The late Desmond Tutu (may he rest in power) stated, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” This quote comes as a reminder as we draw near to the close of 2021 and we contemplate our new year goals. It also speaks to the normalized grind of people of color as we’ve been conditioned to navigate daily interactions with racism.
A few days ago, I watched a posted video of Tiffany Haddish breaking down into tears due to an initial poor customer service experience within the international airlines. And although after a few tears shed, running a mile through the airport, going on Instagram live and eventually sharing she was a celebrity – it still didn’t change the mere fact that she had been treated with the normal commonalities of racial bias. Common responses to this type of behavior are “These things happen” or “This is what they do.” It’s an unfortunate experience across generations if you are Black. These- ‘that’s just the way it goes’ statements have got to end, if not for us at least for our next generations.
For the minds of Black and Brown bodies, every small step to intentionally reduce our racialized experience matters! Every small encounter that reduces our lived experience of both being and feeling marginalized matters. My personalized story matters! It matters when I walk into a high-end store and the employees acknowledge me with their watchful eyes, yet don’t speak; or either they blatantly follow me around as if I’m going to steal something. When they speak, it’s only to ask if I need help, but what they’re really saying is, “This store isn’t for you!” So, I take my dollars elsewhere. It’s in the encounters, when someone is intentional about opening the door or holding the door for me and speaking – it’s simply saying, “I see you, I’m not going to treat you as though you are invisible and I’m decent enough to not allow the door to shut in your face.” These small acts threaded in our daily experience matter.
On one end, we get tired of being criminalized when the innocence of our skin color is automatically made to be guilty. It’s the comments of the defense attorney in Ahmaud Arbery’s case that stirred my blood, “His long, dirty toenails.” As if having dirty toenails, (while running on a dirt road) meant you were a criminal! It’s the story the defense attorney was trying to paint and have the jury visualize. It’s the same deceitful picture and rallying up of White rage that got our beloved brother Emmitt Till horrifically murdered.
While Kyle Rittenhouse has gotten cleared to walk as a free man, the injustice of Jacob Blake’s partial paralyzation at the hands of police has faded from the picture. And while the families of Joseph Rosembaum and Anthony Huber continue to mourn, the country has spinned a fear tactic on our White allies. The message from the left, “Don’t go out and support in protest for the rights of Black and Brown bodies. You will either be shot, killed, wounded or harmed.”
Fear tactics did not work for the Freedom Riders, they did not work for those crossing the Selma bridge and they’re not going to be victorious with the verdict of Kyle Rittenhouse. White allyship, if it’s true and sincere won’t stop and can’t stop due to fear. The motivation to make a decision to protest in the streets has to be rooted from an internal place within one’s soul that cries out, “This is not right!” And that motivation to afford someone else human dignity, liberty and rights has to outweigh the fear provoked.
The protest doesn’t have to exist in the streets alone, it’s not a silo of allyship. We need raised voices, objections in the courthouse and corrections at the dinner tables. When overhearing racial statements or jokes, speak up and say you respectfully disagree and explain what should be the obvious. Push people to reflect, push people to wear the shoes of others (as a reflective activity, “How would u feel if?”) and push people into discomfort by disagreeing. It takes a ton of work for a person of color (POC) to speak up for themselves or a community, we need the weight shifted.
The Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives are a good start, yet they haven’t changed the price it entails for POC to navigate what’s been meant to be all White spaces. If you are on an equity team or DEI team and you’ve rolled out good intent initiatives, pause and ask for feedback to gauge how it’s going. Has there been a reduction of stress for POC in the work environment? Has there been an increase of a sense of being or feeling welcomed? Has the level of support for POC increased? What do your employees need in the space to literally feel better? That matters – we aren’t fictitiously making up the fact that we live with racialized trauma. We aren’t making up the fact that we experience daily microaggressions. And that as Dr. Talisa Carter would say, “when we have pockets of air to breathe” we have a moment to feel less stressed!
Our moments of ‘less stress’ might not be as important to others, it may not directly impact you. It’s the ‘not being on the receiving end’ of daily racist experiences (large or small) that extracts from the understanding of the weighted impact. Its why society sits back and accepts the normalized racist practices within every crevice of our existence and ignores the burden endured upon melanin skin. You literally don’t have to see someone unjustly killed to get a poke at your heart to say, “Something has to change.” Let’s start before the next killing, before the next unjust court ruling, before the next mass school shooting. Willfully I’m not calling these into existence I’m poignantly screaming, “Don’t wait to respond, enact change NOW!”
Change the narrative at the family’s dining room table, use it as spaces to teach or simply correct a biased statement.
Change the dialogue at board meetings, call out unjust practices, create supportive anti-racist systems.
Change the racist ideological practices that strip the validation of students within school systems and educational policies.
Find your piece, find your niche, move on your strength and talents and mostly move with your privilege. My parents always taught me to be kind to your neighbors simply out of good faith and the fact that you never know when you might need them. The fact is…people of color have been helping out all this time, calling out injustices, pushing back against phobias, showing up to vote and building the infrastructure of this country. It’s fine time someone else lent a hand!
If all this is too ambitious, I charge you to start by thinking of the children. Together, we can make a difference in how freely ALL children live and experience life.
Starting with a humanistic heart, let’s ask, “Kasserian Injera” a Masai greeting for How are the children? The answer will give us an idea of what beholds our future. Let’s put peace into practice in 2022.