big part of the work. Its part of having your worldview shaken, relearning American (maybe even world) history. Its being able to see and recite the connections from yesterday to today. The reading and learning never stops because there is always more. More ways to be challenged. More stories to hear. More studies to take note of. More myths to bust. A commitment to learning is necessary for this work. If you all could see my nightstand... covered in books all the time. My wishlist on Amazon is ridiculous. Because learning is work and we must give ourselves wholeheartedly to (un)learning what we thought we knew and learning news of being.
2. Be aware of the motivations/assumptions behind that question. Sometimes the "tell me what to do" demand smells like the white savior complex (insert stinky face). You see, I sometimes wonder if white people read and listen to stories about racial injustice and believe that we are the ones who need to be saved. The system of racial oppression is killing us in America, but know it is you who needs to be saved from participation in the system. Does that make sense? The system continues to operate because white people refuse to see how they are perpetuating the system, are active participants in the system, have been reared in the system, are protective of the system, are beneficiaries of the system, and consequently destroy your own soul and our lives. Systems of oppression lead to death, and too often its a black or brown body being buried. The way we get saved isn't by your riding in on a white horse and doing something for me... its by recognizing that you have supported this system and choosing to save yourself (your friends, family, church and community) from white supremacy. You can go to all the protests and rallies, you can post all good things on social media, but if you are not actively saving yourself from white supremacy, you are still a danger to me. As you begin to recognize white supremacy in yourself, you will notice it in the systems, structures, actions and reactions in the world around you. At that point you can challenge it with me, because you can no longer ignore its presence.
3. Don't assume there is only one answer. This is an extraordinarily hard question to answer if you are not asking someone you know personally. Tossing this question out into social media seems to me a strange practice. I understand asking for resources, wanting to know about events, looking for essays and answers to specific questions. But it seems to me that I would have to be pretty magical to be able to answer how you personally should start participating in racial justice. I think it comes from the subconscious assumption that there is a secret answer to this question that only people of color possess. I have bad news: doesn't exist. But this is also good news. It means that you can use your gifts, skills, and talents to work right where you are. If you are an artist- use your art. If you have a gift for organizing, help organize. If you are a pastor, start preaching. If you are small group leader, start teaching. If you are a teacher, rethink the curriculum. If you are a nurse or doctor, take a look at the system in which you work- who is being helped? Who isn't? Why? Think about what you are passionate about. Are there racial inequalities that you have been ignoring? Or if God is awakening you to new issues- like criminal justice- consider getting connected to a local organization working on that very issue. There are many books dedicated to help us understand the work of racial justice and reconciliation. There are concrete steps we should take as part of this work (i.e. learning and reading), but I want you to do the work wherever God has called you to be.
4. Be gentle. I know it may seem like all people of color should jump up and down and celebrate when white people "get it" and are ready to "get to work". But for a moment just pause. Consider how long it took or how much it took to get you on board. I think its great that following the Charleston Massacre doing nothing is no longer an option for you, but consider how that feels to black people. We have been shouting about racism non-stop for a solid year and it took 9 lives shot down in a Church to convince you to be active? That sucks. Glad you are here. I want you to get to work. But can we acknowledge that sucks? Additionally, be gentle in giving people of color time to grieve if a major tragedy was your impetus for change. In those moments we need to recover. We dont want to be teachers, guides, role models, etc. We want to grieve. We will get back to you, but be gentle with us. Recognize that we are not hardwired to be teachers, like little robotic armies waiting for our next pupil. We feel. We cry. We mourn. We need time.
So, in closing, wanting to do something is good. We want you to get involved. Just be mindful of the ways you ask.