Every morning I sit in my kitchen at the mahogany table my father built. At this time of year the sun rises to the left, out of the window’s frame. If I’m up early enough I watch the light change from mauve to peach to yellow, promising another flawless northern California day. I look through the leaves of the dwarf maple tree. Water droplets on the just-sprinkled grass punch back the sun. The shadows of leaves dance on the wall.
Nothing is happening here.
Elsewhere, last night, storefronts were on fire. Voices begged for breath. Marchers shouted the names of the dead. And a virus continued its invisible churn.
Here in the suburbs the morning unfolds as a thousand mornings have before it.
But this morning is different from all other mornings. This morning I sit with my pen frozen above the page. I look out at the tree and the lawn and the oblivious light.
This morning I think: this is privilege.
As a white writer, I have been sitting in silence for the last few weeks. At first I was silent because I didn’t know what to say. Then I feared saying the wrong thing. Eventually I convinced myself that my voice is not one that matters.
Now I have come to see that withholding my voice is a form of complicity.
It’s easy to speak out when the worst outcome is alienating an editor or annoying a relative. Speaking out is different when aligning yourself with righteousness can get you tear-gassed, beaten, or killed.
At my peaceful kitchen table, in my privileged house, in my privileged neighborhood, I have finally had to face some uncomfortable truths about myself.
I’m ashamed to say that until now, I weaseled out of facing my complicity in perpetuating the benefits of privilege. My ancestors arrived in this country at the turn of the twentieth century. I thought their late arrival and their position at the time as a persecuted minority absolved me of responsibility for perpetuating racism. I told myself: I wasn’t here at the founding of our country. My family did not own slaves. I used these facts to distance myself from hundreds of years of ugliness.
What the current moment is teaching me is how none of us can escape the weight of history. Even if it doesn’t feel like our history, it becomes our history the moment we migrate here, the moment we benefit from a nation stolen from native people and built with the labor of slaves.
To Black citizens and all others who continue to suffer because of the blindness, cruelty, and silence of their fellow human beings I want to say:
- I can’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be you. But I can meet you with an open heart, an open mind, and open arms.
- I can listen and take part in your struggle as you would ask me to take part.
- I can witness.
- I can pledge not to turn away.
- I can speak up even when I fear saying the wrong thing.
- I can say I’m sorry even though that is necessary but not sufficient.
- I can hope.
- I can love.
- I can fess up.
When George Floyd was killed and the protests began, my first impulse, like many people’s, was to do something. But what?
Now, after weeks of uncomfortable conversations and much thought, I have come up with a short list.
- Confront this ugly truth about myself and sit with it.
- Weave this new awareness into my life.
- Speak from my heart.
- Be open to learning and correction.
- Give money, regularly, to organizations that will help heal and transform our society.
- Keep showing up.
Now, when I show up at the kitchen table every morning, I look at the leaves and the grass and the dawn light with a new and sober appreciation of my place in the world and a pledge not to forget.
What would it mean to you to do the six things I listed above?
Below are links to some of what I have been watching, reading, and listening to over the last few weeks. For a single, powerful resource, anyone of privilege who wants to begin looking inward should check out Dr. Eddie Moore, who has been doing work in this area for decades and has created a 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, which offers not only resources but a way to do something—or many things—every day. I’m starting the challenge today.
I give thanks to the people and groups who made it possible for me to take this leap.
To Ned Buskirk of You’re Going to Die, who organized You. Are. Not. Alone. and modeled standing in solidarity with the Black community; to the members of Albert Flynn DeSilver’s weekly online meditation group, who held these feelings so tenderly as I shared them for the first time; and to my fellow residents in the Shuffle Collective, who listened to me read an earlier version of this post and gave me both invaluable feedback and the encouragement to share it.
This is what it means to have a community, and I am inexpressibly grateful for mine.
Here are some voices I have been tuning into in video and on the page, as I have begun to show up in this new way.
Allie Rigby – Performative Allyship
Jenny’s Lark – A Few Things – June 2020
Susie Lindau – Make Racism Unacceptable
Book Passage – Racism in America Panel
Sherrilyn Ifill – 60 Minutes Interview
Tarantino Smith –Performing “Black Boy” by Richard Wright
Vox Populi – Interview with Founders of Black Lives Matter
Dr. Eddie Moore – 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge
Rollins Stallworth’s Action Plan
To learn more (art & media)
Black Artists + Designers Guild
American Civil Liberties Union
Bail funds by state and city (crowd sourced)
Audrey, (writing this for the 2nd time, just saying…), This was the best piece I’ve read on this subject, from this viewpoint, and I’ve read a lot – trying to figure things out, like you. You write so beautifully that I’d continue reading even if you had nothing interesting, original or sincere to say – and you say plenty! So helpful, thanks! Elise
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Audrey, this is the best thing I’ve read on this subject, from this viewpoint, and I’ve been reading a lot – trying to figure things out, like you. You write so beautifully that I’d keep reading even if you said nothing, and you said plenty! So helpful, thanks. Elise
Elise, I’m so glad for the feedback. It felt like a big risk for me to put this out there and–thankfully–I have so far received only positive feedback. Feel free to share, if it was helpful.
One more thing. This is “Things we didn’t learn in school,” a terrific, 17-min. history of how we got to where we are wrt race in America. I thought I knew history – but learned about a lot of new historical, systemic injustices.. Highly recommended. Elise
Thank you! I will check it out.
Your honesty and commitment are inspiring to me. I’ve come back to read it several times and will continue to do so as I work through my own thoughts and feelings.
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This is such a brave and honest post. Kudos to you for writing it. And thank you for the links. I’m going to explore some of them.
Thanks. It took me a long time to write.
I imagine so. An emotional experience, no doubt.
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Thank you for including me in the conversation. I think these are exciting times when each and every one of us can make a difference. We will leave this world a much better place. With all of the legislation and fallout in businesses, progress is already being made. Amen!!
Audrey, these sentiments, feelings, confessions, determinations (so many words come to mind) inspire me to think: What can I do? Thank you so much.
It took some courage to put this out there, so I’m so glad to hear that it inspired you.
Loved your post – somehow having a hard time logging in to WordPress, so will leave a comment there when I get that sorted out. 🙂 Take care.
Thanks! I look forward to hearing more when you figure it out (or you can just tell me one-on-one :-)).