I haven’t sat down to write in a few weeks. It felt strange to put my words and thoughts on paper instead of reading the important Black perspectives around me. These weeks of quiet have been uncomfortable for me, but I know that discomfort is nothing compared to how People of Color have felt. I won’t say I can’t imagine; I can and should. I should try to imagine what this life is like for people who are not white in America. And, I must think of how I have contributed to the racism that is in the air that white America keeps breathing in.
One evening back in 2016, I was leaving a dance rehearsal for my graduate work and had to walk home. It was late and dark. It was only a ten-minute walk, and I did it often enough to feel safe. On my walk home that night, I glanced over my shoulder and noticed a Black man walking behind me on the sidewalk. We were the only two people around that I could see. I reached around to the front pocket of my backpack and grabbed my keys. I held them in my right hand as if I were bracing for something terrible to happen.
Nothing happened. The man behind me, not more than five seconds after I grabbed my keys, jogged across the street and kept walking on the other side. There we were, both walking home, separated.
Until recent weeks, I looked back on this moment and thought about the man’s kindness. I thought things like, He was so nice, he knew I was uncomfortable and moved away. Simple.
Now, when I look at my actions, it is anything but simple. I felt threatened because I was perceivably alone with a Black man. That is a racist reaction. I reached for the keys so I could defend myself. That is a racist reaction. I used to think of his kindness as I reflected on this short moment in my life without acknowledging my own role in it, and that most definitely is a racist reaction.
In reaching for my keys, I told the man behind me, I don’t feel safe with you. I told him, You can’t be here with me. I told him, this space is mine and you don’t even deserve to walk on the same side of the street. I told him, You are Black – move.
This happened almost four years ago, and until maybe three weeks ago, I didn’t see it as a problem. That is embarrassing and I am ashamed. I can live with that though, but what I can’t live with is knowing that I am further perpetuating racism in this country. I can’t stand by, hoping that it will get better without being apart of the solution. Through writing this down, maybe my fellow white, ignorant folks will examine their own microaggressions they’ve carried out, whether unknowingly or intentionally.
This is a prayer I’ve been repeating some version of the last few weeks.
Dear God, May I let Black people walk with me – behind, beside, or better, in front of me. May I hold space in ways I haven’t before. May I listen more intentionally and openly. May I see my own faults and be empowered to be better. May I take faith and turn it into action. May I celebrate diversity and advocate for change in my own community, family, and workplace. May these actions save Black lives, because Black lives are on the line. Black lives matter.
A few resources:
for those in Texas – https://tribeza.com/black-lives-matter-austin-support/
for those in North Carolina – https://equalitync.org/resources/
and this amazing, thorough resource includes links to funds in Georgia and nation-wide: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1m33VadU62s9peLdhgD3Crn8Gi8eQs1xQXMFteaSm35w/edit